I bought a dress last week.
It’s a dress straight out of the summer of ’53–pale mauve with a sweetheart neckline, spaghetti straps, and a skirt that twirls. It’s the kind of dress you lose your virginity in in the backseat of a Chevy Bel Air after the Hop.
It’s also the also the kind of dress you wear when you get tired of keeping it real in blue jeans and a tank top, when you want to rub coconut vanilla lotion on your legs and feel like you’re stepping into another era, another life.
It’s the kind of dress you wear when you want to feel pretty, oh so pretty. (Tralalalalalalalalala.)
The problem is, it’s a bitch to zip up. And when I want to wear it, I discover new muscle groups I never knew existed. I grunt. I sweat. If I were playing Twister, I would be rocking the mat.
Still, the end result is the same–I do feel pretty, oh so pretty (tralalalalalalalalala), but it’s the kind of dress that makes me wish my boyfriend were around all the time to zip it up and kiss the sweet spot where my neck meets my shoulders, giving me goosebumps.
Now, just to be abundantly clear: I ain’t no damsel in distress, oh HELL to the no. Let me tell you, just last week I came home to the shower drain belching raw sewage all over the bathroom floor, and believe you me, I handled that shit.
Power went out? I found the circuit breakers. Leaky faucet? I broke out the wrench. Mold on the ceiling? I scrubbed it off with bleach. Spiders and insects don’t phase me. And just a few weeks ago, I cleaned up a decapitated mouse. (I may have screamed for a good three and a half minutes and flapped my arms around, but I cleaned it up, brains and all, yo.)
But then night comes–and it’s quiet. Too quiet. Until a twig snaps outside, or there’s a rustle by the window.
It’s just me and the kids in those long, slow hours between nightfall and sunrise, and the idea that someone might break in and… God, I don’t even want to write it…
Sure, I lock the door, but one swift kick and that sucker will swing right open… And then…
I can’t sleep. I lie on the futon, my ears tweaking out while my mind tries to make sense of every sound and every silence.
Because if something were to happen and I were to scream, yeah, the neighbors might wake up, but so would my kids… And then…
Now, let me tell you about where I live. I live in a small village with a bomb-ass view of rolling fields and endless sky. But even though we’re just a 10 minute drive from a city, you have to stand in the middle of the yard in order to get a cellphone signal and Mercury best not be in retrograde, or you’re shit out of luck. I love my little house, but the walls are flimsy and shake in the wind. There are water stains on the ceiling from the last big rain. And as I already mentioned, the sewer is dangerously close to the shower.
But there are always workers on hand to fix the things I can’t–like repairing an electrical socket or sealing a crack in the kitchen wall. And it was all good until one of the workers started being too friendly.
It started innocuously enough while the sun rose over the fields early last week. The kids and I were waiting outside for our ride to school when he ambled over and started chatting.
“Are you married?”
“No. But I have a boyfriend.”
“Does he live with you?”
My friend showed up in the nick of time, and I bundled the kids into the car.
Now, I’ll tell you something: I’ve survived 31 ¾ years on my intuition–I’ve taken rides from strangers, let a homeless woman sleep in my bed, and even made out with a Scientologist because that teeny tiny voice in the back of my mind whispered, “It’s all good.” But when that teeny tiny voice says ,”Get the hell out of dodge,” I am Audi 5000.
And that teeny tiny voice was screaming at me.
“What do you do when someone’s being too nice to you?” I asked my friend as we turned onto the main road.
“You have to tell him to leave you alone,” she said.
So that night, I practiced my Gretta Garbo glare.
I stared at myself in the mirror and said, “Don’t talk to me anymore.”
“But it’s nice to talk to people,” my daughter said from her perch on the beanbag chair.
I got down on my knees and looked into her shining eyes: ” Not everyone is our friend. And you don’t have to be nice to everyone.” (Forget ballet class next year. I’m signing her up for Krav Maga, bitches.)
The next day, when I walked out of my house bleary-eyed with the kids, the man was sitting on my porch, looking waaaaaaaaaaaaay too comfortable, sipping black coffee and flicking cigarette ash into my garden.
“I like your dress,” he said.
I wish I could tell you that I turned to him with a withering stare and said “Listen, dude, you need to get the hell off my porch before I have my boot shoved so far up your ass you’re spitting leather.”
(And I wish I could tell you I didn’t wish I had chosen to wear jeans and a tank top instead of my dress that morning.)
Yeah, well. I didn’t. I just kept walking, because we may have come a long way baby since that summer of ’53, but despite the heat, I felt a chill prickle my skin, and goosebumps cropped up in the sweet spot between my shoulder and back.
But that’s the thing. I can put on my own dress. And take it off. I can reset the circuit breakers, paint over the mold, and have a funeral for a headless mouse. Hell, I already proved to myself last week–literally–that I can handle any shit life throws at me. All by myself.
And I can teach my daughter how to protect herself, so that if she’s ever sleeping alone with her kids, she won’t feel the way I feel now.
Yeah, I can handle this. All by myself.
(Although it would be nice not to have to.)