Sunday, May 15, 2005

Runaway Bride Story Has Great Legs

To use a journalistic term, the Runaway Bride story has "legs" -- it's a story that keeps taking twists and turns with each new detail that comes to the surface. Sort of like Watergate, only totally meaningless. Jennifer Wilbanks is a name now etched in the public's consciousness as a synonym for changing one's mind or constant equivocation. "He asked me to the prom two months ago, then he WILBANKSED and took someone else." "I've got three scholarship offers, but I can always WILBANK until the deadline." "I don't know if he's ready to commit...he's been WILBANKING the entire time we've dated." Yes, we could all be focusing on real news such as the morbidly obese federal deficit, the burgeoning nuclear capabilities of the Axis of Evil, or the collapse of the country's Incredible Shrinking Industrial Base. But those stories aren't immediate, visual or personal. (Unless you get awarded a pink slip or spy a mushroom cloud over your city, of course.) But the Jennifer Wilbanks story is gossip on a national stage, and she has become someone everyone knows about but has never met. Not a celebrity, exactly (unless she can command a great restaurant table in New York) but more like everyone's Official Kooky Neighbor. It's Watercooler Drama in Real Life. Even if it's only manufactured drama, her desperation is as compelling as that of ABC's Housewives. For what is essentially a local story about a troubled woman, the public fascination is continually fed by ever new and salacious details. Like the shoplifting angle. It seems the former bride was busted not once, but thrice for shoplifting. She was required to spend several weekends in jail, pay a fine and restitution, and perform community service. (No, the community service did not involve a promise to entertain the community with a Daring Wedding Escape years later.) I am awaiting the itemized list of what the bride selected for her Five Finger Discount Registery. There were three separate incidents involving a mall, a Walmart and an unnamed store. What does one steal from a Walmart, anyway? Plastic earrings? Soap dispensers? Rolls of paper towels? Designer flip flops? Do you just rush the automatic doors with your blue cart, or try to slip out of there with all this crap under your suspicious-looking rain poncho? New details are also emerging on her sexual assault tale, which she later recanted. According to her story she was kidnapped, tied up, and placed on her right side facing the back of the infamous (and fictional) blue van. She was later taken to a darkened area where she was sexually assaulted by both an hispanic male with bad teeth, and a bilingual white female accomplice. Just what we needed -- a threesome! And a subliminal ad for dental work. She described this in graphic, fantastical detail. Perhaps this will show up in the inevitable TV movie as a dream sequence. Two previous fiances weighed in with their memories of being dumped by Ms. Wilbanks, who appears to be not only a Compulsive Shoplifter, but also a Serial Jilter. In both cases she unloaded her heartfelt news by PHONE. Think this woman has trouble dealing with issues face to face? I wouldn't be surprised if she conducted all her household spats via walkie talkie. She: "You forgot to take out the garbage. Over." He: "Okay, okay. Can it wait until a commercial? Over." She: "Well I'll be out running. Don't wait up. Over and OUT!" The latest word is that Jennifer has checked herself into a hospital for treatment of various physical and emotional problems. (Myself, I would've been tempted to check into a deserted island, or perhaps book a seat on the next Mars probe.) That's probably a good idea, not only for her eventual return to health, but just to take refuge from the news media which, let's face it, is intensely interested in her next move, not to mention her new haircut. It's sad that it has taken an event of this magnitude to force Ms. Wilbanks to deal with her problems, but at the same time it's encouraging to hear she is finally seeking help. Perhaps she and her family have been glossing over warning signs of Trouble Ahead. Marriage doesn't solve problems. If anything it tends to exacerbate them. Maybe she realized this a scant four days before her Jurassic-Sized wedding. What I hope comes of this is that families pay more attention to behavior that may in fact be a cry for help. Maybe if we don't expect perfection from each other, we will be more comfortable revealing our faults and seeking support. Then people like Jennifer won't feel their best option is to resort to a Scary Fairy Tale of the sort we all witnessed. She is lucky it did not become her reality.

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