At the time and the place I was a little girl, all the little girls wanted same things; stickers, candies called White Rabbit and shoes with heels that clunked on cement floor. What we also wanted was a cupboard with at least one pink summer dress we called “frock”.
It couldn’t be just any kind of frock; the characteristics were conditional. It had to have ribbons to be bow-tied on the back of our waist, it had to have frills and flow like the dresses worn by princesses in the American cartoon channel except not as long, ending just a couple of inches below the knee. Oh and preferably with layers of lace and glitters.
This little girl had a big cupboard. It consisted of jeans, khaki shorts, traditional garbs made of local fabrics and t-shirts screaming messages of “love, peace and happiness”. All this but no pink frocks; not even a red one or a purple or blue.
I would make subtle suggestions to my mother.
“They are uncomfortable and impractical.” She would roar. “They look like an ugly big cake that’s just exploded.” She would then continue to remind me how Disney princesses should not define standards of beauty.
I would then demand it from my father.
“We will buy whatever you want, I promise.” He would whisper. And the promise would be as empty as the bottles besides him.
My hopes would fade away with the stench of alcohol in the living room and, melt down with the melancholy in the kitchen of my household.
When I was ten I was picked to pose as flower in the annual Parent’s Day at my Catholic school. Like the rest of my classmates, I wanted to be the beautiful butterfly with a dance routine and dialogue in the play. But the nuns said that I was too tall and that my hair was too “wild”.
Regardless, I was a happy flower. Not because of the play, which even then I thought was sexist and stupid, but because of the fact that we were all required to wear a pink frock that day.
This was my opportunity. I knew that my parents would never say no to my school requirements. So I went back home that day, happier than usual, and handed the note to my mother. I went to bed that night, more hopeful than usual, and dreamt about flowers and butterflies.
The dress came home that weekend. It was long with no ribbons, no frills nor flow. And with absolutely no trace of lace or glitter.
“At least it is pink.” My mother said, proud of her choice.
“Thank you.” I lied, heartbroken by her choice.
Monday came. I was nervous. The kids made faces, some laughed and others whispered remarks as I took the dress out of my hand-woven bag pack awkwardly lying next to fancy polyester pink bag packs. The teachers exchanged looks with one another, the same expression that seemed to take over every time my parents were around them, and then carelessly put my costume back in the bag.
“Get another one.” Said the older nun.
“Something prettier, like the one in Cinderella book?” Added the younger one.
“But Disney princesses should not define….” I would murmur, incomplete and unconfident, and disappear behind the happier flowers and butterflies dressed in their pink frocks.
One weekend before the show, my aunt and I stood in front of my cousin’s closet. I could feel myself turning green as I got glimpse of pink frocks hanging in that blue cupboard.
“You can have this one.” She said and handed me her daughter’s old pink frock.
It looked just like the ones that my classmates had. It had ribbons, frills and flow, layers of lace that danced couple of inches below my knees and glitters that sang from random regions of the fabric.
The shoes with the dress and the makeup felt uncomfortable under the bright neon light on stage. But I did not complain. I looked like Cinderella. I smiled and swayed back-and forth just like the other fifteen girls on stage. None of them complained. They all looked like Cinderellas.
My father with his legs crossed, sat amidst other mothers, smiling and clapping gently. My mother with her loud presence, stood amidst other fathers, taking pictures and shouting my name.
I wore the pink frock again. To countless birth days, couple of weddings and a funeral. And again and again until one day it mysteriously disappeared. I wore the other dress as well, countless times. Sometimes because of the fear and love I had for my mother, and other times because of the understanding I had about the concept of wasting money; thanks to my mother’s constant reminder of what the money could have otherwise been used for…
If you are reading this right now and looking for lessons you think the author has hidden between the lines, or if you are wondering what the point behind these words are, then accept my apology. This is a story without a motive and a moral. It is simply a collection of my thoughts that temporarily fills the empty space along the distance between my body and my mother’s embrace.
Every night as I retreat to my house thousand miles away from my home, I think about my mother. I think about her ability to heal as I try to nurse my own heart that has been mourning over the loss of a lover. I think about her ability to fight as I try to survive wars everyday and alone in this foreign land. I think about her ability to be loud as I try more everyday to break away from silence and make my voice be heard.
Tonight though, I am suddenly thinking about that pink frock. Not the one that I chose but the one that I would now choose. I am thinking about its simplicity, its eccentricity, and how comfortable I actually felt in it even though most girls then and there did not like it. I am thinking about my mother who back then was simple and eccentric, and who always told me to feel comfortable in my skin even if people try to tell me otherwise. I don’t know what happened to that pink frock or to my mother. But I wish that I still had that dress in my closet and that my mother still held those beliefs.
Tonight, as I think about my childhood and try to dial the numbers to her phone after almost a year of silence, I realize how intensely I have missed the woman who once raised me, the woman I am now on my way of becoming.
Happy Mothers’ Day.