The Pink Dress
None of this was supposed to happen: not finding the dress, not losing the dress, and certainly not finding it again. But that’s what did happen.
In the days before you could make online reservations, my husband used the services of a trusted travel agent for his business trips and some personal ones. We never expected this typically reliable agent to somehow forget to confirm a hotel reservation for us on a trip to New York. When we tried to check in, we were told that there was no room at the inn. At least, not for us. After a couple of phone calls back and forth to the agent in San Francisco, we piled our suitcases in a taxi and checked into a different hotel. As a gracious mea culpa, the agent promised us a weekend getaway at a Southern California beach resort. We took him up on this generous offer, and that is how I came to find the pink dress.
One afternoon, we tore ourselves away from sand and sea to wander through the nearby town. I’d spotted a consignment shop on our way to the hotel and thought I might be able to find something to wear to the formal wedding we’d been invited to that winter. “What I’m looking for,” I explained to my husband, “is something somebody wore to the Oscars once.” And once I got inside the shop, I found exactly what I was looking for: a glittery rack crammed with drop-dead beautiful dresses that had definitely been down a red carpet. I didn’t care if these dresses had been worn more than 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. Ballerina pink chiffon, just a whisper of color, slightly gathered skirt with a handkerchief hem, dropped waist circled in pink satin, the sheer sleeves with the same pink satin at the cuffs. A light sprinkling of rhinestones on the bodice added a touch of bling. I fell in love with the dress while it was still on the hanger. Twirling in front of the dressing room mirror, I knew I’d found the right one. Just one problem: it was two sizes too big. But the price was right, so I bought the dress anyway. I figured I could get it altered in plenty of time for the wedding.
Once we got home, I took the dress to a nearby bridal shop. I was sure someone there could take the dress in and shorten the sleeves for me. I tried it on in front of a seamstress who wore her glasses on a chain and had a pincushion on her wrist. She marked the dress, pulled it in and pinned it, and showed me what she would do to make the dress fit just right.
A week later, I went back to the shop and tried on my pink dress again. Perfect: sleeves the correct length, the bodice gently hugging my body, the skirt full and swirly.
I found some pewter heels—not too flashy—just barely silver, the color of the rhinestones when they reflected light, to wear with the dress.
Oh, that lovely pink dress. I wore it twice: once to the wedding in December 1990, and once to a New Year’s Eve party that ushered in 1991. We asked my sister to take our picture before we left her in charge of the kids for the evening so we could attend the wedding. We handed her our old-school, pre-cell phone film camera and she snapped a quick photo. Eventually, the roll of undeveloped film got tossed in a desk drawer and forgotten.
On a lazy Sunday morning in October of 1991, we discovered that our neighborhood was positioned directly in the path of a raging firestorm sweeping down the hills. As we watched, the fire jumped the freeway just miles from our house. When the wind picked up and smoke and ash filled the air, we decided to evacuate and take what we could grab in just a few minutes. I opened my desk drawer—I really don’t know why— and retrieved a couple of rolls of undeveloped film and stuck them in a pocket before we fled the house ahead of the fire.
Our house, along with 3000 others, burned to the ground that day. Everything we left behind turned to ash.
Months later, after we settled in a temporary home, I took the film in to be developed. There were pictures from our summer vacation, the three kids on the first day of school, a few random family shots. And one picture of the pink dress. In all the confusion and chaos following the fire, I’d just begun to remember all that was lost. When I saw that picture, I gasped. More precious than I could have imagined:
We are in prom configuration: my husband has his right arm around me; his left hand and my right are joined in front of us. He looks sharp in his tuxedo, bow tie and crisp white shirt. My hair is in a curly updo, my silvery earrings sparkle, and the light catches in the soft folds of pink satin. My pink dress: diaphanous, ethereal, light as a pair of fairy wings.