I bought the dress to go with the boots because the conversation ended this way:
I can't really promise I'll be wearing a damn thing but I do promise to be wearing my boots and I do promise to show up on time. Once coerced, I stay coerced. You're scared, she's scared, I'm scared, looks like we're all scared. I will be there and I will be wearing my damn boots.
At 2:45 Elizabeth and I headed to the mall. With my boots. Working backwards from a 7:00 PM arrival at Laura's house in Glastonbury and forwards from a 2:45 departure from the house and 25 minute travel time to the mall I had 45 minutes to come up with something to wear. This doesn't work when I'm in resistance to going in the first place and also not feeling particularly comfortable in my body at the moment. There isn't a really good reason for that because I have a ten pound swing in either direction and I haven't crossed the line where I'm likely to start feeling uncomfortable. It's not the reunion. I just feel this way lately. I'm sitting with it. Elizabeth says, don't say those words. Do you realize when you say those words you're hurting me? Right. OK. So I have 45 minutes to find a dress which matches my snake skin cowboy boots and I'm not feeling comfortable in my body.
Elizabeth: So, Ann Taylor?
Me: What? That's where I get my little black dresses, that or Brooks Brothers.
Elizabeth: Well, yes, shouldn't you just fall back on the LBD when you're uncomfortable and have to go to an event? You do LBD very well.
Me: LBD and snake skin cowboy boots? For real?
Elizabeth: Mom. Ditch the boots.
Me: No fucking way. I am so done with LBDs. I am sick to death of the LBD. I am sick to death of looking like the wasp that I am. IT IS KILLING ME TO BE THE WASP THAT I AM AND I HAVE TO GET OUT OF THIS BOX.
Elizabeth. Boots it is. Where do you want to go?
Me: Anthropology or Free People?
Elizabeth: No way!
Me: Why not?
Elizabeth: Mom. God. Mom.
Me: I'm going for slightly bohemian, OK?
Elizabeth: Ohhhhh. OK, Free People it is.
We walked past Anthropology with their 50% sale sign and I came to a dead stop. Hard left turn in the door. Here is where I get lost. All this STUFF on racks. I know what to do at Ann Taylor and Talbots and Brooks Brothers, referred to as the Holy Triumvirate by Elizabeth's father. These are the cornerstones of my professional gear and purveyors of the LBDs. They can be counted on not to offer me anything with those holes in the shoulder. Anthropology and Free People can also be counted on not to offer me anything with holes in the shoulder as well but for different reasons. Anthro and FP would rather go out of business than even mildly sniff of conformity. The HT defines conformity from the other end of the spectrum.
I stood in the middle of the well spaced racks and spoke to my daughter. Find my dress, Elizabeth, and like a truffle hunting pig she was off.
Can I help you? Is there anything in particular you're looking for?
She wasn't really expecting me to answer. Women like me say, no, I'm fine, thanks.
I said, pulling up my jeans, I need a dress to go with these boots and I have approximately 33 minutes. I am a medium in this store and it needs to come off your sales rack OR not fall into the category of WTF.
Where are you going?
I'm going to a reunion.
No. Glastonbury. Thirty-fifth and I do NOT want to go. But I promised so I'm going and I've put this off to the last minute and I am NOT wearing a little black dress. Also, I have this awesome tattoo on my back so if I can expose that at some point that would be great.
It only took 23 of those 33 minutes. Elizabeth and I went into the fitting room with a dozen pieces and I walked out with what might as well have been silk sleepwear which was nearly backless and a wrap - probably meant for gold sandals but the boots rocked it. There was no one in the room even remotely like me. As it turns out, this was important, or it mattered, or it was expected, or something like that.
When it was time to leave the house after an entire hour of prep - pause - an entire hour of prep, I can't even fathom this. I haven't needed more than fifteen minutes of prep which includes drying my hair in more time than I can remember. An entire hour of prep. Granted, I moved slowly and a lot of those minutes involved the removal of the eight week experiment involving the lack of a razor with the exception of twice when I had to take a dry razor to the front of my lower legs when it just became too damn obvious through the front of the pantyhose. I wanted to see what would happen to my body, how I would feel about myself, what it would look like, you know, everything. What I wasn't counting on was how long it was going to take to remove it with a razor.
