By Rebecca Demarest
I made almost all of my own dresses for my high school formals. Junior Homecoming was not going to be an exception, but this time I decided to tackle one of the most difficult patterns there is; a Vogue strapless – sleek, stunning, complicated and requiring a lot of patience, something of which I am always in short supply. It was going to be an intricate contraption with a custom built interior corset and a bolero jacket. I’d even found material that was Bothell High School blue for the dress and midnight blue for the jacket. I didn’t have a date, as such, but I was hopeful. I guess everything begins with a first step, and the first step for sewing is cutting out the pattern. You have to cut sewing patterns a little outside the line and then iron them so they lie flat on the fabric because they have been sitting in the pattern folder for months on end.
I pulled into a space in the gym parking lot during lunch break after the obligatory menstrual run to the supermarket for a friend. But He was walking over, actually looking at me, smiling at me so I reached over and nudged the Safeway bag of necessities onto the floor, hoping he wouldn’t notice. My window was down because it was a crisp fall day, the kind we don’t have a lot of in Washington State and I wanted to drink it in before the rains made everything too damp.
He leaned into the window, resting his forearm on the top of the car. His musk reminded me of summer football. “Nice car,” he said and then pointed over his shoulder to his parking spot. “I’ve always been a fan of the Dodge Neon.” I looked at the Ram on the steering wheel of my blue Neon and then glanced over my shoulder at his black Neon.
“I like her, she drives well.” I looked up at him through my lashes, trying to be coy, decided I like being able to see his smile better, and looked straight into his brown eyes.
“It’s too bad yours is an automatic, takes all the fun out of it.”
He started to pull back from my door and I found myself blurting, “Don’t kid yourself. I know how to handle a stick, I just like to have my hands free while driving.” He leans back towards the car, chuckling low in his throat. I tried desperately to keep my face from turning red as I felt the tips of my ears begin to burn.
“I’m sure you do. I’ll see you around, Becca.”
After the fabric was cut, I focused on getting the seams of the outer dress sewn at the perfect three-quarter inch width. There is a kind of Zen meditation that falls over me while I’m sewing the long, straight lines of a dress. I could go forever, pushing the foot pedal and inching forward until I need to stop, rearrange the material and my hands, and then continue forward another foot, two feet. Long seams are the easiest and fastest things to sew, so much better than zippers and boning; seams are kind of like stretching before you start strenuous exercise.
I am in my typical spot in the bleachers at the football game. I go to every home game, third section, thirteen rows up, on the left hand side of the row with my enormous drum perched like a beached whale on the row in front of me. I watch him on the field, offensive first string; him in his spot, me in mine.
The game is rough, he goes out to catch his breath after a particularly rough tackle and the team starts falling behind. He goes back in for the third quarter, but even his skill can’t keep the team from losing by two points.
I wait for him outside of the locker room, but of course he’s one of the last out. He and coach always liked to discuss the game while it was fresh on their minds. He looks wiped when he finally appears in his jeans and faded concert tee. I approach cautiously, hoping he wouldn’t brush me off . “I’m sorry about the game. You look like you could use a hug.” I extend my arms and he doesn’t say a word, just sags into them for a moment, then regains his footing and steps back. He lays a hand on my shoulder, silently, and then heads to his car.
I take a step after him, but can’t decide what to say, what would make him turn back to me, how he would respond – a look, gentle, disdainful, sorrowful - so I sigh and let him go.
While I love wearing corsets, creating one to provide support in a strapless dress is about as fun as trying to reassemble a broken vase when all you have is bubblegum. There are so many small pieces of fabric that have to be just right and the boning never wants to bend in the direction that it needs to. But even though it takes forever to put the jigsaw together, it is always worth it when you are through.
It has to be perfectly tight; loose enough so you don’t faint and tight enough that when you raise your arms and breath out it doesn’t fall to your waist. That balance is hard and it may take three or four adjustments of the seams.
“Hey!” I run to catch up to him in the hall after lunch. “You going to homecoming, or anything?” I juggle yearbook proofs and my pre-calc book while steadfastly not looking at him, instead counting the tiles as they pass under my flats and his tennis shoes.
“I have to work that night, but I’m going to try to get there for the last hour.” He stops and turns towards me. “You going?”
“Well, yeah, with my friends, girl friends, that is. I don’t have a date. But, if you show up, save me a dance?”
“Sure, I’d like that.” He searches my face for an answer to a question I don’t know. “Well, I gotta go to class. See you?”
He turns down the hallway towards the library and I stare after him for a moment, a silly grin on my face, before I continue to the yearbook room. My advisor is standing over the printers which have decided to be difficult, again. Dropping the corrected proofs onto his desk, I ask, “Have we decided who’s taking pictures for homecoming yet?”
