Hello and Goodbye An achingly pretty dress. A terribly lost girl. by Shannon Brennan 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.