The other dyke at the wedding wore a smart white sleeveless blouse tucked into well-tailored slacks with a slight flare and strip of statin stitched over the side seam. Her hands were slipped into her pockets, and she stood with her hips jutted forward, legs parted, head cocked at an angle, a wry smile showing around the edges of her otherwise serious mouth as if she was in on a joke God was telling about everybody else in the reception hall and trying hard not to laugh in our faces while He whispered in her ear. She reminded me of one of my rugby teammates in college doing an impression of Annette Bening in The Kids Are Alright. My teammate would put her hands in her pockets and push her crotch forward, saying: “Look! I’m a lesbian! Give me an Oscar!” And everybody would laugh, but it really was a good look—on Annette Bening and this other dyke across the room.
When I first scanned the reception hall, I thought I was alone. I wasn’t surprised to be the only lesbian in the bridal party, it was a straight wedding, but being one out of a hundred guests? Damn. It made me feel freakish, but also rare, like a Venus flytrap. In second grade, someone brought a flytrap to our class and I was surprised by how delicate its necks were, the thin stems bending outwards, and its mouths, sun-translucent split ellipses that open only when the plant was hungry.
From across the room, this dapper stranger upended my notion of singularity. You’re mine, I thought, excusing myself from a conversation with the bartender. He’d offered to refill my glass because I was “the only one in purple who could still stand up straight.” He’d misjudged. I was drunk, quite, just holding my liquor better than usual. Perhaps it was the dress, vice-zipped around my ribcage, slowing the flow of alcohol to my brain as it pushed my breasts together and upwards, so high I could see them in my own peripheral vision.
The other dyke was talking to the father of the bride. I put myself at his elbow, turning my face towards him and my body towards her.
He paused their conversation to introduce us. “Annabel, have you met my niece Other Dyke?”
I extended my hand. From pictures, I cannot believe how good I looked that day. It was as if my womb, sensing I’d returned to the rituals of heterosexuality, sent a hopeful flood of estrogen to transform the texture of my skin—I looked dew-fresh, almost glittery. But Other Dyke seemed as interested in me as she was in her general surroundings, which is to say, not very. “What do you do?” I asked, blandly.
Other Dyke worked in publishing at a university press.
“What do you read?”
She read lots of things but especially poetry.
“Me too! Who are your favorites?”
On the dance floor behind us, the DJ announced he was gonna “slow things down a bit.” Two drunken groomsmen shadowboxed in a corner. I nursed my drink and waited for an answer. Other Dyke just blinked at me.
There are two theories about the origins of bridesmaids. One has to do with the Old Testament and another with Roman law, but more interesting than the theories themselves is the fact that they are merely theories. We don’t even know why we do this, yet the practice feels compulsory.
Leading up to the wedding, I couldn’t find any way to frame my own feelings about being a part of it. It was an honor to be nominated, etc., but I didn’t wanna do it. I didn’t know why though and it didn’t seem like something you could refuse without filing for friendship divorce.
I worried I wouldn’t be able to feign enthusiasm for several consecutive days of wedding-related activities. But I underestimated both the amount of hard liquor that would be freely available to me and the force of my socialization as a southern straight woman, which kicked back in as soon as my plane landed in Georgia. I might not have been born for this moment, but I was raised for it. The other members of the bridal party and I fused into a single glorious hydra of charm and efficiency—we were going to get these people married and we were going to do it right.
On the day of the wedding, we all got ready together in the bridal suite. From 9am to 4pm, we were mostly sitting around, taking turns in the stylist’s chair, wearing standard issue, highly flammable, hot pink silky bride’s maid robes, which neither stayed closed in the front nor pulled down in the back. To pass the time, we looked each other up and down, repeating the mantra “You’re so pretty.” I noticed I was having trouble breathing.
After we were sprayed, pinned, and painted, a photographer arrived and we reenacted the whole getting ready process for him. Then, he said, “Ok, I need you, all of you, on this bed.” We hopped on: eight maids and one bride atop the king-sized marriage bed. SNAP. “OK, now look at each other.” SNAP. “Now reach out and touch the bride. Yes. Perfect.” SNAP. “Now keep all that do it while you’re laughing.” SNAP. SNAP. SNAP. SNAP. SNAP. SNAP.
I saw the on-the-bed photo later too. While I don’t know enough about photography to analyze this scientifically, it would seem camera angles alone couldn’t explain how small I look in the shot. I’m in the back, my head turned away from everyone else, and I seem to have receded a great distance, as if anxiety and shame and force of will bent the laws of space, allowing me to be on-the-bed for the on-the-bed photo, but also 50 yards away.
For hours, I’d been nearly naked in a bedroom full of other nearly naked women. It wasn’t a sexy situation, but it looked like the sexy situations that define my sexuality and I was terrified I’d start to feel sexy about it. I policed my desire as closely as I had in locker rooms in college, in gym class in high school, in the dressing room of the kiddie-ballet studio were I used to put on my leotard in the corner facing the wall while everyone else practiced nude grand jetés in the center of the room. For so long, I was so afraid of my hunger; I took pains to make sure it never surfaced. I’d study the floor where clothes fell in soft piles anytime someone suggested, “It’s okay, we can change in front of each other. We’re all girls here, right?” And if I ever slipped, if I let my eyes rise from the carpet and linger too long a bare leg or a sun-kissed shoulder-blade, it felt like betraying a blood pact. I’d forgotten all those feelings. In the bridal suite, they came back.
And then my friends got married. And it was beautiful. At the reception, I danced with the groomsmen. I imbibed. I cried at appropriate times. My shifting attitude mystified me: had I been brought back to myself or was I now possessed? When I saw Other Dyke across the room, I knew what I had to do to come to a resolution, to merge the person I was back home with the person I’d been in the bridal suite with the person I was at this party. I needed Other Dyke to recognize me inside this triangulation; if she could claim me, I could reclaim myself.
All she had to do was want me too. And she did, I think, for a second. Then panic pushed the lust from her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I can’t remember any.”
“I can’t remember the name of a poet. Any poet. That I’ve ever read.”
I laughed, but I saw she was serious and embarrassed and retreating. “Names are hard!” I waved my wine-free hand. I WANT TO HAVE SEX ANYWAYS! I telepathically screamed.
She looked down. The father of the bride, who somehow still existed, said amiably, “I never have been much for poetry.”
There was commotion around us. A venue employee whispered something into the annoyed wedding planner’s ear. The father of the bride looked at his watch “Oh my! This place is about to close up!”
The other members of the bridal party beckoned me. I moved towards them, still under the spell of our unity, but then I stopped, turning back to catch Other Dyke’s gaze, to say something like what are you doing tonight or tomorrow or can I have a ride or if you ever remember the name of a poet, any poet, that you’ve ever read, here’s my number, but her back was turned; she was already walking away.
Later, as we all filed toward the parking lot, I heard someone calling my name. It was Other Dyke about to get into a car. “Nice to meet you!” she yelled.
“So nice!” I shouted.
We stood suspended in the second before the second when we would both prove we were too scared to ask for what we really wanted. Other Dyke got in the car. I kept waving goodbye in the dark even though I knew she couldn’t see.