Sabrina’s Last Bachelorette Party Ever
BY SARA MARTIN
The Rings of Rhea
I am not Sabrina. I meet Sabrina at a bachelorette party in Key West. She arrives a day later than everyone else because she’s a pro, she’ll tell me later, for these things you put in 30 hours, not four days! Sabrina and I are not bridesmaids. We are members of the Bridetourage, which is the ring outside of the actual Bridal Party. Like we are around one of Saturn’s moons.
Sabrina finds us on the beach carrying brightly colored drinks heavy with sliced fruit in each hand. She is wearing a string bikini and an artfully side-slung fanny pack. No one else has had a drink yet today or thought to buy the bride one. We have mostly griped about the cost of renting umbrellas and the sulfuric smell of the shoreline.
A confusing embarrassment passes through me.
Like when you injure yourself at the home of someone you don’t know well and you’d rather wrap an entire roll of toilet paper around the inch deep gash in your heel from the broken beer bottle that was obscured on the carpeted bathroom floor than ask anyone for what you really need.
Key West, bitches! She raises the drinks in the air, I so need this, she says to the bride, handing her one of the drinks, someone from work just texted me about another catheter left in a patient.
She puts the straw from her drink in her mouth and sucks while she shakes her head and texts with the other hand.
How often does that happen? I ask, even though we haven’t met yet. My hand is wedged in Elizabeth Bishop’s collected poems. You know, because, Key West!
All the freakin time, says Sabrina, without looking up from her phone, sponges, fucking towels, drain tips-
Blood bath and beyond, I say.
Seriously, says Sabrina, still not looking up from her phone, unbelievable. I also caught an orderly drinking vodka out of a fucking big gulp last week-
Oh Miami General, says the bride, before I can ask how often that happens. The bride has assumed a wide stance, is sipping her drink and looking at the ocean.
Sabrina is a thirty-eight year old risk assessment manager at a hospital in Miami, Florida. I am a thirty-year-old nature-day-care provider who wrangles fancy toddlers in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. I can usually be found angst-ting over the possibility one of my charges might fall all the way down into a porta-potty. And while I’ve been distracted with that anxiety, the toddlers have usually commandeered a large bottle of hand sanitizer and resumed their forbidden, inexplicable game called “Skeletons” where they cover each other in antiseptic.
Sabrina and the bride met as nurses in Miami General’s ICU ten years ago. The bride lives in Albany now, where her fiancé has political affiliations. The bride responds to stories about Miami General with a combination of pride and disbelief. Kind of like how some people talk about living in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
There is a third member of the Bridetourage named Mallory who didn’t make it to Key West. She is charismatic, gorgeous and bipolar. She was institutionalized four years ago during an episode but is better now. That low point in her life earned her a pass on events like the Bachelorette. She has a tattoo on her forearm from the Ogham alphabet, which looks like tally marks and means, overcoming sickness. She is currently working on a book about the history of the stigmatization of mental illness.
I really wish you were coming, I told her at the bridal shower, two months before the Bachelorette in Key West. I instinctively moved some hair out of her face. She is five years younger than the bride and me. She grew up across the street from the bride and we used to pretend she was our doll.
I know, but my anxiety, she said, smiling, is out of control. She always made me feel like we were sharing a private joke.
You dick, I said, eyeing her strabismically, I was institutionalized too, ya know. If only I’d gotten a cool Druid tattoo…
I remember that, said Mallory, not breaking eye contact, but you wouldn’t be going if you thought it would actually make you drink. Me, I’m a fucking freak. I genuinely do not know what a trip like that would make me feel like.
I tried to get out of the Bachelorette Party too. I haven’t had a drink in almost four years and when the bride texted me a year before the party to start looking for flights to Key West I was certain I could get out of it and be praised.
I texted her something to the effect of, I really don’t think that’s the right environment for me anymore. And you should get BUCK. I’d rather we just do something on our own.
I have never used the word BUCK like that in a text message. And am fairly certain I never will again.
This isn’t gonna be one of THOSE bachelorette parties, the bride texted back, Lauren has a colostomy bag, Cara will have just given birth and Annie doesn’t really party. Sabrina is our only wild child.
The worst thing about not drinking anymore, I said to Mallory at the Bridal Shower, is that I am not being constantly praised.
You mean strangers aren’t coming up to you in coffee shops to shake your hand?
