Slinky went with me and Sylvia the day we were to try on dresses. She got along just fine with Sylvia. Susan and Sylvia could sit in a corner and talk about bridesmaids’ dresses and perfect shoes for the next hundred years.
I finally screwed up enough courage to come clean. “Sylvia, I’m not going to be a flower girl in your wedding.” Her eyes bugged. “I’m just too old to be flinging flowers around.”
“Oh, of course, Elizabeth. But I still want you to be in the wedding, as my bridesmaid.” She smiled like it was the brightest idea she’d ever had, and what’s worse, Slinky nodded in agreement.
I shook my head. “No, really. I don’t want to trip or anything. I hate to be the one to spoil your big day.” I gave her a lame smile back, thinking how much she spoiled my life.
“I’ll serve punch with Slinky, okay? And you won’t have to get me a special dress, or anything.”
My Dad looked disgusted and didn’t say much to me the rest of the day. I should have pointed out to him how I was saving him the expense of the powder-blue satin and velvet dress that was not worth it for little ole me, who wouldn’t be caught dead in a dress like that, even at her own funeral.
I considered wearing plaid sneakers with my plain, sleeveless blue dress. Leaning against the doorjamb, arms folded across her chest, Mom eyed me critically.
“Hey, it’s a fashion statement,” I flung my arms wide and twirled. “And comfortable. I’ll be standing awhile.” I grabbed my scarf and with dramatic flourish draped it around my neck.
“The trouble with ‘statements’ made in anger,” Mom straightened and wagged a finger, “is that you live to regret them. Chose your battles wisely.”
“Whoa, what about individuality, Mom-the-artist?” I mimicked her stance with my hands on my hips.
“I guess it is a matter of definition. Are you an individual or a just a rebellious teen? One is taken seriously, the other is not.” She turned around and left me there to think about it.
It was a beautiful June day for the wedding. I wore the blue dress with the scarf, but chose comfortable white ballerina shoes. I borrowed my mother’s diamond stud earrings, which were a little larger than the diamond in my newly pierced nose. My Dad’s parents picked me up two hours before the ceremony and clearly avoided looking closely at the center of my face the entire way over to the church.
I felt queasy during the ceremony, and concentrated on not throwing up, parked in the front pew with my grandparents. The bride came down the aisle, a white-laced illusion. The groom appeared by her side. And they recited their vows.
How can they take vows to love, honor and cherish one another through sickness and health, till death do them part? Surely it must have crossed Sylvia’s mind that my Dad had said those vows once before. I wondered if Mom really wished Dad all the happiness in the world, or if she were sitting at home feeling as rotten as I was.
I stood beside Slinky at the refreshment table, and helped pass out the three-hundred plates with slices of white cake with raspberry filling and butter cream frosting that I didn’t even taste. The reception line went on forever, with the band playing dippy love songs that couples slow-danced to. Every chance he got, my Dad introduced me as “Elizabeth, my daughter,” in one breath. Finally, someone, I think it was the matron of honor, announced the bride and groom would leave for their honeymoon after the last dance.
Slinky waved frantically at me. “Your Dad’s looking for you. He wants to dance with you.”
“I have to go to the bathroom. Too much punch.” I hurried out of the room. I didn’t feel like dancing with someone who couldn’t remember my name. I joined my grandparents outside as the crowd threw rice at the departing newlyweds.
All I wanted to do was go home and watch my favorite TV program with my Mom. I mean, if spending the evening with my Mom sounded like a good idea, then you know I must have been a sorry space cadet.
“Hey, Princess,” my Dad’s voice carried miles, as he beckoned me after shutting the door of the black limousine on Sylvia’s veil. “When we get back from Hawaii you come spend the weekend with us, okay?”
Grandma gave me a little nudge. “Go over and kiss him good-bye, real fast, like a bunny.”
I wasn’t going to run across the lawn in new shoes that hurt my feet and end up skidding half-way to Oregon just to give my Dad a kiss good-bye. I suppose I could have hopped like a bunny and made a real spectacle of myself, but then someone would have told my Mom and she would have lectured me for an hour about it.
Instead, I waved. “Bye, Dad. Have a nice time,” although by the look on his face I don’t think he bought my sincerity, which made me feel kind of bad all of a sudden. So I walked over and gave him a big kiss on the cheek. “Really, Dad, have a good time.” And, I thought, do some soul-surfing while you’re at it.
He hugged me for a long time. “All of us will go next time, okay?”
