There is a bride looking back at me from the mirror.
It is my face, softened by a gauzy veil. Delicate silk flowers catch the veil and fasten it to the curls that frame my face.
"You're a vision," my mother breathes from the dressing room door.
Indeed I am.
My mother has dragged me to the bridal boutique in the hope that seeing myself festooned in a wedding dress might help me get excited about the prospect of becoming a bride.
I know. It's not normal.
So many girls grow up dreaming of the day when they will float down the aisle on a cloud of white silk, toward a beaming groom, toward the rest of their life.
Not me. I feel nauseous.
As I saw the better side of my 20s come and go, my more logical mind understood that it was time to get serious about dating. Ticking clocks, smaller dating pools and such...
This was easy in the theoretical sense. Then along came an abnormally nice fellow who, it became clear, wanted something serious.
Something long-lasting. Permanent, even.
You know... the M-word.
In fact, he would accept nothing less.
That's when I started hyperventilating.
It's not that I don't want to get married.
Until now, I had an unconscious awareness of the baggage I'd been carrying. But now I saw it in the clear light of day.
I am a statistic. The grown-up version of a child scarred by her parents' divorce, now terrified at my deepest, darkest levels of making the same mistake my parents did. Of going through the same hell they did. Or, worse yet, of scarring my own children through the court-sanctioned circus that dissolves a union meant to be life-long.
I am a statistic: the grown-up version of a child scarred by her parents' divorce.
I thought I'd worked through all this during my tumultuous college years, when my hair changed shades to reflect my mood, and when I tried different ideologies with equal abandon.
But here it comes, the fear, snaking out from behind a car seat to hiss in my ear. My boyfriend has just casually mentioned where his parents think we should get married.
And my heart starts to beat fast.
This is not the first time the subject has been mentioned overtly. We both know what is happening.
But it still comes as a shock to my system.
Almost always, until now, the men with whom I became involved remained removed from me. Our minds would entangle but our spirits never did. Verbal banter took the place of emotional intimacy.
"You have a wall up around you," the last serious one told me. "No matter what I do, you won't let me in completely."
It was true, I had cried to my uncle after that boyfriend broke it off. I'll never get married. I am hiding.
And hiding I was.
After years of therapeutic introspection, I'd become intimate with the vagaries of my mind and emotions. I knew myself quite well. Nauseatingly well.
Yet I couldn't share that with the men I dated.
At my core remained an unspoken certainty that exposing myself meant I would be hurt. If not now, down the road.
You have a wall up around you. No matter what I do, you won't let me in completely.
Love fades, I believed. With a child's eyes, I had watched it happen.
In the middle of my parent's divorce, I took a walk with my mother.
She was battered by a year of fighting my father and his family. He had hired the best and nastiest attorney in town. She hired a friend who coached my brother's soccer team.
She and the soccer coach had been brutalized.
"Always take care of yourself, Beck," she told me, her eyes wild behind a year of fatigue. "Never trust that a man will take care of you."
Those are words she wishes she could take back now, but they leapt into that 12-year-old's head and, despite my attempts at scrubbing them out, are there still, half a lifetime later.
The ties of marital fealty that form the foundation of most children's security were broken for me.
The two people I viewed as my protectors in this world turned on each other -- unaware that their attacks on each other were knifing through me.
There are logical answers to all these echoes of pain.
I spent my 20s forming the answers, forcing them out of my mouth.
In college, I assumed I'd never marry. I parroted the dismissive phrases I read in radical feminist literature. "I need to marry like a fish need a bicycle." I detached myself by reading such things over and over, until they ran together in my head and I believed them.
What is the reason women kept leaping into this outdated institution with such enthusiasm?
Instead of marrying, I believed I would have a fine apartment and a good career, as if these were equated a substitute for matrimony.
Fantasizing about my future, I saw a Boston brownstone filled with modern furniture. There were men in these dreams, but no bonds of matrimony that would atrophy into depositions about who bought which sofa and when.
But slowly I realized that there was a reason women kept leaping into this outdated institution with such enthusiasm. Serial monogamy offered no protection from the pains I associated with divorce. If anything, it offered more pain and disillusion.
It was marriage -- pedestrian and bourgeois as it may be -- that offers not only security, but can take the energy that goes into maintaining a relationship, and harness it, channel it, make it grow.
"Why are you so scared?" my uncle asked me, the night I came ranting about the latest boyfriend's defection. He asked me again when I came to him hyperventilating over this one, this good one who wouldn't let me get away with hiding myself.
With the right guy, he had said, I would be able to open up.
And, sure enough, he was right. I had tried with the two or three would-be's between this boyfriend and the last. But with this one, it clicked.
It wasn't the seductive jousting of two analytical minds pushing and pulling until one comes out on top. It was the simple insistence of this kind man saying, "I want you to be completely yourself with me, Rebecca."
When he said that, I cried.
It's what I always dreamed of hearing.
We know that love does not conquer all, that marriages take hard work, and that they sometimes fail.
So why was I so scared, now that we were moving toward the natural next step?
And there, perhaps, is the salient issue.
To children of fractious families, marriage is not in the natural course of events.
We, better than anyone, know that love does not conquer all. That marriages take hard work. And that they sometimes fail.
That knowledge, though, can be a tremendous asset as we head toward matrimony.
I do not have the luxury of being swept off my feet. I walk forward with this man at my side all too aware of the weight of our decisions.
In a quest to divert the wheels of fate that claim you are doomed to repeat your history, I have devoured every book there is on dating, relationships and marriage.
I have made myself an inconspicuous observer of marriages that work, and have squeezed from my friends their insights, their secrets to why they succeed where others, like my parents, fail so spectacularly.
I have learned that no marriage is perfect and that one size does not fit all.
The essential ingredients are love and respect for one another, a shared vision of the future and, above all, a commitment to work it out.
I realize now that the protective armor I'd developed had kept me from harm to some extent. But, more so, it had prevented me from moving forward.
Without shedding our fears and suspicions, we grown-up versions of wounded children are indeed doomed to repeat our parents' mistakes.
My fear was the only thing holding me back.
Melodramatic. But true.
Finding the right person helps, of course. I know that he is honest and good and true and, conveniently, has the family background I lack. But I also know that he never would have found me had I continued hiding.
Subconsciously, we select our pickings. When I was avoiding a real connection, I found men incapable of it. When I wanted to connect, my tastes changed.
I go back to the bridal boutique, ready to say "yes" to the wedding gown.
I am not wearing a veil and I can see my face clearly.
"You're a vision," my mother breathes again.
I smile at her in the mirror and I realize that, for the first time in my life, I am ready to take my love's hand and walk steadfast into the unknown.