No one is giving me their place in line or any of their money, I said, it is really disappointing. And actually, I would like to revise my statement. The worst thing about not drinking anymore is not being able to drink and make phone calls. That’s a good fucking time.
And drinking right after you move.
And while you unpack.
And drinking on trains.
I don’t think I’ve ever just gotten drunk and made phone calls, Mallory said, but maybe I should?
Nah, I said, you’re delightful as is. Your fruit thing was always weird though. Do you still hate fruit? I asked, eating a pineapple kabob, the food at the bridal shower was Whole Foods sterile. Like eating delicious stickers.
All fruit, she said, nodding and smiling again, I heard you’re going to be in charge of the Bow-Quet tonight? How did that happen?
What is Power?
In Key West, I win Sabrina over when the conversation topic on the beach turns to uteruses (the maid of honor has been trying to conceive and it isn’t going well) and I told the group my best friend has two. Uteruses.
It’s called didelphism, Sabrina and I say at the same time. She nods passing me a joint. There is a beat and I feel held there in her gaze like she’s admiring something she has scooped with a spoon. I know it is the first time since she arrived that she’s actually taking me in and my confidence surges.
Opossums have two uteruses as well, I say, passing the joint to the maid of honor, Lauren.
Has your friend ever been pregnant? Sabrina asks, if I were her I’d definitely try to get pregnant from two guys.
I imagined Renee then, holding wildly different looking babies in each arm, my friend is a writer, I say, with two other jobs. She’s looking into being an egg donor but I think we’re too old now? But, yeah, no, I don’t think she wants to get pregnant from two guys.
I would just have to do it, says Sabrina, because that’s power. That is power. She accepts the joint from the bride and sucks in the last hit.
Oh I love this, says Sabrina, lying down on her beach towel, stretching out in the sun.
Me too, six weeks until the wedding, the bride says, like she is instructing the sun, shaking her hair out of her closed eyes. I am under the umbrella like a mushroom wearing boots, one leg crossed over the other.
The sun is kind of terrifying, I say, I read that sea urchins use little piece of seaweed for parasols, I am holding on to the pole of the umbrella, they hold them up with their little sucker feet, I go on, examining the moles on my arms, which while stoned look extremely suspicious. Sabrina laughs watching me inspect myself. She is wearing aviator sunglasses.
Oh, my derm is gonna kill me too, says Sabrina, but I know she loves me.
Her dermatologist? Sabrina, tell me how to take care of myself!
There isn’t a spot on you, I say, you’re just like perfectly tan, you dick.
Yeah, says the bride, you dick. The bride also, save an artful sprinkling of freckles on her nose, does not have moles and spots.
Should we listen to music, Sabrina asks, unable to lie still on her beach towel. It is so hot, this playlist is called Buddha Bar, she says, lying back down on her towel, it’s what hotels play at their pools.
I pull out my small orange notebook and write down, Buddha Bar. I mouth it to myself. It has a great mouth-feel, Buddha Bar. The first song doesn’t finish before Sabrina pops up off her towel again and announces that she needs another drink.
Bride? She holds her hand out to the bride on the ground lying perfectly still, shall we?
Let’s, says the bride, popping up, let me just put on all my stuuuff.
She puts on her Final-Fiesta tiara, drapes her Bride-To-Be sash across her white bathing suit that says BRIDE and steps into a sheer, white sarong. She looks like an Instagram model for a Bachelorette In A Box product. She is also terribly, conventionally beautiful with legs for days and bangs. She’s always been beautiful. Actually, she wasn’t a beautiful baby. My mother brings this up a weird amount. How the bride’s mother was so relieved when the way she looked as a baby wasn’t…permanent.
The Bow-quet is a collection of bows and ribbons from the gifts at the Bridal Shower. It is custom that one of the bridal party members collects all of the ribbons and weaves them through the center of a paper plate so the collection is displayed in an attractive way reminiscent of a flower arrangement. The bride is then supposed to practice throwing the bow-quet in preparation for the “big throw” at the wedding reception. Before I was aware of this activity, and that I would be responsible for it, I heard the bride say matter of factly to Aunt Susie, Oh, Jackie will do the bow-quet! She’s artsy! Aunt Susie nodded knowingly. I wish Marina Abramovic could have heard this reasoning.
