I pulled up to the Salvation Army parking lot today and removed from my car the long white garment bag that held my wedding dress. For a moment I hesitated before making my way towards the drop-off area. I wanted to peek inside the bag, run my fingers over the embroidery one last time, and say goodbye to a piece of my past.

I’m not usually emotional about material things; living like a nomad for over three decades has taught me to let go without looking back. However, that dress and I have been through quite a lot together…

I became engaged to R. in November 2000. He proposed in the bathroom of his studio apartment, surprising me with a diamond ring as I emerged from the shower with mascara still smudging my face. We moved in together two months later and chose September 15, 2001 as our wedding date. Yes, that September. With more than two thirds of the guest list required to fly into Miami. Thank God for unanswered prayers, is all I can say about THIS wedding! But I digress…

I didn’t have any friends in Miami, only acquaintances from work. I asked one of them to accompany me to a wedding dress store, where I tried on five dresses and left with the first one I was shown. My mother, who lived in Mexico City, was disillusioned that I hadn’t waited to go dress shopping with her. I have always been and will always be the anti-bride, which is surprising (or completely understandable) considering my line of work. I just wanted to get the dress, find the venue, and be married. Hey, accomplishing two out of three ain’t bad…

Four months before the wedding, with the dress bought and the venue booked, I arrived home to find R. smoking pot in his underwear in the middle of the afternoon. My fiance had been dismissed from his job as a financial adviser for failing to convince old people to invest in a volatile stock market with empty promises of impressive returns increase his client base, and with this defeat went all his self-esteem, determination, and ambition. While I worked 60 hours a week and commuted three hours every day to keep up with the mortgage payments, and at the same time cooked, cleaned, and cheered R. on, he spiraled into depression and waited in his underwear for the opportunity he felt would soon arrive as if by magic, because – dammit! – he felt he had it coming.

What he had coming was a postponement of the nuptials by yours truly. I secretly found an apartment close to my job and I confirmed my move only when he discovered an Apartment Guide in the glove box of my car. I didn’t return the ring immediately, because he promised he would shape up and regain control of his life. Two months went by and his emotional and financial situation only grew worse, so I returned the ring and broke off the engagement. The wedding dress hung in my closet, a sad reminder of what would never be.

In October 2001 I lost my job in direct correlation with the September 11 attacks. I left everything behind: my apartment, my car, my career… I took two suitcases and a white garment bag containing the wedding dress, and moved back to Mexico City.

Almost a year after returning to my hometown and swearing up and down that I would NEVER marry a Mexican, I met the man who was to become my husband. He was Mexican. He proposed on our first date and I accepted (go ahead, groan all you want, I deserve it). Six months later I married him wearing the wedding dress originally intended for my previous wedding. Does that make me a bad person? Is there some sort of bad karma involved? I’ve always wondered about that…

Throughout my rocky marriage, the dress hung in my closet. I would look at it from time to time and remember my wedding day, when all seemed perfect and the future was bright. We moved five times during our almost three years of nightmarish hell marriage, and with each move I left behind furniture, clothes, books… But I always carried the dress with me. Why? I don’t know.

I separated from my husband on Valentine’s day 2006. I took two suitcases, my computer… and my wedding dress. Why? I don’t know.

The dress has been hanging in the closet of my apartment for over a year. Last week, I pulled it out and looked at it. This time, instead of reminding me of that perfect day where the future seemed bright, it made me realize how naive, careless, clueless, and self-destructive I had been in my twenties! It was the same dress, but I was now someone different.

The confused girl who, at 25, bought the embroidered ivory dress with the long train and pearl buttons is long gone. And, may I say: Good riddance! In her place is a woman who has learned the hard way that wedding dresses, diamond rings, and wedding receptions don’t lead to happily ever after if the things that really matter – respect, shared values, true love – are absent.

Today I walked up to the Salvation Army drop-off area and was greeted by a friendly man. He took the garment bag containing the dress and jokingly asked, “Is this for me?”

I replied, “It’s my wedding dress, but if it fits you it’s all yours.”

“Your wedding dress?”, he asked with a smile. “Well, congratulations!”

I smiled back. Congratulations, indeed.