Isn’t it funny, the things we remember after a crisis, like what we were wearing? At the end of my junior year in high school, the girls’ PE teacher and sponsor of the Brahamadoras, a varsity dance group, called me into her office. While the rest of the school was gathering in the auditorium to learn who’d been selected as next year’s cheerleaders and Brahamadoras, my PE teacher was telling me she hadn’t selected me for a second year as a Brahamadora. She told me she didn’t like me because I didn’t suck up to her like the other girls did, and I should be grateful she’d given me this advance notice so I would be spared the embarrassment of sitting in the auditorium when my name wasn’t called.
I’ll never forget the look on her face: It was cruel and smug; a smirk befitting a little dictator. Never in a million years had I seen this coming. In fact, some of my friends were speculating I would be named head Brahmadora. Instead, there I stood, in my new blue dress, speechless, trying to process the fact that I’d just been socially banished.
That was the first and last time I wore that dress. I’d won it in a raffle at a local department store fashion show. It was very “mod,” something Twiggy would have worn on the cover of a magazine: a navy blue, sleeveless miniskirt, with a white Peter Pan collar.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” my PE teacher asked. She stood up and smiled, “I have an assembly to attend. I suggest you go home.”
I don’t remember what happened next, but my friend, Gayle, says I went to her homeroom and told her. The only thing I remember is literally running to Lee’s house, my other best friend, to the comforting arms of her mother.
Fast forward 20 years: I’m standing in the doorway of an emergency room in Washington, DC, wearing a pale blue dress, as ambulance attendants are shouting, “If we move him, we’ll lose him.” I’d ridden in the front seat of the ambulance as the same attendants had worked frantically to save my first husband. I could see everything they were doing as they hooked him up to bags of IV fluids and gave him multiple injections. The floor of the ambulance was littered with tape, discarded syringes, little glass bottles and rubber tubing.
A nurse took my elbow and guided me away from the ambulance to a small, private waiting room and closed the door. Ten minutes later, a doctor came in and said, “I’m sorry, but we lost him.”
“Lost him… “ I remember thinking, what a strange term to describe the death of someone. We lose things like sunglasses and socks, but my husband wasn’t “lost.” He was down the hall in the first room on the left.
A nurse asked if I was bleeding. She pointed to the cushion I’d been sitting on. It was covered in bright red blood. She looked at the back of my dress, and it, too, had a bright red bloom that was spreading like a Rorschach test across the pale blue of my dress. “Do you need a tampon?” she asked.
In a blink, the conversation had switched from “we lost him,” to a dissertation on how shock can trigger a woman’s menstrual cycle. In that moment, I was as speechless as I was in my PE teacher’s office, only I had no nearby home to run to; no best girlfriends; no mother to comfort me, just a freshly packaged tampon and a white sheet to wrap around my waist. A white sheet like the one they’d wrapped my husband in.
It’s strange how we remember what we were wearing during the traumatic times in our lives. If only we could “lose” some of those memories along with the clothes.
Do you remember what you were wearing during a time you’d rather forget?