As soon as the bride and Sabrina leave the beach to find drinks, Annie removes her ear buds and lowers her phone. She has been mostly silent since Sabrina arrived and is watching the ABC Family television series dramatizing fraternity and sorority life called Greek. Annie and I are sharing a bed on the Bachelorette trip. She warned me that she sleeps with her phone playing TV shows or she won’t be able to sleep. I crawled in last night after she was already asleep, turned off her show and tried to sleep with all my clothes on perfectly still like I was lying down in a canoe. I woke up naked, had undressed in my sleep, but redressed and left the room before she woke up. It is almost like we are not sharing a bed. Or are we actually great at sharing a bed?
Can I ask you something? Annie asks me, sitting up, you smoke weed but don’t drink? What’s up with that?
This is the first question Annie has asked me on the trip. I peppered her with questions during the six hour drive from Fort Lauderdale to Key West, to which she kept saying brightly, you’re really good at asking questions, but asked none back. Annie is a child psychologist in Philadelphia. I vacillate between being fascinated with her work and skeptical that she is good at it.
I try to check my defensiveness before I answer. I explain that marijuana never really fucked my shit up. It just doesn’t do the same thing to my brain, I say, shrugging, I enjoy it and I don’t obsess over it. I make myself stop explaining. One more sentence and it would have looked like I was covering up something shameful.
I’m afraid to try it, Annie says, smoking pot. The bride says I would like it. That it would make me giggly but I just don’t really know if it’s worth it.
The bride and Annie have been close friends since elementary school in Owings Mills, Maryland. I’ve known her lightly over the years; never well. I have known the bride since the day she was born. Our mothers are best friends who have seen each other or talked on the phone every day for thirty years.
You should try it here, I said, Bachelorette whoaaaa! Right?
To be honest, I’m fucking annoyed to be here, she says laughing a little.
Really? I said, yeah, every time I travel I always think this is such a terrible time for me to be traveling, I also thought for sure that I was the only one who really didn’t want to come on the Bachelorette trip. That everyone else had been very into this plan and I was simply out of touch.
Well I told the bride I couldn’t afford this trip and she basically told me that if I didn’t come our friendship was going to be “in trouble.”
Damn, I said, realizing that I hadn’t actually tried very hard to get out of the trip. My definition of trying has always been a little loose.
I just can’t stop thinking about the money, said Annie, every single thing we do. I’m pretty resentful. Oh my god, and the Bridesmaid dress! I still have to buy that too!
Oh, I saw the dresses! They’re actually cute-I said, thrilled that the Bridetourage could wear whatever we wanted. Because we weren’t actually IN the wedding.
You wanna buy it from me after the wedding?
Probably not, I said, But dude, now that we’re here I’m kind of glad she was a dick about it. I mean, this is decadent. None of us can afford it. Except for the bride and Sabrina. Maybe Lauren. But now we’re in fucking Key West! So strange. I think I’m ready to embrace it.
I’m getting through it, says Annie, putting ear buds back in. I look over at Lauren, the maid of honor, who is passed out in the sun. Her forehead is burning.
Bridal Shower BINGO
We are each given a blank Bingo card as the bride begins opening her presents at the Bridal Shower. I am sitting with Mallory who is explaining exactly how deaf her boyfriend is and showing me his Sound Cloud account. I am riveted. We are shushed by my mother and told to pay attention to the instructions of the game. We are supposed to fill out the blank Bingo card squares with objects that we think the bride is going to receive and then mark off our cards accordingly, striving for, naturally, BINGO. The prize is a $10 Starbucks Gift Card and I have already imagined the snacks I will buy on my drive home the next day with it. I am sure I will win this game.
What do I think the bride is going to receive? Well, I bought her knives. So I write down knives. There are still so many squares. Pots, I write, Pans? What else? Wine? Pans? Stop writing pans! I cross out one of the pans. Mallory laughs at me, you could turn that one into PAM-
Stop looking at mine! I say to her, covering up my mostly empty board.
Oh, I’m not playing, says Mallory, confidently, laughing a little, I’m too anxious for stuff like this.
Well then help me think of more things people get at these things, I say, what about lingerie?
That’s at the Bachelorette, says Mallory, come on Jackie this is the BRIDAL SHOWER. Only housewares and exotic pets.
Oh god! I say, as everyone else looks like they’ve already filled out their cards, they’ve been to two hundred of these things!
