The Dresses

The two beautiful dresses hung in my closet. As a six year old, few things were more exciting for me than getting a new dress, and this time I had two! I don’t think I’d ever gotten two dresses at the same time before. One red and one blue one. I couldn’t decide which one I loved more. I put each one on and danced around my room, turning and turning until I was dizzy, making the skirts twirl around me. The sleeves were long and shiny and flowy. I loved flowy sleeves and full twirly skirts. I was obsessed with them. I couldn’t wear them to school, but would rush in as soon as I got home and wear them until bedtime. To this day, I haven’t had a dress I’ve loved as much as I loved those two.

They were not from my mother. One day she kept me home from school for some reason, and took me to her office. At lunch time, she walked me across the street to another building downtown, where her friend worked. I’d never met this man, and she told me I could not tell Bruce or anyone about him. I don’t remember his name, and I wish I could. He knelt down when he saw me and smiled, took my hand and told me I was the prettiest girl in Portsmouth, next to my mom. We walked downtown to have lunch. We sat in a nice restaurant and the man told me I could have anything I wanted. My mother was smiley and happy, and I liked her that way.  It felt like a very special day.  Then my mother had to go back to work, and the man asked if he could take me with him. Nobody asked me, but I would have said yes. I’d go anywhere with anyone who was nice to me.

He took me to a shop and when we went inside, he told me a pretty girl like me should have a pretty new dress. We walked around until my eyes lit on the red dress, hanging on the wall. The lady who helped us went to find it in my size and came back to with a blue one just like it. I simply couldn’t decide. They were both so beautiful. The man smiled at me and said that he guessed I’d have to have them both.  They were wrapped in boxes, under tissue paper, and I felt like I was a princess, getting two fancy dresses in boxes. My mother told me to hang them up when we got home, and she went in to make dinner. I saw the man a few more times after that, and wore one of the dresses each time. He told me how beautiful I was in them. My mother asked me if liked him. I said yes. She asked if I liked him more than I liked Bruce. I told her that I did, and she told me that if I was really good, maybe we could go and live with him in another place. I spent a lot of time after that, fantasizing about living with the man and my mom, and her being so nice to me, the way she was when she was with him, and him being my dad, and tucking me in at night, and smiling at me when I danced around in my dresses. I thought about him all the time, and it felt warm and good. Every day I wondered if it would be the day he would come and get me and take me to his house to live.

Day after day I waited. When Bruce was home after school one day and called me to sit on his lap in the chair, and did things to me, I went into my room and folded up the dresses, so they would be ready to go when the man came to get me and take me to live with him. My mother came in and scolded me, saying they would get wrinkled. I hung them back, but I waited. Every bit of hope I had in my six year old body was wrapped up in that nice man who was going to come and get me and take me away from there.

One night, I heard my mother and Bruce fighting. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but the whole house shook as my mother was running and he was running after her and hitting her and she was throwing things at him. My mother got me up for school the next morning and told me to remember I could never tell Bruce about the man, and that the man wasn’t our friend anymore.

Looking back, it seems a  light had gone out in my soul. I was like a tiny robot, moving slowly, my mind in a fog. I didn’t smile all day, not at school, at recess. I walked home alone, because my friends thought I was being rude by not talking to anyone. When I got home, I went to my mother’s sewing basket and got out her scissors. I walked into my bedroom, stood on a chair in front of the two dresses, and systematically made cuts into each of the sleeves, up and down both sleeves on both dresses, until they were still intact, but slashed up and down.  After I did that, I felt an anguish in my heart that was physically painful. I went outside and sat in the yard until dark and my mother was home. I spent the next days unable to look at the slashed dresses, heartbroken over what I had done.

It took a few days, but my mother finally noticed the slashed sleeves on my dresses. She asked me what happened. I told her I had been climbing the tree in the back yard and that a branch kept ripping each sleeve up and down, and that I had changed and the same thing happened to the other dress. Even at six, I knew there was no way she could believe that. She just shook her head and rolled her eyes at me. To this day, I have no idea why she let me get away with lying, an offense that usually would earn me a beating.

I often see the image of that little six year old girl, slashing those sleeves.  I don’t know exactly why she did it, but I think those dresses represented something like hope, and she had a deep understanding that hope only brought pain. I cried for a long time when my mother threw them away.

If I close my eyes, I can see six year old me dancing in them, sleeves flowing, skirt twirling. I still miss those dresses, maybe as much as I miss the six year old girl with hope in her heart.

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