A Memoir by Erica M. Dolson
You decide on the carafe. You found it on the back shelf of a Crate & Barrel, as you referenced the printed wedding registry in your hand. Or, maybe it’s a decanter. At this point, you can’t remember. At the time, you didn’t know the difference. Large and made of glass, the carafe-decanter was so nondescript that its blandness gave it personality. It seemed appropriately fancy and elegant to give as a wedding gift to your first friend to be married, a woman you met in kindergarten.
On the morning of the bridal shower, you rifle through recycled gift bags at your parents’ house, where you are living for the next few weeks before starting graduate school. Just as you think there won’t be a bag large enough for the carafe-decanter, you find one.
“Aha!” you exclaim as you pull the bag out to examine it. It is white, with a giant exclamation point in the center. Rows of smaller, brightly colored exclamation points dance in the background. You have no idea where this bag came from, though, if you had to guess, you’d say it had been used for a gift from a student to your mother, a middle school English teacher and a lover of grammar. It’s the perfect size for the carafe-decanter.
You create a cushion of tissue paper on which to place the carafe-decanter and add more paper on top, so it rises from the bag like peaks of soft meringue. It looks exciting, festive, happy.
“No,” your mom says when she spots the wrapped present on the kitchen table. “You can’t bring a bag like that to a wedding shower.”
She explains that exclamation points are inappropriate, and your father runs out for something more fitting. He returns with a roll of wrapping paper: white, with shiny, delicate silver hearts.
You arrive at your friends’ parents’ house, a place you remember playing as a child, where you sometimes hung out as a teenager, for the shower. In the backyard, you sit at a picnic table with the bridal party, women your friend met in college and graduate school. They live in the same city, nearly 3 hours across the state, and are part of your friend’s life in a way you no longer can be. This is the first time you’ve met these women, and they are gracious and kind. They ask about your grad school plans. They tell you living alone takes some getting used to, but assure you you’ll love it in time.
They have apartments and advanced degrees and jobs and boyfriends/husbands/fiancés. They understand the etiquette for wedding showers and wedding shower gifts. They seem so wise.
As your friend and her future husband unwrap gifts, you’ll think back to that moment in Crate & Barrel when you chose the carafe-decanter.
“I like watching people open gifts at their shower,” the friend who was with you said. “You can see what their home will look like.”
In your head, you replace “home” with “life.” What will their life look like? You wonder that day at the shower. A mixed bag, but, hopefully, mostly good, you think as your friend unwraps present after present – the carafe-decanter, towels, a memory foam mat to stand on while washing dishes.
You look at her and see your future. This is what happens when you leave home. You find a partner. You make a new home somewhere else.
In the coming years, you’ll attend many more weddings and showers. Eventually, you’ll tire of being a guest. Again and again, you’ll find the gift table and understand just how tacky an exclamation-pointed gift bag would have been. Sometimes, you’ll giggle about it, because it was so out of character for you – you always do what’s expected. But sometimes you’ll feel sad, too, because you are not married – or even close – and gift wrapping is just the start of things you don’t understand about marriage and partnership and long-term commitment. You worry it means you don’t understand something fundamental about life and love.
Later, after graduate school, still living alone, you’ll realize that the bridesmaids at that first wedding represented one version of a future, not the only version.
You’ll become a teacher and work hard to be a good one. You’ll try to write. You’ll buy a house and get a dog. You’ll adjust to living alone and – like the bridesmaids had said – learn to love it, most of the time. You’ll even acquire your own carafe-decanter. One that belonged to your grandparents. Or maybe it’s a carafe-vase. Still unsure how to use it, you store it with your flower vases. On weekends, you’ll sit on your porch or prepare dinner while an audiobook plays in the background. You’ll enjoy the occasional glass of wine, poured straight from the bottle.
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Erica M. Dolson lives in Pennsylvania and teaches in the English Department at Elizabethtown College. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing (Nonfiction) from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, and her nonfiction has been published in Culinate.com (now defunct), Full-Stop Magazine, Critical Read, Hippocampus (“Writing Life”), Inside Higher Ed, and elsewhere.