My junior year in college, the year I turned twenty-one, was one of the most remarkable in my life. I had my first real, serious relationship, I was working at The Wexner Center for the Arts on the Ohio State University Campus, I was in love with my major, art history, and I was happily living in a somewhat rundown old house on campus with my two best girlfriends. I can’t remember all the details, but that summer, my boyfriend went out of town for something, my step-sister/best friend, Brandee, had gone to England on a study abroad trip, and the Wexner Center informed me that they no longer had a position for me. I got bored, and boredom is a complicated feeling for me. I tend to be a very active, dynamic person. I like to have several projects going on, or at least I did in college. I thrived on activity. I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I thought I would just get some random job I didn’t care about that might have nice benefits. In my mind, it would be my first “real,” or service-oriented job, since such jobs, for me, had been largely inaccessible. I got hired as a cashier in a movie theater. I bought a skirt for the gig, an inexpensive polyester/cotton blend, black skirt with black plastic buttons down the front of it. It had an elastic waist, I could easily pull it on over my head and, when adjusted, it sat below my waist comfortably.
Despite being dressed for the part, I soon realized this role did not suit me. The customers of the movie theater were often difficult, my managers were high school boys, for whom I sometimes felt I was babysitting, and the “perk” of the job didn’t exactly pan out. I was told I could see movies for free at the theater, but only on my own time. The last place I wanted to go when I wasn’t at work was work, so I felt frustrated. Then one day, I was sitting in that claustrophobic ticket booth, reading a letter Brandee had written me, and I just said to myself (and maybe out loud) “fuck it!” I quit the job, went home, and booked tickets to fly to England. I got in contact with a good friend of mine, Ben, who had been an exchange student at my high school and now lived in Berlin, and I made plans to visit him and his family in Hamburg. I announced to my family and friends my plans, and my mom came to my house crying, begging me not to go. She was afraid. And I suppose there were a lot of unknowable and unpredictable aspects for her to worry about, since I would have to pushed through the airports in borrowed wheelchairs and helped on and off the plane by strangers. Not to mention, just being a young woman traveling alone, I could be considered vulnerable.
To make a long story short, the trip was wonderful. I wore that black skirt while I walked with my crutches around the gardens at Bath, England. I wore the skirt when I took a taxi ride to the airport to fly to Germany. And I may have worn the skirt when Ben’s girlfriend, Nina, and I went on a bus tour to Amsterdam. He was sick, and the soft-spoken Nine offered to accompany me on my adventure. We had a blast. I may have been wearing the shirt when we visited the Van Gogh Museum, which is still one of my favorite art venues.
I took the skirt home with me, graduated, and brought the skirt along when I moved to Chapel Hill, NC. I had been accepted at every graduate school I had applied for, but wasn’t offered funding, and I figured if I could gain residency status in North Carolina, I could attend UNC on the in-state tuition. Again, everyone thought I was crazy and taking a huge risk. But my skirt and I made friends, volunteered at The Arts Center in Carrboro, and worked several part time jobs. My skirt made several trips to my favorite hangout, Hell, the it came in handy when I served as a hostess at Akai Hana. After I completed my master’s degree, my skirt went with me to San Antonio, Texas, where I would complete an internship at The McNay Art Museum and, at the same time, be close to the boyfriend I had in college. He was doing a PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, and we made several trips associated with my position to museums and art centers all over Texas, as well as in Los Angeles and San Diego. After a whirlwind year, I decided to return to North Carolina to complete the PhD program in art history. I left my boyfriend and all those experiences in Texas, and I moved into a duplex in Chapel Hill. My skirt came with me, and then moved again with me to Durham. My skirt has lived in a few places in Durham and has seen a lot of the country with me.
In my memoir, I discuss an accident I had in 2007, which caused traumatic brain injury, as well as my many processes of recovery. My skirt has been with me through it all. I don’t wear my prosthetic legs very often anymore, as I have decided I can do more and better without them, which makes wearing skirts awkward. Yet, twenty years later, my skirt still resides in my dresser drawer. In this photograph of my prosthetic legs, “Ann’s Dress Hangs Here” (2016), one prosthetic leg leans against the wall and the other one bends and sits against a bookshelf. My skirt drapes over the top shelf and covers the upper thigh of the more upright leg. You can see in the background the bottom left corner of my collage, “Re-Membering,” from which my memoir draws its title. You can also see the drawing I did of my imagined wedding, which my dad presented to me at my rehearsal dinner. Books and notebooks of writing, photographs, and artwork stock the shelves, a stuffed bear made from a quilt lounges above the books on the top shelf, and a stuffed rabbit that I slept with from an early age until the only a few years ago, “Bunny,” sits patiently at my feet. There is a lot of history framed in this photograph, as well as woven into the material of the cheap, but dependable, black skirt. The composition of the photograph reminds me of Frida Kahlo’s painting “My Dress Hangs Here” (1933), in which Kahlo painted her characteristically bright-colored, Tehuana-style dress hanging in the overcrowded and dirty landscape of Detroit, where Kahlo lived while her husband worked on a commissioned mural. The painting, for me, expresses how Kahlo felt out of place, and maybe she was longing for “home,” in Mexico. In contrast, my skirt blends in to its environment and, is now, having a relaxed existence in retirement.
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