I want to be elegant. And stress free. And low maintenance. And easy to invite to a surprise party. But honestly, the more I try, the bigger the disaster.
I am all sharp elbows and knees. I have been told by health care professionals that I am tightly wound. I want to be the easy friend who breezes in from out of town early to the surprise party but I am the one who gets lost, stuck in traffic and arrives not in the assigned "not spoiling the surprise window."
So I was invited to my dear friend Russ' Surprise Birthday party in Birmingham, Al. I live in Atlanta. And I don't like to drive. And I get lost in my own neighborhood. But this is for my dear friend Russ, who I never get to see, and her sister thought to invite me and I was going to make this happen.
I was so prepared. Favorite party dress to change into after arriving 1.5 hours early to help with any last minute preparations and avoid traffic jams: check. Directions loaded into the car, my phone and written down for me by my slightly worried because he knows me well husband: check. Audiobook of My Very Lucky Life In and Out of Showbusiness: A Memoir by Dick Van Dyke to keep me company loaded onto my iPad: Check.
I remember thinking as I drove out of my neighborhood, "I got this." Note to self: The moment I start mental congratulatory high fives is generally when things begin to unravel...
Naturally, I ran into a lot of traffic. I don't remember what happened but it was the kind of traffic where you inch a long with optimism until you pass any last chance of taking an exit and then sit still for hours. Hours.
At first, I had Dick Van Dyke and time to burn. And then it started getting late. O.k, so I can't help prepare for the party. And then it started to get dark. O.k, I'll get there barely on time. Then it got really dark. O.k, maybe I can change in the car?
After it got dark enough, I checked around me. No trucks. No one could see down into my car. I moved to the second seats in the suburban (windows are slightly tinted) and slipped on my dress over my clothes. Then carefully removed the clothes. Then zipped up my dress. Mostly.
The party dress had a lovely layer of black lace over the fabric. The kind that is really easy to get the zipper stuck in while you are zipping up the back of your strapless dress in the car. My zipper got stuck. Couldn't get it all the way up or down. I was pretty much stuck in the dress while stuck in traffic. All kinds of awesome.
After about 10 more minutes of fidgeting and even trying to spin the dress around on me to get a better look at it (that did NOT work), I realized I was surrounded by a lot of family type vehicles. I just needed to put my sweatshirt over my dress, non-threateningly approach a vehicle that most likely contained a mom (as I thought they would be the most understanding and helpful since children toddlers often get stuck in their clothes) and simply ask for her to zip me up.
Maroon minivan spotted. Jackpot. I stepped out of my suburban dressed for a party from the waist down and like I was ready to study for exams in my favorite, stained sweatshirt from the waist up.
This was the first time I noticed it had started to rain. It was a fine mist, but the kind that was thorough enough to get the intentional curls out of your hair and replace them with frizzy, sporadic ones.
Despite my careful, police officer like, approach to the driver's side of the vehicle, I certainly startled the mom, kids and DAD who was in the driver's seat.
I could tell my southern accent got more pronounced as I explained I was on my way to a surprise party and had to change in the car and got my zipper just ever so stuck. (My husband says I get amplified southern when I need help. Usually on the phone but he has never seen me asking motorists for assistance on the interstate before.) Would they be able to help?
The wife agreed. I mean, as the rain started to fall harder, the patheticness of the situation was increasing. I went around to her side of the car after the Dad in the driver's seat gave the hesitant nod for the assist. I lifted up the back of the sweatshirt. She rolled down her window and gave it one teensy tiny tug.
Then she said, "It isn't stuck in the fabric. I don't think it will zip." Then she started to close her window. I jokingly said, "I have gained a few pounds. Can you try one more time."
"No, I think you are just too big for the dress."
I thanked her and slinked back to my car. As I sat there, dripping, I was like....wait a minute, lady. How come I can't get the dress off if I am just suddenly too big for a dress I have worn plenty of times?
And to say I was too big for the dress? Really? Sure, I put on a few pounds when I was on that dreadful anti-anxiety medicine. It is in the 20 page fold out of things that could go wrong book that came with the medicine as a possible side effect. It happens. And just like the anxiety, if it were under my control I would have done something about it, thankyouverymuch.
And really, I think she was just worried about getting wet from the rain. She didn't even open her door to give it good, solid try. Maybe she was going to a party, as well. She did have nicely styled and dry hair.... But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that she really didn't have her heart into this community of motorists we had become on the road, stranded together. Maybe I could ask someone else on another car.
But then maroon minivan lady would see me. I didnt' want to offend her. I didn't want to offend the maroon minivan mom who told me I was too big to fit into my favorite party dress.
Time passed. I looked around for other candidates on I-20 as I turned on the windshield wipers. But then, in a rare moment of thinking things through when it actually matters, I pictured myself going from car to car wet and dressed like a someone who had been rejected from a Cyndi Lauper video audition to ask for help and hearing door lock clicks as I approached.
I stayed in the car. Eventually, when it was too late to be early or on time, the traffic started to move. I was still wearing 2 outfits.
I made it to the party location and texted Russ' sister that I arrived. She said that her mom had just let her know they were pulling up to the house. That is when I saw them drive by me and park on the street. In. Front. Of. Me.
I dove into the backseat floorboard, fancy dress lace catching on my heal and seat belt and anything else it could possibly grab hold of. I could hear Russ's voice. I tried to mentally block Russ' perception of the GA licence plate on the car parked beside her brother's house.
I waited until it was quiet, removed my sweatshirt and put on my hat and snuck out of the car. (Oh - there was a hat. It was a 40th birthday party and we were all wearing head adornments that were befitting the somber occasion.) Thanks goodness there was a hat because my hair had wilted into mostly uncurled curls. I walked up to the door post "Surprise!" with my dress half zipped and joined the party.
They were all too elegant and on time to mention any of the oddities and lateness. These are the people I was trying to emulate. Sigh. Russ' mom did confirm for me later, in her authentic and full of care southern accent that the dress was, sadly, not going to zip. And the zipper was not stuck.
The uninterested maroon minivan mom had been right.
I over talked at the party (so happy to be around other people who understood community), I overstayed the next day (putting off the trip home as long as possible) and I am sure I said ridiculous things (because that is what I do).
When I told Russ I had been stuck in traffic she asked, "You drove? By yourself?" Perhaps things like this happen to me more often than I realized...