This morning at the fabric store, I overheard a mother dismissing the cost of a ring bearer’s pillow. “You only get married once, sweetheart,” she assured the blushing bride, a young girl who no doubt reminded her of herself three decades before. Biting my tongue, I resisted the urge to add a sarcastic, “Yeah, I thought that, too.” I sold my wedding rings early last summer and bought a 9 mm instead.
It seemed a more permanent investment than my marriage had been. The engagement ring once symbolized a promise, a commitment to become a man’s wife. The band once symbolized a never-ending circle, a union without end. But my marriage did end. The circle was broken. After we divorced, these tiny in-tact rings of metal and stone became symbols of loss and failed promises.
I didn’t handle any rings at my friend Angela’s wedding this weekend. I was the flower girl the night before the nuptials; Angela’s kitchen was inundated with fresh cut hydrangeas, carnations, roses, and sprigs of baby’s breath, and I tried to catch her vision. I was grateful that the other bridesmaids let me take command of the flower post. Within a couple of hours, all the bouquets, boutonnieres, and corsages were complete, but we still had at least a hundred flowers left.
While the rest of the crew helped set up tents and add finishing touches for the backyard reception, I set to work on the centerpieces. I was happy to be alone and productive with my pre-wedding jitters. I wasn’t nervous for Angela. It’s just that the guest book and the twinkle lights and the talk of hair, nails, and makeup sent me back seven years.
There was something oddly therapeutic about snipping stems and arranging blossoms. It occurred to me that if I ever married again, I would enjoy doing my own flowers. One of the guys helping took to calling me The Botanist. Given my toddler-aged hobby, it makes sense that I would feel most at home with the greenery. My task was in opposition to that in my garden, and the irony struck me. In my hands were plants that had reached full bloom, and they were serving out their purpose of beautifying the world in Angela’s wedding. I fight in my garden beds to keep them alive so they might fulfill a purpose someday, too.
When I’d finished, Angela handed me tiny wooden signs to add, reading, “You and Me, Love, Mr. and Mrs., Best Day Ever, and Happily Ever After.” They were just cut flowers before. Now, they were symbols of the beauty of this union, Angela the baby’s breath to her husband’s rose. With the addition of a few simple words, my labor had achieved a significance I hadn’t intended to be a part of.
Because when I read them, I had to resist that same urge as in the fabric store this morning. I’d experienced what I thought was the best day ever, and now I pray that there would be one better still. I was a Mrs., now I’m a Ms. My happily ever after withered away like discarded bridal bouquets.
No one plans for that.
Certainly not Angela. The difference between this blushing bride and the one in the store is that she, like me, has uttered her own share of sarcastic always-and-forever comments. She’s endured trials in her lifetime that enemies wouldn’t even wish on her. At some point, she held other rings in her hands and wondered, like me, what they symbolized afterward.
Though, I am sure she didn’t wonder long. She dove into her dream of earning her nursing license. She shuffled her three kids back and forth between homes and made sure they would never have to doubt her love for or commitment to them. She couldn’t have known she would meet Rob, that they would fall in love, that their children would come to treat the others’ as siblings, that they would buy a home and get married and try happily ever after one more time.
She just set out to live life richly. Angela doesn’t waste time worrying about things she can’t control, and it’s one of the many qualities about her that inspire me. If she had never met Rob, her life would have been different, but I have no doubt that she would have ensured it was equally rich. My list of Thirty Things to Do in My Thirties is my blueprint for following in her confident footsteps. In eight months, I’ve accomplished eight goals. It may not come in the form of a wedding gift, but I want a happily ever after for myself even if it doesn’t look like I thought it would. Like with the floral arrangements, I think we have to take what we’re given and make beauty from it.
When Charming suggested I spend more time visiting him this summer, my first thought was for my gardens. I’ve toiled in the soil too hard and too long to let my plants whither in the unforgiving summer heat. I need to be here to water and nurture them. Left unattended, they’ll surely fail. If Angela’s centerpieces with their wooden signs symbolize the beauty of their union, then my garden represents my commitment to live life fully. When my garden thrives, I do, too.
My very first tomatoes and cucumbers should be ripe by weeks’ end, and I plan to pick the baby spinach and enjoy my first homegrown salad. I’ve enough parsley, cilantro, and basil to share. Tiny shoots of green and white indicate my red onions and garlic are coming along. In the front yard, the evening glories just started climbing the front porch slats, and the caladium ties together the begonias, impatiens, and green, leafy mums.
I’m learning as I go in my garden, and I never repeat the same mistake twice. I observe the plants almost daily, attending to any needs. My knock-out roses won’t be used in any wedding decorations, but they greet me when I get home, saying, “Something beautiful lives here.” The only sign in my garden is one made by my aunt boasting my last name. My last name.
My garden surrounds something beautiful, and I long for my life to reflect the same growth and prosperity as I see in the petals of my hanging fuchsia baskets. When I cut the stems on the first cucumber and tomato, I’ll be making a different arrangement that’s equally therapeutic as painstakingly placing each bud in just the right spot in the vase to make the final product greater than the sum of its parts.
Angela and Rob’s wedding was also greater than the sum of its parts. I’ll admit I was excited to see all of my floral arrangements on display, from the lapel of the groom’s father to the sweetheart’s table at the reception. As much as I strive to thrive on my own, I’ll also admit that what put this day in running for the best day ever was Charming.
Someone told me at the wedding that I looked like a Disney princess. Charming made sure that I felt like one. When I tended to bridesmaid responsibilities, he engaged in dancing and conversation. When we hit the photo booth, he tried on silly hats and made funny faces. When the DJ played Charming’s specially-requested swing set, he spun me around the dance floor.
We watched my best girl marry the next love of her love, and we celebrated the second chance at happily ever after. I didn’t catch the bouquet. The truth is, I didn’t even reach for it. Because as much as I long for forever and always, I don’t want my happily ever after to be contingent upon that end.
So I’ll learn Italian and grow a vegetable garden and achieve my ideal weight. And while I’m at it, I’ll look into Charming’s eyes as he dips me on the dance floor and feel what it must be like when my evening glories’ first blossom opens. My garden is a symbol for abundance. It’s much preferred to the brokenness of in-tact rings of metal.
I admire Angela because she has always found a way to thrive by taking what she has at hand and turning it into something beautiful. It’s what I did with her centerpieces. I hope I can do it with me, too.