Inspired by just one of the amazing women I met at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop 2014–Ilene Beckerman, author of Love, Loss, and What I Wore–this is an excerpt from the fire memoir I’m working on.
If a travel agent hadn’t messed up our reservation and nearly left us without a hotel room in New York that time, I never would have found the pink dress in an upscale beach town’s second-hand store. As an apology for his mistake, and for our embarrassment at the check-in desk at a hotel that had never heard of us or our reservation, the travel agent comped us to a weekend stay at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel.
We tore ourselves away from the luxurious seaside resort one afternoon to wander through the nearby town. I’d spotted a second hand-shop on our way to the hotel and thought I might be able to find something to wear to the fancy wedding we’d been invited to that winter. “What I’m looking for,” I explained to my husband, “is something someone wore to the Oscars and then gave away.” And once I got inside the store, I found exactly what I was looking for: a glittery rack crammed with drop-dead beautiful dresses that looked as though they’d been down a red carpet at least once. I had found the mother lode of cast-off couture.
I tried on a mermaid dress with a tail, a red sequined number, a champagne satin pleated and draped disaster… and then I saw the pink dress. Silk chiffon in ballerina pink, just a whisper of color, with a handkerchief hem, dropped waist banded in pink satin, and sheer sleeves with the same pink satin at the cuffs. A light sprinkling of rhinestones on the bodice added a touch of bling. It was love at first sight. Just one problem: it was two sizes too big. But I bought it anyway, figuring I could get it altered in plenty of time for the wedding.
Once we got home, I took the dress a nearby bridal shop. I was sure they could cut the dress down and shorten the sleeves for me. I tried it on in front of a seamstress who wore glasses on a chain and a pincushion on her wrist. She marked the dress, pinned it, pulled it in, and showed me what she would do to make it fit.
A week later, I went back to the shop and twirled in front of the mirror in my pink dress. Perfect! Sleeves, length, bodice—as if it had been made for me in the first place.
I found some pewter heels—not too flashy—just barely silver, the color of the rhinestones when they reflected light.
Oh, that perfect, lovely pink dress. I wore it twice, once to the wedding and once to a New Year’s Eve party. We posed for a picture at the house before we left for the wedding but I hadn’t taken the film to be developed yet. It was stuffed in a drawer of my desk. I thought to grab the roll of undeveloped film, along with all our photo albums, when we left the house ahead of the fire.
I held onto that roll of film for months. Getting it developed slipped way down on the priority list below meetings with insurance agents, architects, and contractors as we began to rebuild our lives and our home. But when I finally took in the film and got the pictures back, I gasped with joy. A long lost friend, missing and presumed gone forever—the pink dress, found.
We are in prom-picture formation: Bruce has his arm around me; our hands are joined in front of us. He looks sharp in his tuxedo, bow tie, and crisp white shirt. My hair is up, my silvery earrings sparkle, and the light catches in the satin’s soft folds.
The pink dress: diaphanous, ethereal, light as a pair of fairy wings.