In the very back of my sister’s closet was a tall, quilted dress bag. It was made of pale pink plastic and filled with my mother’s fancy dresses.
One was a Dutch-blue satin dress she had worn in her best friend’s wedding. It was off-the-shoulder, tea-length, in a simple and flattering style I don’t associate with bridesmaids’ gowns. I loved the feel of the fabric as the flared skirt swayed and brushed against my legs.
There was a floor-length pink gown that had been chopped and altered, once for my sister on Halloween, and once for me when I played Glinda in the fifth grade musical. It had a scratchy layer of tulle over the top, which was uncomfortable, but extra glamorous.
There were several more dresses, but the only other I vividly recall was the one my mother had made for a tea dance in high school. It had a brocade bodice and a wine-colored satin skirt. It was simply divine. That one I put on repeatedly.
If no one was around, I liked to sneak a pair of white gloves from my her bedside table, the ones with a tiny flower of seed beads on each wrist and an impossibly small button.
Then I might poke through her jewelry drawer, the bottom of which was covered with a flat of egg carton material, so each item could be investigated and laid reverently back into its soft gray cup. I might try on everything, but I always ended up with a single strand of pearls from my Grandmother.
One day in high school–nearly a decade since I had played dress up–I happened upon the dress bag in the closet, and decided to try on that tea dance dress once more.
What happened next is difficult to articulate. Each seam fell exactly into place and the hemline was perfect. I stared in the mirror and was overwhelmed by a creepy sensation. It was uncanny. Not only had my mother made the dress, and tailored it perfectly to her frame, she had made me, too. Suddenly the concept of genetics was no longer textbook essays and double helix diagrams. It was concrete and intensely physical. She made me.
I know she had help; I get it. But it wouldn’t have been the same to try on my father’s trousers.