There have only been a handful of times in my life when I was genuinely convinced I might die. Once right before the train took off on Space Mountain; once when I was eight and a duck tried to eat me; once when I was a 16-year-old girl.
And once when my best friend since the third grade asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding.
Now, I need to be clear about one thing: these psychological near-deaths are self-made and extremely self-perpetuated. The bride, my adoptive sister and actual cousin, could not have been saner. Maybe it’s because I don’t understand that shows like “Bridezillas” and “Platinum Weddings” are not the industry standard, but I prepared for the worst. So the reality of our situation dances closely to ironic, retrospectively. If we had been taking bets, those of you who put your money on me for being the most “crazy in a bad way,” could be shopping for that new yacht right now.
For me, vanity has always been, and will always be the cause of my undoing. However, that term spans much further than perfect hair and manicured nail beds. Vanity is the devil on my shoulder who says, “They are all waiting for you to fall flat on your face. Everyone is looking at you to do something stupid, something so very Eleanor.” But rather than addressing the foolishness of that particular idea, I focus on the minutest details of my physical appearance in order to maintain some sort of control. If my shoes match perfectly with the dress, and my nails are painted and not chipped, and my eyebrows arch cleanly at every angle, I will win this wedding. I will prove to the voices in my head and the couple of people who still know my name that I am no longer the Eleanor who messes everything up. I’m Eleanor 2.0.
You see, when I was in Kindergarten, I had to take the bus to school with my big brother. There was a group of kids that waited a couple houses down from ours every morning, and I didn’t particularly get along with any of them, especially not Tyler McAllister. The thing was, Tyler and I had different political beliefs. He was a chauvinist in the making, and I felt that it was ridiculously unfair for me to have to be the pink Power Ranger just because I was a girl. Everyone knows I should have been the black Ranger. EVERYONE.
It was a rainy Tuesday morning when our childish disagreement came to blows, and before I knew it, Tyler had pushed me down into a muddy ditch. My school uniform, because it was Louisiana and my family is Catholic, was ruined. (It was ruined because of the mud. Not because I’m Catholic, just to clarify.) Immediately and without hesitation, I pulled myself up; I thought of the meanest thing a five-year-old could say to a seven-year-old and walked back to the house to change. These are the facts.
The story I have been telling myself for two decades is entirely different.
I have spent the majority of my existence believing I needed help; that my life would not begin until a hand pulled me up from that ditch and then proceeded to punch Tyler McAllister in the face for being such a wang. For years I have let myself sit in that ditch, just waiting for someone to save me from being the sad, pathetic girl who gets pushed around and forced to be the pink Power Ranger. 19 years of telling myself I needed someone to fix me, 19 years of sitting in a ditch, just waiting. It very well could be the help I’ve been hoping for wasn’t a strong hand and a chivalrous act of violence. It was a wake up call in the middle of the night that simply said, “That’s enough, Eleanor. Get up.”
I told myself that someone had to permit me to be the black Ranger; until someone said it was all right, I was just a fool wearing the wrong suit. But the thing is, I didn’t want to be the black Ranger because I hated pink. The black Ranger was awesome and did awesome stuff. The pink Ranger sucked. And sure, I can’t put together Ikea furniture very well, and I call my father every time my car makes a new squeaking noise, but I moved 2000 miles across the country on my own, and I was Prom Queen and no matter what I might think happened, I did actually pull myself out of that ditch. Does that sound like something the pink Ranger would do? NO.
It was in those few moments before I walked down the aisle at Meaghan and Phil’s wedding that I realized why I couldn’t seem to stop fidgeting with my bouquet or staring at the scar on my left index finger from a lost battle with a microphone stand: more desperately than I wanted anything, I wanted to be a different person. Over the course of those forty feet, my only thought was that I was no longer going to be that girl who had to be “Heart” when we played Captain Planet. Everyone in that room was going to see a confident, graceful woman who surely never got pushed around, and was never told she was the pink Power Ranger.
And then I forgot to bow.
The priest was whispering to me calmly, “you need to bow,” and the church was laughing because I made a face that said, “Yep! I messed up!” It was only then that I realized I was the exact same person I have always been. Constantly being told to be the pink Power Ranger, and forever refusing to even entertain the thought. I am still the girl who gets punched in the face for mouthing off about the Queen of England. I am still the girl who tells Tyler McAllister where he should go and what to do when he gets there.
It was twenty seconds after I accepted this fact that I was brought to joyous tears over another obvious realization: the entire event, the reason I was there, had nothing to do with me. I watched the most stunning bride that will ever live walk down that same aisle with a smile that broke me into a thousand little pieces and simultaneously put me back together, and I thought, “We used to have serious conversations about beanie babies. You and I built a Geocities webpage about cheese and stayed up all night chatting on AOL Instant Messenger constantly. We used to LiveJournal. And now you’re getting married. And I have lived through your life with you and that’s why I’m here. And no one cares what I do, because we all just care about you.”
And I was free from the pressure and I was free from my own vanity, and I remembered what it felt like to think about someone else for a moment. And that was nice.
That was something the black Power Ranger would do.