And I do not believe in crummy parties. I believe in glamour. I believe that when you are on your deathbed clinging to the murk of your memories, some will stay with you purely on the power of atmosphere: the way a punch bowl looked surrounded by daisies at your 5th-birthday party, the feel of a certain set of blue sheets the first time you traveled alone. There was no way I was going to let this thing be shoddy—some pathetic hers-and-hers imitation of the real thing or some vaguely patchouli-scented ceremony. If I was going to have a party about love, it was going to be the classiest party about love ever. I did not experience this imperative as relaxing.
This was not the first large, square, optional ceremony I’d insisted on having despite my mother’s warnings. As a 10-year-old, I decided that I wanted to have a bat mitzvah. I was the only kid in the history of Westchester County who demanded Hebrew school. And as I stood in front of the racks of red at Bergdorf Goodman, I recalled the feeling I’d had at some point in my preteen Jewish odyssey when I looked down at the sacred ancient letters on the scroll: What have I done?
But in both cases, by the time the magnitude of my folly revealed itself to me, it was way, way too late to undo. As my stepmother put it with terrifying accuracy when we went to see how many cocktail tables would fit on the porch of the house where she and my dad live in the Blue Ridge Mountains, “This horse is out of the gate.” It was too late to cancel those lovely and meticulously worded invitations. Too late to tell Amy’s 80-year-old father, a man who served in MacArthur’s honor guard after World War II, that the vibratingly tense dinner at which we’d declared our intention to faux wed was a waste of a good steak and two hours of his remaining time on planet Earth. It was too late to do anything but find a dress.
Normally, I love clothes. Really love them. I feel about clothes the way I feel about flowers: They sing to me. But I understand tulips and boots; I understand little jackets. I am a stranger to formalwear. The first dress I brought home was a kind of Grecian muumuu in a cheery shade of coral. It looked like something Mrs. Robinson would have worn to a pool party in The Graduate. “Chic, right?” I said to Amy. “Perky and festive.”
She appeared confused. “You want to wear a nightgown to our wedding?”
“It’s not a wedding!” I shrieked. “It’s a party about love!”
Amy rolled her eyes. “I didn’t realize it was a pajama party about love.”
Back it went. A few days later, I modeled a low-cut pale-gold dress with spaghetti straps and a gauzy skirt from Missoni. “Nice!” said Amy. “You look like a fancy hooker. In Capri.” This was not the look I wanted.
Then one day, I went to a doctor’s appointment uptown. It was a sunny spring morning and I wore sneakers and track pants so I could walk home to the East Village when it was over. Amy was at Jussara Lee, the custom shop on Little West 12th Street where she was having her suit made for the big event, the P.A.L. As I made my way down Madison Avenue, I envied her. (And by envied I mean, obviously, resented.) Of course Amy would wear a suit; Amy always wears a suit. Everything about this situation seemed simpler for her—she was neither ambivalent nor insane, while I was rapidly flipping my lid. She didn’t care about how uncool it was that we were doing this; Amy has always been cool. While I obsessed about how lame it was to seek public acceptance, to crave ritual, and grew queasy at the mention of marriage, Amy was excited.
Then something in a shop window caught my eye. A dress the color of grass, the shape of a mermaid. A dress that would flash before your eyes on your deathbed and in your dreams. I could no longer think about being cool or being mortified or being heteronormative. I could no longer think. The doorman looked at my sneakers skeptically as I shuffled past him into the Carolina Herrera boutique.
“Hello,” I said to the salesgirl, a water lily of a woman. “I need a dress to wear to my wedding. I do not want to wear white. I want to wear that one.”
“A gown,” she told me. “That one is a gown.”