Dress Memory20

The girls of slender means

Looking back, the two-storey sharehouse was like some rowdy old boarding house for girls. We wandered half-naked down the hallways brushing our teeth and talking on the phone, and coffee mugs planted with sodden cigarette butts bloomed in every corner.

In our crowded bedrooms, make-shift milk-crate cupboards overflowed with slips and stockings.

I took long baths in the daytime and listened to Rumours on cassette repeatedly—when it stopped I turned it over and pressed play again. I worked three days a week to pay rent and the rest of the time swanned around the house in this lavender peignoir, pretending, I guess, to be Vivien Leigh.

(The fabric is synthetic and can occasionally conduct static electricity; I’m sometimes scared of moving around in it in case I get a shock.)

There was always freshly spilled wine on the carpet, and we lavished layers of salt all over it to try to draw the stains out. A gritty crunch was always underfoot.

I didn’t know how bad everything was because I was on antidepressants. At the same time I knew exactly how bad everything was, because I was on antidepressants.

We looked after our friend’s poodle, Stella, for a week or two, taking turns to walk her to the park. One morning I saw a bunch of news reporters outside a dilapidated shack near our street: a kidnapped baby had been abandoned there and was found alive by a passing jogger. I was jealous that I hadn’t found that baby myself—it could have so easily been me!

My ambitions were obviously at an all-time low that year.

On the morning of my 24th birthday I wore this dressing gown and sailed out into our long, narrow garden for a picnic breakfast. My housemates made pancakes and bought champagne and strawberries, and Stella bounced between us all excitedly. In the photos we’re all being silly and grinning in every shot.

Years later when I learnt that one of our housemates had killed herself, I felt that same familiar wretched sorrow I’d left behind when I moved out of that house. It ruffled itself around my chest and wrists, ruched my forehead, crimped my lips. Static. I felt too scared to move in case I got another shock.

In five years I lost five friends to overdoses and suicide. That crunching sound in your temples when you find out, the brain trying to trample the news as the memories spill over and stain. You cry a lot, but salt doesn’t work: it never did.


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Image by Lee Sandwith © 2011