I found my Happiness Dress on June 23, 2015 in a New York City thrift store for $10. It isn’t anything special, although the cut is “fit and flare” which is good for someone like me, whose body has been described as “compact, but with booty.” Something that pulls in at the waist and then flares out in a twirly skirt is particularly flattering on me. The print would be called “white leopard.” Is that an actual factual animal? A quick Google search tells me it is! A snow leopard is a wonderfully sleek and powerful looking creature who seems pretty damn fierce. Like a total bad ass. Maybe that’s why the dress stood out to me. I don’t usually go for animal prints, but I needed some fierceness and bad assery when I found it.
It is slightly nubbly with those little pills that form when you throw something in the washing machine when you were probably supposed to dry clean or hand wash it, but who has time for that shit? I have one of those clothing shaver things that takes most of the pilling off, but I don’t do it too carefully because you would only really notice it if you were standing very close and I seldom let anyone get that close.
I found the dress 90 days after I learned that my marriage was over and that it hadn’t ever really been a marriage, but more of a failed experiment. I’d been a blind participant in that experiment for ten years of my life. I never had all of the information I should have had until it was too late for me to do anything but watch it all fall apart around me. And I fell apart, too. I cried every day for 90 days, usually several times a day. Sometimes I didn’t even know I was crying, tears would just leak out and I’d think, “I should probably drink some water, because I’m going to get dehydrated.” I cried alone, I cried with my friends, I tried not to cry in front of my kids, because they deserved so much better than that. I cried while I finished my freelance job, I cried while I packed up the things I wanted to take with me and cast aside many of the relics of a pretend life that I would not have chosen, had I known better. Through it all, I understood that my soon to be ex-husband hadn’t done any of this with malice or specifically to hurt me. It was just that he had never really considered that I was my own person who deserved to have choices too. And the knowledge and choices should have come long before he realized that he could no longer pretend to be someone he wasn’t. Long before I spent years of my life thinking that I was all wrong, feeling like I deserved the blame that he pushed on me and living in a smog of secret resentment that I couldn’t understand. I hadn’t been happy in the marriage for years and now I knew why. But that knowledge didn’t give me much solace. Nobody wants to find that they are the collateral damage of someone else’s triumphant life story, even if you truly hope they will have a fulfilling life and get to become the person they were always meant to be. I doubt anyone actually enjoys being the selfless and endlessly sacrificing wind beneath someone else’s wings, even if Bette Midler will sing your praises. At least I don’t enjoy it. I need to fly on my own.
After three months of this brand of agony, I had to get away for a while. Luckily, I had a week and a half in June where I could. First to Massachusetts, the state of my birth, where I stayed with family and old friends. I still cried every day, but I started having longer moments in between where I didn’t feel like crying anymore. It was beautiful there and being with the people who knew me when I was young, before this marriage and my children, seemed to help. A night in New Hampshire around a fire pit, laughing with old friends did wonders for my spirit, as did a night of karaoke, scorpion bowls and an Elvis impersonator in a Chinese restaurant. I could feel myself coming back. I did cry behind sunglasses at the train station in Fitchburg, where a fellow named Sippy sat next to me after I gave him two bucks. He said, “Are you this sad over a man? No man is worth your tears.” I said I was sad about everything. He told me I was a strong, beautiful woman and that I was going to be ok. “But learn from Sippy and don’t get into any bad shit. That’ll fuck you up forever. You just gotta keep going and keep it together.” Good advice, Sippy. Thanks.
I went to New York to stay with my friend T and we planned a day of fun. We wandered the city, had a delicious lunch with another dear friend, spent hours at the Met and then popped into a random thrift store, where I found the dress on a sale rack. I put it on and looked in the mirror and even though it was a little nubbly, it didn’t look half bad. And I noticed something else. My eyes were less puffy. I realized I had not cried at all that day. It was the first time in 90 days that I hadn’t shed a tear. I might have even been happy. It had been so long, far longer than the 90 days I’d been crying, and I’d forgotten what happiness felt like. I bought the dress. Later T reminded me that my happiness wasn’t new or fleeting. It had always been in me and I was learning to find it again.
I thought about that day a lot when I had other days where I felt like it was entirely possible that nothing could ever be good again. I’d remember June 23rd and I’d know that I had been happy for a whole day. Moments of happiness were really possible and I could have them again. This reminder pulled me through some very dark times. This too shall pass. Everything does.
I’d almost forgotten about my Happiness Dress. The March days have been warm and I was recently looking in my closet for something to wear to work, when I spotted it. I think I need it right now. The latest slump I’ve been in is taking an embarrassingly long time to lift. I keep moving forward a little and stumbling back. I’m still doing the things I know to do when you’re in a slump: I’m running regularly, trying to eat healthily and get good sleep – although I’m writing this late at night/early in the morning in a bout of insomnia. But I’m making my insomnia productive instead of watching The Office on Netflix. I’m hugging my boys, I’m walking my dog, I’m seeing my friends, I’m working. I’m not into any bad shit. I keep on going and I’m keeping it together. But damn, I’m tired and low and there seems like a lot to dig through to get to my happiness. I think it’s still there, though. I think so. I will wear my Happiness Dress to remind me that I have all I need. It may seem silly that a dress can remind you of things you should probably already know, but that’s what I’m working with these days, so I’ll take it. Besides, I will look like a fierce and bad ass snow leopard and that feels pretty good.