A short story about boundaries and realizing what you’re worth.
Clarice walks into the boutique, surveying the gowns surrounding her. She cannot believe she has gotten herself into this situation. She remembers the lunch like it was yesterday. Teresa had invited her out to lunch. Clarice was pretty surprised given the nature of their last encounter. For years, Teresa would make snide comments about Clarice’s race. Little jokes and microaggressions would be sprinkled in here and there, and Teresa would laugh them all off when Clarice brought it to her attention. Finally, Clarice had had enough. She regretted her execution, but Clarice was not sorry for standing up for herself. She had let four years of rage out on Teresa at their last Thanksgiving dinner. Their friends had watched in awkward silence as Clarice brought up years of harassment she had endured at the hands of Teresa. Everyone knew Teresa could be a nightmare, but they were also terrified of her. No one came to Clarice’s defense. She gathered her things and left alone. That had been five months ago. Teresa didn’t speak to her for two months, and Clarice was fine with that. Then, the lunch happened. No, it was not an apology lunch. To Clarice’s surprise, Teresa acted like nothing was wrong and instead, told Clarice to start planning a shower because she was a bridesmaid.
Clarice is getting angrier and angrier as she remembers that lunch. She wasn’t given a choice in the matter. Teresa told her how things would go, and that was that. In hindsight, Clarice should have just said no and left. Instead, she’s stuck attempting to find a gown in a horrid green shade. Green. A message pops up on her iPhone informing her that she still needs to pay her share for the bachelorette trip coming up. She has no clue when bachelorette trips became a thing. What happened to a night out on the town never to be spoken of again? Now she has to take off work, fly across the country, and be ready for a photoshoot at any moment. No, she would not have said yes if she was given a choice.
Two hours later and two hundred dollars less, Clarice makes her way to the café where she is meeting her fiancé, Sam. She doesn’t know what she would do without Sam. At first, he wasn’t what she’d call woke. As a white male he was pretty ignorant about a lot of things, but he learned and is still learning. The best thing is he lets her stand up for herself. None of that mansplaining that annoys her so much. She spots him in a corner booth and quickly shimmies her way through the close tables to reach him.
“Find anything good?” He asks her.
“Oh, just lovely. Green is going to look great on me,” she replies, her response dripping with sarcasm.
“I’m sure you will look beautiful. My cousin does have a good eye for these things,” Matthew says smiling.
Yes, Teresa is going to be her in-law. Her cousin-practically-sibling-in-law. She’s tried her best to be cordial when speaking about the wedding. She doesn’t vent about Teresa or bring up that awful Thanksgiving. She is doing her best to keep the peace, and she is going insane doing it. She feels like she is disrespecting herself by putting up with the subtle racism thrown at her, but what can she do? She’s going to be joining their family soon enough. She hasn’t even started her own wedding planning. She knew if she did, Teresa would have a major issue with it. Just another way her life revolves around this woman.
Several weeks pass and it’s now two weeks before Teresa’s wedding. Sam has remained passive when it comes to interfering with the tension between the women. This is one of his faults. He lets Clarice stands up for herself a little too much. Clarice believes that he should deal with his family and how they treat her. Unfortunately, they haven’t come to an agreement on that and Clarice has been left fending for herself. She has been patiently dealing with all things related to Teresa’s wedding. The bachelorette party wasn’t as terrible as Clarice had anticipated, but it did put a giant dent in her bank account. Clarice notes that for her wedding she will not be expecting her wedding party to practically go into debt.
In an attempt to bond, Clarice suggested getting manicures with Teresa. They are sitting side by side at the salon waiting for their nails to dry and Clarice has been listening to Teresa talk wedding plans for the last thirty minutes. Clarice is zoned out. She started daydreaming about five minutes in. She hears something that grabs her attention.
“Well, we wanted it to be a surprise, but we are going with an Asian theme for the wedding,” Teresa exclaims.
Clarice blinks slowly. Asian theme? Clarice has been planning on incorporating her own Asian heritage into her wedding to Sam. It’s supposed to be a special gesture to connect the two families. Never did she think her heritage would be used as a theme for her future sister-in-law’s wedding. Clarice starts breathing heavier as she listens to Teresa list off several items that were on Clarice’s own wedding list.
“Wait, did you just say you’re wearing a qipao?” Clarice doesn’t think she heard correctly.
Teresa excitedly confirms that she is. She found the perfect qipao online and it will really tie in the theme together. Clarice checks that her nails are dry and stands up. She kindly says goodbye to the employees, making sure everything was paid and good to go. Teresa stands up confused and rushes out after her. She has no clue what went wrong. She starts getting upset and questions if Clarice is even happy for her.
“I don’t know Teresa. I’ve dealt with your subtle racism for the last four years or so. And now you’re having an Asian themed wedding? Why? How is this respectful?” Clarice says.
“I thought you’d like it since you’re Vietnamese or whatever,” Teresa scoffs.
“I don’t like it. Based on your past behavior, it seems like you are just doing this as a trendy theme. I find it disrespectful.”
Clarice walks to her car and gets in. She looks up at Teresa who was staring back with an open mouth.
“By the way. For the one-hundredth time. I’m Chinese.”
Clarice slams the door and drives away.
Sam is not happy when he hears what happened at the salon. He swears he told Clarice that the wedding was Asian themed, but Clarice would have remembered that. He tells her to just drop it. Clarice doesn’t understand why he won’t stand up for her… not even admit that this whole thing is weird. She supposes that he is making slow progress, but it isn’t good enough. How can she marry into that family when no one seems to have a problem with subtle racism and ignorance?
Clarice picks up her phone and begins dialing Teresa’s number. She knows the screaming that’s about to come. She explains her point and sure enough, she has to hold the phone away from her ear as Teresa yells. Clarice probably deserves some of the yelling for pulling out of the wedding party this last minute. She recognizes that, but she can’t deal with the ignorance any longer. Sam is shaking his head in his I told you so way. She glares at him knowing he was no help in the matter.
“Do you stay out of things because you don’t think it’s a big deal or because you don’t respect me enough to do anything about it?” she questions.
He remains silent. That’s enough of an answer for her. Those years of him taking a step back and letting her defend herself were presenting themselves as very different memories now. She gains clarity as she looks back on the jokes at her expense, disparaging comments about her ethnicity, and backhanded compliments. If he is as much of an advocate as he says he is, he would have done something. Did he really expect her to standup to his entire family by herself? Of course, they didn’t respect her if they saw him standing idly by.
Clarice wills herself not to cry as she gathers her things. She has no clue what her next move is, but she knows she’s not going back. She closes the door behind her and steps into her new life of respect and acceptance.