“Are these costumes?” the barista asked. I paused for a second, processing her question, and then turned to look at John. He was wearing something tight and black, which wasn’t obscenely crazy for a Sunday. I was wearing my favorite rose-printed skirt with the tulle underneath from Forever 21, a skirt that I paid $5 to ship to my front door because it was sold out at Mall of America and I couldn’t live without it. I didn’t ever wear that skirt again, but I saved it anyway. It’s wrapped in plastic in my parents’ basement now.
We laughed. “No, we dress like this all the time,” I said as we collected our coffee and left.
That’s the thing. They weren’t costumes. They were never costumes. John’s full-length grey fur coat and fingers full of rings, my six-inch platform boots I ran around in even in the thick of January ice, they weren’t costumes. These were things we spent hours looking for, ambling along the aisles of hangers at the Goodwill or opening a Nordstrom card for. We had Frye boots and fur vests and bright pink skinny jeans. We had gladiator sandals and gold glittered pumps and matching black faux-fur jackets, the real plasticky kind they sell for $25 at Target. They weren’t costumes. They were pieces of us.
Our things, pieces of what would become legendary outfits our friends still reminisce about, were scattered all over: in the backseat of John’s white Lexus (one that would later die on the highway, so he walked all the way to my work and came in flushed and panicked), all over my floor, thrown in closets, rings in chipped, pretty dishes from the thrift store. John collected crucifixes and books and broken hearts. I collected bruises and Virgin Mary statues and perfume.
When we met as 18-year-old college freshmen, John was wearing his high school Abercrombie wardrobe and I favored simple sweaters and girly dresses to match my bob and bangs. We felt OK in these clothes, but they didn’t define us. Soon after we hit it off over a cup of coffee, our lives changed and so did our clothes. We gave each other the courage to wear what we wanted; I didn’t care if John was filling in his beard with eyeshadow and he encouraged me to give in to my love of bright colors and hotpants on a Sunday and tight-fitting silhouettes.
We spent a few years together like this and we knew our impact. We knew our friends waited for us to get to the party because then it could truly begin; we were shameless, drinking and dancing and throwing silly parties with even sillier themes just so we could wear something we’d been saving for special. People made fun of us, I’m sure, but we didn’t care. People admired us too, admired our confidence and our willingness to do exactly what we wanted, when we wanted.
We dyed our hair the same shade of dark chocolate brown, even though I hated it a couple weeks later and went back to blonde. We drank too much at his uncle’s empty cabin together in the sunshine and fell asleep on the couches; I woke up before John did and admired him for a minute, sleeping as hard as a little boy who exhausted himself crashing around in the water all day. He took care of me when I was sick and shaking and hysterical and I protected him, gave him a safe place to land when he needed it.
We were more in love with each other and the world we created around us than we’d ever been with anything, anyone else.
But then we lost each other for awhile. I filled the void in my heart by buying more clothing and makeup than one girl could possibly need. I bought Rag & Bone jackets and silk dresses and a thousand red lipsticks and impractical shoes. I bought and bought and ran my Nordstrom card balance up until I realized that no amount of stuff could take the place of a person, so I reached for my phone and I sent a message. Sometimes it’s the tiniest things that take the biggest effort.
I still acquire crazy pieces and impractical dresses, just in case. John usually just wears jeans and a hoodie, but he’s been known to throw on a black maxi dress when it feels right. Things lost their magic, but that’s the thing about love and magic: it comes back. Sometimes all it takes is a costume.