Never A Bridesmaid
by Ashley P. Taylor
To: Laura Weddings June 11
Thanks for your sympathy, Mama. I love you, too!
It’s interesting that you were upset about not being invited to that girl’s wedding, just because you’re more friends with the mother. I’m sorry you felt excluded.
That’s a whole new level of complication, then: parents’ friends. Emily did say there were lots of family members—and spouses and children—who had to be invited. I wonder if some of those obligatory invitations also went to parents’ friends.
Well, you’re definitely invited to my wedding. ☺
To: Emily Congratulations! Sept 18
Congratulations to you and Ben! I look forward to meeting him one day. From the Facebook photos, it looks like it was a lovely wedding. Are you going on a honeymoon?
Draft [no subject] Oct 11
Next time you get engaged, don’t tell me if you’re not going to invite me.
Next time you’re in seventh grade, don’t have sleepovers with someone you’re not going to invite to your wedding.
You always fell asleep first, under your green puff.
But awake, we danced. To us, the end of your bed was a barre. Our inspiration, besides Lori, of course, was the ballerina on your wall: stag leap, legs beyond split, hands juggling the invisible.
I want to get married so that I can have a wedding and not invite you. I want to hurt you.
I want you to know that this isn’t nothing.
I could unfriend you. I could unfriend your bridesmaid. I could block your parents on Instagram. And I would lose my best—one of my closest friends.
Something was lost when you didn’t invite me to your wedding, that’s clear. But I don’t want to be the one to discard the rest.
What power it would be, though, to cast off friends, to not care. I could send you back the rubber boot you mailed me, a letter on its side—“much everlasting love,” you wrote—per instructions in American Girl magazine, the pointe shoes you wore in the biggest performance of your life, then signed and gave me, the quilt you made me for Christmas—you made me a quilt, Emily, the ballerina’s outline appliquéd onto patchwork.
So I don’t invite you to my hypothetical wedding. Who would I invite, if not you?
The first day you came over, it was because I had something you wanted: I’d ordered a bunch of pointe shoes to try on, and you wanted to try them on, too, even though you’d just started taking ballet with Lori.
We started hanging out at recess. We stood outside the doors and talked, then went back in when the bell rang. I think of you in a ski jacket with zippers and snaps and dangling tags, your smile, your blonde bangs, the cold on our faces. This was our only time together at school, since you were a grade ahead. Other days, warmer seasons, I sat against a rock and read.
You got good so fast. In seventh grade, Lori had said I would be the soloist. I had pretty feet. I was good at pointe. I was ready to roll up onto those hard shoes and—Then you came along. You were the one who got to leap down center stage: piqué, chassé, tour jeté toward the audience, then grand jetés into the wings. But I loved you.
Our moms took us to New York together. We saw Rent together. We even went to the bathroom together, in our hotel suite, talking through the shower curtain so as not to lose time. We took a class at the Joffrey school, and then, on our way back from the airport, we took Lori’s. We were going to go live in New York and be dancers. Then you moved there, with your future bridesmaid.
Then I moved there, alone.
I know you know this. But do you remember? Do you even care?
We loved to love Lori; it was like our pastime, aside from dancing. You thought she liked me better than you. Maybe I was the teacher’s pet because of how hard I tried, how hard I had to try, given my medical issues. She was hard on you because of your talent.
“That balance should be second nature by now,” she scolded you during pointe class. “How can you expect to turn if you can’t even stand still?” Pirouette position wasn’t second nature to either of us, but you were the one she chose to pick on. She’d started making every pirouette a double. I was so scared of double pirouettes. I once wrote Lori an email that began “Dear Double Pirouette” and asked what I could do to improve our relationship. Double Pirouette replied that I needed to practice her more.
I emailed Lori a lot. We also emailed her together. Remember that warbling modem, white space, thin black type, the feeling of entering “cyberspace”? Lori sent us pictures that she made by typing, like emoticons, but fancier. She signed her emails “love.”
We saved a napkin with her lipstick on it from a post-show dinner; it’s in my scrapbook, but I consider it ours. “You two eat like birds,” she said, and we were glad.
“I love you,” she’d told you, after bows that night. I know because you told me. I was surprised, I’m embarrassed to say. She’d said it to me, too, during the hug; she whispered it in my ear. Maybe she said it to everyone.
