DULUTH, Georgia (CNN) -- Jennifer Wilbanks, the so-called runaway bride who went missing for days in advance of her wedding, issued a public apology through her family's pastor...Wilbanks wrote, "At this time, I cannot fully explain what happened to me last week. I had a host of compelling issues which seemed out of control—issues for which [sic] I was unable to address or confine."
Well, Jennifer, please allow me to weigh in here. Because it took me exactly sixteen seconds to confine your issue.
It's that damn picture.
That grinning, pop-eyed rictus that has been gracing every newspaper and television screen in the country? If that's your best "caught on film" moment, no wonder you ran for the hills rather than subject yourself to the endless assault by photographers and video cameras that passes for a wedding celebration in contemporary culture.
Sister, I feel your pain.
Now, I am not an unattractive person. In fact, in favorable lighting with hair and makeup done just so, I can even look rather fetching. But to look at the pictorial evidence of my life, you'd never know it. I live in constant fear of being abducted by a serial killer, not because of the raping and torturing part, but just from knowing one of my photographs will end up on a police bulletin board in some grungy squadroom somewhere, or worse, blared across the media as people across the nation puzzle, "Hmmm. I wonder what he saw in that one."
There have been exactly two good photographs taken of me in the past 43 years. The first, from my freshman year in college, was a candid snapped by the crazy epileptic girl who lived across the hall from us (she wasn't crazy because she was epileptic; she was crazy because she was just insane). I never got a copy of it, but it was a memorable shot nonetheless: hair falling perfectly around my shoulders, face turned slightly away from the camera to highlight my good left side, and laughing but without that squinty, nose-crinkling thing I usually do. Spontaneous, glowing, and altogether spectacular.
My second good picture, which I am fortunate enough to still possess, is on my 1995 drivers license. Most people hate their drivers license photos. Not me. Mine is perfect. Okay, so, maybe I do look a tad scowly, but given the gravity of the occasion—piloting a two-ton vehicle across our nation's roadways is a privilege not to be taken lightly, after all—I don't think that's a bad thing.
In my license picture, I am wearing a beige v-neck jacket (which I have held onto all these years on the strength of its photogenity, hoping against hope that shoulder pads will be back in style when my passport comes up for renewal). My hair is pulled partially back from my face, bangs intact, with the left side cascading down one shoulder while the right side flips saucily back. I am looking slightly up at the camera—always my best angle—so that my cheekbones look positively chiseled, and I am wearing a touch of peach blush that complements my outfit quite nicely. It's a fabulous picture, and I must say I have always looked forward to those rare occasions when I am carded so I can whip out my license and proudly display it for all to oooh and ahhh over.
When my license expired in 2000, the Registry of Motor Vehicles simply issued me a new license with the same photo, and I think the photo has held up remarkably well. Except for the fact that I'm ten years older and my hair color has changed seven times since then, that is.
This year, on my forty-third birthday, my license came up for renewal again and I promptly went online to apply for a new one. Given that I had recently paid all my outstanding parking tickets and overdue excise taxes in order to renew my registration, I was puzzled and annoyed when my application was denied and called the Registry in a snit to complain.
"Oh," said the clerk on the other end. "Here's the problem. It says here you need to come in to get a new picture taken."
My world shattered. "But…but…but…I like my picture! Can't I just keep it?"
He said, "Sorry, but that's the rule. Every ten years you need a new photo. Your old one probably doesn't even look like you anymore."
I grumbled a bit more and hung up, resolving to delay the inevitable until the last possible moment. Predictably, I promptly forgot all about it until well after my birthday, belatedly realizing it when I began to plan a mini-retreat in order to get my book back on track. My friend Kristin had generously offered me the use of her lakefront cabin in Upstate New York, which I happily accepted, and I set about making preparations for my journey. Remembering from my Ithaca days that New York state troopers are far less forgiving than their counterparts in Massachusetts, I realized it was time to just bite the proverbial flashbulb and go renew my license.
As usual, I ran late the morning of my trip and, in my rush to get to the Registry before the lunch crowd hit, I inadvertently missed the red light at the corner of Gloucester and Marlborough. Okay, well, actually I just blew through it (shut up! It's a really long light). Luckily, the traffic was light that day.