Pygmy marmoset? Says Mallory, casserole…dish?
That’s good, I say, writing both down, what about, like, towels? I whisper, as if no one else could possibly think of the existence of towels.
What about…a 30,000 year old crumb? Hey, has anyone told you what a good job you’re doing not drinking at this party?
Oh shut up, I say, thrilled by her company, so like, the bride and Eric have lived together for…nine years, right? I’m pretty sure they have all these things already. Also, they both HATE to cook.
Don’t be jealous, Jackie, says Mallory, people will buy you stuff too if you get married. Eric and Faye aren’t going to get ALL the stuff – there’ll be some left.
You’re right, I said, this is actually a pretty good scheme…
We still had some empty squares. I tried to think of things in the Fancy Practical category, Fancy Practical…
What about phone chargers? I said to Mallory.
How many phone chargers?
Six hundred, I said, and they’re in a trashbag-
Oh, what about a colander? Mallory said.
Colander would actually be a great name for a first born, I said, write that down!
But I’m not playing, she said, cheesing.
The bride tears open the first present. A butter-dish. Everyone but me and Mallory cheers and marks off a square.
Jackiieeee, the bride says, waving the long yellow ribbon that was tied up around the box, don’t forget about the Bow-Quet!
I still had two empty squares. I wrote butter dish in one and shaded it in.
Regrouping Before Getting Ready to Go Out
In Key West, Annie and Lauren want to go back to the house. Lauren’s forehead is very burned and already starting to blister. She calls her husband while we pack up our stuff on the beach.
It really hurts, she says, I’ve never gotten this burned before, she holds her phone out in front of her, on FaceTime, and we all hear him burst out laughing and say, That’s so gross.
I grab Lauren’s beach bag for her and walk ahead a little troubled by their exchange but certainly not getting involved. Last night I asked Lauren what her husband Mike is into and she told me simply, drinking.
Lauren is the bride’s cousin and the maid of honor. She is an event planner in Indianapolis, planned this trip for the group and seems the least happy to be in attendance. She drove the four of us the entire way from Fort Lauderdale to Key West and didn’t say a word except for when we played one round of Bachelorette Mad-Libs but even then she mostly said, pass. The happiest she has seemed the entire trip was when I pulled out a pack of cigarettes after the drive.
Of course, I beamed, as soon as she asked for one, like I’d invented cigarettes.
I am all too familiar with those who love cigarettes but never buy packs of cigarettes. Most of my friends are poets and doctors.
I smoked for seven years, Lauren said as I held up a light for her last night, started when I got prescribed Adderall, wowweee Adderall! Adderall and cigarettes. Hello. I mean, all day, she said, moving the cigarette from her mouth back and forth to indicate cigarette after cigarette. She told me that when she quit a few years ago it triggered the autoimmune disease that led to the removal of her colon. Can you believe that? She asked, you try to do something good for yourself and you get punished, she looked down at the cigarette, thanks, she said to me or the cigarette. I nodded.
The Bride wants to respect the wishes of Annie and Lauren to go back to the house but Sabrina is tipsy, doesn’t know them and visibly rolls her eyes every time Annie says she needs to just regroup before phase 2 but shows no judgment towards Lauren, because, colostomy bag, and Sabrina is a health professional.
Y’all go rest, Sabrina says, putting her arm around me, Jackie and I are going out for coladas, she pulls another joint out of her fanny pack.
As we wander downtown, I feel a unique confidence walking next to Sabrina. Like a field biologist with a charming Primate. I am especially drawn to the memoirs of field biologists and like to imagine that I am one during some social situations. It is a little trick to help me enjoy parties without drinking; my frustration into fascination technique.
But as I accepted the colada she ordered for me in rapid Spanish and continued joking and chatting with the barista at the kiosk, I realized I was not the field biologist in this situation, I was most definitely the silent and treat abated primate.
You know, I say, once we’re sitting on a bench by the water, in England they call bachelorette parties “Hen-do’s”-
So, this is it for me, says Sabrina moving right along in the conversation, adjusting her bikini triangle, her arms are perfectly toned, she has the kind of arms my mother and her friends would dwell on the shape of, lifting their own up and poking at the droopy flesh around the bicep, this is my last bachelorette party ever.
How do you know? I ask dumbly, like, how do you know more of your friends won’t get married?