I said nothing. He and Sylvia could go on a trip every year or twice a month, but I didn’t want to be with them. Maybe they deserved each other, I didn’t really care. Things were never going to be the same with me and my Dad, and I guess I’d have to get used to that, but I didn’t have to like it. I wasn’t going to let him go without a little hurt of his own.
“Hey, Dad,” he turned, still smiling at me as I spoke, “please don’t call me ‘Princess’, okay?”
He looked stunned a moment, then his smile returned. “All right. I’ll see you in a couple of weeks, okay?”
I watched until they were out of sight. I waited forever for my grandparents to say their farewells so that we could leave. Slinky immediately started babbling when she got into the car, comparing notes with my grandmother. I leaned my head back and shut my eyes, while Slinky rattled on and on about the lovely wedding.
It seemed a small bit of eternity with all the farewells. I heaved a sigh of relief when I made it to my bedroom, and changed into my jeans and sweater. The house was quiet and my Mom was in the back bedroom working on an art project for her class next Friday. This, I decided, is how things should be, and settled down with a cold glass of milk before the television. The only thing that spoiled it was a rerun of “Star Trek, the Next Generation” that I had already seen, but no matter, I liked it anyway.
Reruns were a lot better than being with Dad and Sylvia. It was like we were aliens that didn’t speak the same language. I miss the way my life used to be, when Mom and Dad were together. I miss the old Slinky that wasn’t involved up to her shaved armpits with boys, clothes and make-up. Frank got a job at McDonald’s™ and I don’t see him much, either. I wish I could change everything back again, make it right, and everyone would be happy. Only it seems everyone is happy, except for me.
Summer was the season for changes for me. My body “blossomed” as Nana and Mom kept saying; shopping took on a whole new twist as I had to have bras, an electric shaver, and all sorts of things to accommodate Mother Nature. I didn’t have that much time for Dad, as I kept pretty busy with babysitting jobs every weekend and three weeks in August, yard work with Dean and Fran, earning plenty of money for new clothes. I took my new position as Class Treasurer seriously and looked forward in the fall to starting tenth grade with the honors’ class. I was beginning to feel more responsible for my own life, like I could make decisions for myself and think through problems on my own.
Dad didn’t seem to notice the changes. We got along all right, like people do when they see each other once in a while, chatting about everyday stuff. It had been a month or more since I’d spent a weekend with them at their condo, and when Dad asked me to stay over, I said I would. I brought my star stencil kit and intended to ask him to help me do the ceiling. I was stunned when I walked into my bedroom and saw what Sylvia had done to it.
My unstained bed and dresser were white with ugly, little gold scrolls here and there. White curtains outlined the windows and the bedspread was the most hideous pink, ruffled thing with teeny red roses that I had ever seen. The little porcelain unicorn sat smugly in the middle of the dresser. I thought I’d throw up right then and there! All my posters, banners and pictures were stacked neatly in two boxes. The Disneyland banner I had brought to put up wilted in my grip as I blinked and blinked, hoping this ugly scene right out of Grimm’s fairy tale would disappear.
But it didn’t. Dad draped his arm around my shoulder. “What do you think? Fit for a Princess, huh?” His eyes twinkled and he grinned. “Sylvia worked for three days to get it ready for you. Like it?”
“Oh, Dad!” I slapped my forehead and acted like I had a sudden, horrible thought. “I forgot I have to babysit tonight! Could you take me home right now?”
“Sure, I’ll get my keys.” He looked at me strangely, not moving.
“Could you take the other box, Dad? There’s no sense in leaving this crap here for anyone to trip over.” I picked up the larger box and made for the front door. “Hope I didn’t mess up your dinner, Sylvia.”
“That’s okay, honey, we’ll do something special next weekend. Maybe we can shop in the morning and catch a movie in the afternoon. All right?”
“Sounds just great,” I said, and I knew the sarcasm was unmistakable, even without the dirty look my Dad gave me.
“What’s wrong with you, Elizabeth Conner?” he growled as we stood by the car. “You’re acting like an obnoxious child!”
“I’m sorry! I guess I could have called Mom to come get me.” I straightened out the Disneyland banner on top of the star stencil box before Dad slammed the trunk shut and squashed himself down into the driver’s seat.
“I don’t care about that!” He half-turned, his hand clutching the steering wheel and shaking the keys at me. “You’re not the sweet little girl that you used to be.”
“You’re right, I’m not!” I was steamed, too. “You’re not like the father you used to be, either!”
“Well, I haven’t changed, Elizabeth.” He jammed the key into the ignition. “I don’t want anymore of this attitude problem, do you understand?”