I don’t remember buying it, my favorite little black dress. I know it didn’t cost a lot, because I bought it at H&M. I do remember why I bought it. One of my best friends from college was getting married and I had nothing to wear. After vigilantly researching on the Internet, I decided that wearing black was probably okay and with that in mind, I grabbed the dress. I don’t think I tried it on, at least, I don’t remember doing that.
I bought it during my lunch break back when I was a receptionist at a financial management firm. I know that’s true because I brought it back into the office, smiling and elated, and showed it off to one of the older women I worked with. Her foot clicked up and down audibly on the mechanized pedal that opened and closed the locked glass doors to the lobby, one of our main functions there. “It’s nice enough,” she said, “but it’s not fancy enough for a wedding.” I clenched my jaw and ignored her. I sat back down and beat out my own rhythm on the foot pedal, silently competing with her in a game of high-stakes, non-fatal quick draw as to who was going to let the next guest enter successfully.
I am good at clothes. Like my work, what I wear and how it looks has been one of those strange arenas where what other people thought or advised never really factored into the equation. “Oh my god,” someone might say, “I could never pull that off!” It sounds like a compliment, but it isn’t really, is it? What they are saying is, “That is ridiculous but you look fine in it.” That’s why I have no problem responding with, “Thanks!” Because I’m not really saying thanks, I’m saying, “You’re right -- you’d look like a damn fool in this.”
This isn’t to say I have never made any sartorial missteps. I do, and often. There was the red poly-leisure suit with the fat navy polka dots and navy cats printed on it. The peter pan collar of the suit was only made less ridiculous by the massive bell bottoms of the pants, which were only made less ridiculous the first time I split the ass of said pants bending over to retrieve an errant cookie from the dining hall floor. I say ‘first’ time I split the ass -- because I loved that suit and you couldn’t have stopped me from wearing it if you tried.
There was also the shirt that I still fondly refer to as my “medieval faces” shirt. It was totally sheer nylon, printed all over with a scene from a medieval painting of a group gathering together for a feast. It didn’t button, but pulled on over your head. It had billowy sleeves and a key-hole neckline. Now, I’d slut around proper in that shirt, with just a bra underneath it, but as a youth, I often paired it with a basic black tank-top.
It was unspeakably ugly and I loved it. If I wore it for more than an hour, it began to give off the aroma of the person who owned it before me. If my olfactory senses were correct, this person was a male with a fondness for pimento cheese who probably worked at the a video rental place and slept in his mother’s basement amid boxes of Christmas decorations.
Somewhere along the line I wised up and got rid of the shirt. But I’d be a dirty liar if I didn’t admit here that I still occasionally wake up and miss it like you miss that one friend you had at that summer job in your hometown: Deeply and superficially all at once.
I bought the black dress three jobs and a million years ago. I thought about this when I folded it into neat squares and stuck it into a bag to bring to Chicago where I was going for my grandfather’s funeral. Part of me wondered if it was no longer kosher to wear black to a funeral. I rigorously searched the Internet once again and found that it was fine. The black fake lace sleeves cut off the middle of my forearms and shouldn’t be flattering but somehow are. It’s got pockets and modesty panel for my boobs that manages to not look like a dickey.
While I’ve owned this dress, I’ve lost and gained and lost again a total of 92 pounds and it has always fit me exactly the same way. When I got dressed for my friend’s wedding, I remember zipping it up and sighing when I realized there was one button at the very top that I’d never clasp. I thought about asking a guy I liked to do it, I thought about us getting ready.
When I zipped it up in Chicago, I remembered that wish and smiled at myself, managed the button and texted the guy who I would have asked to help me with it. I guess I’m more flexible now. At the very least, I’m less of a wallower. I’m one hundred percent happier than I was when I bought it. If I ever doubt this, I just remember the click of that pedal opening those glass doors and the bathroom where I sat and stared and wondered if this is what my life would be.
After my friend’s wedding, I, over-served, dove into the pool at the hotel where most of us were staying. I was in there alone, probably because I’d over-enjoyed the margarita machine at the reception. “Come on, you guys!” I shrieked, little black dress transformed by the water into a mermaid’s flowing hair, “it feels great!”
They watched but they didn’t come in. Another friend’s husband sweetly brought me towels. I didn’t feel ashamed. I felt invigorated and ready to run snarling into whatever the future saw fit to offer. I also felt very drunk.
I’m standing in a batting cage behind an ice cream place in Joliet, Illinois. It’s hot out and when my entire family discovers my brother getting tokens for the batting cages we’re all pretty skeptical if they’ll even work. They do. Mothers, sisters, brothers, husbands, cousins, everyone goes in, suit jackets buttoned, heels on, earrings twinkling in the midday heat. It’s my turn and my mom cheers for me. I kick off my heels and choke up on the bat, I swing and miss. I bend my knees a little more and the dress inches up my thighs. For a second I can smell chlorine, for another second I can perfectly see the mass of people behind me talking to each other, watching for the ball, I know what their concentrating faces look like because they look like mine.
The second ball comes, I swing, I connect a massive ‘whoop’ echoes throughout the parking lot, my mom knew I could do it.