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Weddings, weddings, weddings. It seemed like there was one every weekend, for friends far and near, cousins close or distant. Each one, a celebration of love designed to give everyone involved – from lovebirds to guests – yet another reason to spend more money, a chance to solidify their class and status within the greater striations of American society. Weddings are not about love, and they never have been, not for the entire history of the institution.
Except for my wedding, of course. That one was about love.
That weekend’s wedding was for a friend of the nearer variety, closer to my wife Rachel than me, close enough to have asked her into the bridal party. Therefore, we were to attend an ancillary event of the wedding with which I was not too familiar: the rehearsal dinner.
“What should I wear to this thing?” I asked Rachel. She texted her friend for an idea of the dress code expected; in other words, what level of class were we expected to portray.
“Khakis and a nice shirt,” was the response.
Ah, khakis. My old nemesis.
“Ugh, really? I have to wear khakis?”
“You asked,” she snapped. I had forgotten a cardinal rule of marriage: don’t solicit advice and then fail to take it.
“I don’t even think I have a pair,” I said, a response which left her incredulous.
It seemed impossible that I did not already own a pair of khakis, even though I could not recall the last time I wore any. I eventually found a pair in my dresser, buried beneath many pairs of jeans, sweatpants, and shorts but, as it turned out, I must have worn them at least once before because they had an inextricable stain on one of the legs. At Rachel’s insistence, we made a trip to Kohl’s that Friday before the wedding to buy a new pair.
Here is how I shop for this sort of clothing (that is, clothing not within my schema of self-image): I remind Rachel of my size and wait by the dressing room while she retrieves various options. I try on these options in the dressing room, walk back down the hallway, and allow her to adjudicate her approval. I have an unspoken number of vetoes that varies according to her mood and how much money I am willing to spend. It’s a silly and perhaps immature system, but one that works for us.
Isn’t that what marriage is? Finding what works for you, no matter how silly or immature?
Rachel brought me back a couple of different brands of khakis. I took them to the dressing room and began the sad process of trying them on.
There is no more depressing place in the world than the beige depravity of the department store dressing room and its unkind mirror. I pulled the first pair of khakis up around my waist and felt how my recently formed paunch crested over the waistband in a way which was somehow avoided with jeans. My high-waisted nature meant they rode up the insides of my growing thighs, perhaps snuggling my junk a bit too tightly.
Maybe the other pair would be better, I thought; she brought me two different sizes, just in case, and the others were bigger. I somehow hated those as well. It wasn’t so much a poor fit; I simply didn’t feel like myself in the tanned fabric of khakis. My face grew hot, and my thoughts encroached upon self-loathing as I turned side to side in the mirror, trying to make them look good, imagining them in conjunction with a button-down shirt that the occasion demanded.
I exited the dressing room and walked down the hall to where Rachel stood. She studied me as I turned, the world’s worst supermodel.
“Those aren’t bad,” she said. “They look good, actually.”
It felt like a lie. I resented Rachel in that moment, the way she only got more beautiful with age, her breasts rounder and fuller, hips widening for the baby she ached for me to put in her, her stately strands of grey and only just-emerging crow’s feet that made her look like a maternal goddess. She could look good in anything, while I seemed to age out of any kind of clothing besides jeans and a t-shirt.
“I hate them,” I said. “I can’t do it. Is there literally anything else I can wear?”
“Why do you hate khakis? You’re fine with dress slacks. Khakis are like, a good in-between from jeans and slacks,” she pointed out. “I don’t get why you hate them so much.”
I sighed, which she took as my implicit veto.
“Okay, I’ll find another pair that maybe you’ll like better,” she said, voyaging across the department to the area beneath the big sign that said “MEN’S”.
Why did I hate khakis? When she returned with the new pair for me to try on, I couldn't shake a strong feeling of déjà vu. There was something in the way she approached me, with the khakis folded over her arm, and the way I took them from her. If only I could have stepped into the memory which had caused this feeling, I might have understood why I felt the way I did about khakis.
