“Do you want to know a secret?” She asked. “I thought this might be my wedding dress.”
The dress was that vanilla color that white vintage dresses sometimes turn after too many years unprotected. She was wearing it, standing in my bedroom with it half-unzipped, her limbs tanned from a summer coated in a slick of oil laying out in the sun. She had kept the dress in the back of a closet but she was wearing it now. So I guess she already knew that it wasn’t gonna be her wedding dress and it wasn’t gonna be that guy.
I don’t see her anymore, so I don’t know what she did with that dress. I’m sure she kept it; it was a family dress. I think it was her aunt’s, passed down to her with the best of intentions. It just didn’t work out. It wasn’t the dress’s fault.
The night you said, “I’m moving to New York” I was wearing my favorite dress of that summer. It was dark green, someone’s sundress from the ’90s and I lived in it. I had paid $3 for it at the thrift store and I wore it once or twice a week. I wore that dress everywhere, but after that night where I stood crying in the street I never wore it again. I balled it up and hid it in a drawer until I got the balls to throw it away, slam the dumpster lid on it. It was tainted. I still think about it sometimes, and about the black turtleneck dress I was wearing when a different boy told me he didn’t love me. I slept in that dress that night, a wreck of Bud Light and cheap vodka diluted with soda, and then I passed its bad karma on to a resale shop.
I buy a lot of dresses. I can’t help it. Sometimes I buy things because I think they’ll make me more beautiful, untouchable, prettier, unforgettable. You name it. I know this is not uncommon. I buy innocent sweet vintage prairie girl dresses, sequined slip dresses, dresses that are little more than two pieces of silk. I know you didn’t forget that dress, the one I wore to the wedding where it clung so slightly from the heat, the one you undid so carefully, the one that wilts now in my closet, still sticky with a few summers’ worth of sweat.
I buy slinky black dresses slit to the navel, slit up the thigh, and I know that sex is radiating from every pore of my skin when I wear them. It’s funny how men can pick up on that, how they’ll try and press a palm to your back to claim you even though you’re not up for sale. And the funniest thing is that dresses like that, I buy them for myself. That’s the dress I want to wear, not the dress I’m told to wear.
But the brunt of the winter kept me hiding, shivering and hiding in dirty leggings and sweatshirts, hiding in these ugly clothes. I had no desire to dress up, look pretty and parade around. I wanted to be alone and I wanted to curl up in my clothes and use them as protection, as armor. So I bought shirts much too big, wore my brother’s sweatpants and socks because that manliness is comforting to me. I’ve always thought of men as my ultimate protectors, the effect of my small-town upbringing, and their clothes feel stronger sometimes. I don’t have to think about a clutching hand when I’m wearing such ugly things.
I forgot for a minute, but then I remembered. I sat across from a boy in a bar in another slinky black thing and I laughed at his nervous jokes and he stared at my mouth (they always do, men always stare) and in the car he reached over and touched the hem of my skirt. It was probably an accident; he was just reaching to see if my hands were cold. They weren’t. And suddenly I was starving.