the runaway bride

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Question: how many people does it take to stuff a voluminous wedding dress into a modest carry-on suitcase?

Answer: two, if one is unsentimental and can bear the agony of rolling, folding, and crushing the garment into a form one-quarter of its original size while the other watches in horror.

The non-sentimental character in this scenario is my mom. She knows how to get things done. The one shrieking, “are you sure that won’t damage it?!” is me.

As much as it made me cringe, it had to be done. It was the end of August, and I finally had a plane ticket. My suitcases were already packed, stuffed to the gills.

Much of the room was taken up by my wedding dress and by the two Barbies I’d chosen for the little girls that would soon become my nieces (!). In addition, I’d packed the contents of my closet, my favorite kitchen tools, my personal cookbook, and a stuffed duck with a woeful expression Victor had bought me in Memphis.

We joked that I was running away with a wedding dress and a stuffed animal. It was gleefully ridiculous.

Slowly, the day of my departure approached. I had such a busy week ahead of me that I chose to block it out by obsessing that my “personal item” wouldn’t fit under the seat in front of me and that my carry-on, bulky from the dress, wouldn’t slide into the overhead bin.

My parents and I said goodbye at the airport. They left me with a lovely, dainty gold necklace that says mrs. I proceeded through security, crying a bit in a mess of emotions, hormones, and nerves.

Once on the plane, enjoying Kansas City International’s first direct transatlantic flight (to Iceland, where I’d change planes), I started to feel just plain excited. The pressure of the upcoming events was nothing compared to getting to see Victor for the first time in months.

My flight passed in a febrile haze, as it always does. At Reykjavik, it was four in the morning. Bleary-eyed, I stood in line for a banana smoothie at a joint staffed by frowning, tattooed twenty-somethings. Dance music throbbed from the speakers while groups of people, mainly explorer types with huge backpacks, slept on the floor. Others nursed beers and sad-looking sandwiches. Large signs with laughing beautiful people urged us to stock up on luxury perfumes. The familiar, dreaded purgatory of the airport.

I stayed out of the stores, lest my sleep-deprived judgment lead me to tote around a fairisle sweater, stuffed puffin, or bucket of skyr in the early hours of the morning.

Hours later, I was in Paris. And there was Victor! I saw him through the glass as I waited for my mountain of luggage to come scuttling around on the conveyer belt. From my glimpse, he was tall and handsome as ever. Same mustache. Disarmingly-bright pants (it can’t be helped; he’s European).

After a joyful reunion, we shared a rain-spattered taxi ride into Paris.

to be continued, because this story isn’t short. 

a modest proposal

French Grey Photography by Brian Wright 004
Photo by French Grey Photography

When I told people I was getting married, the first question was usually the same. After squeals of delight or a delay of stunned silence (the most common reactions), friends asked, so how did he propose?!, setting me up to recount a juicy story.

But I didn’t have one. Victor hadn’t proposed, not officially. The reality of living thousands of miles apart from May to September meant that many important conversations had been conducted through screens, hindered by poor Wifi signals. “Will you marry me” was to be postponed for a time we could make actual eye contact, seal the deal with a ring.

Though there was nothing official about our engagement, I did possess a physical symbol of my commitment: the new wedding dress hanging from my closet door. Mom and I had found a boutique in Kansas City–her idea–and rushed out to see what we could find. I was grateful for the enthusiasm and support. I thought the news might be greeted with some hesitation, but as far as I could tell, Mom was nothing but thrilled.

“I’m so grateful you’re supportive,” I told her. “Some people would say it’s too soon; I didn’t know how you would feel.”

Mom said it kind of made sense. My relationship, though quick if judged by the calendar, lacked nothing in depth. It consisted of a lot of travel and a lot of long-distance communication, both highly-effective ways to get to know someone quickly.

“Anyway,” said Mom, “you met in, November, was it? That’s not unheard of.”

“Uh. April, actually. Mid-April.”

“Oh my… For some reason I had it in my head as the fall. Wow, that is quick.”

“Mom!” I laughed, hoping it was too late for her to change her mind.

She’s right, of course. About 7 months past the day we met, Victor and I will be standing at the city hall of his hometown (a village of about 4,000 outside Paris) proclaiming our commitment.

I can say that because we actually have a date! This wasn’t the case at the bridal boutique, where I sheepishly tossed out some idea of a wedding date and startled when the lovely owner referred to Victor as my fiancé. I have a fiancé? I felt like I was acting, like Mom and I were doing undercover research for an exposé on the bridal industry. We weren’t going to actually leave with one of these brilliant gowns…

And then I was zipped into some of the most beautiful creations I’ve ever seen, confections of silk and lace in every subtle shade between eggshell and cream. After just a few try-ons, I wiggled into the dress of my dreams, modern and sophisticated and undeniably romantic. Just like that, I was holding a glass of champagne and smiling for pictures.

I was the bride.

As the weeks passed, my dress hid in my closet like a secret, shrouded in its white zip-up bag. I let my family and friends in on the news slowly, one at a time. I still didn’t have anything resembling details.

I’m engaged, I’m not kidding, I’m returning to France, and this will happen…soon.

For such a big life change, it had really come out of the blue. It wasn’t until later that I remembered how this whole discussion of marriage had come about in the first place.

A job application.

Yep, a job application. Sent by my fiancé–an engineer who makes his living hiring other  engineers for an electronic systems company–to me.

I’d been floundering in the job search. Never my idea of a good time on the best of days, my current task was even more challenging than usual: find a good job in the South of France from my parents’ living room in Clinton, Missouri. What’s more, I needed to find a business willing to undergo the complicated and taxing process of hiring an étrangère. 

Yeah right.

As I’m not an in-demand tech guru or a genius engineer, my options were limited. I was cold-emailing schools before they let out for the summer. I even considered au-pairing, unsure if it would be a good way to find my way or a step backwards.

One afternoon–frustrated, tired, scheming–I opened my messages to discover there was a man in the South of France in want of a wife. Curiously, the right candidate needed to possess an amalgam of qualities that seemed to refer specifically to my personality, appearance, and experiences. Suspicious.

The job search continued (and was successful!). But the threat that I’d be compromising our young relationship if I couldn’t soon find something on the same continent did not.

 

I’m getting married!!!