Nikki Finkelstein-Blair: The First Cut

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Almost twenty years ago my husband and I walked down The Aisle. He looked as dapper in a Victorian morning coat as any twenty-two-year-old Tennesseean could be expected to look in the mid-1990s. I was channeling Scarlett O’Hara, with puffed-and-bowed sleeves and a skirt layered with so many petticoats that it could stand up on its own. It was Christmastime and the church was garlanded and the bridesmaids carried wreaths of fresh greens.

Wedding Day over, the rented tuxes returned, the cake top in the freezer, and my dress stuffed back in its original hanging bag from the discount bridal store and hung in a closet in my parents’ house. Where it remained for almost twenty years.

It made sense for them to keep it. At first, they had plenty of space, while we lived in small apartments. Then they stayed in one house, while we moved from place to place. Then, this year, twenty years later, my parents moved. Cleaned house. Let go of some things and offloaded other things onto us kids. And finally, my dress came home with me.

And I found myself at a crossroads between Practicality and Nostalgia, with a pair of scissors in my hand.

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Cutting the dress wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision; I’d been thinking about it (and stalking Pinterest for project ideas) for several years. In fact, I surprised myself with my hesitation once I had the dress hanging in my own closet.

Nostalgia kept it hanging there.

Until one day Practicality spoke up. I’d been looking at Pinterest (again), pinning ideas of Things To Make with the Dress, and I heard Practicality say, almost audibly: “It can’t become anything until you make the first cut.”

(Then I heard the tiny preacher voice in my head pipe up, as it sometimes does, to say: “That’ll preach.”)

It can’t become anything until…

Over the next couple of hours, I systematically dismantled the dress. Separated the skirt fabric from the bodice; used a seamripper to remove the zipper and to release several yards of lace from the hem. A tiny, sharp pair of scissors helped with the covered buttons and the sleeve bows. As I removed each piece I carefully folded and stacked lace and fabric and trim, until the majority of my wedding dress fit into a single shopping bag.

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And Nostalgia hit me. Hard. Cutting it was easy, but seeing it all cut up was (is) hard.

I will never be that person again. I’ll never be that young woman again, on the brink of a new life, with no idea where those twenty years would lead.

But I know that now the dress can become something new: keepsakes to be enjoyed rather than merely stored. Memories that are functional, or even simply beautiful. On our twentieth anniversary this Christmastime, our decorations will include stockings made with lace and bows; ornaments with covered buttons and tulle. And the two of us will look at pictures of our young selves–in all our morning-coated and puffy-sleeved glory–and dream about the ways we, too, may still become.

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is a minister, mother, and wife to a Navy chaplain. She and her family now live in South Carolina, where Nikki enjoys biking, knitting, and writing.

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