The Magic Dress

There was once this dress that I wanted. I found it in a secondhand shop in a size too large. But I coveted it. Like, this was my spirit dress. An ombre pleated shirt dress in all colors of the rainbow. It radiated magic. It spoke to me.

I hunted all over the internet to no avail. I was crestfallen.

I also had this boyfriend. Who I loved but on a daily basis I wanted to strangle. He’s an artist, with the classic handicap of an artist’s ego. I was always competing with his art for attention. In the end, I think it was a losing battle. You can never win in a battle against art for the attention of a lover because art will always win. I know that now, though. Because at this stage in who I am, anyone who would fight against my life’s purpose for my attention would lose. I didn’t understand that at the time I was with Christopher because I struggled with my creative self. And that was the crux of our problems. I wasn’t developed enough as a complete creative person so we fought (Also, he was just a dick-Christopher, I love you but you are also a total dick).

Back to the dress. I would will it. It was difficult to imagine how-it was out of production, from another season and a relatively small clothing label at the time. But the thing is, we can’t get caught up in HOW our wishes will be served. Manifestation/magical thinking isn’t logical. It’s not your business how the universe will arrange itself according to your desires. Your job is just to desire, set your intentions and believe. So I wrote a letter to anyone that would listen, putting in a cosmic order form, so-to-speak, for my dress. I lit a candle and said some witchy words.

I was in grad school at the time when one evening I was chatting with a classmate who had lost her glasses at school. I told her what I thought she might do to get them back-just believe. Like I believed about my dress. I told her-believe you will find them, see in your mind’s eye the security guard greeting you one day with glasses in hand, saying “Aren’t these yours?” Don’t worry about what the odds are or how this will happen. The odds are so often not good. Imagine all the times you’ve said, “It was just the right place at the right time.” Just walk this earth plane and engage and sooner or later you’ll find you’re walking the cosmic plane when you find yourself in right place at the right time.

And as I’m telling her this, I’m on my computer, mindlessly browsing the website of a store I actually loathe (but I like their candles) when I come across my dress! It’s been manufactured under a collaboration with said-dumb store (I just can’t tell you, it’s too embarrassing). But there it is. What are the odds?? It was like the universe had conspired to give me my dress in the form of a completely unlikely collaboration between a small-time fashion label and giant clothing retailer.

I don’t need to tell you that I bought it, immediately. I had it hanging on my wall for months when it wasn’t on my body. I liked to just look at my magic rainbow dress.

I have a Part Two to this story. Getting back to the fact that I wasn’t yet a fully formed, self-actualized person who was creating to her highest potential. So I was in the middle of finals when Christopher decided it would be fun if we put on an art show. The timing was terrible, as I was in my last weeks of graduate school, but I complied just to get him to stop bullying me. I hate to put it in such responsibility-evading terms but you have to understand Christopher is very tenacious when it comes to the needs of his ego and sometimes it’s easier to agree to do things with him/for him just to get him to back off. So I shouldn’t have but I agreed.

Here’s what I didn’t agree to: He wanted to use my dress in one of the pieces. He wanted to drape it over a framed painting and mount the whole situation on the wall of the gallery. No fucking way! My dress could snag, it could tear, I wasn’t willing to tolerate even a wrinkle for the cause. I said no.

A week before the show and in the midst of finals, Christopher asked (ordered?) that I buy some supplies for the show. We needed more pink and blue tape we were using in the design, and could I pick some up. Actually, I couldn’t, as I was studying for the most important exams of my life. We fought. He really needed that tape and wasn’t going to hear it. He announced with his usual authoritative tone, “I’ll be back in a few hours and I’m expecting to have that tape” (he literally talks like that). And shut the door behind him. 

I stood in the middle of my studio, with a rage coming up from inside me that I thought might send my fist through the window. But instead I grabbed: the tape. I approached my front door. And began taping it shut. I taped all the cracks between the door and the frame, the door knob, the lock, I taped up the whole thing so well that no one from the other side stood a chance of getting in. Which was the idea. I wanted him the fuck out of my apartment, out of my finals week, out of my life.

Then I took my dress. I lay it against the door and mounted it with the pink and blue tape. It lay flattened against the door, like a kite caught in a tree, and I would’ve felt more remorse if it hadn’t felt so good to have put it up there. Like, “You want my fucking dress? You want some art? You want my soul? Here it is! Just don’t come back into my life. I have finals.”

A feeling of quietude washed over me. I sat down in a chair before the door and admired my creation. I was pretty pleased with myself. It looked good, but mostly it felt good. That was the first work of art I had made in ages. And it had come from such a deep place in myself that I guess it took the person I loved and hated the most in the world to inspire it. In a weird way I was thankful to him.

A few hours later, I heard him open the door to my building. I was still in the chair. I heard him come up. Use the keys in the lock. Try, try again, to open the door. My heart started pounding and I felt a lump in my throat. “Julia…?” He said. “I can’t get in, the door must be locked.” I started crying. I don’t know why. It felt good. I wasn’t mad at him anymore but still needed a few minutes of having that door between us. I just wanted to savor my newfound sense of self for a bit longer.

Christopher and I ended up having the show. With my dress in it. We also broke up. I treasure it all. Two years later and I can see now what that dress meant. I laid eyes on it and saw that it captured my soul/future self. And I also needed to be driven to madness and self destruction and also the destruction of my dress in order to build myself up again and be a creator of my own life.

Photo by Juhi Baig

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