I thought perhaps she did it on purpose. What she managed to do to my hair was hateful enough, but the dress? It was too much for a fifth-grade girl to bear. We battled first over a red-hot curling iron, she curled under when I specifically requested she curl it out. She believed in the beauty of the dual-purpose haircut, styled one way for family photographs, and the other when I had charge of my own head every other day of the year.
The tears flowed fresh when she entered the room with the dress. We’d fought over this one before. It was her favorite, and conveniently, the only one that fit my still-short frame. I railed, I threatened, I begged. And I still have a photograph of me wearing it with my hair curled under and a pair of thin white socks pulled up to my knees.
We posed for the photo in the school library, and upon arrival I thanked God that the corridor leading to the library, now makeshift photo studio, stood empty. I felt awful enough, I didn’t need witnesses. I posed in my blue plaid dress, collar turned down, roughed up knees exposed, socks yanked as high as they would go. I tried to hide behind the fullness of my hair, but the photographer continued to tilt my face towards the light.
With a final click, we finished and my relief washed down some of the residual frustration. We exited the library and made it halfway down the hall before Jennifer arrived. Jennifer of the perfect hair, and non-plaid dress, and green cat-shaped eyes. Our parents engaged in small talk and she looked at me without saying a word. She never spoke a word, and still I recall the first feeling her silence evoked. I felt shame.
I’d like to say it was the dress, or the hair gone wildly wrong. But shame showed up when I realized I had no where to hide. I stood utterly exposed. And I imagine it’s much like standing naked in a garden, with hair that isn’t long enough to hide what’s been done, and more than a patch of skin at the knee is showing, and a voice like a rushing wind calling. And inevitably, we’re forced to turn our face towards the light.
I never wore that dress again, but I still know the heavy fabric and deep weave of a dress made from shame. I know too, that I can’t escape the light, but as I lift up my head and stand exposed, the revealing brings with it a white-hot scorched healing.
Today’s post is an exercise in concrete words, where we practice writing the abstract by using a concrete word as our prompt. This is new for me, challenging too, and an excellent way to practice the craft of writing. I’m joining Tanya Marlow as she currently hosts concrete words, and Amber Haines, who dreamed it up in the first place.