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Hello and Goodbye


An achingly pretty dress. A terribly lost girl.

by Shannon Brennan

Hello and Goodbye | A Practical Wedding

Never a bride. Not you. Yet there you are, in the first of many sticky July afternoons, trolling the bridal salons for a dress. Oh, you mean a gown, they say. Dresses are everyday, they say. Gowns are special, they say. Silently call bullshit and call it a dress anyway.

You shop in secret, apologizing to the close friend that gets dragged along, a spectator to your agony, your indecision. She waits patiently as you struggle, unable to reconcile the person you see in your mind’s eye with the lost girl in white that stares back at you in triplicate from several carpeted podiums. Drag her into a fancy shop on a whim, and there it is: THE dress. It’s a one hundred on the Must-scale: retro-not-rockabilly, distinctly lacking in satin and tacky appliqué, ankle-length and Audrey-inspired. It’s amazing. You fall deeply, head-over-heels in love with this dress. You’d live in that dress if you could. This must be the moment that all of those other brides talk about, the big dress experience that practical you never thought you’d have.

Your mom is beaming. Your father is overwhelmed and grateful to be included. Let us, they say. Our gift to you, they say. So happy to see you happy, they say. Tears all around as you twirl for the mirror, that fabulous skirt tickling your ankles, the delicate beading winking in the lights. Your dress.

Flash forward to February; a cold room, a different podium. Stare down the garment bag. Contemplate the beading, the buttons, that fabulously full skirt that bells the bottom of the bag and makes storage a nightmare. Strip down and try not to wince as the chilly fabric slips over your hips, your chest. Avoid the mirror as your maid of honor zips you in, creating the perfect silhouette. It fits better than it did in the salon; thank God you opted out of alterations. She holds your elbow as you wrangle your way into the beautiful designer heels that you found in a closeout store for a song, and helps you step up.

Hands on your hips, she says. Turn to the side, she says. Let’s see the back, she says.

The tears start. Blink them back, afraid your mascara will run, afraid you’ll stain the lace. Catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. An achingly pretty dress. A terribly lost girl. Hug your maid of honor and thank her profusely. Hope that your gratitude expresses all of the apologies lodged your heart. Store the dress. Load the pictures onto the Internet. Click “post listing.” Hope. Pray. Wish.

Hope it sells so you can reimburse your parents, because it’s the right thing, and because it eases your conscience. Hope they’ll be as happy for you again someday. Wish for the futile assurance that choosing to leave will not be punished with endless loneliness. Silently quake with the thought that these fears might be justified. Leave anyway.

Pray that the person who buys this gown will look in the mirror and see only joy, magnified by three.

Shannon Brennan

Shannon is a photographer, perpetual student, and fitness junkie who lives, runs, and plays in tiny Rhode Island. She’s addicted to Nutella, good books, and satisfying her boundless curiosity about others and life in general.

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  • MDBethann

    Beautiful and brave. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Lauren

    A huge hug to you. The courage it takes to leave is huge…and, though I don’t know you, I can tell from this writing that you are a good person who will not be punished by endless loneliness. Take the time you need to heal and, again, a huge hug my dear.

  • Margi

    Tears! Thank you for your brave post. I just exited a 6 year relationship four months ago, so you beautifully written words are like a stab to my heart (in a good way). Like Sugar says, “be brave enough to break your own heart.”

    • Shannon Brennan

      “be brave enough to break your own heart.” I love this quote. There are days that are so hard, or lonely, or just scary. There are big and small disappointments that rock me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. And then there are the simple moments, again and again, that take my breath away and remind me that good things are all around me, and on the horizon, and still in my dreams. It’s been about 4 months for me, too. I’m sending hugs and good thoughts your way.

    • Class of 1980

      Better to break your heart for a short amount of time than to break it for years in the wrong marriage.

  • Cara

    I needed this today. My wedding dress has been in storage at the dress shop for almost a year now, and it’s been haunting me. It’s time to set it free.