With the exception of the Boston Police cruiser that happened to be waiting on the other side.
This could only happen to me, I thought, rolling down my window as the officer strode over to my car. "I'm sorry; I ran that light, didn't I?"
He nodded, not unkindly, I noted. "License and registration please."
"Well, that's the thing," I stammered. "I know you are not going to believe me, but my license expired on my birthday and I swear to God I was on my way to the Registry to renew it right now."
He looked skeptical. "Oh, come on."
I nodded so hard my neck nearly snapped. "Yes! You see, I've been working in Maynard for the past six months and I haven't had a day off, and when my license expired I tried to renew it online but they told me I couldn’t because I need to go in and get a new picture taken. Which I didn't want to do, because—well, look!" I flapped my wallet at him. "That's a good picture, don't you think?"
He squinted at it, then at me. "That doesn't even look like you."
"But it's a good picture, isn't it?"
He cracked a tiny smile and handed me back my wallet. "Actually, it's one of the better ones I've seen."
"Look, I promise you, you can check the Registry records at the end of the day, and if I haven't renewed my license you can come to my house and arrest me."
He gave me a little dismissive wave and headed back to his cruiser. "It's all right. I believe you."
"You can follow me to the Registry," I called.
"NO! Just go!"
I waved back at him, started up the car, and continued on my way. When I got to the Registry, I was ushered upstairs and seated next to a screaming child who seemed intent upon beating his mother into a bloody pulp. A man sat down on the other side of me and asked to borrow a pen. I obliged, which was a mistake, since he was in a chatty mood.
Sidenote: You don't want to talk to people at the Registry. It's the great melting pot of humanity, but for some reason, whenever I'm there humanity has already melted and been poured out and there's nothing left for me but the scrapings at the bottom.
"I can't remember the name of the street I live on," he confessed.
Ri-ight. I nodded politely and cast about for another empty seat.
"They told me I have to get a license to use for ID. I'm glad. I don't like this picture of me on my old ID," he said, showing me the laminated card he was wearing on a string around his neck. "It makes me look like a felon."
Given that the ID card he showed me had been issued by the Massachusetts Department of Probation, I, too, could see the resemblance. Mercifully, just then my number was called and I hastened to the counter, confident I could convince the clerk to give me a pass on the photo.
"I really don't need a new photo," I said, pulling my old license out and holding it up next to my face. "See?'
She peered at it. "That doesn't even look like you."
I handed it to her. "Look closer. There's a resemblance."
"You're not a blonde anymore," she pointed out smartly.
"I'll change back! I promise!"
She shook her head. "Sorry, I can't do it. The computer won't let me."
"Please," I said, throwing myself on her mercy. "This is one of only two decent photos that have ever been taken of me in my entire life, and the other one is twenty three years old and probably sitting in the bottom of someone's school trunk somewhere. I've had this one for ten years; please let me keep it!"
The clerk handed the license back to me. "Well, if it makes you feel any better, you don't have to turn it in. Maybe you can get it framed or something." She shooed me over to the camera station, laughing uproariously at her own wit.
I glared at her and stepped back to pose against the blue backdrop as instructed, staring bleakly into the camera. My image popped up on the computer screen in front of me and I suppressed a tiny scream. It looked like something I should be wearing on a string around my neck stamped "Massachusetts Department of Probation."
"One more, please?" I begged, trying desperately to fluff my bangs so they wouldn't appear as stringy, but ended up making them look even worse in the second photo.
"Pick one," said the Suddenly Soulless Bureaucrat.
Hoping against hope it would come out better in real life, I went with the first one. She handed me a black and white printout of my new license, promising the real card would arrive in the mail within two weeks. I assured her I was in no rush, tucked my old license back into my wallet, and trudged out of the Registry, grateful that at least I am now too old to be carded, resolving to obey all traffic rules from here on, and promising myself that if I ever do get engaged I won't run away until after the ceremony.
Maybe at that point I'll at least have a decent wedding picture.