I stood still in my sneakers. “Great.”
If you are unfamiliar with the price points at Carolina Herrera, here’s a good way to get a sense of them: Think of the absolute most you can imagine an article of clothing costing. Now triple that. I must have tried on a hundred-thousand dollars’ worth of fabric that day. But every dress was exquisite, astounding. Each one made me look thinner and more expensive. And then the saleswoman brought me something I would never have even looked twice at: It was made of pale-blue oxford cloth with ribbons for straps and a corseted bodice. The skirt was tight at the top and then exploded with volume and hand-painted floral appliqués. When I put it on, I appeared to be in full bloom. “There’s your bouquet,” she said.
“I’ll take it.”
If my mother knew how much money I paid for that dress, I do believe she would disown me. But I wasn’t thinking about my mother when the seamstress started pinning me in. I was thinking about Amy’s.
Like me, Mrs. Norquist was a journalist before she got married. Like me, she is a chatterbox and a gardener. And like me, she is a clotheshorse. But that’s it. Mrs. Norquist is a staunch conservative and a churchgoer, as are two of the three sons she raised. (Her oldest, Bruce, is an Evangelical minister, and her youngest, Todd, works for the creationist movement.) When Amy came out in college (two decades ago), Mrs. Norquist didn’t speak to her for a year. In fact, as much as she likes to gab, Mrs. Norquist does not talk about anything that really bothers her, except to say the words “Oh, honestly.” She likes to talk about who’s had a baby and who’s been on a trip, and she likes to talk about weddings, a lot. She talks about weddings as much as my mother talks about shiatsu. Where my family is freaky and loose, foulmouthed and freewheeling, Mrs. Norquist is nurturing and restrained, a woman who makes toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. I fell for her immediately.
When we go to visit Amy’s parents, generally Amy and her dad watch sports, and Mrs. Norquist and I drink tea and look at fashion magazines together. This is not something I find boring. It is a shared passion and a neutral territory—we avoid discussing politics, sexuality, ethnicity, and religion (except once, when I let loose an “oy vey’’ and she said, “What?” And I said, “That’s what my people say when we mean ‘Oh, honestly.’”). Fashion is what we agree upon, the thing we share besides Amy (who does not look at fashion magazines, unless maybe there were a special issue on man- tailored suits). “That’s a darling heel!” Mrs. Norquist will say. “It would be good in a dark suede,” I reply. It’s honest communication. We are both ourselves when we talk about clothes, telling each other, for once, the whole truth.
When I saw myself in the mirror in that blue gown with its graceful silhouette and giddy flowers, I could hear Mrs. Norquist gasping and saying, “Isn’t that gorgeous!” It was my secret wish that she would look at it and see in our lives sparkle instead of shame. It was my secret wish that if my party about love was as flawless as the gowns in that store, it would subsume the humiliation of its own existence ... subsume the horror of my homosexuality.
“What do you care what other people think?” is what my own mother would say, of course—has said, many times over the course of my life. And that is the difference between us. My mother is a woman who moved to Cape Cod on a whim. Who has giant green marbles stuck in the plaster of her walls for decoration and an extensive collection of Buddha-like objects she has amassed in her travels through China, Tibet, and the gift shops of the lower cape. She wears pajamas to work and is nicknamed Rocky and was, in her day, a pretty serious practitioner of non-monogamy. My mother is (still) a bad-ass, because she just doesn’t give a shit what anybody else thinks. I care what everybody thinks. So does Mrs. Norquist. I am not sure which one of them I find more mysterious.
I’m not going to lie to you: My gay wedding rocked. My oldest friend, Jesse, played “Crimson and Clover” on his electric guitar when we walked down the mountain, and I can still feel the sound of that song reverberating in my chest. My mother wore high heels and makeup for the first time I can remember and danced until one in the morning. There were these amazing pink margaritas everyone kept drinking. Mrs. Norquist gave Amy the handkerchief her mother gave her on her wedding day: “Something blue,” she said, and that’s all she said on the subject. That and “Isn’t that gorgeous!” when she saw my gown. She still can’t quite bring herself to call what happened in September a wedding. But then, for a long time, neither could I.
The dress is still hanging in my closet, which has less to do with my being sentimental than it does with eBay’s being really complicated. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever wear it again, partly because mine is not a black-tie life, and also because I doubt very much that I could get back into it. (When conservatives discuss the perils of gay marriage, they fail to mention its most pernicious consequence: Gay marriage, like all marriage, is extremely fattening.) One of these days I’ll sell it, though: That thing cost a fortune, and who could feel okay about keeping something so expensive hanging in a garment bag? Amy I’m keeping.