Thursday, September 10, 2009

That Girl in the Green Dress

Sultry was the word I'd have used to describe that night, before I saw That Girl. She was trodding down the red-bricked sidewalk, slowly slumping lower and lower. Vanishing away were the elegant poise and graceful balance in heels that her mother drilled into her, almost as if her posture was melting in the drizzle overhead.

She was wearing a green dress, cute enough, the kind an aunt might have picked up at Macy's as a sweet sixteen gift, the kind she might have worn to her first prom with that freckly boy from her biology class who had asked her with a note, the kind she might have looked upon with fond nostalgia as it hung, unmourned, in the back of her closet. The kind she might have depended on as a good luck charm, a scrappy little player just clutch enough when the chips were down, not as fashionable or felicitous or just flat-out fine as those other dresses, but always reliable, always there when she needed it, and never resenting her desire for other dresses. The kind that had earned its place in her closet, never given anything, never asking for anything.

Sure, she could have blown the kitty on a three-hundred-dollar D&G number and the finest jewelry to boot, but she wasn't a flashy girl, never needing to be as glamorous as the others, just a good-hearted blue-collar girl from the countryside who would wear her favorite little dress to the last night of rush. She had written her name on the tag in plain but elegant black Sharpie, and it was that same name, same loopy handwriting that she had used on her PanHel-approved 3x5 card and plastic holder, now affixed to her strap by means of a simple pin. She didn't need to pretend to be anyone that night. They could take her as she was, or not at all.

When I saw her, two strangers passing in the night, the drizzle made the edges of the card curl a little in the holder, and the ink was starting to run. Those other girls, the ones soon to be inside the house sipping champagne and hugging girls they've just met as though they've been best friends since the sandlot, their cards were dressed up with glitter and cheap scent and curly d'Nealean trails laid down by expensive ink pens imported from France and Japan, and will be pinned to a cork board hung to a pink-shrouded wall in the future, with little multi-colored Post-It notes commemorating their success in a competition brutal to the extent Darwin could only dream off. And in their closets will be a dozen, or dozens, of beautiful slender dresses, purchased after endless deliberation and the confidences of entire entourages of worshipful friends, and not one of them will be from last season or before.

Her glance brushed against me, then away, not in snobbery or rejection, but rather, despair. How could I, a mere man, know the depths of despair she was plunging through? How could I, with my emotional depth like that of a puddle in a desert, possibly understand the turbulent storm of insecurity and fear and anger and stinging and numbness, endless, endless numbness raging across her? How could I know what it was like to come so close, and yet be left so far away?

I couldn't. So I passed her by. But I will always remember her, not as the victim she wanted to be, but the sleeping giant that will awaken someday, when the perms have come out and the wrinkles appear in the overtanned skins, when the sleek bodies give way to ennui and stress and stretch marks, when the season of life kicks off anew.