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a wedding dress hanging on a door
Sarah Balsley
March 6, 2021

What Do You Do With Your Wedding Dress, After the Divorce?

I tried to forget about the dress.

When we returned home, I didn’t want to take the dress out of the car in front of Ivy, or my other children, or my second husband.

“Is that your wedding dress?” my daughter gasped.  

Ivy and I stood in front of the closet in the guest room of my mother’s house, in search of something. This was not what we had come for, but there it was. My wedding dress was not hermetically sealed in a fancy box between sheets of acid-free tissue. It wasn’t in a garment bag.  It wasn’t even in a dry-cleaning bag. It was sort of slopped over a metal hanger, folded at the waist, so that the bodice hung down one side and the voluminous skirt down the other like a  drunk bridesmaid slung over the shoulder of the groomsman assigned to get her home.  

“Oh my God,” I said, reaching in to pull it out, unable to understand how I let this happen, or how my mother, who knows how to do things, had either.  

“It’s so… dusty,” Ivy whispered, looking crestfallen.  

She was fifteen, and already my height. I didn’t want her to look at it, didn’t want it to be this way, didn’t want this proof of our sad story—the dress that got a divorce, a future that didn’t fully unfold. Had her father and I stayed married, the dress would have been sparkling clean. She would have tried it on, and spun around, and gushed, and asked if she could wear it one day. Her father would have leaned in the doorway, and wept at the sight.  

“This isn’t right,” I said, pulling the dress out of the closet and quickly folding it over my forearm. “I’ll be right back.” I couldn’t get it out of her sight fast enough. I took it outside to the car, lifted the back hatch, and laid it in.  

When we returned home, I didn’t want to take the dress out of the car in front of Ivy, or my other children, or my second husband. I didn’t know where I would put it, anyway. We didn’t have a  garage, or attic, or basement, and every closet was full. I left it in the back of the car, to deal with another day.  

Later that week, as I set out to pick up my son and his friends at school, I remembered that the dress was still in the back of the car, where the boys would need to stow their backpacks and sports gear. If I was going to be on time, I had to hurry. Gathering up the vast dusty yardage of the dress in my arms, I carried it over the threshold of my home like a bodiless bride. I walked it upstairs into our bedroom, knelt down on the carpet, and shoved it under the bed.

I tried to forget about the dress. I tossed the pasta, bought cleats and signed permission slips. I  paid the mortgage, read stories, fed the cat. But whenever I knelt down to retrieve a dropped book or helped the kids make a fort at the foot of the bed, I’d remember the white mass lurking beneath. I knew it was bad karma to have it under our bed, but what was I to do with it? Have it cleaned? Who wants a wedding dress that ended in divorce? I couldn’t give it away in its current condition, and it just felt too bizarre to put my wedding dress in the dress-up box. What, then?  Throw it away? Does one throw away one’s wedding dress, even if it didn’t work out? Should I  do a couple of shots of tequila, pour some on the dress, and torch it in the backyard after Tom and the kids were asleep? I had no idea, and even thinking about it made me want to put my forehead on the desk. Each time I glimpsed it, I just gulped and shoved it a little further underneath. I hoped my children and husband wouldn’t notice, and that the cleaning lady would be discreet enough not to mention it.

A few seasons later, it’s moving day. We are all packed and the men have taken the boxes to the truck. I drag a black plastic trash bag from room to room picking up stray bits left behind—a  clamp from a potato chip bag, bent wire hangers, a string bracelet, a box of dryer sheets, hair elastics, birthday cards still taped to the backs of doors. When I get to our bedroom, I find two moving men about to remove the box spring and unbolt the bed frame. It is only then that I  remember, with a terrible jolt. Oh my God, the dress.  

I ask the men to come out for a minute and work on another bed. I close the door, dragging my sack in behind me, my armpits suddenly damp. I kneel down and reach under the bed, but I don’t feel anything. I lay down flat, with my head turned to the side, and my cheek smashed to the carpet, sweeping my arm back and forth, panicking. Did someone take it out already?  

Then, I feel it. I grab a handful and pull. Out it comes, slowly uncrumpling like a poppy flower that has burst its pod--tulle, appliquéd daisies, tiny diamonds and all. I sit on my heels with the  dress in my lap for a breath or two, gently rocking, running my hands across it like a beloved dead pet.  

“Mom?” I hear from downstairs.  

“I’ll be right there!”  

I stand, open the plastic sack, and stuff the dress in--the layers and layers, the dust and the diamonds, until it is all in. Then I tie the plastic handles tight.  

“Mom?” calls a voice, from closer than before.  


It’s time to go. I leave the trash sack and step toward the door. But then I pause and turn back. I  pry open the knot and quickly untie the handles. I reach in and feel around until the tips of my fingers locate one of the daisies sewn onto the tulle. I pull it up and out of the bag where I can see it, and I gently tear the daisy off. I push it deep down into the front pocket of my jeans, retie the handles, close the door, and go.

Sarah Balsley’s essays make us feel less alone.  She writes about holding our families together in hard times, reconciling the blows of middle age, and searching for meaning and beauty amid the struggles of daily life. A Yale graduate with an MFA in creative writing, a wife, and a mother of five, Sarah’s work has appeared on NPR, in Brain Child, and at Tue/

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