My best friend, Kel, called it the butterfly dress. It was ballet slipper pink, strapless, with butterflies scattered in a rainbow of colors. Made of the thinnest cotton, it was almost translucent in a certain light. The dress made me look younger than I was, but not as young as I felt. I wore it perhaps once a week that summer. Each time, my best friend declared upon seeing me, “Tonight will be the night to change our lives.”
It was May 2007 and the ink on my college diploma was still wet. I spent the last four years shipwrecked on the glittering island of Manhattan only to return home after graduation. Home was a small town in rural Pennsylvania. Home was block parties, cold MGD, and golden retrievers. Home was where you go when you have nothing else. I didn’t have a job, an apartment, or a plan. I didn’t know what I was qualified to do or what I wanted to do or what I was doing. So I did what any 22-year-old would do: I did nothing.
My summer unfolded into days that were unremarkable. But my nights unraveled into moments that were unforgettable. The nights began at dusk, once the heat softened and the absent sun left a hazy pink glow in the sky. Kel picked me up first, then Jared, Kelly, and Will, the five of us piling into her car with no place to go. We sped through the tunnels into downtown, a silver steel city filled with gritty promises. Some nights we drank sweet mojitos on sticky rooftops and stumbled into tattoo parlors on East Carson which stayed open dangerously late. Some nights we danced questionably with questionable strangers in Hawaiian tiki lounges. Some nights we stripped to run through the fountain at The Point then headed to the diner for Smiley cookies, our clothes leaving blotches of water on the seats. Some nights we cried, but mostly we laughed. We were working dead-end jobs and living with our parents. We were in love with lovers who didn’t love us back. We were lost and the only thing we knew for certain was our own uncertainty.
I wore a sundress every night that summer. My favorite: the butterfly dress. One easy piece of clothing that I could slip on (or off) depending upon my mood. I wore the dress until the colors lost their vibrancy. Until the butterfly wings wilted and the cotton was too threadbare to keep me from shivering when the nights turned cold. Autumn arrived suddenly, unannounced and uninvited. Summer was over.
By September, one of us got promoted. Another got engaged and another bought a house. I moved back to New York. I took the butterfly dress but never wore it again. It was too flimsy to wear among the towering skyscrapers and would never survive the breeze from the subway grates. The dress is packed away somewhere and when I think of it, I think of the summer I did nothing, the summer we were all a bit lost. And I realize that the very best people in the world to be lost with are the ones who have known you forever.
For Will 9/29/12