I wore a black maxi dress to a Mad Men viewing party on Sunday. It’s fitted and booby, recently tailored and last worn during the early New York City and Michigan fall.
That cool night in late September, we ate at a pubby restaurant in downtown Lansing. I don’t remember the name, but it was wood paneled and warmly loud. A place where people made good memories. I wore well-loved plum suede heels that I suddenly couldn’t walk in and thigh-high stockings that began to roll down my legs the moment the hotel room door closed behind us. I twisted my ankle in the grotty parking lot, just enough to sting a little, to remind me that I was in a strange place. He was attentive, but distant. And he was annoyed, I think, that I was unsteady. We could both tell I was wearing a costume. Trying to be the sex bomb. Feeling, at that point, a little ridiculous. Something I might have joked about, another place, another time, but too fogged by the weight of failure settling on us.
We ordered wine but I didn’t have much, because I wanted a Manhattan, which I had with my steak. I was eating a lot of rich, carby food and my mouth was salty and slick. I don’t remember what we talked about. I don’t remember a lot. Just that he seemed really sad and not at all present.
He’d been reading most of the day, a book he was supposed to be reviewing. But, mostly, he’d been lounging and chatting with his friends. Maybe about me, about the disappointment of my trip. How we were going through the motions, but nothing was right. We couldn’t kiss, we couldn’t walk together, our conversations slacked off into silence, I fell asleep when he was awake, he slept too much. We hadn’t had standard sex because I managed to have the most ill-timed period of my life. But he was grateful that I came. Indulging in a break from his life. A break I thought I was happy to give him.
But that dinner, and part of the drive back to the hotel, until I broke and gave us both permission to admit the truth, was a study in awkward subtext. Me in my favorite dress, in a body that still felt unwanted and unfuckable. Him in a t-shirt and jeans, lonely and wanting an escape. Eating and drinking our way to numb.
When we got back to the hotel, I didn’t have to pretend anymore. He was a guy, never The Guy. And I loved him but I would never Love Him. So, I kicked the shoes off. By then, the stockings were pooled around my ankles, and I stooped and wrestled them off too. One I stuffed into a bag. One I never found again. Pretty sure I left it draped over the hedges at the Holiday Inn, like a Halloween spider web.
I keep on going back to this dinner, this night, this trip. I want to give it justice. Tell a story that is as funny and painful as reality. But I can’t, yet. It still comes out hurt and angry. Even though I’m not anymore.
The dress feels different on my body. I’m with someone now. With him, I’d joke about the stockings. “I’m 40% sex bomb, 60% clumsy goofball.” I’d take them off in the rest room and slip one in his pocket when I got back to the table. Or I’d just wear jeans and a sweater because it was a casual night. The dress is the same dress. But this thing is not like the other thing.