Essays — July 29, 2011 19:22 — 4 Comments

How to Cancel Your Wedding – Janice Wilson Stridick

So you have the wrong guy, and you’ve said yes because you feel old, you feel sorry for him, you hate your mother, you hate your job, you love his brother—whatever, you have a wedding to plan. Have fun—you deserve it—the pain is yet to come.

Make sure that you and your mother fight over whom to invite. Wrangle over every shrimp hors d’oeurve. Pore over the latest tome of ultra-fashionable wedding accoutrements, and then figure out how you, your mother, and sisters can make them for half (or one-third) of the cost.

Oh. The wedding dress. Of course you wouldn’t settle for an off-the-rack dress. If you’re marrying Mr. Wrong, you must do it in style, your style, which is to say that your sister’s friend’s Mennonite seamstress will make your design for half the cost of the dresses you’ve been struggling into from the clearance racks at those enormously déclassé wedding marts. You know what you want. Or, at least, you think you do, in this category: the category of accoutrements for a doomed marriage.

You choose the flapper-inspired number from the Vogue (or was it Butterick? McCall’s?) pattern books. The same books that inspired all those dresses for losers you hemmed and stitched your way through during high school, when it was uncool to make your clothes, but you did it because you’re something of a nonconformist in the guise of a cheerleader. You look the part and nobody figures you out. Not even you. Especially not you.

Now you take your pattern to the fabric district and inspect yards and yards of lace on rolls in the dusty wood-planked shops owned by third-generation Italian tailors in the heart of Philadelphia. They barely look up from their work; they’ve seen your kind before. But you’re not swayed; you sashay through their offerings of lace (machined or hand-crocheted) in the shape of birds, flowers, leaves, and even cats. Cats! No. That’s for curtains. No birds either. The lace you choose is, of course, the most expensive type. In spite of the fact that you have such an instinct for the wrong guy and how to piss off your mother, you have great taste in fabric.

You’re a connoisseur of sorts: color, texture, the nuance of heft, and balance. So you choose the second most expensive lace in the fourth store and feel good about it because you’re saving so much money by using the Mennonite seamstress in Lancaster County. You hope she’s as good as your sister claims. That’s your little sister, the one who used to sneak into your closet and steal your nylons and satin blouse, then return the blouse with a stain and deny any knowledge of the hose, she of the scheduled-calendar-of-clothes, who never wore the same outfit twice. Miss organization-plus, a realtor who makes buckets of money in boom years. She knows how to squeeze ten dollars from a penny, and for once you take her advice. Mrs. Stoltzfus is the stitcher for you.

The first meeting doesn’t go well. Your sister never told you about the woman’s thick German accent, knuckles like dumplings, or the winding fifty-minute crawl to her farmhouse behind horse-drawn buggies, after an hour on the turnpike. The price we pay for savings, your sister chides. You purse your lips and let the woman pin muslin over your too-large hips while you imagine yourself as the pattern-book sylph in a drop-waist dress looking all the world like a free-thinking, happy-go-lucky ingénue. Yes, that’s the persona you need to carry this off, with your smile and mascara intact.

By the third fitting, you understand this dress requires not only the burning of gallons of overpriced gas, but tortured telephone conversations. You try your second-year German but Mrs. Stoltzfus just mutters “Ach, ach. Nein!” So you get back in your fifteen-year-old Saab and watch the odometer pass 230,000 and pray that the fuel pump that reportedly will bust again doesn’t choose this ninety-five-degree, ninety-eight-percent humidity Pennsylvania day to do so. Now you’re stuck in the crowded little room Mrs. Stoltzfus uses to sew her masterpieces; she pins the lace on you, so you don’t move, even though a line of sweat tickles your forehead and another runs down your back. When she’s done, you ask if there is a mirror anywhere. You show her your compact, wave your arms, shrug.

Never did it occur to you that you’d be having a dress made on your adult body—your body—this blasted carriage with all its extra baggage and so many flaws but still a magnet for men. It always slayed you the way they came to you—easy, like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel. They were always the wrong men, and they never wanted to leave. Maybe it was the nervous smile and false sugar you fed them in self-defense or guilt, and here you are in your thirties, marrying finally (well, for the second time, but the starter marriage didn’t count) and not even a mirror to see what you look like in this lacy, drop-waist flapper-inspired McCall’s (yes, it was McCall’s, a step up from Barbie, but never mind) dress.

