Fictional Non-Fiction based on Another's Tale by David Lynch
I Wore A Green Dress
The day I died I wore a green dress. It was a marvelous garment consisting of exactly 326 glistening beads lain atop hand dyed moss-colored cloth. My sixteen-year-old body met its perfect match in the emerald gown. The fabric’s lightness fell across my toned sun-drenched frame, hard won from hours along the back roads of my village running cross-country in the sticky evening heat, with an ethereal coating that made me giddy. My mother, always overly prideful about my appearance, found the choice for her “little cherub” to be “radiant” and befitting “a champion.” Excited about her clothing choice, she held her arms to the sky and praised her “pride and joy” with an enthusiasm that made me cringe.
I caught some ladies snickering in the mirrors at her histrionics. Each spectator took the opportunity to offer their own hushed criticisms of the dress and me. As they spoke, their insults increased in unkindness like a baton passed forward in a degrading verbal relay. The contrast between my mother’s gushing and the old women’s sleights proved too much. Suddenly, I was painfully aware of how I towered over the full-length mirror, causing my head to seem as if it had separated from my body. I stepped out of my high heels and came back down onto the rough carpet.
Returned safely back into the dressing room, freed from the still boisterous din of elderly female voices, I could gaze upon my dress. I had never possessed anything as intricate or delicate as what hung before me. I tended to be rough on most things - glasses, clothes, books, my body, boys - and part of me felt undeserving and unprepared to care for such a precious garment. Every bead, seam and stitch, at least to my inexperienced eyes, were without flaw. The quality was even more remarkable considering the source.
My emerald jewel was created by the mole-speckled hands of a tiny spinster, known simply as Mici. To look upon her pudgy fingers, absent of her tools, one would never imagine they held any ability to work delicate thread through even the widest surfaces, let only the fine needlework necessary to provide for her meager survival. Mici was thrust into the dual roles of shop owner and designer, rather abruptly. Her beloved father, Gian, was a legend among the elite ladies of the town. He was renowned for his ability to mimic the latest designs from Paris into facsimiles that many women, still alive today, feel had no rival.
Mici’s father was murdered on an unusually damp October evening, his limp body discovered by a young couple looking for a quiet spot to “talk uninterrupted.” If her father’s status rested solely on his skills as a dress maker, Mici’s hands would probably never have produced my death garment. But destiny, or more accurately, her father’s insatiable need to employ his skillful craft work into the undressing of his clientele with as much aplomb as his more celebrated public identity, brought about his untimely end, by what the coroner’s report speculated was the “fists of 3-8 assailants.” Gian’s loss was mourned in secret by his fans. Some devotees kept vigil for decades. I have heard that one woman, Jesmine, kept her Gian gown for 36 years, sealed in a clear plastic bag to the left of her winter coats. She would lay out the prized possession on her bed with delicate care after her husband had left for the afternoon to shoot pool and smoke cigars. Once alone, it was rumored, she would hold the memory limply against her body, eyes closed, humming to herself their favorite song. Some say she would dance for hours dreaming of the fingers that unlaced the buttons along her spine many years ago.
Mici was possessed of incredible talents. Her skill with needle and thread, her designs, her hand-dyed fabrics, her eye for the way cloth falls on a body, were all superior to her cherished father. Mici’s skills languished unseen and unsolicited for many years. It was said that no male would ever touch a woman that wore cloth produced from his loins. Forced to find different ways to attract business, Mici’s design skills were best seen at the churches in the village and in the nearby towns. Her primary customer came from servicing mothers and fathers who desired their dearly departed to enter the afterlife in the finest dress imaginable for a fraction of the cost. Our spring formal was approaching and my mother hoped that the rumored barrier between dressmaker and the hungry hands of teenage boys would hold true.
