It’s just after noon, six years since I last saw you, and I’m sitting next to the window, missing you. I think we would be having a lot of fun together, you and I, if it had worked out.
There are few memories of high school that are not steeped in anxiety—about college or drugs or illness or boys or girls or sugar daddies. The place where we met was free from all of that. Every other weekend, my best friend, Abigail, and I visited the vintage clothing shop you were staying in, which was near my house. We found the best, strangest stuff there—like a purple fringed miniskirt and a black mourning gown—in perfect condition, and for less than $10. It was all exciting and new.
I have always had this ability to almost will things into my life, just by wanting them hard enough. What this really means is that I’m fortunate, and I know that, but with clothes it has always seemed more like casting spells. If I want something, I get a restless feeling, like heat in my body. Then I go out and find just what I am looking for, almost immediately.
You were like that. I had been looking at Prada’s see-through lace collection and spending weeknights, after researching colleges, flipping through Tim Walker photos. I wanted a dress that resembled an embroidered pink napkin. I wanted something I could wear with cute underwear and pretend I was not (even though I was) nearly naked in it. Or something I could layer other clothing over to create a royal statement of overdressing for all occasions. I wanted to be a frothy dream of modern femininity. I wanted to be my own prom date. Then you appeared, and you were all of those things.
I saw you hanging on the wall past the register, half hidden by a ray of bright afternoon sunlight. You fit tightly and were itchy—not in a gross way, but in a way that left imprints on my body, like my skin remembered the lace. When I took you off, I had lace-shaped marks near my wrists that made the blood in my veins seem bluer. It was perfectly clear you could not be forgotten. And you were, if I recall, only $20. But you were also the most formal dress in the store—a three-tiered, embroidered concoction. You were a statement. You were so much. Too much, maybe, and I was persuaded by Abigail to choose something more “practical.” I don’t remember what I bought instead, if anything. I just walked away.
It still boggles my mind; I don’t know why I did, and I have been left wondering since. Because when I went back the next day, you were gone.
I used to curse the person who found you after I did, hoping you were too small or too big for them, and that somehow you’d return to me. That was really childish, and I’m sorry. But I still wish you were here with me now. More than that, I hope whoever you’re with treats you well, and that you’ve been lived in and worn raw at the edges. That you’ve left imprints on someone else’s wrists, and that they love you as much as you deserve to be loved. I hope that person wore you to prom, and that you were there for their first kiss and first awkward dance and that you smell vaguely of lavender detergent and sweat from having a lot of fun. I miss you, but more than that, I love you, still.
Hi, Pretty (Power Rangers Sweatshirt).
One day you were there, and the next day you were gone. I think my parents gave you away to some other kid. In fact, it may have been my ex-boyfriend’s little sister! I remember watching bundles of clothes leaving the house and feeling vaguely robbed. It was the summer I decided I was ONLY going to wear dresses. The weird femme-shame I felt for merely owning you—now I couldn’t roll my eyes back further if I tried. I’ve since learned you can be femme in anything; it’s a heart and attitude thing. I was just really desperate to be liked. I thought dresses would make me quieter and less prone to blurting out silly things, and that they would make my friends like me more. I thought dresses would give me control. Mostly they controlled me.
Even if loss is inevitable, though, hoping to see you again isn’t out of bounds. One way or another, we’ll be reunited. Ebay exists, after all.
Hey, Chanel top hat.
I can’t believe I lost you. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry—
I have to think hard to remember exactly what you looked like, but you made me feel like a sassy witch. You were with me during a long night in Chinatown. On the train ride back home, you were gone. I vaguely remember an arcade and a boy who wasn’t very nice. I think I lost you when I slapped him and ran into a hair salon to cry. I remember that much. I think that’s it.
You didn’t exist. If you did, it would mean I fucked up so badly—beyond what I want to believe myself capable of. Shit. I’m sorry. I’m going outside to smoke. I hate smoking.
I’m sorry. I’m going to forget you again. The playwright Svetlana Boym wrote that “nostalgia breeds monsters.” I believe it’s true, I do, I do.
A thousand sorries can’t fix it.
If I may call you that—I know we weren’t together for very long. Dooney & Bourke is probably more appropriate.
Thinking about how irresponsible I was with you makes me angry. You deserved better. You actually deserved my grandmother, who thought so highly of you that she introduced you to me.
I went into our relationship with less than pure intentions, I have to be honest. I thought I was hot shit for having you around even though you were beige and made of, like, exotic animal skin. (Which can be totally cool—just so you know I’m not trying to insult you.) I was intimidated by the upkeep you required—I still don’t know what kind of upkeep you required! Leather conditioning? Cool, dry places? Why?!
I had no idea what to do with you—only that having you would make me seem better, somehow. Now I realize I equated your name with upward mobility, and that put too much pressure on you, I think. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the pens that exploded in you and ruined your lining and also for using you as a lunch bag to carry pork sung sandwiches around in. Pork sung smells very strong and musky, and that didn’t suit you at all. You should just smell like you—lightly floral, like my grandmother. Not like my bad attempts at cooking. I’m sorry for that.
Mostly though, I’m sorry I lost you. I have no idea how or when, only that I left school without you. The next day I checked the lost and found, but you weren’t there.
You were a gift of kindness from my grandmother, and I let you slip away. I still have some pens she bought for me from a Smithsonian catalog in middle school. I wish I could say the same about you.
All my best,
My beloved Yohji Yamamoto dress.
So much has happened since the day I left you that it’s hard to believe it’s only been four months.
That day started terribly. I was running away from bad feelings and diving into clothes to save myself, to serve as a bridge between who I am and who I want to be. You were the endgame. I imagined myself wearing you on a windy day with a white slip and my favorite shoes, hair flying, and I felt freer.
I was so excited to find you, I cried in the dressing room. You were the most romantic thing I could have asked for—a delicately destroyed collection of black ruffles, a little ruined at the edges. I am always interested in slightly broken things because they remind me of me. Us being damaged together felt like solidarity—a shared promise that we could both move on to better things.
I was so moved that I tried to buy you even though I knew I’d be paying for you for months. My bank, however, had other ideas. When I heard the beep that meant my card had been declined, I had to leave the store, sit on a bench, hold my friend’s hand, and cry–not just about you, but also about bigger, sadder things.
Later that night, a room full of the girls I love most in this world chanted my name and took me in their arms. They healed me so thoroughly that your solace feels very insignificant in comparison.
Sometimes I think I invest so much in clothes to avoid investing too much in other people. Then there are moments, like that night, when I can’t imagine how anything outside my circles of friends—not even a beautiful Yohji Yamamoto dress—could even matter. I went from feeling fragile and neglected (like you, you gorgeous, frayed thing you) to being fully surrounded by love.
You can love clothes, and they can help you become someone new. But when people are brave enough, and make themselves vulnerable enough, to say, “I love you”—that’s transformative, too. I was reminded of that when I couldn’t have you. For that I am thankful. I am OK with you being lost to me.