Oh no, no, she says, I mean that I’m done going to these things after this one. I’m sure that I’ll be invited to more, this is just the last invitation I’m accepting.
Ah, I said, so you’re retiring. You know, this is my first one I think?
WHAT? She says, she lights the joint, I have been to…she puts it to her lips, eighteen of these things. EIGHTEEN.
Well, you really seem like you know what you’re doing. Our team is kinda bleak without you, I say, a little admiringly, accepting the joint from her. I reach out to hold her hand with my other hand but catch myself and stop.
Ok, I was gonna ask you, says Sabrina, what is the DEAL with this crew? Did you guys even drink last night?
We did not drink last night but the bride rolled a joint and we walked around downtown just the two of us. An iguana ran across our path.
YES, the bride shrieked, and that is why I wanted to come to Florida!
I stop myself from saying, Um, iguanas are invasive here. They destroy native plants and spread salmonella. My friend in Tampa has a dog that almost died after eating some iguana feces! Now she shoots them with a BB gun at close range and buries them in a mass grave. She’s gotten very good at killing them. She’s a surgeon and very beautiful and single! Can you believe that?
Instead I say, Dare I ask how Choppa-Gate is going?
A Choppa, I learned this year, is a bridal canopy that symbolizes the presence of God at a Jewish wedding. Choppa-Gate refers to a dispute between the bride and her parents. Her parents are paying for the wedding— an opulent black tie affair in Saratoga Springs. The debate is about over whether or not the bride’s parents will stand underneath the choppa while the bride and groom get married. The bride is much less bothered by this idea than her fiancé. The last time I saw the groom he told me he didn’t want to be “staring at Seth’s (the bride’s father) crying face while they exchanged vows.” Which mostly just made me wonder about the violence of staring. Can one become a serial stare-er?
The Bride is confused because her parents have never been interested in orthodox Jewish practices, like standing under the Choppa with their child who is getting married. This was the first time an irrational thing was being insisted on for an allegedly religious reason. Her father’s newfound distress over what his “friends at the synagogue might say if he didn’t stand under it,” had wormed its way to the front of her father’s mind and he could not move past it.
The latest, said the bride, is Seth is at least saying he will COME to the wedding if he can’t stand under the choppa, she held the smoke in her lungs, breathed out, but he won’t have any fun.
We were quiet for a moment and then cracked up, laughing hard. Oh, what are dads?
When we’d gotten over our fit, the bride nodded, yup, she said, so, no fun for him I guess.
No fun, I said, I’ve never wanted to tickle your father more in my life.
I tell Sabrina that I don’t even drink and she says she knew that but that it’s okay because I didn’t need to drink because I’m actually cool. This bestowment makes my bones glow.
Because you actually need to drink, and you don’t, you know what I mean? She said, very cool, she checked her Apple watch for the fifth time that hour. I pretended not to notice because it was hurting my feelings.
Sorry, she said, reading my mind, ever since I had cancer I monitor my vitals like crazy. I’m very motivated by data.
Ah, I say, like a robot, you actually kind of look like a hot robot.
A hot robot, she rolls this over in her mind and her lips curl up. She sits back on our bench with her elbows up cooling and nodding to passers by who all nod back at her, what do you mean by that? I can feel a dense radiation between our legs on the bench.
Before I can answer the bride appears across the street. She’s changed clothes and is wearing her second headpiece for the trip, a white crown adorned with fake roses and long tulle veil behind it. She is already so sun-kissed and her wet hair looks like a stylistic revelation.
Something closes between Sabrina and me. Like when you are in the flow of writing or running and you remember your parking meter expired.
I need beer and a key lime pie, the bride announces, running across the street to us. She embraces me and I can smell the vacation on her. Her eucalyptus shampoo. She kisses me on the cheek and calls me Jackie Bell, the name our mothers call me, and I forgive her for thwarting whatever was happening between Sabrina and me.
The three of us stroll into the darkening city as Tiki torches begin to blaze outside of restaurants.