Why did I remove it? All of it. I don't really know but I did. Wait. No. I do. I removed it to get back down to me. Regardless of your feelings on women and shaving, my experience of being covered in that amount of body hair felt like being covered. It didn't feel bad or wrong or make me feel less desirable or any of those things; it made me feel covered and in eight weeks that feeling didn't go away. When it was all gone I felt released. I'm just sharing that because it's interesting and because there's so much emotion associated with whether women shave or do not shave (I'm astonished, actually) I kind of wanted to put it out there in terms of it being a personal decision and a very personal experience which cannot have a right or wrong label associated with it. That conclusion was incredibly freeing. So yeah, it took me a long time to get ready but also I will admit to spending more time with the blow dryer than normal and spending more time in front of the mirror despite the fact that I applied exactly the same amount of makeup I ever apply with the possible exception of mascara.
I took my time. Why? I think I wanted to see myself. I don't look anymore and it isn't because I don't want to, it's because I shave minutes everywhere I can possibly shave minutes and that is one of the first places minutes got shaved.
In the end I stood in my daughter's doorway at 5:30 and said, Elizabeth, I am scared and Elizabeth said, I know, Mom but you know what, probably everybody is scared.
Me: I doubt that very much.
T: (through the phone) Mrs A, if you can handle the mom's in Weston, like for the last 12 years, don't you think you can deal with this?
Me: T. You make a damn fine point.
T: I generally do.
Me: Easy there, T, it's not hard to take you down a notch or two.
T: Mrs. A, please don't do that, I have to row tomorrow.
Me: Just remember, T, I love you best.
T: OK, thanks, Mrs. A. I love you best, too.
Elizabeth: NO! YOU BOTH LOVE ME BEST!
Me: OK, I have to go now.
Elizabeth and T: Be back by midnight!
Six of us left together from Laura's house after forty minutes of champagne with raspberries and generalized angst. No one has navigators anymore except me and in a no cell zone (apparently South Glastonbury is never going to have a tower) google maps just laughs in your general direction and says, good luck with all that. South Glastonbury is nearly as dark and windy as Weston. The angsty train followed me through the dark to the Glastonbury Hills Country Club where not one of us, despite having spent our entire lives in this town (except me) had set foot. When we parked we passed a white stretch limo. The extra long variety. Nice.
I don't know anyone. I don't remember anyone. Glastonbury is a big, black hole. I know these people from Facebook but trying to match the live bodies to photographs is not easy. What I do remember are the standard cold spots of pain everyone suffered in high school to some extent or another. Those faces still pop up with names attached and as I walked through the entry another face popped up and I remembered him from before the shift when our fathers were umpires and I used to sit in the field watching the games looking for four leaf clovers and waiting to see if he'd come out and talk to me. He usually did. His father was on the force one town over which made him an oddity in a town like ours. He disturbed my equilibrium and I went to ridiculous lengths to appear in that field three miles from my house, willing to walk or bike home if that's what it took, sometimes without a single word.
By the time we got to high school he had a girlfriend of the variety I wouldn't come into contact with for another six months and I said the wrong thing to the wrong people and found myself shoved up against a locker one day, my head hitting the metal so hard I had a solid lump for a week. When she was through scaring the shit out of me she offered me a piece of bubble gum, looked me in the eye and said, friends? Sure, I nodded and she said, but if you go near him I'll kill you.
I'd forgotten about Elaine as well.
I know what happened to Elaine. Not pretty. Not pretty and unexpected and just sad and Laura stays in touch and hopes she'll be alright. She has found God and in her hysteria moves from church to church, one denomination after another, looking for some sort of truth to keep her off the bottle, off the needle, out of the pills but she can't get herself to a meeting to save her life and she cannot leave her husband who puts her in the hospital two or three times a year. Their daughter is in high school now and seems OK, whatever that really means, I'm told.
I remember this fierce girl in the hallway as I walk by the boy who has grown into a distressingly fine looking man and I smack myself for objectifying blindly. He looks startled as I pass, turns and watches and I walk into a very tall man who catches me in his arms and the moment is gone. The tall man grins and says, Alecto! I have no idea who he is. I read his name tag and I remember the name but I can't place how we ever would have interacted. He says, it's the eyes, Alecto, no one will ever forget your eyes. I smile and move past him.
The evening is like this. People seem to know who I am and I have no idea why. More men than women and one man does this thing across the table, he points two fingers at his eyes and then he points across the table at me and shouts over the band, it's your eyes, Alecto! I would know those eyes anywhere! How the hell are you! (Who the hell are you?)
Later I am sitting with Laura and she is shaking and I ask her why.
Laura: I just so scared. Deedee is wandering around like a social butterfly. She says she didn't have any friends but she knows everyone.
