I was over 36, maybe even running into 39. I had reached a point where I didn’t know anything any more about clothes. My fashion sense, which depended upon a certain artiness of attitude, a little bohemian ache, had slithered away, a ferret tumbling into a well. Well, not necessarily a ferret, but something poor and dreadful and on the lam.
My fashion sense. On the lam.
Some of it had to do with money, the lack of it, and some of it had to do with my desperation to hook Pete’s attention again, maybe garner even a flash of admiration, like that first night I’d met him in the Courtland Jazz Lounge, wearing my leotards, black swirly skirt and black turtleneck—full Arty. The night that I had nothing to lose.
Now I had the whole kit and kaboodle to lose.
We were in San Jose by now, a couple of years in. Fifteen years or so married. He was doing well in his new job at HP. Pats on the back at work, he was going places, involved in things that were new and interesting to him. He operated in a mix of younger, hip coworkers. It was nice. At home, Mom-ing, I was back to trying to find myself, something that should have been pretty well decided by then.
I was not the star of my show, more of a walk-on.
Pete won an award for his HP work. I was proud, he was proud, the kids were proud. He was to be given a shiny plate with his name inscribed, or a gleaming statuette, some pretty token of the months he’d put in on his project, a short film he’d produced about a new product. There would be a luncheon in a big hotel on the Peninsula, a tall, beige, rough-textured rectangle of a building on 101, somewhere near Millbrae. Pete asked me if I wanted to go.
I was excited and proud for him; of course I’d like to go.
But oh, I had nothing special to wear and I only had my regular hair, which was thin-ish and hamster brown, that needed to be cut by someone who knew what she was doing, a professional. I’d have to find a real haircutter in a shop somewhere in my neighborhood. I was used to chopping off my own hair, a money-saver. And then, after I’d done the hair trick, I’d have to go into a dress store and find a new outfit, something adorable that would make Pete proud of me.
Me, standing there next to him, grinning, happy that he’d done so well, the Little Wife, even if I were not all that little, but there, supportive as hell!
At the hair salon they asked me if I wanted my hair blown dry but it cost more so I said no, that’s okay, and I went out with my hair kind of wet, but at least, cut. I knew where the Macy’s was, so I drove to that mall, and I found the dress department. It was spring, and right away I saw a yellow dress of such intensity, such marvelous spring-y brightness, such oh-wowzie-here-I-AMness, that I didn’t hesitate to just fork over the amazingly small amount of money it asked of me and to bag it up and take it home, where I clipped off the tags and put it right on.
I thought it was sexy; maybe Pete would appreciate that aspect.
It had a deep cleavage, and I had not yet reached that time of my life where my breasts had settled in the deep south of my body. The dress had a long, flowing skirt and a fitted waist, which I still owned. My middle went in, and then the child-bearing hips went out, so there was some okay curving going on. I realized that the fabric was a bit thin, sort of gauze-y, but I remembered that that was acceptable in those 70’s days. Most of the young girly women were dressed in braless, gauzy dresses with their long hair; I’d seen Pete admiring a few of them when we’d been in Berkeley. There were less of that type in San Jose, I admit, but still, I’d wear a bra, tuck the straps under the shoulders of the dress, pin the damn straps if I had to, and I could still be qualified, couldn’t I?
Wasn't I qualified to be youngish and having cleavage and dressed as a daffodil?
Well, actually no. No. There is something about the tenth floor of a beige, textured hotel building with acres of wall-to-wall carpeting in various shades of brown, with floor to ceiling windows that looked out on that grey day onto Highway 101 near Millbrae, sporting long tables adorned with off-white polyester bunting, that did not welcome a tall, anxious woman in dazzling yellow gauze. What there was, was a plethora of suiting, of navy and brown and grey, of little heels and simple blouses, of business attire. And in the middle of it all was Pete, the award winner, surrounded by his business friends, all a swarm of pale blue shirts, sports jackets, trousers and dark shoes, all in keeping with the browns in the carpet, the pale chicken-colored chicken on the rows of plates, looking cold and goose-pimply, the iceberg lettuce with a dollop of something white on top. He saw me come in, and to his credit he smiled, walked over to me, and introduced me to some of the suited people he was with. I was proud of him for that, didn’t know if I could have done the same for him in similar circumstances.
He didn’t stay near me long, mind you, but he had definitely acknowledged me.
The absolute perfection of wrongness of that dress in those circumstances I was never able to achieve again. Well, I didn’t try to, of course, but I did wonder if I was certifiable, as they say in British movies about some sad, crazy woman who wanders around doing dumb things. Where had my taste gone? And why?
That may have been the bottom.
That may have been when each of us took a measure of our marriage, each in our own separate heads, and assessed how we were not quite right for each other.
Of course it took another ten years for the paperwork, but I credit the dress with being the catalyst.