This morning out of the blue I remembered the dress. The one in the window at Market Mall in the Bay department store, draped on a mannequin who was not in the seventh grade in terms of her physical development. She was taller than me, for sure. Bustier. She had wider hips. I can’t really remember if she had a head, lol. But in that white dress she floated like an angel. Probably a Charlie’s Angel. Probably Jaqueline Smith, whom I had pictures of all over my wall, the perfect incarnation of my desire for beauty and voted (by my eleven year old self) most likely to win the affections of my heart throb, also featured on my wall in dozens of cut outs from teen magazines, Sean Cassidy. Of the Hardy Boys. Boy detective and leading man. Man-teen, to be more accurate.
Every day I took a city bus to school, and every day I passed the window of the shop that held the portal to my hopes and dreams. I can feel it still, the visceral want. The way my pulse sped up when I saw the tiny terry towel spaghetti straps, the gather at the waist, the panels of sheer lending it an ethereal feel, the matching jacket, thin plastic wrists with elegant fingers reaching out. I felt magical dreaming of it. Like all of the magnetism of Jacqueline’s glowing beauty was somehow captured inside of me. I could solve crimes and win hearts wearing such a garment.
But the dress was almost twenty dollars. Even for a birthday present that was asking a lot. $73 bucks by today’s standards according to the google. My mom was a student, and we didn’t really have $19.99 for a dress. That was a lot of grocery money. Apples were expensive and we had to stretch out a bag not gobble them up too fast, for a frame of reference. Eleven was the year I became an entrepreneur, walking door to door with my neighbour friend unapologetically asking for odd jobs to raise money, not for Girl Scouts, or the school as many a neighbour inquired, but so we could see the movie Grease. And we did it. Nickel by nickel, dime by dime after a month or two of saving up, we made it to the theater.
I don’t think I actually outright asked my mom for that dress. But somehow the wild hope in me fought past my restraint enough that she figured out how much I wanted it.
Now as a mom, I am also pretty sure she was worried that even if by some miracle she was able to afford the dress, I would put it on and fail to be transformed into the fully blossomed beauty of a twenty something world renowned actress. For starters, it was a bit big for my tiny frame. I am pretty damn sure after years of momming, that she wanted to protect me as much as to be practical with the grocery funds.
Come the school dance, I arrived, yes oh yes, in a slightly looong, slightly loooose, very very pretty terry towel dress in the perfect nuanced white with some respectable little girl shoes and not the saucy sandals worn by my mannequin super hero.
And I did get to dance with Scott. The boy whom I liked who was also my friend and who had liked me for some time and whom I had come around to liking back, romantically. Scott and I did not end up an item after that seventh grade soiree (think Mark Ruffalo in 13 going on 30) and if we are waxing poetic on hopes and dreams where was that going to go? I mean seventh grade romance is a whole lot of passing notes to your friends and wanting them to like you back, full stop. I did at least feel like I had a shot at being the kind of girl you would want to dance with.
I remember the feeling of the fabric touching my skin. I remember my mother and grandmother in cahoots about the purchase. Some soft whispering. A feeling of hope in the air as my birthday came closer and closer. The terrifying swoon I felt when it disappeared off the mannequin but I didn’t know whereto. I know that I did not look exactly like I wanted to look.
I know that what my mom and granny wanted for me was to feel truly radiant. For my radiance to be unaffected by the outcome of a dress purchase, or anything else that could fall short or be taken away.
But wearing the dress made me believe I was closer to it. It was a superhero cape, that transformed me into the soft and angelic. Even if what I saw in the mirror was not quite there. Even if I was shaky with vulnerable hope as I walked into the school gymnasium, transformed from structure to a fairground of possibility by some streamers and balloons and soda and snacks. Puppy love in the air.
Oh sure we can say that my little girl heart was manipulated by the princes and princesses in the story books; the gender roles. Duh.
Capitalism had a hand in advertising shampoos and makeup and a thousand other ways to be something you weren’t. In a few years we’d be spending hours in the bathroom putting eggs and mayonnaise in our hair, for starters.
And what about my past lives, friend, have you thought about how those may have played into my daydreams, lol.
But it was bigger than that for me.
It is bigger than that.
It was, and is the nature of want.
Why do we want what we want???
We want things for emotional reasons.
We want to feel safe, secure, happy, in love, relief from pain, joyful, celebratory, worthy, supported, passionate, desirable, generous, loving. We want to feel oh so many good things, and when it comes to pain we want to get the hell out of Dodge.
And our little brains are busy 24/7 working out how to get us those good feelings and the frick out of the bad.
Maybe, the world becomes the playing ground for answering want. All of those physical things, but not just those. The jobs, the successes, the relationships, the big loves. Our yearnings. What if they are all tangled up with what they mean to us and how to solve for them and what that means to us and how to make decisions about them and what that means to us?
Or maybe the world just IS the playing ground, the game board, the lost island we landed on in quest of a greatness or a worthiness or a light that is already within.
And just like my mom could see it, there is a way to the beauty that is already there.
A way for all that we seek and quest for to be deciphered from the competition, and the comparison, from the insecurity and the fear. A way for all that seems outside of ourselves and at the mercy of a great riddle filled with smaller riddles, to fall away and reveal what we need to see.
Yesterday I was walking my dog in the autumn sunlight. I was listening to my playlist. She was rolling in the leaves and the sun was warm, and I was dancing in the field, spinning around, jumping and yelling out the lyrics. I felt so lovely. Like I could take care of everyone. I had light to shine. I felt like the girl in the white dress. The way I imagined it would make me feel; a strange and mysterious beauty. And then I saw myself in the shadow on the leaves. A 54 year old woman in shorts and sneakers with a big old green coat that fell to my knees (we named it the homeless coat, no disrespect, because it is worn and ratty but so easy to throw over anything) bopping away holding a bag of actual doggie doo.
I don’t think I knew to ask for THAT when I was eleven.
I want things.
I want things so much sometimes that it stings like salt in a cut, knocks me down like a kick in the back of the knee, makes me weep for all that I long to be and give.
And I know you do too.
And I KNOW there is a sweet sweet place where want leads to joy, to our awareness of that light, the dancing shadow, dog shit and all. A tiny girl swaying in a big white dress.
I want that for you.
DAMN IT ALL. I want to give you the dress.
But I also want to give you what it is the dress stands for.
I want to wrap you in the feeling that you are special. That you are cared about. That you are loved, and powerful, and a superhero, and a light filled being, with or without eggs and mayonnaise in your hair.
I want you feel like you have saved the day.
Because you have.
Because you truly are the gift you seek.
P.S. If you have a friend or loved one who is struggling sometimes a few sessions of support can make all the difference. Reach out and we’ll find the solution that is right for them.
P.P.S. One of the kindest things you can do for me is to share my writing. If you enjoyed today’s Monday Musing and know someone else who would please forward it to a friend.