My mother, long a fan of Gian’s work, contracted his “less talented, but sweet” daughter to make a dress for me in celebration of my recent victories in the cross-country trials. I had won, quite easily, besting a rival girl from my own school who, in trying to keep pace with me, tripped in her pursuit, breaking her nose and any tenuous notions she shared about team work. Running, for me, was utter bliss. I was blessed with legs and a gait that worked in a rhythm my coach called extraordinary and nearly animalistic. Unlike others, my body rarely tired over long distances. In training and races, with each passing mile, I grew stronger and didn’t even find my true stride until well into the first hour. The gaps between me, the crowd and my competitors was vast in a way that fit my need and love of solitude. I found solace in my isolation. I grew addicted to the endorphin rush around mile thirteen. The hardest part, for me, was never the running, but the return to the track from the freedom of the countryside. My entrance was rarely accompanied by any other competitor and the sight of the yellow tape, the scattering of family and friends in the rickety stands and the yowls of my coaches brought me little pleasure.
The night of the dance I was running very late. I had been overly careful and precious with every detail of my makeup, my hair and, of course, my dress. My mother, a former hairdresser, had woven my long blonde hair into a bun she had seen worn by an actress in her favorite Hitchcock film, Vertigo. Her handiwork seemed too fine and too elegant for a girl like me. I never cared about clothes or shoes. I never wore makeup to school or on the weekends. I gave into the use of small amounts of lipstick only after I saw K, a sprinter from my track team who I dreamed about, lustfully watching another girl coat her mouth outside of home room one morning. Until K entered into my dreamworld, I had only found satisfaction within books and my own imagination. The world of high fashion and the finery that came along with it was far outside my comfort zone.
I applied my last bit of makeup and rushed out of my bedroom to the screams of my friend J, yelling loudly for me to hurry up from L’s car. My mother stopped me at the door and, in the face of my complaints, snapped three quick photos, “to capture the moment.” I think I heard her shout "I love you my gorgeous girl," as I entered the backseat of the car.
The drive to the dance was exactly 3.2 miles down a few back roads and onto a short highway, before turning left at a market, called Sapphire. There were five of us in the car. We had all been friends since our youth. I had known each of them for over ten years - L, driving with his usual vanity, J, distracted and bubbly in the front seat, P, haughty and prideful with his misplaced sense of entitlement and D, quiet and subdued hiding against the glass watching the trees pass. I was in the back seat in the middle. L pointed out a couple fighting along the road. I was still mad that P refused to let me sit by the window. He had made me climb over his cheap tuxedo pants and I nearly ripped my hem on his garish cuff-links.
“If your stupid jewelry tore my dress I’m going to kill you.”
As L drove, I couldn’t focus on anything but my dress. I ran my fingers over every inch of the fabric. I kept having to push P's thick leg out of the way to gain access to the potential damage I was convinced he had wrought. I could not conceive of the notion that Mici's beautiful hand-spun masterpiece had been ruined by the carelessness of a stupid boy playing grown up. I was near tears imagining my grand entrance, into what I had been calling for weeks, "the royal ball", was lost. J reached back and gently held my right hand.
“M it’s ok. You look beautiful. Nothing happened. Your dress is gorgeous. Tell her you’re sorry for scaring her like that, P.”
“I’m sorry M.”
“It’s ok. I just don’t want… I mean if anything happened to my dress I don’t know what I’d…”
“Nothing is going to happen to your beautiful dress, M. Nothing. I’ll look after you and your gown all night. I promise.”
As the traffic intermittently rolled by, I watched the oncoming lights refracted through the dash onto some of the 326 beads on my dress. Images of the five of us were caught within those tiny beads. Our faces were distorted, shrunken and stretched into microscopic kaleidoscopic snapshots, projected onto the leather movie screen of the front seats and the ceiling of the car. We were getting very close to our destination. Even though it was impossible, I still believe I could hear the music from the gymnasium playing in the car. My secret crush was waiting for me inside the dance hall. In only another minute, I would appear radiantly before him in the most beautiful garment I have ever worn. Someone asked jokingly, “How much longer? I have to pee.”. I laughed. My friends were so dumb. I smoothed out my dress. I looked out over the long nose of L's car. I caught a glimpse of my eyes in the rear-view mirror. My mother had plucked my eyebrows into two perfectly symmetrical lines. The swelling from the tweezers was hidden nicely by my makeup.
"Remember, little cherub, we ladies must go through a little bit of pain to look so beautiful."