    • Shannon Brennan

      Do it! Mine hasn’t sold yet, but just taking that step (and writing this post) was really beneficial to me. I was so happy in that damn dress. The thought that someone else will eventually be happy in it AND have made the choice to move forward with the one they love, together, makes me smile.

      • Marcela

        Link to the dress post? I feel a bit shallow asking this, but what you describe sounds a lot like what my dear friend is looking for. Maybe it will be her happy dress.

        • Shannon Brennan

          Hey Marcela! Please e-mail me; I would be happy to forward the link to you! My email is slbrennan1026 (at) gmail (dot) com.

  • http://batman-news.com Sonora Webster

    Wow, this was heartbreaking. I called off my engagement a couple of years ago, and I remember these feelings well—everyone around you so happy about your upcoming wedding, while you are looking in the mirror and thinking that walking down the aisle was going to be a terrible mistake, and not really knowing how to say that to anyone.

    My parents also bought me a dress I fell completely in love with, and then when I called off the wedding, my mom took over calling the venue, the caterer, and the other vendors, including the dress shop. She told me they had just cancelled the dress order, so we lost the deposit, but not to worry about it.

    Late last year, I got engaged again, and she sort of hesitantly told me that the dress I thought had never been made was actually sitting in their house. She hadn’t wanted to tell me because she thought it would make me sad. She had thought about selling it, but a combination of not really wanting to deal with it, and hoping I might eventually wear it after all, had kept her from doing so. So now she knew it might be kind of weird, but did I want to wear the dress for this wedding?

    And maybe it is kind of weird, but I love that dress! And I figure that the dress was never about the guy, it was about me. So later this year, I’m wearing a dress I thought I might never get to wear in the wedding I thought I might never have, in which I will marry a man I can’t believe I found.

    I will tell you that your parents just want you to be happy. So if you were not going to be happy in this marriage, it is worth whatever amount of nonrefundable deposits it cost to call it off. It’s okay to feel guilty about that money, but this is so, so much better than the alternative. So many hugs to you. I know what a painful time this is.

    • JDrives

      “So later this year, I’m wearing a dress I thought I might never get to wear in the wedding I thought I might never have, in which I will marry a man I can’t believe I found.”

      YAY!! What a lovely story about your mom saving the dress for you, and its new purpose :)

    • KC

      “I will tell you that your parents just want you to be happy. So if you
      were not going to be happy in this marriage, it is worth whatever amount
      of nonrefundable deposits it cost to call it off.”

      YES. (and this post is gorgeous)

    • Shannon Brennan

      “…everyone around you so happy about your upcoming wedding, while you are
      looking in the mirror and thinking that walking down the aisle was going
      to be a terrible mistake, and not really knowing how to say that to
      anyone.”

      THIS.

  • Panda

    18 months ago, I too was the lost girl with an achingly pretty dress. Let me tell you from experience that when you are brave enough to walk away, you will open doors you never dreamed of. And the right person will come along (perhaps sooner than you expect) and when they do, you will not be lost, you will be certain. You will be found, because this journey will help you become more fully yourself than you ever thought was possible. Stay strong.

    • Appreciative

      Gorgeous. Thank you.

  • M

    Achingly beautiful writing. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

    Heartbreaking, but beautiful writing. Thank you so much for sharing. No matter what, doing what’s right for you is better than a dress. Any dress.

  • http://adventuresinverdance.wordpress.com Meghan Arnold

    I know this feeling so well. Thank you for your bravery.

  • HannahESmith

    Thank you for sharing this. I just read it twice. Beautiful.

  • Daniella

    Wow. Beautiful. Heartwrenching. Sending you lots of love.

  • E

    An astonishing piece. Your words reminded me of Ernest Hemingway’s shortest short story- powerful and heartbreaking. You conveyed so much with such economy.

    Beyond my insipid literary criticism, I truly wish you the best in this journey. You’ve shown such courage and strength in this piece. Healing is not for the faint of heart, but one good decision leads to another.

    You can do this.

  • AmyN17

    Thanks for sharing, you are so brave.