Me: She had friends, plenty of friends but she felt isolated for a lot of reasons, just like you did and just like I did. You had plenty of friends too. And I had friends.
Laura: Then why am I so scared?
Me: Because you don't see it yet.
Me: Well, when I walked across the floor to get food a while ago I looked over at the band and Toad was singing and he saw me and I realized he's always known me and I got this great smile because he was so happy to see me and I just let that in and then I kept walking and I realized everyone was just smiling and suddenly I was really just happy to be here. And on the way back I also realized that there's a pretty good chance that EVERYONE is scared.
Me: Why would it only be us scared to come here? Why would it only be us thinking we didn't have friends or that we were isolated during the most vulnerable time in our life? Look out there. 41 years ago most of us came together for the first time, from a bunch of different elementary schools into Academy for the sixth grade where we all became the class of 1982. This isn't really our 35th reunion, it's really our 41st. Do you have any idea how wonderful this is? How miraculous? How surreal? All of these people have had lives, good lives, not so good lives, maybe even mediocre lives, but lives and here we all are. There are people who live locally who aren't here. Do you think about why not? Maybe they are too scared to be here. Do you see that woman over there? That's Ellen. She's a walking train wreck but she's lucky to be alive and I'm glad she's alive. I know this because of what she posts and I just watch her. Her daughter had a baby last year and I think that's why she's alive. Do you see those people over there? They started ballroom dancing a year and a half ago because of my contra posts. She told me it saved their marriage.
Laura: crying. This is us.
Me: Yes. This is us. Let's take a picture.
Today that picture on top is Laura's profile picture. She is the girl in the white prom dress with the pink flowers from a few posts back. The girl I didn't get to see at the end of high school. She was my best friend for a few years, the girl who picked me up when I fell down and incorporated me into the circle of friends she'd forgotten she had.
From our table near the band I watched the boy who became the man talking to the man who pointed at my eyes earlier. I wanted to talk to the boy who became the man so badly but I didn't want to interrupt what looked like an intense conversation. I told Deedee this was crazy, I wasn't even remotely shy anymore and wasn't so far away from having kissed a near stranger on the stairway at a contra dance, apparently shocking the shit out of him. I waited and waited and waited and suddenly he was gone. When I got up to look for him I realized he was entirely gone and it was only 9:30. Later my friend Michael told me it was his birthday and maybe he had somewhere to be. I told Michael to tell him if he saw him that I was terribly smitten the spring and summer of eighth grade but that I'd run off because Elaine threatened to beat me up in the hallway and I was terribly sorry I hadn't talked to him tonight and that I'd really meant to. Later on the way out I stopped to talk to the smokers and the smokers and thought, god, people still actually do this right outside the building. No, I do not want a cigarette and I definitely do not want a hit off of that, I have to drive and haven't you people heard of vaping? Yes, you have? Not going there? Less likely to get caught, you don't care? Old school. Well alrighty then. Wait. You do realize we're fifty-three, right? You are aware of how ridiculous it would look if we were actually arrested for getting high outside the Glastonbury Hills Country Club. Yes. We're actually counting on that.
I didn't see as much of Deedee who has been Deirdre since college as I would have liked to but I'm OK with that. I saw enough of her and she was so happy after having been so scared. That she flew from England for this is astonishing I think. Although she thinks it is on par with me removing the rug from my body. She might be right although I do think it was time to reintroduce the razor. I just needed the catalyst.
She is the girl in the red bathing suit next to me and I am the girl in the white dress with long blond hair from a few posts ago. Elizabeth said later, you have all aged so well, it's funny how some people do and some people don't. I said I didn't really know what it meant to age well. One woman said, we are all old now and I disagreed. I asked her if she felt old. She is a cyclist and is solid like a rock and says, yes, she feels old. I said, I think it's subjective. When I hike alone I don't feel old at all, I feel incredible but when I hike with someone who feels like leaving me in the dust, while I don't feel old, I do feel bad so maybe you need to try a perspective shift?