Lori applied lipstick with a brush. I remember watching her do it in the car on the way to Orono, that time we went to see Ballet Canada. They started with Les Sylphides—a white ballet, a traditional opener, Lori told us. During intermission, we spied on her in the lobby, half laughing at ourselves—“What if she sees us?”—from behind a column. She wore a long red dress the color of a curtain. I don’t remember the other dances, just Les Sylphides and Lori. And all those Oreos we ate when we got back to your house, more Oreos than I’d ever eaten at a stretch.
Lori said something about staging Les Sylphides for us, with two girls doing the pas de deux, since we had no men. We began rehearsing immediately, in your room. I had a tutu from fifth grade, when I was a swan; we took turns wearing it. We practiced supporting each other, hands around the waist, one girl lifting the other in a développé that made her white skirt float away. Lori couldn’t know until she cast us. The first day of rehearsal, we’d surprise her by performing the entire duet, in costume. “You girls,” she’d say. “Such a pair.”
You were stronger and lighter. My knee went into your stomach when we tried to turn.
What really happened is that we auditioned for the Bangor Ballet Nutcracker and were not cast, not even as ginger people. I had to go off pointe in order to finish bourréeing across the room, and the teacher running the audition praised me for that, for knowing my limits.
I went to eighth grade, and you went to high school. I went to high school, and you went to private school, to dance. Then I moved to Kentucky. So geography separated us. Is that what happened?
College summers, you worked at Maine Day Café. Of course you did. That was what the cool kids did, in Bar Harbor: work in restaurants. To escape Kentucky, I got a job at our old arts camp. We were both home but not together, not the way I wanted. I was always the one asking if we could hang out.
One Saturday, we’d made vague plans, and you didn’t communicate with me to solidify them. You didn’t answer your phone. I found you at the café, spraying things into glasses behind the bar. I cried. I was furious. “Can we not do this while I’m at work, Ruth?” You were furious, too.
You and a bunch of people from the café rented the house next door, and one day I went over there to hang out with you. Well. You lay in bed with Sam—the restaurant owner, your girlfriend—and talked about the “hot mama” from the dance festival you’d gone to.
This was another teacher crush, but this time, you were sexually mature. This time, you knew you liked women. (You’d had many teachers since Lori, but I didn’t know about them. I spliced out the parts of your life that didn’t contain me.) I sat on the floor next to the bed while you and Sam cuddled and talked about things you both already knew. You were exhausted and had another shift coming up. I was left out.
The next fall—I was a college senior—you emailed asking what I meant when I wrote “love” in an email, that I loved you. You were living with Sam, I think. Did she ask you to ask me that? I think I replied more than once, first that it wasn’t romantic love, then, later, that it was one of the deepest loves I’d ever felt, that I did love you and refused to qualify it. I don’t think you answered those emails.
I guess I was disappointed that you didn’t want to fuck me, once I learned that fucking women was something you did. (I don’t even like that word; I just say it to sound cool.)
I just loved you, Emily. You in your velvet-topped camisole leotard and black footless tights, doing frappés on relevé, so strong and straight, tiny butt, hair fastened with just one stick. You really were a dancer, then. I know because I was behind you at the barre.
I had the same leotard, only green. I wore it into my twenties, till once, when I was visiting home and practicing, holding onto the end of my bed, my mom pointed out that it was “much too small.”
To: Laura Emily Oct 28
How are you?
I’m still sad about you know what.
In eighth grade, I asked Emily for a photo of herself as a little kid. “I don’t have any pictures of you when you were little,” I said, as if this were odd. I had pictures of my toddler self with other kids. Now that Emily was my best friend, I thought, I should fill the gap in my album. I didn’t have to worry about future photos; it was implied we’d be together forever. She gave me a picture of herself in a bathing suit and yellow towel, grinning against Maine granite.
We must have a whole book’s worth of Ruth-Emily photos scattered among the albums. When I was home this summer, I almost scanned them and made a photo book to send as a wedding gift, but I sensed that this would be the wrong thing to do—an insertion of myself into the household, a not-so-subtle reminder to Ben that he has not really known Emily that long.
I guess this is the way it can happen: when you first get married, the person to whom you are closest is someone you didn’t know for most of your life. But you catch up quickly—lots of sleepovers, haha—and as time passes, the closeness that comes from love is joined by that of shared experience. You hang your childhood portraits on the wall, and, eventually, you and your partner become old friends. It sounds lovely.
But for now, I love you the most.
Ashley P. Taylor is a Brooklyn-based writer of journalism, essays, and fiction. Her essays have appeared in LUMINA Online Journal, Hazlitt, Catapult, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Brooklyn Rail, and Entropy Magazine and have been listed as notable in Best American Essays 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. Her short fiction has appeared in Vol. 1 Brooklyn and Joyland.