66: The Runaway Who Wasn’t the Bride

66: The Runaway Who Wasn’t the Bride

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

The Runaway Who Wasn’t the Bride

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.

~Roger Caras

Weddings have a way of driving a girl crazy. The “real-life” planning for the day she’s dreamed about since she was a little girl can turn the kindest, sweetest bride-to-be into a shrill, sobbing, stressed mess if she isn’t careful.

I’ve always been easygoing about things like that. I made it to the eve of my wedding without dissolving into tears over dress choices or seating arrangements. When my DJ canceled a week before the wedding, I took a deep breath and scrambled to find a replacement. When we had torrential downpours the night before the wedding, I told myself, “There’s nothing you can do about the weather.” We got a little damp going to the church for the rehearsal, but by the time we were all seated for dinner afterward, the laughter was flowing with the wine. I guess as brides go, I was pretty unflappable.

Stacey, my beloved mutt, was a different story. We were planning to leave for our honeymoon directly from the reception, and my grandparents were keeping her while we were away. I had taken her to their house that afternoon. If anything at all bothered me during the rehearsal, it was the memory of her soulful brown eyes giving me the silent guilt trip as I left. But by the time we sat down to our meal, I had pushed even that aside to enjoy the company of my loved ones.

My father got a call midway through dinner. We were all laughing and sharing bits of food from each other’s plates, and I didn’t even realize he’d stepped away. When he returned to our little cluster of tables, his face was grim. He whispered something to my mom, and they looked at me. I felt my heart start to pitter-patter just a little.

In addition to Stacey, my grandparents had also offered to house some of our out-of-town relatives who were coming to the wedding. A few them had not yet arrived when my grandparents left for the rehearsal. They had left a key on the back porch so our relatives could go on in and make themselves at home.

“That was your cousin,” Dad told me, looking like he’d rather be getting a root canal than share what he was about to tell me. “They just arrived at Grandmom’s. When they let themselves in, Stacey darted out. They tried to catch her, but… she’s gone.”

It took a second for my heart to start beating again. Stacey had been with me since college. She slept at the foot of my bed, and her sweet furry face and wagging tail greeted me each day when I came home. My fiancé loved her, too, and his face grew just as pale as mine. She was part of our family, and embarking on this new adventure without her just wasn’t right.

Instantly, our dinner gathering transformed into a search party. Bands of aunts and uncles, cousins, bridesmaids, and groomsmen took to the streets. The rain continued to pour, and the October night was windy and chilly. But no one backed down.

The park near my grandparents’ house was suddenly awash with not only rain, but women in dresses and heels and men in suits and ties who traipsed through the mud like an expert search party. My friends and family hunted tirelessly. Our high heels planted themselves firmly in the mud and wouldn’t budge, so my bridesmaids and I kicked them off and stumbled barefoot over mucky ground. My elderly relatives forgot their aches and pains and climbed hills, calling endlessly for my dog. Those who weren’t searching the park scoured the neighboring back yards. I still wonder what the neighbors thought, looking out their windows on that rainy night to find well-dressed but drenched men and women poking around in their shrubbery.

After a few hours, we realized we weren’t going to find her. My mom and sister went home and set about making up signs. I said a tearful goodnight to my fiancé and curled up on my parents’ couch. I wept long into the night, finally becoming one of those brides who loses it.

My wedding day dawned crisp and clear, finally free of rain. My head hurt, and my face was pale. I hadn’t eaten my dinner, and my stomach was still too queasy for food. My eyes were raw and puffy. This was supposed to be the happiest day of my life, but my heart was heavy. I thought of Stacey out there alone, and my waterworks started anew.

The photographer arrived. Instead of finding a bride in her gown and make-up, he found a tousled, weeping lump of a girl in her flannel pajamas. My mother explained the situation, and he nodded gently and started taking shots of the bridesmaids instead. Mom nudged me into her bedroom, where she managed to get me into my dress. The make-up, however, was an entirely different story. As soon as I’d get on a bit of blush or some eye shadow, I’d drown it in tears and have to start over.

Another knock sounded at the door, and my father greeted my great-uncle. I heard him and Dad talking in whispers, and then Dad uttered a loud “Thank God!” I flew from the bedroom, a ghost of a girl in a long, not-quite-buttoned white gown that matched the color of her pale, sleepless skin.

“She’s home,” Uncle Don smiled. “I went back to the park at first light and found her. It seemed like she was trying to find her way home. She was wet and hungry, but she’s fine, honey. Now go get married.” I flew at him and threw my arms around him, laughing and crying all at once.

No bride has ever rushed so much to get ready for her big day. When I walked down the aisle, my make-up couldn’t hide the blotches left by my sleepless, tearful night. There was a speck of mud on my dress from hugging the uncle who had just traipsed through a waterlogged park with my dog. But my eyes were shining, and the smile on my face had never been more genuine. Sometimes, even when things don’t turn out perfectly, they are still beautiful in the end.

Years later, the memory of my sleepless anxiety has faded. What I have never forgotten is the love of the family and friends who ruined their finery and soaked themselves to the skin helping me search for my wayward pup. Of all the gifts I received for my wedding, their selflessness was by far the most precious. I am forever grateful to the uncle who searched past midnight and still rose at dawn to bring Stacey home.

A wedding is about two people pledging their love, but it is also a reminder that we should cherish the loved ones who surround us and support us through our days. I couldn’t have asked for a stronger reminder of that.

~Pam Hawley

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