The Dress

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I’m all grown up. And, I think I have a pretty good handle on who I am. After all, I’ve spent years assessing and reassessing my actions … my directions … my choices. Along the way, I’ve thrown out the bad and kept the good. At least I’ve tried to. But, some things just seem to stick and I’m unable to shake that old feeling or experience. That’s when I realize that, despite my efforts, I’m still a slave to my past.

One event, in particular, still haunts me. It has shadows my life in many ways … most often in the still of the night. It invades my dreams and even sneaks into my days whenever I watch a parade or attend a celebratory event or even view a lovely prom dress in a store window. It’s still there; 20 years later … 40 years later. Hell, almost 50 years later I still think about “it.” Funny how one event can define one’s life. Quietly, secretly, it imbeds itself into the very core of one’s psyche and festers there like an unattended wound.

Years ago, I was elected Homecoming Queen of my school. As Dickens once said, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…

At seventeen “the event” became the central focus my life. It defined me. I didn’t know how to handle such a coveted award. Its announcement was met with immeasurable joy. As Sally Fields naively said in her Academy Award acceptance speech, “You like me … you really like me!”

Yet, I felt awkward. Uncertain. I was humbled, but, still imprisoned in those self-conscious teen years, I had no idea how to be humble. Graciousness was not part of my social repertoire. I was self-conscious. Hyper-vigilant. I assessed every action, every reaction. I even became paranoid. What were the girls saying behind my back? Did the boys like me better?

Then there was the dress … the pièce de résistance … a symbol of the most outstanding, notable time of my life; the dress that was to symbolize my short reign. I envisioned myself as a Cinderella walking into her ball.

And finally, the highly anticipated shopping excursion arrived.

My mother took me to a secondhand store. A thrift store. A place where only poor people shopped. I was devastated. This was my moment?

I riled against the chances of finding my gown in some seedy, back-alley shop. Where was my fairy Godmother? What would people think if they knew?

After much agony and rejection, we selected a gown. I took it home. It wasn’t wrapped in tissue with a gold sticker holding the crisp papers together, nor was it enclosed in a pretty colored bag with the shops name emblazoned on it. Rather, it was stuffed in a plastic bag. So unceremonious … so deflating … so sad.

I wanted to weep. But, I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I would never let my mother, who was doing the best she could to feed, clothe and house four children, see my distress … my shame.

Years passed.

I get it now. I understand why I had to travel down that thrifty road. I get that I had to get over myself. I now understand the wisdom in shopping secondhand. Today I am the “Thrift Diva”. All that I own is secondhand. And, I am proud of it. I am satisfied with smart purchases. I am proud of recycling …everything. I even like the thrill of the hunt. I relish unpacking my thrift hauls. And, yes, my purchases are still unceremoniously wrapped and stuffed into plastic bags.

But thrift has changed from the days of back-alley establishments. Thrift and consignment proudly claim their right to be on Main Street. Towns are sprinkled with thrift super-stores, mom and pop enterprises, posh antique malls and elegant consignment boutiques.

And, me? Well, I still feel the sting of those long ago moments. But, I am a different person. I’m comfortable with me. As I wander through my beautifully decorated home, run a hand over my array of fun jewelry or slip into a designer jacket I’ve paid pennies for…well, I feel like that fabled Cinderella that I longed to be … so many years ago.

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