The night so far hadn’t been perfect, but what I wore was perfection. I sat up tall. We were almost there. I didn’t want to miss a single thing.
Most of what I have just told you is not true. Yes, I did wear a green dress the day I was pronounced dead on the side of a road at the age of sixteen. Last rites were given and my resurrection following my pronounced demise was called, later by many, a minor miracle. Yes, I was one of five teenagers in a car going to a party. I did not climb over anyone to get into the middle seat, but I still wish I had been positioned near one of the windows for what was to come. The driver of our car became distracted and veered into oncoming traffic. The two cars met with such force I was thrown through the front seat and out the window.
The crash was apocalyptic. The damage to my body was immense in its horrors. I broke my arm, had ten separate fractures in my ribs, pelvis and spine, lost a kidney, lacerated my spleen and ovaries and had severe bruising in over 70% of my body. The swelling was so acute, eating was impossible for over a month. My eyes were swollen shut for weeks after the accident. Vision was minimal. I had tubes down my throat that kept me from speaking. I had a catheter inserted. I lay strapped down in a bed most times. The restraints, applied by the nurses, were to keep me from re-breaking and damaging my fragile body and organs. I had countless surgeries - some to repair parts of me, others to remove parts of me, others to try to save parts of me, others to try to save me.
I woke from a medically-induced coma with amnesia. Details were given to me, in only small spurts, by the doctors and my mother. I had no memory of anything two days prior to the accident. I had no memory of the crash that confined me to the bed I found myself trapped in for over two horrid months. It is an odd and disorienting feeling to have the moment that marks one's life be lost to the very soul which was stained with its vacancy.
What of my friends? All four of the other riders survived. None had damage even close to what I suffered. None of the five ever spoke again following the first months after the crash.
There was never a Mici, nor a Gian.
My mother was never a hairdresser and she had never seen Vertigo. I was ready early for my friend’s arrival and waited with growing frustration for them to pick me up.
I was a great runner. After the accident, I would run no more. Running wasn't the only thing the accident took from me I never got back.
My mother didn’t buy the dress. It was a slightly altered hand-me-down from my aunt who died in her late 60's swearing if she had been given the chance she could have become a renowned designer.
My hospital room was shared with a boy in his teens. I never saw him. I never heard him speak. I heard others speak of him, his condition, his potential for recovery, but my eyes never looked upon his face. Most of my days, my view was some small portion of the ceiling. His people always came at night. Most evenings, his mother would sit crying, reading The Little Prince to her son.
I would often wake from my fitful sleeps and imagine the tubes running down my throat were gone. The brutish red/black bruises had all faded away and I could turn on my side, no longer restrained by my punctured lung and broken ribs. The feeling of my feet touching the cold floor made my skin tingle with excitement. Finally upright, I walked over to the boy's bed as his mother read to him. She failed to read with the dramatic re-enactments and voices my mother loved to include. I would eventually crawl into the bed beside the boy. He was smaller than I had imagined. I was always shocked at how tiny his bones felt against mine.
I am told the truck driver held my bleeding skull in his hands while awaiting the ambulance to arrive at the accident scene. He prayed over my limp body and resisted releasing his hands from my head once help arrived. He came to the hospital to visit me twice. On his last visit, he cried by my bedside and told me how sorry he was about the crash. My mother could never understand why the truck driver took such an interest in me. I was unable to tell her at the time, but as the man wept, he kept mumbling, over and over, "I couldn't let you die there alone".
On the 33rd evening of my recovery, I woke to the sounds of the boy in the bed beside me dying. His breath was labored. I could hear the gurgling mucous in his throat. The nurses never came. I listened to him escape out of our shared prison alone. His death-throes, I believe, lasted 17 minutes. I cried for days after they cleared out his body.
And what of my beloved green dress? I learned later that a paramedic had used a pair of scissors to cut away the last vestiges of my emerald garment and flung them into the mud and grass. I wasn't mad at him. He had no way of knowing what the cloth meant to me. My moss-colored joy was never recovered.
Photography by Cig Harvey and Art by Eleanor Macnair & Laura Alexander & Guido Miccoli