He stops tugging on the jammed paper long enough to push his glasses back up on his nose. “No, everybody I’ve talked to has a date and doesn’t want to be saddled with the camera.”
My smile falters and falls away. “Well, I guess…Look, I don’t technically have a date. I…I can take care of it.” I pick up the camera, fiddle with the zipper, hoping he’ll say no. Instead, he says thanks and keeps tugging on the paper.
Of course, sewing is much simpler when things don’t go wrong. If everything worked the way it was supposed to - the machine didn’t jam, the instructions were clear - everybody could sew. The bolero jacket looked simple enough; I’d read over the directions and had everything cut out, pinned, and most of the primary seams sewn. However, when it came time to attach the sleeves, there was no way they were going to go on how they were supposed to. Frustrated, I throw the jacket onto the sewing table and furiously rub my eyes to keep the tears back so they don’t stain the material.
My mom and I scoured the directions, looking for where I’d gone wrong. Turns out it wasn’t me at all, the directions were just out of order.
I hand over my ticket at the door and walk down a balloon tunnel to the gym where the decorating committee had managed to turn our bleacher-ed and basketball hoop-ed monstrosity into something resembling a child’s fantasy of heaven. There was loads of bunting in awkward streamers, crisscrossed strings of Christmas lights, and cut out clouds. All that was missing were the angels playing harps.
“Hey, Becca! You’ve got the yearbook camera, great, take a picture of us!”
“Sure, just a sec. Do you know if he’s here?”
“Haven’t seen him. Great dress. Later!”
I circulate the floor, hoping to spot his tall, Arcadian figure striding across the plywood to where I am. I take picture after picture demanded by my high school friends and enemies alike. When you have the camera, you’re everyone’s friend. I don’t dance because every time I start, someone else needs their picture taken. The special-ed teacher ambushes me at every turn, complaining how her students are never in the homecoming section of the yearbook, and I need to do something about it. The decorations committee wants their picture in front of their confection creations. My friends stop dancing and start mugging every time I get near.
My best friend drags me upstairs to the official photographer and insists on paying the eleven dollars for our picture in front of the hastily painted “Stairway to Heaven” background. She has a date, so she hadn’t had time to come over to my house before the dance for our typical pre-dance pictures. Besides, I hadn’t bothered to go out to dinner with everybody, hadn’t even bothered to get ready until just before the dance. I drove by myself and got there at the very beginning so I could get pictures of the decorations before the skateboarders took offense to them and started popping the balloons. As soon as the photographer’s finger depresses the shutter, my friend takes off to find her date, promising to talk to me later. I drift back down the stairs, avoiding the obligatory broken hearted, sobbing girls on the steps. I don’t take pictures of them. Nobody wants to be reminded of heartbreak by the yearbook. They only want the happy memories there.
It is thirty minutes before the end of the dance. They drop the balloons that the decorations committee had netted like rare butterflies hours before the dance, and I point the camera at the crowd from the stage, glad that it has auto focus because with the amount of tears in my eyes, I wouldn’t be able to line up the shot. I struggle to maintain my balance beside the throbbing speakers and pray that the dress stays in place. The bodice wasn’t quite tight enough to allow me the luxury of breathing out while taking pictures.
The yearbook camera drops on its strap to my chest as the last balloons finally break free and fall onto the already gyrating, oblivious students. It is 11:35 when I step outside the dance, lift my head into the gentle Seattle rain, then climb into my blue Dodge Neon, turn on my throbbing driving mix so I don’t have to think, and turn left out of the parking lot, with tear shaped stains in the Bothell Blue satin.
Hemming is the last step to any dress. It has to be last because you need to know exactly how the dress is going to sit before you know how much you need to take up. I didn’t have much to take up because I had forgotten to lengthen the pattern before cutting and I was skimping in areas to make it long enough to hide my ballet flats. But it worked out great. I tried it on one last time before I hung it in my closet, front and center. It was like a glove, and as I tried a couple dance moves, it swished and swayed, gently reflecting light off the flawless satin. As I got ready for bed, I smoothed one last crease out of the bodice and gently resettled the jacket on the metal hanger. It took 60 hours of painstaking labor, but it was worth it. I smiled, thinking of what he would say when he saw me.
About The Author
Rebecca A. Demarest is an award-winning author, book designer, and technical illustrator living in Seattle, WA with her husband. Together, they maintain a household jungle, cater to a dog-like cat named Cat and a Portuguese Water Dog named Teal’c. When she isn’t writing, you can find her at the Bureau of Fearless Ideas teaching the youth of Seattle how to get their ideas onto the page, crocheting, embroidering, and playing lots of Dungeons and Dragons. She is currently working on the sequels for everything, so, before you ask, yes, you’ll find out what happened to Benny, Sophia will keep sticking her nose in dangerous places, and Thea will find the seedy underbelly of Oz.
Rebecca’s website: http://www.