of a dress
by kerry lee daniel
was a rainy day in May, perfect for a garage sale. Too bad I didnt
have a garage.
But I was
moving and needed to get rid of a lot of things to make way for the
stuff of a new life. So I made a garage out of the living room of my
second floor apartment.
Id gathered together and tagged the items to be sold, including
one huge box full of dresses. All were new, still with the original
store tags on them. It was an interesting collection, not because they
were designed by a fabulous French couturier (they werent) but
rather for the amazing twists and turns my life had taken that had caused
those dresses to hang out in my closet all those years, never seeing
the light of day.
a tomboy, for heavens sake. So, dresses were a source of excruciating
pain and aggravation for me. Every year after I left the comfort of
the family nest, my mother grew increasingly alarmed by the large number
of jeans, slacks, polo shirts, sweat shirts, mens shirts and other
assorted unladylike clothing that filled my closet and spilled
from the dresser drawers. For her it was a bad sign. This was not the
life she wanted for me. So she embarked on a personal campaign to turn
me into a lady. As each birthday or gift-giving holiday approached,
she would call me and say, Im going to buy you a dress.
What evening would you like to go shopping? Now, you can imagine
I was busting at the seams to work that special event into my social
junket was an hours-long ordeal. It didnt matter what color or
style they were, I hated them all. Eventually, though, I had to pick
something or the clerks would threaten to lock me in the store for the
night so they could go home. Mother always took the prize purchase home
with her to wrap like a surprise.
So there you have it 7 years of birthday, Easter, and Christmas
dresses. Voilà, a treasure trove of at least 21 brand-spankin
new-never-been-worn dresses just waiting for the eager throng of garagesalers
that May morning.
squeals of delight throughout my living room as people found items they
just couldnt live without. By far the happiest noises, though,
came from an area around the huge box of dresses. Id also thrown
in all my bras and they were going like hotcakes. Women and their daughters
and friends were ecstatic to find fairly recent fashions, brand new,
for just a dollar each. (Those were the days before Rosss, Marshalls
and T-J Maxx). One woman broke out in a sweat she was so excited, and
asked if she could call a friend of hers to come over. I handed her
the phone. Then suddenly, in the midst of women pawing over the dresses
and trying them on, I heard a bloodcurdling scream. I looked up to see
my mother standing there. She had asked me about the sale, but I didnt
mention the dresses. I never dreamed she would come.
pitifully into the shrinking box of dresses. Just about that time a
young woman emerged from the bathroom wearing a blue frock that had
been one of Mothers favorites, and she nearly fainted when she
saw the $1.00 tag hanging from the armpit. I cant believe
youre selling those beautiful dresses I gave youand for
pennies! Omigod, the original tags are still on them. You never even
wore them!? In that moment I knew exactly what people meant when
they talked about airing the family laundry.
The garage sale was in 1972. I was twenty-five years old. It was the
last time I owned a dress. Though Ive flirted with bras from time
to time since, they are buried beneath more useful items in my underwear
drawer. Because no matter how much I spend on them, they refuse to be
comfortable and friendly.
years, straight friends have asked me if I stopped wearing dresses because
I am a lesbian, or if it happened the other way around. I dont
think wearing or not wearing dresses has a thing to do with ones
sexual orientation, though I do believe that a persons clothing
in some sense defines them. And I always believed women in dresses were
not taken as seriously. Occasionally, more curious friends will ask
me, Is there a moment that stands out in your memory when you
realized you were gay? Its amazing; I do remember that first
moment of awareness. I didnt know the name for what I was feeling
or what it meant in terms of my sexual identity, but theres a
definite Ah-ha moment crystallized forever in my memory
bank. And dress had something to do with it.
I was ten
years old, and my mother had diligently worked the 3,650-plus days of
my life to that point, trying to make me into a girly girl she could
be proud of. She stuffed me in frilly dresses, bought me all the popular
dolls, Toni-home-permed my hair, and steered me to Bobbsey Twin books,
while I secretly read the Hardy Boys beneath the covers at night.
February afternoon in 1957, a duet of clicking heels sounded on the
sidewalk outside our living room. In the next instant, Mothers
hopes for me flew out the window as I furtively lifted one slat of the
Venetian blind. There they were in full view-- two beautiful WACs in
crisp uniforms, jackets with slacks, marching shoulder to shoulder up
the walk. I had glimpsed them once before as they disappeared up the
steps. I knew where they lived, but this was the first time Id
seen their faces. I was certain they had a secret. And I was just as
certain I had figured it out. They would walk upstairs, close their
apartment door and click-click toward the bedroom overhead. I imagined
them kissing. And when the stars came out that night, they would sleep
together in the same bed, just above mine, holding hands beneath the
covers. Tomorrow they would click-click together down the sidewalk again,
to a life I was sure was filled with grand adventure.
at the WACs for several weeks. Then I wanted to meet them, so one evening
I planted myself on the sidewalk where they would have to walk past
me. Click-click. One of them smiled as she approached. I introduced
myself and pointed to where I lived, the window just below theirs. The
dark-haired one said her name was Rebecca. The other held out her hand
and said Im Linda. They both smiled when I told them
I wanted to grow up and be just like them. Linda gave me her garrison
cap as a gesture of friendship. I remember thinking how strong and confident
they were. And they didnt wear dresses.
As the last shoppers left my garage sale, I remembered Rebecca and Linda,
and it struck me that if they could see me at that moment theyd
be so proudI grew up to be just like them.
Daniel is a writer with a lusty appetite for all that is bold, bountiful,
and beautiful in life. She is a member of Ashevilles WomanSong,
plays with clay when no ones looking, is cat mom to Barney and
Ben, and is a card-carrying member of the Gale Storm fan club. [ Kerrydaniel41@aol.com;