Gallo Means Cock
Sabrina and I hang back in the crowded bakery as the bride marches up to the counter to claim the key lime pie her parents ordered for us. She has always been good at this kind of thing; navigating crowded commercial spaces to secure the good donuts, order a round, put our name in for a table. It has never fazed her the way these things do me – I’ve always eschewed anything that involves waiting in a line or fighting to the front of a crowd. She doesn’t see it that way, she is not a not a cynic nor easily over-stimulated and is motivated by possession of a widely coveted (usually edible) thing. When we’ve traveled over the years she always pursues and secures the beignets from Café du Monde, the cheese steak from Pat & Gino’s, the deep dish pizza from Giordano’s. I stop myself from complaining to Sabrina about how bright it is in the bakery. The air conditioning has covered her in goose bumps.
The bride is chatting with the cashier at the counter about how she’s decided to change her name when she gets married. People behind her in line are annoyed and I motion to Sabrina that we should approach, intervene. I guess I’m traditional, she says to the cashier, I don’t want to have a kid with one of those hyphenated names. The cashier languishes in the bride’s attention delighted by her bubbliness. He asks what her new last name is going to be and she exclaims Gallo! She begins chanting all by herself, Gal-lo! Gal-lo! Gal-lo!
The cashier crosses his arms and says, Gallo? Like the cock? Sabrina snorts next to me. She’s wearing her sunglasses inside.
Oh my god that’s right! squeals the bride, Gallo means cock in Italian!
That’s very good luck, the cashier says, in Key West we love The Cock. He motions to the window of the bakery where two roosters are standing in profile outside on the sidewalk.
The three of us burst out laughing. I’m laughing so hard I actually escape myself temporarily and simultaneously perceive the other patrons of the bakery witnessing my joy, our joy, at the front of the line, which intensifies the joy. I feel like we are famous. The emotion peaks and begins to drizzle like the end of a firework, how you can still see the shape of it in the smoke in the sky.
Something I have noticed since quitting drinking is that whenever a very high moment of mirth occurs I am acutely aware of its exquisite rarity and become frantic for it to return as soon it is beginning. It is similar to the way one feels when doing cocaine. How when you’re snorting a line all you can think about is the next line. While I’m feeling happiness I’m registering that the moment is leaving, and who knows how long it will be until something quite as funny or wonderful happens again? This is no way to live, I think every time, this is no way to live!
As we walk back to the house on Duval Street we see cocks everywhere. In every souvenir shop on the end of every key chain and more live ones milling around on the sidewalks. They’re on beach towels and go cups and stitched on to hats, they’re standing inside of snow globes and looking out from the centers of clocks.
Annie and Lauren have decorated the kitchen of the house we are renting. There is a row of tissue paper dicks hung on a string in the doorway and a banner that says Wife of the Party with a Penis in place of the I in Wife. Annie and Lauren look freshly showered and much happier. There are presents out on the table and I scurry to retrieve mine from my suitcase. I am unsure about my gift and feel guilty for only giving one gift.
How bout a shot? Sabrina asks to no one is particular, dropping her gift bag on the table with the rest of the presents, walking past the Wife Of The Party banner and straight to the handle of vodka in the freezer.
The bride, Annie and Lauren shrug and accept the suggestion to Sabrina’s delight, I can tell, but she tries not to act too surprised. I am asked to take pictures and promise to send them to everyone while Sabrina lines up the shot glasses. When I take their picture, Sabrina manages her angles expertly. She is a woman who knows how to be photographed and I can’t help but think that if Sabrina died, it would be noticed immediately in her world. Her existence isn’t secretive, I think, that’s why she’s been to eighteen bachelorette parties.
The bride tears open my present first and lifts up the lacy garment, Ooo!
Who bought the bralette?! Sabrina exclaims after taking another shot by herself. She reaches for it and examines the design, I love this, says, who got her this?
Me, me, I say, so proud, like this shows Sabrina something about my sophistication. I have hardly noticed that the bride also likes the gift.
I can totally wear this by itself in Saint Tropez, says the bride approvingly, and she returns it lovingly back into its tissue paper.
Bralette was such a good idea, Sabrina goes on, so elegant.
Ok, I love how you say Bralette, I say to her, that’s why it seems elegant.
That’s just what it is called, she says but she’s also smiling, Bralette, she draws out the word flirtatiously and pours herself another shot.
Oh, I say, I just thought it was a training bra-Sabrina cracks up, putting her hand on my shoulder and dribbling tequila out of her mouth, shut up, shut up! she says, putting her arm around me and leaving it there. All the women are staring at us and not saying anything.
The bride adjusts her crown, Ok, NEXT!
