This month’s Living out Loud topic is one that I am both drawn to and repelled by. I’m female: writing about my relationship with clothing should be easy, right? Yes and no. To choose one piece of clothing, jewelry, shoes, etc. that I have an attachment to? That was something I had to think about for a few hours after I read the topic. I write these entries very stream-of-consciousness, about the first thing(s) I think about when I read the topic. A garment popped into my mind. Then I procrastinated, because I really fear this one.
There is an item of clothing. It has a story. And it is the first formal gown I purchased for myself.
In December 2008, I was scheduled to be hooded for my Ph.D. I planned how to deal with transportation for my parents, where I would like to go for my celebration afterwards, invited friends and family, ordered my graduation announcements, cap and gown, etc. I worried a fair amount over the “party” dress. I had figured out my sense of style in SecondLife (yes, I have avatars there), and so I had a few ideas of what I would like. I finally narrowed my choices down to one dress (and yes, that’s it, on the right). I wanted to be graceful, elegant, and sexy; I had never owned a formal gown before, and I hadn’t worn one since my high school prom.
I measured in triplicate, compared my numbers to the fitting chart, and, of course, discovered that I was between sizes. I decided to go up a size rather than down-you can take in a dress, but not always let one out. The return policy was quite clear and fairly unforgiving. I ordered my fantasy gown. I received it a couple of weeks before the event. I was nervous on pins and needles waiting-would it look like the photo? Would it FIT? Would it look good ON me?
During this time, my parents decided that they would not be able to attend due to winter weather concerns. Mostly, concerns about their pets if the weather was bad, but also concerns about getting out of, and back into, their home. This was less than 2 weeks before graduation. I already had the tickets. I was completely, utterly crushed. I felt like I was less important to them than their pets (especially their dogs). I felt like 90% of my reason for walking in the stupid ceremony had just vanished into thin air. I thought it was unfair of them to cancel at the last minute like that. They could make it to my Bachelor’s ceremony, but not my DOCTORAL one? Because they were afraid the weather and animals MIGHT not be ok? Even though the neighbors had offered to care for the pets for a couple of days?
The dress arrived. I was excited when I took it out of the box. It looks JUST like the picture. I couldn’t wait to try it on! Then reality hit me. I’d forgotten, for one lovely, fantastic moment, that I do longer had a reason to wear it. That I’d just flushed away $175 on a dress without a cause. All of my hurt, anger, pain, and resentment boiled in me—and the dress took the blame. Well, not exactly: I knew it wasn’t the dress’s fault, and I didn’t blame the garment, but in that instant it became symbolic of a destroyed dream, something I had really worked through hell for, and wow, I thought I actually deserved a really great party. That I had finally achieved something that even I thought was worth celebrating. I didn’t want to speak to my parents again. Ever. And I wanted to burn the dress. I literally wanted to watch the thing go up in glittering, flickery sparks and ash, to expunge the poisonous feeling of betrayal that it made me feel. I loathed what it stood for, though I still saw its beauty.
I put on my big-girl panties and rescheduled my graduation for the much more temperate and forgiving May of 2009. I did not plan a party. My parents were all but tripping over themselves in their gratitude. I was still wounded. I couldn’t bring myself to plan another party. I didn’t get invitations, I didn’t get announcements, I didn’t believe any of it would actually come to pass anyway, anymore. And ultimately I was not disappointed in that, either; though when May came around, I briefly wondered whether coppery bronze could be an acceptable dress color for spring.
My parents didn’t come. For two major reasons. One, they couldn’t bring their dogs (yes, I have a Ph.D. and I rank below DOGS). And two, because of delays, I wasn’t officially being awarded my “sheepskin” that day. Did they understand that nobody got handed the real deal? It’s not done that way anymore. It didn’t, and doesn’t, matter. Intellectually I have come to understand that there are other, more compelling reasons than dogs behind their refusal to attend. Emotionally it will never matter, and I will always resent the emotional hell it put me through TWICE. Not to mention resenting their dogs. Neither parent understands why I can’t coo over their sweet, loving, adorable dogs.
I still have the dress. It still haunts me, and I can’t entirely bear to look at it. I know I should donate it as a prom gown. It still has the tags on and has never been worn. Why do I keep it? For one, it is my first formal dress. For two, I keep hoping, that somewhere, someday, I will have another reason to need a formal dress, and then I can replace the bitter memories with happy ones. Besides, I have the perfect shoes.