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It had been haunting me for years -- a big, fat bundle of shimmery material to remind me of my big, fat failure of a relationship.
One night, my friend Charlotte and I went out drinking, and in between Jager bombs, we got to talking about wedding dresses. I normally hated discussing the sad fact that I had a wedding dress despite never getting married or even officially engaged, so back then, two years ago, alcohol was needed for me to talk about it.
“I think that was cursed from the beginning,” I told her.
My heart sank every time I looked at it, hanging in its giant protective plastic bag. It was an off-white, strapless princess number with floral beading sewn into the bodice and a massive, billowing bottom. It was something I would never wear, and indicative of my emotional state at time of purchase, which was, “He likes it and I must make this man happy.”
I buried it as deep in the back of my closet as I could, but it was obnoxiously bulky and managed to poke out no matter how many jackets I stuffed in front if it.
Like that little rain cloud that hung over Charlie Brown’s -- and only Charlie Brown’s -- head, the dress hung over me as a constant reminder of my naivety, stupidity and past mistakes.
Charlotte had a wedding dress, too; one that she wore at her wedding. She was recently divorced and also hated having that oversized, physical reminder of a failed marriage.
So we decided that the only thing we could with them do was destroy them.
Maybe you’re thinking, “But why would you buy a dress if you weren’t engaged?” And that is an excellent question. A not-engaged girl buying a dress seems like a ridiculously dumb thing to do, but my ex-boyfriend, who my friends and I now (un)affectionately call Evil E, was a master manipulator. He promised me we’d get engaged within the month, and as we scouted venues for the nuptials, buying the dress seemed logical, since it took eight months to be made.
Evil E was adamant about coming with me to the bridal store and insisted we go to a posh one.
“Are you her friend? Brother?” asked the French saleswoman.
“No, I’m her fiancé,” Evil E replied.
“Oh, you’re not supposed to see the dress!” she said.
But silly superstitions didn’t matter to him. He controlled every aspect of my life, and he was going to pick my dress no matter how horrified the saleswoman was.
I tried on a few, my favorite being a simple, antique-looking tight lace dress with cap sleeves and a straight silhouette. Evil E wasn’t a fan. He didn’t like the way it hugged my body. People would be staring at me, he said. (DUH, it’s a wedding.)
He selected the baggy-bottomed cream-colored dress, and when I put it on, I hated myself. I didn’t realize I hated myself, though. I was so used to stepping ever so lightly around Evil E’s easily agitated periphery that my own happiness was always second to his.
I started dating him when I was too young and stupid to know that just because someone thinks you’re loveable does not mean you should devote your entire life to him and ignore the fact that he’s a manipulative rat bastard who hates your friends and family.
The dress I didn't want became a symbol for the relationship I couldn't seem to get out of.
He fake-proposed while we were on vacation in Hawaii.
“The ring’s not ready,” he said. I remained hopeful despite the fact that I should have lost all hope.
His conservative parents didn’t see me as a good fit for their family. That was on top of the fact that our relationship was a total mess. All he did was yell at me, and hard as I tried to be perfect, I could never get it quite right.
A year after ordering the dress, we still weren’t engaged. I couldn’t bear to have it in our condo, so I stored it at my parents’ house.
Evil E’s story had gone from “The ring’s not ready” to “I’m not sure about your family.” He gave me an option: cut off all ties with your family and we’ll get married, or stay in this terrible spot between that rock and this hard place and suffer. My family wasn’t rich like his, but they are warm, loving Italians who, loud and emotional as they may be, tried to accept him.
Only he didn’t want their acceptance. He wanted me, alone, and without family.
All hope had been lost at this point, but still, I stayed. I stayed because I was worn out. I stayed because he said to me after dinner one night, “If you ever leave me, I’ll ruin your life,” and I believed him. I stayed because I didn’t know who I was without him. I definitely wasn’t the free-spirited, vivacious university student I was when I met him.
I was the girl who bought a fucking wedding dress before she was engaged.
That alone was enough to keep me in the relationship. Come on, bro, don’t play me for a fool! But he did.
We eventually broke up in epically dramatic fashion, and I was left with nothing but that damn dress.
In hindsight, I’m SO happy I didn't get married -- but that dress. What was I to do with it? At first, I tried to sell it on eBay and Craigslist, but there were no takers. I couldn’t give the thing away.
So Charlotte and I came up with a plan.
We drove up to a small mountain town named Golden, British Columbia, where Tiffany, another girl who wanted to join in, lived. We hired a photographer and set about drinking wine and smoking joints in preparation for dress destruction.
As awkward as I am getting my picture taken, I was more nervous to put on the dress than to pose for the photos. I hadn’t tried it on since I picked it up at the store two years earlier. It was big and awkward to walk around in. I remembered why I didn’t like it, but then I realized that I was in a big poufy princess dress and I could run around in mud puddles, so I got pretty excited.
There were moments of elation as the three of us ran through trees, flirted with truck drivers in parking lots who wondered what the hell we were doing, and spray painted walls and each other’s skirts.
But Charlotte and I started crying when our "Bad Brides" playlist started playing Adele.
We weren’t mourning our losses. We were both glad to be out of our respective relationships; we were crying for the girls we had been when we were in them. There is nothing worse than wanting desperately to be out of a relationship and thinking you don’t have the strength or means to get out.
Since my relationship with Evil E ended, I’ve tried to make up for my four years spent under his thumb. I did many of the things I always wanted to do, like making a little career for myself as a writer, living in Italy for a year, working on TV shows, and generally kicking some metaphorical ass.
Wearing that wedding dress, the one that belonged to that girl I had been, was like rewinding the tape of my life to three years earlier, when I was a shadow of the person I am now.
We went on with the dress destroying, and by the end of the day, I liked my dress much more. It was a shredded, muddy, spray-painted reincarnation of its former self. The bottom skirt had been ripped off and the sheer piece of tulle that you could see my panties through would’ve made Madonna proud.
The three of us were so thrilled at our wedding dress massacre that we couldn’t help but dance. I put on Queen’s “I Want To Break Free,” and we danced like a bunch of hippies in the living room until it was time to turn what was left of our dresses into cinder.
My friend’s boyfriend had erected wooden poles in the backyard for us to burn our dresses on. We strung them up, and I felt like a witch in a cleansing ceremony as I held a torch to the bottom of the dress.
Charlotte and I held hands, watching our wedding dresses burn, and a peaceful feeling washed over me.
No longer would I cart around the last reaming artifact of that abusive relationship. It was gone. Not haunting me from the closet. Not sold to someone else. That thing doesn’t exist anymore. And the relationship doesn’t exist, either.
I let go of a lot of anger, sadness, and regret that day -- let it all go up in flames.