The girl in the red bathing suit is also a cyclist. A long distance cyclist as in literally hundreds of miles over a period of days. I think there was one trip in Europe with a team when they did something ridiculous like 600 kilometers in three days. That's like 12 hours of riding in a day. I'm sorry, that is insane. Old people don't do that. You can be seventy-five and do that and by virtue of having done that you're not old, you're just seventy-five and there is something to be said for having lived seventy-five years. But let's just back up a bit and stick with fifty-three years. The rhythm and texture of fifty-three years of living cannot be duplicated, fabricated, accumulated by anything other than those fifty-three years. It cannot be collected in advance or on a fast track. You cannot be born with it. The grey in Deirdre's hair and the lines around my eyes, the skin at our necks, my teeth that have gone back out of alignment despite seven years of orthodonture, the changes in our bodies brought on from childbirth and the onset of menopause (I'm apparently the last to go and I'm not there yet FUCK YOU, BODY, GET ON WITH IT) are all indicators of lives being lived, physical age being accepted, embraced even (it is oh so easy to cover these things up these days, just throw some money at it, go under the knife, get used to the needle in the face, revisit the ortho dude, invest in dermabrasion, make peace with labiaplasty, etc) but they are not indicative of being old.
By the time I left we'd opened the box called joy.
And then I got home, early, maybe 11:20 because I'd promised to get home not too much past the new driver's curfew of 11:00 and be with Elizabeth who was clearly off when I got here. She told me a little bit. The night was just off, you know, she said, when you're all just short of hysterical, like Clara was rolling around on the grass outside, but you know underneath everyone is miserable. I admitted that I did understand. She said she had to go to bed early because she had an 8 AM shift. OK, that's fine.
When I opened my bedroom door I realized both cats had been shut in all evening which means one of them had probably peed somewhere out of spite. I swore and then let it go. I heard a bang and a shout and asked what was going on.
I opened her door. I never do this. Privacy is really important. I might ask to come in but I don't just open the door. I opened the door. She was staring at her phone with tears running down her face. Her room was an unmitigated disaster. A disaster is fine, unmitigated means something is wrong.
Me: Why were you yelling and what did you throw?
Elizabeth: I'm angry.
Elizabeth: Because I locked the cats in your room.
Me: Why be angry? They're just cats.
Elizabeth: I don't know.
Me: pushing her over, taking her phone, and sitting on the bed... There's something else, it's never just about cats in bedrooms. Move over, I'm going to lie down.
Elizabeth: Take your boots off.
Me: No. Just move over.
She was scared and shaking and angry and couldn't tell me why. She didn't know why. She didn't feel safe but couldn't tell me what she was afraid of specifically. I told her what I'd told John about how I protected her and the house and how I'd been doing this for years. I told her how I stopped outside her bedroom door before I went to bed and put my hand on the door for a moment to keep her safe. She asked why she never heard me. Because I'm very, very quiet. She asked if I'd already done it to the front door and when I said yes she asked if I'd do it again. I said yes.
I held her until she stopped shaking and she told me she was just so tired.
Last week she dropped physics. Finally. But she is still so tired. It is more than school and more than work and more than just one thing. If I had to guess I would say part of it is having been alone so long and it's going to take her a while to decompress in the space of having me here more often but the other parts I'm not so sure. I thought about what I'd felt earlier in the evening, the memory of isolation and how it just is that way for so many of us. The conversation I had with her in the car when she talked about realizing she hadn't been flying under the radar at all these years after all when she and T were outed and she was slut shamed. No one is slut shamed like that if they don't have enough social status to be expected to fall in line. She didn't know she had it. Somehow this makes her feel worse.
In the fitting room all her friends seemed to be bailing on plans they'd made months ago for last night. She cried silently and I suggested she find another circle of friends, not a replacement but an addition. Find more friends, friends that will support you and T, friends that are social the way you are who will show up when they say they will and you won't feel abandoned because that really hurts you. She is afraid of rejection. I don't honestly think she'll be rejected.
She is scared, my girl. Shaking and angry and she cannot tell me why. Today she is waiting for me to finish writing and be with her for a bit.
There is another shot of her facing the same direction where the shapes of our faces are a bit more obvious and as she points out, if the lighting were different our hair would probably look the same. Makeup and hair has changed between 1981 and 2017 when these photographs were taken the summer between junior and senior years and she is eight months younger almost to the day but we both look like babies and while I don't look scared and sad in the photograph, what I had to say in the limited space under my photograph indicated a deep, cold well of isolation and fear embedded in the absolute belief that I was entirely unseen. This is not the photograph that will appear in her yearbook anymore than my mother would have chosen one of the more honest shots of me. I, on the other hand, had nothing to do with her yearbook selection but I did choose my own collection.
Be well. Be at peace in yourself, in the world, in the universe. You are not alone, you have never been alone, and you never will be but it will feel that way sometimes more often than not and in those sometimes more often than nots there will be nothing anyone can do to make it right. That doesn't change the fact that you are not alone and never will. Be well. Be at peace with yourself and I'll do my best as well.