Because I'm getting married this September, I recently went shopping for a special white dress. Well, mostly white. The one I found was flecked with purple leopard spots, and here and there a zebra stripe struck through the pattern like a lightning bolt.
Not every bride needs such a dress, but I did - not for the wedding, but for my bachelorette party, which has always seemed to me to be a pivotal part of the pre-wedding hoopla. Perhaps it's a little more pivotal part than it should be, but then, I sometimes have a tendency to go over the top where celebration is concerned.
In high school, I once sneaked out of a debate tournament to go to college parties (and got suspended for my trouble). In college, I was often the one to lead the charge on Saturday nights. I am far from a wild child - rather, my cautious, fretful nature gives me an unusually keen sense of the fleetingness of youth, and a concern for life's missed opportunities. "Do you know what we'd give for this night in 40 years?" I used to say to my roommates on the rare occasion they balked at hitting the neighborhood bars.
My fear that life would eventually lose its luster faded after I met my fiance. But as our wedding approached, the anxiety stirred again. So I told my best friends to forget the engagement parties and bridal showers, and save their money to bid a boisterous farewell to my youth. In the end, I chose a long weekend in that oasis of depravity, Las Vegas.
Before I knew it I was on a plane, looking down as the Rocky Mountains slouched into desert. The improbable Vegas skyline soon sparkled into view. Friends were coming from all over the country: our group included my little sister, a newly minted divorcee, a pregnant woman, a math teacher and a man. We're going to have so much fun, I thought.
Over the next three days, we reveled in all of Sin City's garishness. We saw fake sphinxes and Augustus Caesars, got serenaded on a casino gondola, watched the Bellagio fountains sway, gasped over the daredevils in Cirque de Soleil. We ate lobster and drank pina coladas, sometimes out of gold-painted ceramic goblets that were hailed by more knowledgeable bystanders as "pimp cups."
It turns out that I wasn't the only bride to make this pilgrimage. The city was absolutely bursting with soon-to-be-weds, all hoping to kiss single life goodbye in style. At "The Thunder From Down Under," an Australian male revue in which hunks tore off their pants (often to reveal ... more pants), the audience consisted of row after row of bachelorettes. They eyed each other warily through their veils, like gamblers through clouds of cigar smoke.
The scene was similar at the hotel pool, where our party hoped to sun away our East Coast pastiness and maybe catch up on some good books. When we saw that the pool was overflowing with an MTV-style spring break dance extravaganza, we scurried to hide our thick paperbacks, then spent most of the afternoon up to our necks in the warm water, in the manner of enemy submarines. When someone spoke to us, he was usually rude. "It's my buddy's bachelor party!" one man declared.
"Well, it's my bachelorette party!" I shouted back, indignant. These people didn't seem to notice that I was sucking the marrow out of life here. How dare they upstage me in the midst of my own swan song?
With the help of certain accessories, though, this bachelorette triumphed in the end. On our last evening in town, the leopard dress finally made its debut, along with a pair of bunny ears pressed upon me - literally - by my little sister. Thus adorned, I presided over the night, collecting my tithe of free drinks. There was much dancing, and an attempt to substantiate a Paris Hilton sighting that would have made my editors back home very proud. It was one of the best nights out I've had in a while, and not only because I was with my favorite pals in a place where margaritas were sold by the foot and sleep simply wasn't on the schedule.
We stayed longest at a club on the top floor of a casino; it had a fabulous view of the city. I spent a long time looking out over the lights, which stretched all the way to the edge of the desert, where the brightness abruptly stopped.
I don't think that last tequila shot explains the feeling that came over me. I was thinking of someone on the other side of the darkness, whom I was marrying soon.