When I was in second grade, my teacher and her aides one day took the class into the room they called the ‘computer lab’, which I imagined was something like a laboratory with beakers and Bunsen burners and microscopes, based on researching how computers were built and how they worked. I was disappointed to find it was just a room full of computers, enough for each kid to have their own.
This was back when the computers were thick and chunky and not everyone in the class would have had one at home. But computers were ‘the future’, and so they had to make sure we were comfortable with them if we were ever going to contribute to society in a meaningful way, which was unfortunately the main objective of our American schooling.
We all sat down and had some specific instructions, too specific for second graders to be reasonably expected to follow. Hands shot up, voices complained, confusion abounded as attempts to perform simple tasks like opening Microsoft Word resulted in a bevy of error screens, pop-ups, and other mystifying phenomenon that left kids unable to continue without direction. At some point there was a commotion as a precocious student -- presumably one who was fortunate enough to have parents who could afford a computer -- had gotten up from their seat and was commandeering other students’ mouses, showing off their advanced knowledge and confidence in clicking “Ok” or “Continue.”
“Please, NO ONE gets up from their seats. And DON’T SHOUT OUT!” The teacher yelled at us after returning the student to their seat.
She was an old teacher, and I imagine her disproportionate exasperation was due to the difficulties she herself had with computers. The ‘lab tech’ could only help so many of us at a time. Her anger was intense enough such that the once noisy and chaotic room turned into a serene sea of raised hands.
My hand was raised as well, for an altogether different reason: I had to pee. Badly.
What circumstances led to this situation; I am not sure. I sat, arm raised, supported by my other arm in that way kids do when they run out of hand-raising strength. I was about to get up and tell an aide of my desperate need just before the teacher’s outburst, but now the teacher’s warning kept me glued to my seat and my mouth closed, at the mercy of whatever authority figure got to me first. Almost every kid had their hand raised. By the time an aide got to me, I no longer had to go to the bathroom:
“I peed my pants.”
The aide looked at my blue jeans and could see this was true.
“Well, honey, why didn’t you let someone know you had to go so bad?”
My mother was called, but she could not come to school herself, as she worked during the day. She had her friend come instead, a woman who had the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom. This woman greeted me in the school office with a big hug and a peck on the cheek.
“I’m so sorry sweetheart. Don’t you let those other kids make fun of you,” she told me, and she brought forth from her shopping bag a brand-new pair of little-boy khakis.
Rachel returned with another pair of khakis which I dutifully tried on, to again face the same feeling of humiliation and uncomfortableness. This time, when I came back out to the hallway, Rachel was not there waiting for me. I paced around the entrance to the dressing rooms, angry with having been left wearing the latest pair of khakis. When she returned, she had slung over her back a grey sports jacket, and had folded over her arm a pair of olive-green pants.
“Okay, so option two. I know she said khakis but like, you don’t have to wear khakis, you just have to look somewhat nice. Let’s try this. You can wear your black polo shirt with the sport coat, if you can imagine that when you look in the mirror,” she said, handing them to me. She could see by my skeptical look that I was not on board.
“Just try it,” she said, her voice straining not to reach levels of annoyance. I nodded and went to the dressing room.
I tried the outfit on. Perhaps it wasn’t fitting, not seasonally or class appropriate. Perhaps I was committing some horrible equivalent to fashion genocide. Perhaps in pictures of the rehearsal dinner I would stand out as the bookish type, the contrarian, the outcast and improbable visitor to an otherwise coherent group, an errant skewer in the archetypes the bride and groom would want to portray as being within their circles when the photos were posted to social media.
If any of these possibilities were to be the case, Rachel would know it. But as I went back down the catwalk hallway of the dressing rooms, she smiled and gave me two thumbs up.
I truly, deeply loved her.
BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS:
How do you and your significant other shop for clothes?
Was there ever a time you peed your pants?
What are your thoughts on wedding dress codes?