The seamstress finally understands that you must see yourself in her creation, and you need a mirror. Your sister talks on her cell phone. It was nice of her to come, she didn’t bother last trip, but after you begged and cried—she’d never seen you this desperate—she acquiesced with the caveat that the market had gone flatter than a fried egg, and if there were deals to be coddled no client would be left on hold. She sweet-talked first-time homebuyers while you sped by acres of virgin farmland destined for vinyl-sided ranchers. How is this your sister, you asked yourself. But you love her, you do. And she’s saving you money.

Mrs. Stoltzfus’s mirror is in her garage, which smells of manure and curdled milk because it is really a barn or some sort of useful outbuilding, maybe a milk house. The mirror is old and the silvering is mottled and pocked with bits of black showing through, the glass filmy in spots, framed in sturdy hand-tooled walnut—once a proud wall mirror now propped against rough pine, nested in hay. You can see yourself though, for the first time, in this replica of a flapper dress conjured by the swollen fingers of this stern woman. You look and gasp. Is it the angle? You suck your stomach in and look again and know it’s not the fault of the pockmarked mirror or the Mennonite seamstress. It’s a familiar and breathtakingly predictable but unacknowledged phenomenon, one you have lived through too many times since you learned to sew and began choosing your own patterns at the age of nine.

You look like a lace refrigerator. Your large breasts draped down to your full hips. Your respectably indented waist, obscured. What you see is a squat rectangle of white, fringed with roses. Roses, the pattern on this second-most-expensive Italian lace that cost enough to reduce the butlered hors d’ouevres from five to a meager and embarrassing three, but that’s another argument. You suck in your stomach and turn to the left.

The symmetry is a thing to behold. You are no longer a woman; you my dear are a bona fide box. The dress is diabolical. Something your mother would have constructed to ensure your modesty remained intact, forever. Mr. T in lace. Lace, lace, lace from the fringe around your face to the tips of your toes: lace in a boatneck, lace hiding any sign of cleavage, lace—yards of second-most-expensive lace—covering your curves. You pinch the waist to see if it helps; perhaps you can adapt the pattern to show off your voluptuous curves, but no, the folds of lace pull the skirt up in a weird uneven hitch, and there is no turning back. Your carefree flapper fantasy melts before your eyes, like the banks in 1929 or real estate in 2009, and you are suddenly facing facts. But you avert your eyes. You choke back tears and gulp. You press a tissue to your nose to block the smell of manure-curdled milk, and you’re grateful that Mrs. Stoltzfus didn’t hobble out with you and your sister who’s on the phone reassuring a buyer that the home will be his once the bank approves the mortgage.

Miraculously, you recognize the signs: Your pending nuptials will only increase your lifetime deficit. You know what you must do, and when you get home that night, in fifteen minutes on your cell, you call the florist, the caterer, the soprano, and then, Mrs. Stoltzfus. No, nein, ach! The wedding is off. Yes, you understand you’ve forfeited your deposit. Gladly.

Bio: Janice Wilson Stridick

Janice Wilson Stridick’s poems, essays and stories have been published or are forthcoming in Arts and Letters, Tahoe Blues, Studio One, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Philadelphia Stories, New York Arts Magazine and other venues. She lives in Merchantville, New Jersey with her delightful architect-husband, an arthritic but affable Dalmatian, and a cranky cat. Her occasional blog, podcast, and photography may be viewed at

Janice Wilson Stridick


  1. Sandy Favala says:

    Janice, Mr T in lace had me laughing out loud. This story is wonderful!!!

  2. win jacobs says:

    from smile to chuckle to guffaw–Jan, you moved my morning over to the happy track!

  3. Janice says:

    so glad my misery can make people happy :-)

  4. Lora Rusanova says:

    Janice, i really enjoyed it. Very softly written, I recalled a music piece-Å eherizadu Rimsky-korsakov …

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney