Feature image courtesy of Nicole Reynolds
Nicole Reynolds gazes at her reflection in the mirror. Her freckled cheeks glow. Her brown eyes smile. A wedding gown of hand-beaded lace and tulle with a sweetheart neckline accentuates her willowy frame. Her long dark hair cascades down her pale bare shoulders and onto the ivory fabric.
It’s a weekday evening in mid-September. Reynolds stands confidently on a pedestal in the fitting area of Julia’s Bridal, a wedding dress store in Markham, Ont. Her mom and the store manager encircle her. Her mom beams, eyes fixed on her only daughter. The store manager nods approvingly. Reynolds glances at the time. It’s almost 7 p.m. “Oh shoot,” she says, pursing her lips. “We’re cutting it close. I have to pick up the kids.”
Reynolds is 29. She met her fiancé, Nafti Johnson, when she was 11. He was 12. Her cousin dragged her to a preteen dance at a community centre in Pickering, Ont. When a slow song came on, she told Johnson to dance with Reynolds, but he refused. That summer, Reynolds and Johnson became friends and started dating as teenagers.
Reynolds has two daughters, Mariah, 10, Brooklynn, 2, and a three-year-old son, Darious, who has a severe peanut allergy. Every weekday, Reynolds wakes at 6 a.m., gets her kids ready for daycare and drives to work for 8 a.m. She works as a shipper and receiver at a digital prints factory, where she sometimes lifts packages weighing 20 kilograms. Reynolds finishes work at 4 p.m., runs errands and picks up her kids from daycare. She reaches home at 6 p.m., cooks dinner, cleans up and tucks her kids into bed. Then, she collapses into bed and repeats.
Her weekends are a blur of laundry, cleaning her four-bedroom house and chasing after her kids. Johnson sometimes works every day maintaining the plaza his parents own, leaving Reynolds mostly alone with the kids. Twice a week, Johnson plays basketball. He also works out regularly at the gym. Reynolds however, doesn’t have time for a social life. Her kids are a handful and it isn’t often that someone offers to watch them. The odd time that someone does, Reynolds will get a call 20 minutes after leaving: “How much longer are you going to be?” they want to know.
Somehow, Reynolds is planning a $20,000 June wedding with 150 guests and six bridesmaids. She is getting married in a Catholic church in Scarborough, Ont. Several family members are helping them pay for the wedding.
In 1909, the New York Times called a woman’s wedding day “the most eventful moment of her life” and her wedding dress the “most important” outfit she will ever wear. Nowadays, wedding reality shows like Four Weddings Canada, and wedding magazines like Today’s Bride, go even further, making out a woman’s wedding day to be one she can’t live without. According to Weddingbells magazine, only 12 per cent of brides will have a “simple” wedding in 2013.
Danielle Andrews Sunkel, co-founder of the Wedding Planners Institute of Canada, says wedding propaganda heightens women’s desire for a dream wedding. She says weddings are our culture’s most embedded rite. “Every little girl wants to be a princess,” she says. “Her wedding day is the one day when a bride can be one.”
Nicole McCance, a relationship expert, agrees. “Women are programmed to want a wedding because it’s a day that is meant to make them feel special.” This is important for women because it makes them feel wanted, which in turn makes them feel loved, McCance says.
Finding the perfect wedding dress adds to this “special” feeling, says Tanya Armstrong, manager at Julia’s. “You can see a different expression on their face,” she says. “You can see that it feels right.”
Earlier that night, Reynolds arrives at Julia’s. She’s excited to try on a dress brought in just for her from the U.S. that she’d found online three weeks ago. She wears black sweatpants and a hoodie. Her fingernails are unpainted. Her only makeup is mascara. After some time, Reynolds’s mom, Colette, rushes in, her honey-coloured hair dishevelled. Armstrong, a petite woman with a sweet voice, leads them to the backroom to see the dress.
The strapless organza and satin gown she ordered with its jewelled waistband, hangs on a hook beside a long mirror. “Oh, look at that!” Colette says.
“I know!” Reynolds says. “And, it comes with straps.” Racks of wedding dresses surround them. The air smells of white tea. Lights hanging from the ceiling shine a spotlight on the gowns, making them sparkle. Reynolds finds another dress she likes. It has a sweetheart neckline, but no waistband. She disappears into the fitting room to try it on.
The fitting room door creaks open and Reynolds shuffles out, holding her dress up. It’s obviously too big and she struggles with the excess material. “I might not be feeling this one,” Reynolds says as she toddles up on the pedestal.
Next, Reynolds tries on the dress with the waistband. This one is closer to her size. She caresses her waist with both hands. “Mmmm,” she murmurs longingly.
When Johnson went to college and Reynolds was in Grade 12, they broke up. During their breakup, Johnson had their eldest daughter, Mariah, with another woman. But Reynolds knew it wasn’t over. In 2004, she met with him and they got back together. Reynolds, who had just turned 20, stepped in to help raise Mariah. “It was hard,” she says. “But I wanted him, and he came with a package.” That year, Johnson proposed to Reynolds. She accepted.
Still, Johnson continued to see Mariah’s mom. This love triangle lasted a few years. Mariah’s mom wasn’t around enough to care for her daughter. Johnson ended up fighting for sole custody and won. It took a long time for Reynolds to trust him again.
Then in 2008, her dad’s prostate cancer got worse and he died. Reynolds was devastated. Planning a wedding was the last thing on her mind.
But Reynolds says that as the old saying goes, time heals. Reynolds and Johnson were able get past it all. Today, Mariah’s mom is a part of her daughter’s life. The three parents are now all friends and enjoy spending time together. She and Johnson decided that they needed to get married after having Brooklyn and Darious. “We wanted to set an example for our children,” Reynolds says. “We wanted to show them that being committed to one person is important.” Reynolds also wants the big day that she has been dreaming about since she was little. “I feel like if I don’t do it the way I always dreamed of, that I’ll regret it.”
As for her dad, he loved to collect figurines of Pegasus, the winged horse from Greek mythology. Reynolds says that she will be wearing a Pegasus pin on her wedding day: “That way, he’ll be with me as I walk down the aisle.”
A week later, Reynolds returns to Julia’s with her mom and grandmother. Her mom asks her to try on the sweetheart neckline. Reynolds does and her mom likes it. Reynolds is torn. Then, Reynolds decides to put on the waistband dress. Her grandmother, who is usually particular, looks at her. “It’s beautiful,” she says. Reynolds cries. This is “the dress”.
Reynolds’s maid of honour, Holly Reynolds says her cousin is always trying to please others. “It is not in her nature to be selfish,” she says. She says Reynolds deserves a dream wedding more than anyone.
It’s always been about Johnson. “He’s the only one who I’ve ever had strong feelings for,” Reynolds says. “He’s the only love of my life.”
Reynolds needs one day that is just about her. With the perfect wedding dress found, that day is almost here. M