Image by Lee Sandwith © 2011
Dress Memory23

The Driver’s Seat

I love the neither-here-nor-thereness of travel. Pack the car. Slam shut the trunk. Get on the road. Faced with foreign terrain you often have to invent new words to describe unfamiliar feelings and ideas, words to suit the unpacking you’re doing every day. Portmanteaux.

Spinifexcess: the state of native prickliness one feels when hit with an overweight baggage charge.

I was having a bumpy ride when I found this dress at a shop on Sydney Road years ago. I was overloaded with passion and grief, and the dress seemed so simple and smart, so stewardess-practical—exactly the sort of thing I’d never usually wear. So I bought it.

It’s decorated with a beautiful appliqué of olive and cream flowers, but is otherwise quite plain. However, the cool linen clings tightly around the hips like a seatbelt and makes you feel like you’re in a jeep, in the wild, on safari. A secret hunter.

Wow-ow: an awe and admiration so hefty it hurts, as for someone you love from afar and can’t have.

My early twenties. Speeding along, desperate to arrive at a place that felt right. I wore this dress to an interview for a job that might have given me a lift. I didn’t end up getting it, but just being in that office was exhilarating. When someone lets you in to a place that feels right, however fleetingly, of course you’re going to go home and dream every night about going back there.

Broochatter: the conversations you pin all your hopes on.

Many years later, when I was finally in a place I’d been trying so hard to get to, I threw this dress into a tub to soak and settled down to read Madame Bovary in the backyard. As the protagonist sank further into despair the dress remained crumpled in the tub, and when I remembered to pull it out a week later I was aghast. By then, Emma Bovary was dead and the dress was ruined: the buttons had rusted and the fabric splattered with permanent metallic stains.

Distraught, I banished the dress from my life. What a mess I’d made of everything. I couldn’t bear to look at it anymore, let alone wear it. I hid it at the top of a cupboard and tried to move forward. Hope drove me.

Emoticoncubine: a mistress who represents her lover’s current mood in a passively cute but meaningless way; an inadequate stand-in for a real feeling. 🙁

Earlier this year I pulled the dress out again. The stains that had been so devastating at the time turned out to be just tiny russet patches—barely noticeable at all. I can’t believe I ever thought they were such a big deal.

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