She reaches for a larger gift bag this time, pushes the tissue paper aside and starts pulling out many pairs of briefs in a variety of colors. The vibe of this gift bag’s contents is mother with a college age daughter right before she checks out at Target. The bride takes out pair after pair and holds up each one for us to muse on, oh very nice, those look so comfy! The panties seem to get increasingly large and frumpy as the bride gets to the bottom of the bag and Sabrina is squeezing my shoulder harder and harder until she can’t take it anymore-
Ok, we can laugh, right? Sabrina asks, this is like, so funny, she says, I’ve never actually seen someone do this before, she says.
It’s not a joke! Says Annie, you’re supposed to buy underwear, I bought underwear-
I would steal, literally, all of that underwear, Annie, I said –
Thank you, Annie, says the bride, they’re perfect-
Well shit I didn’t know! I don’t wear underwear like that so fuck me, here you go, Sabrina says to the bride picking up her small gift bag and handing it to her, now I’m going to look like the ho, she says.
The bride removes a sheer pink thong with a macramé trim from a box that says, La Perla.
It’s breathtaking, says the bride, I absolutely love it.
Oh, I’m so glad Chica, they kiss on both cheeks.
After a few more drinks the bride gives us some presents of our own: tee-shirts that say Bridesmaids for Annie and Lauren and Bridetourage for me and Sabrina.
Can we modify these? Asks Sabrina, but she’s already folding the shirt halfway up her stomach and testing the strength of the fabric to see if she can rip it off.
Can you do mine? I ask her, gesturing lamely at my sleeves.
Absolutely, she says, and in one rip she removes both sleeves off my tee shirt, do you want the bottom like mine? She asks, her tee-shirt has exposed her entire, toned, flat, bronzed mid-drift. Her hands are already on the bottom of my shirt,
Do it! I say, and she does.
Who wants a tattoo of the Groooooom? Lauren asks, holding up business card size temporary tattoos with the groom’s face on them.
I DO, I say, feeling emboldened by the ripping of my Bridetourage tee-shirt, and kind of drunk in this steadily weirdening atmosphere, wanting to act drunk to make it all make more sense, Lauren, put one on my neck!
Lauren and Sabrina laugh while administering the groom’s face onto the side of my neck.
Are you guys gonna do one? I ask.
I’m going to put one on the back of my calf, Sabrina responds.
No, says Lauren, pressing the damp washcloth into my neck and moving my hand up to hold on to it myself.
Across the room, the Wife of the Party banner keeps falling down.
Not again, says Annie, as she tries to reattach it and it falls again, Oh no…
The bride hears her and emerges from the bathroom with a mascara wand in her hand, you have to double tape that Annie, you have to tape the tape if you want it to stay.
Annie nods and begins taping the tape. It stays.
He’s So Good Looking
While we’re waiting for the drag show to start at Blue Heaven, Sabrina is drunk and showing me endless pictures of her husband Dave.
He’s just so good looking, she says staring at a picture of him poised to do a back flip off a boat, he’s just so good looking.
He certainly looks…agile! I am bored by this version of Sabrina and entering a depression utterly specific to sobriety in a drag bar. I feel quite devastated, more devastated than the situation should allow. Sometimes sobriety conjures feelings of such intense victimization that it is hard not to believe your entire life is being done to you to spite you.
Thankfully Annie appears, Sabrina, would you like to do a shot with me? I am buying them, she says, like she read this combination of utterances from a phrase book in a foreign country.
YES, Sabrina goes, YES PLEASE! Annie orders them vodka shots and I can tell Sabrina is amused but pleased by Annie’s attempt to participate in the festivities. There is a patronizing curl to her lips as she accepts the drink and clinks glasses with her.
The drag show commences and Sabrina and I start to dance next to our bar stools with each other. Sabrina takes out a fat wad of $1 bills and thrusts some in my hand, for the queens! She yells over the music and walks right up to one of the performers in the opening number and shoves a fistful of money down her dress. The queen and Sabrina kiss on both cheeks and Sabrina dances back to our area. Go on! She says to me, nodding at the money she put in my hand, she dances in a circle with her arms straight up in the air. I notice the shimmer on her cheekbones, how expertly highlighted her short hair is. Even in her drunkenness I understand in that moment that Sabrina takes her life much more seriously than I take mine.
