I had very specific feelings about this dress, and remember them well. I liked the color and the fact that it was fancy. I didn't like that the waist was babyish, or the way the lace scratched, or how the elastic on the sleeves pinched to make a line around my arm. I thought the black bow was elegant, like Mr. Peabody's bow tie. Of course, who wouldn't admire Mr. Peabody and want to be just like him?
In my mind, when I wore this dress, I was professorly.
You're laughing! I can hear you!
They thought I was a cute little girl in a frilly dress. When really I was Dr. Badgerabeth; kindly, bossy, superpowered, able to pull any book I wanted out of a secret pocket; a little vague; quick to invent, prone to giving history lessons.
I knew and deeply resented the contrast of reality vs. my imagined self, and would not have told anyone my Mr. Peabody feelings for the world.
Is it insane, or the sign of extreme narcissism, that I can remember all my feelings about this piece of clothing from when I was 4 or 5?
Last weekend at my grandma's house, I pawed through only a few of her dozens of scrapbooks and photo albums and drawers of letters, and completely enjoyed hearing her stories of the past. On this photo
she described to me all her feelings about the dress. It was her best one and she loved it. But she had mixed feelings. They had to stand in lines all the time for clothes and food. I got the impression it was a hand-out that was fixed up for her, probably by her own grandma or her older sister (her mom was dead.) "It had a rip in it. RIGHT HERE." and she pointed. The dress seemed to mean something complicated; I could see its ghost outline. A mixture of pride and desire-to-be and humiliation.
My grandma Hemulen told me when she realized she was an artist. She was 6 years old. Her uncle, a house painter, painted her and her sisters' room a light spring green. He used something like masking tape or strips of paper to mark off a border around the bottom, and told her she could make a decorative border however she liked. As she described her plan for the border to me, my grandma's face lit up with excitement and pride. She marked off stripes with the tape, then squares, then painted a checkerboard pattern, with tulips in every other square. I too have memories like this, intense strange memories of feeling very driven, and holding on hard to those memories all my life. It was strange to see the similarities in our strong memories and our documentary approach to life. The photos, the scrapbook articles, and for me the blog entries, aren't so much proof of anything as they are keys, keys to all the doors of the past, of desire and identity I didn't want to lose, and in part a desire to have the keys to other people, to the locked doors inside their heads, like those little eggs with peepholes and dioramas in them, but with infinite room or a maze that leads to through-the-looking-glass . . .