Happy Birthday

I am already at the Richmond airport when my mom calls. She wants to make sure I packed white shoes and my pink and green earrings. "I have a birthday present for you!"

I am heading to Oregon for my cousin's wedding. My mom has been talking for weeks about how she is going to make herself a dress out of some vintage fabric she got from Great Aunt Bess. On the plane, I start to put this information together: the pink and green fabric... the pink and green earrings... the late birthday present... oh nooo. Either my mom decided to make a dress for me instead, or... the other possibility was too terrible to consider.

"Mom, did you make us matching dresses?" I demand to know immediately after greeting her.

"No!" she insists so adamantly that I almost believe her. She disappears into the bedroom and returns holding a hanger in each hand, and flowing from the hangers are two dresses. White with pink and green flowers. Identical. It is at this moment that she has the nerve to burst out, "Happy birthday!"

"LIAR!" I roar.

"I'm not a liar!" she insists smugly. "Heidi made them." My mom and I would be the pie servers at the reception, and she thought it would be fun if we matched. Her idea of fun also includes taking the light rail to the end of the line and back for no reason, an activity I refused to participate in. The dress should be rejected, no question. But this situation was a little more complicated.

The guilt: Grandpa just died. I'm living on the wrong coast. Heidi already did the work.

On the other hand: The dresses look the same.

I mentally try to accept the dress like I mentally tried to accept white supremacy one time, just to see if I could. In both cases, I couldn't. Showing up in the same dress as someone else on accident would be a nightmare; grown women matching on purpose was just wrong.

So I don't know how to explain how I end up wearing the dress. I guess I belong to a special race after all: white floral.

It's an outdoor wedding, and as my mom, brother and I approach the site where other guests are trailing in, I feel as though I am the only one in costume at a party. I make sure my brother sits between us, and as we are sitting in rows, no one seems to notice. For a short time I am distracted by the ceremony, although horrified to find that even the bridesmaids' dresses don't match. How do I get myself into these situations?

The reception is more awkward. I take my place next to my mother behind the dessert table and concentrate on using my knife as a tool rather than a weapon. I note that the banquet servers are all wearing black pants with white shirts, and this information serves as a source of tranquility. Still, I can read the question on the faces of everyone I meet, as my mother is proudly announcing at every introduction, "...and this is my daughter!"

It's one of my most embarrassing moments, but in the end, I am proud of myself. I didn't have a nervous breakdown, I didn't try to commit suicide, and I most certainly did not abuse the gift-giving occasion for my own sick purposes.

When the day is done, the dress slides right off and the zipper doesn't even get stuck, as though it shared my discomfort with the situation. It never fit right, anyway.

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