"This isn't happening. Is this happening? This isn't happening."
I was in Puerto Rico and it was the day of my dad's wedding. I'd slipped into my bridesmaid's dress with just enough time to pick up my date at the airport and get to the other end of town for the ceremony. Bending over to put lotion on my legs I heard a small zipping sound. I raised back up and looked around the room, not sure where the sound came from. No sooner had I bent back over than I realized; the sound was my dress coming unzipped.
"B?" I called out for my brother's girlfriend.
She came into the room. I had my back to her, "What's going on with my dress? Am I unzipped?"
"Umm, sort of." She guided me to a mirror and I looked over my shoulder at my back's reflection.
"You can't be fucking serious."
The zipper was still in place at the top of the dress's back, but somehow I was unzipped.
"Can you fix it?" I asked, started to sweat with panic.
B tried and tried to pull the zipper down, to no avail.
"The zipper's missing teeth. Can you wiggle out of it?"
I tried jumping. I tried covering my chest and back in lotion in the hopes of sliding the dress off.
Nothing. Nope. Not going to happen.
I glanced at my phone; it was 3. Matt's flight should be landing.
"Fuck. This isn't happening. What do I do? Should I safety pin it?"
"You can't safety pin that," B said. "We need to pick up your date."
I threw on a jacket and grabbed a pair of jeans. She and I were on our way to the airport when I saw a dry cleaner/tailor. "I should go in there."
"We can't leave your date at the airport."
"I know. But I also can't show up at my dad's wedding like this. Let me off."
"I don't know how to get to the airport. & I don't have your date's number."
Directions to the airport were already pulled up on my phone, I tossed it in her lap, "Keep it! Come back for me once you've picked Matt up!" We were still in the middle of the street when I jumped out of the car and ran inside the dry cleaner.
The man behind the counter barely looked at me when I came inside. "What can I help you with?"
"I'm having an emergency. I need a dress repaired."
"My tailor has left for the day. Come back tomorrow."
"I can't come back. I have to have the dress fixed today, now." I heard myself and how rude I was being. "I'm sorry, I'm desperate," I told him. My eyes started to fill with tears and I felt hopeless. My dad is going to kill me.
The man was finally looking at me, "You're breaking my heart. Why are you crying?"
"I'm ruining my dad's wedding. I have to be there soon and my dress is ruined."
The man held up a finger to me to quiet my crying. He picked up his phone, "King? Are you busy? There's a girl in my shop who needs her dress fixed and it's an emergency. Can you come look at it? Great." He put his phone down and said to me, "I just called a good friend of mine. He lives nearby. He'll be here soon."
"Oh my God. Really? Thank you so much." I was literally kissing the shop owner's hands.
"No more crying. It's going to be okay."
The shop owner was named Wilfredo and he tried to keep my mind preoccupied by asking me questions about Texas and my home life until his friend arrived. When the tailor, King, came by, he drove me to his shop, just 5 minutes away. Inside his shop, I took off my jacket and showed him the back of my dress. He looked at it thoughtfully, tugged at the zipper gently and just once. And then, with no warning, he ripped the back of the dress apart. "Ya," he said, shrugging. Enough.
I changed into my jeans and put my jacket back on. I brought him the dress and he was already set up with a new zipper and thread in his sewing machine.
When I say it took King less than 10 minutes to change out the zipper of my dress and sew back the rips, I'm probably tacking on unnecessary time. It happened so quickly, I couldn't believe it. He handed my my dress and I slipped it on over my jeans and under my jacket. I pulled the jeans off and took off the jacket. King zipped me up; it fit like a charm. And then King was driving me back to the shop. It was 3:20 and I was still within the frame of time to make it to my dad's wedding venue on time.
While all of this was happening, a million things tiny complications ran through my mind:
though I'd left B with my cellphone, I hadn't given her the password. She had no way of getting Matt's number from my phonebook and she'd never seen him before. I'd once shown her a picture but that was it. I'd also not told Matt to be on the lookout for someone else to pick him up, it had all happened so quickly. And there was my dad--I'd called him in a panic and told him what had happened, but I hadn't since told him what was happening or that the whole thing was miraculously resolved. On top of everything, I had no way of telling B, had she gone to the original shop looking for me while I was with King, where I was or how to find me. All these things were racing through my mind when King's phone rang. He answered and had a rather efficient conversation with the person on the other end where all he said was, "Yes," before hanging up.
"That was Wilfredo," he told me, "He said your friend is waiting for you back at the cleaner."
When I got to the cleaner, I told B I needed to pay and she went back to the car to wait for me. I was pulling out my wallet, asking what I owed them and both King and Wilfredo waived their hands dismissively.
"No, I have to pay you, please," I was brandishing my debit card.
"Our payment is that you make it to your father's wedding and that you look beautiful," Wilfredo said.
I started to get teary eyed and Wilfredo hugged me, "Don't cry. It breaks my heart to see you like that. Go have fun! It's a wedding!" I gave him a kiss on the cheek.
I moved toward King, tears still in my eyes and repeating thank you, thank you over and over with each breath. King took me in for a hug and looked into my eyes. A tear was streaming down my cheeks and he wiped it away with the pad of his thumb. "Ya," he said. Enough. I gave him a kiss on the cheek.
Climbing into the car with B, she told me how easily she'd found Matt at the airport, that she'd dropped him off at the hotel before coming to pick me up.
We picked my brother and Matt up at the hotel, we caught a cab to my dad's wedding venue. As we paid the cab driver and stepped out of the cab, I realized something, "I forgot to tell you something: thank you," I said to Matt.
"For coming here. For being willing to meet my family literally three days after we met and for taking this big risk on me. For doing all of this even though our friends and families are calling into question our sanity because this is all borderline crazy, right? But thank you. I'm glad you're here. And also, thanks for not being mad at me for not being there to pick you up."
We were holding hands walking toward the venue and he kissed the back of my hand. "No problem. And honestly, I think it's better that you didn't pick me up. I got to meet your brother and B without the awkward formal introduction. It was good."
We parted ways as he and B went to find their seats and my brother and I went to find the rest of the bridal party. I saw my dad and he grabbed me and turned me around to look at the back of my dress.
"What happened? I've been calling you."
"I know, I'm sorry. B kept my phone. But it's fixed. I'll tell you about it later."
The wedding happened at sunset in Old San Juan. There was a violinist and a sea salt breeze in the air. As I took my place at the front of the ceremony space, Matt and I caught each other's glance.
You look beautiful he mouthed to me from his seat.
And it wasn't just the heat, or the Puerto Rican humidity, or the sweat beads forming on the small of my back that were beginning to trickle under the heaviness of my bridesmaid's dress, but I was actually melting.
Well, not actually, but you know.
Eight days later, it was my final night in Puerto Rico and I sat on my grandmother's patio, crying. I could go on and on about what Puerto Rico means to me. The island is my story and the story of my family. The island is my abuela singing in her kitchen; it's my titi combing my hair back for me on a hot day. The island is the stairs in Gurabo, that seemingly endless zigzag of stairs, that my dad climbed everyday on his way home from school as a boy. It's the lull of coquis chirping in the evenings, the last thing you hear as you give in to sleep. It's the heartbreaking beauty of the tropical hillside and bursts of red flamboyan trees. And above all, Puerto Rico is a community of people, like Wilfredo and King, who will go out of their way for you because you call the same place your home.