I start dancing towards the queens but because I’m not drinking I can’t seem to move past the incredible awkwardness of sticking money in their cleavage. I find myself unable to smoothly tuck the money between their breasts; I’m too aware of myself, of the creases in the money, of how sharp it might feel against the thin skin of their décolletage. Instead I try to slip it into one of their hands like they are a valet and they take it but I see out of the corner of their mouth the same look Sabrina had on her face when Annie ordered them the shots.
During a break in the show Sabrina pulls up many pictures of her and her husband Dave on her phone and starts showing them to me again.
You guys are beautiful together, I say loudly after we have scrolled through about forty and my eyes are beginning to cross. I hug my arms across my chest and start looking around the room. I want to weep. I imagine a news ticker running inside me that says, I want to die, I want to die, I want to die and wish I were the kind of person who bought the whole group shots while I sipped club soda. But I am not.
I just worry when I’m away like this, she slurs, because I know, I KNOW women approach him. He’s just so good looking, she repeats, he’s just so good looking! My head aches and I feel such an intense revulsion towards her that it feels as if we’ve gone through an entire trajectory of a romantic relationship in one day. I catch Lauren’s bored as hell eye and we step outside for a cigarette.
Sabrina Has to Go
The next morning I wake up before everyone and slip out of the house to buy coladas. When I return Sabrina is awake, showered, packed and looks like she is about to order a Lyft. She was totally going to leave without saying goodbye, I think, would she have even texted me from the cab?
I don’t want you to go, I say, handing her a colada and dramatically draping myself across a loveseat in the living room.
Her short blonde hair is wet and spiked straight up from running a towel on top of it. She’s massaging lotion into her legs and wearing her aviators inside.
Did I eat pizza last night? She asks.
You did, I say, after the drag show we got a couple slices.
Fuuuckkk, she groans, I don’t remember that at all. Dave will love that, she says, he’s always trying to get me to eat junk food when I’m wasted.
If she doesn’t remember the pizza…she doesn’t remember weeping in the pizza shop. She told me that her and Dave were in the early stages of getting divorced. I thought I’d try to hook up with someone on this trip, that’s kind of why I came. I held her hands across the booth while she put her forehead on the table.
I’ll see you, she says, at the wedding I guess. I can’t wait for our dudes to meet, she says, our southern gentlemen.
Yeah, I say flatly, they’ll…probably get along.
You ok? She asks, you’re not even hung over! I’d kill to be you.
I kind of wish I was, I say, sometimes I miss being hung over because you know, eventually, you’re not hung-over.
What do you think that’s about? she asks distractedly, and I think of her the day before saying, that is power. THAT IS POWER.
I don’t answer and she doesn’t notice. We hug and say goodbye without making eye contact.
Around noon, our group (minus Sabrina) is waiting in a long line to get our picture taken at the southernmost point of the United States. The southernmost point is decorated with a large cement buoy painted red, black and yellow. The bride has insisted on this activity and keeps explaining that every website and guidebook deems it a “required photo opp” despite the overt disinterest of the other women and the extraordinary nature of the heat. Before we left the house, the bride distributed plastic matching rose gold sunglasses that said Bride Tribe on the right temple. I didn’t wear mine.
Why aren’t you wearing your sunglasses? Annie asks me while the two of us take the turn of waiting in the shadeless line; the bride and Lauren are sitting under a palm tree forty feet away from us sharing a bottle of water.
I don’t know, I said, I forgot. I like my own glasses.
Those sound like three different reasons, says Annie in the tone I imagine she uses with her child patients. I’m beginning to sense a combination of hostility and satisfaction from Annie since Sabrina’s departure. Untethered from Sabrina I feel vulnerable and irrelevant. Deflated. In her absence I understand that I valued her more than the other people on the trip and how obvious it was to them. I feel like I haven’t seen them in days.
As we reach the front of the line I wave at the bride and Lauren to rejoin us for the picture. Annie and I stand next to the big cement buoy in silence and wait for them. The bride stops to talk to the people behind us in line and hands them her phone so they can take pictures for us. I shield my eyes and look up at the writing on the big cement buoy to read: 90 Miles to Cuba, 150 Miles to Miami.
You think you could make it to her? asks Annie, watching me read the lettering. She looks out at the Atlantic, I bet you could.
Ok guys, says the bride, let’s do a wacky face!
I close my eyes in the phone’s direction.