Thursday, April 18, 2013

Les Souvenirs: Reflections of an Overdressed Boston Girl

In French, “les souvenirs” means memories or recollections; as a verb, souvenir means to remember. I think it’s interesting how in English, souvenirs is something we ascribe to tangible things, things that you can hold in your hand, purchase at a flea market or an airport gift ship, and carry home with you. For the traveler, souvenirs are a way of conjuring memories, objects that symbolize a place and what that place meant to us, who we were then, and where we were headed. For me, my wardrobe is cache of souvenirs. Every morning, as I leaf through my dresses, I find myself coursing through my own history. Every hanger holds a relic—a reminder of who I was with, where I was, who sold it to me, or what happened to me the first or last time I wore it. Even stains and missing buttons are little footnotes of my own clumsiness. My dress collection is a richer, more accurate diary than I ever could have written. Often times, that’s the way I prefer it.
I have agonized over how to write about the changes that have recently taken place this week. I wanted to choose all of the right words and carefully crafted phrases so that I could process this on my own terms. But I realize now how foolish it is to think I ever have that kind of control, over language or life, or over how those two are received in print. No matter how I choose to render this, it will always be incomplete, but that’s okay. That’s part of the frustrating singularity of memory and experience: you can never fully translate it to someone else. You can describe it, trying to be exact as possible, but there will always be things that don’t exist in our limited vocabulary, feelings we don’t have precise enough words for.
Many of the dresses in my collection harken back to home for me: Boston, and all its surrounding settlements. This particular dress was the last dress I bought from Vintage Revenge before Denise closed up shop last spring. I have such fond memories of that store and I miss terribly the endearing second-hand-store gossip that came customary with every purchase.  I remember that this dress was an early birthday present to myself and I wore it that year to Cuchi Cuchi to celebrate the beginning of my twenty third year with a small gathering of friends. I called it my Disney Princess Dress because that’s how I felt wearing it. And also because it reminded me of the water in Switzerland—this surreal shade of blue that seemed purposely dyed that way to stupefy tourists in wonder.  Being that I don’t lead quite the lavish lifestyle that my closet would have you believe, many of my formal vintage dresses spend more time on hangers than flouncing about in sunshine. This particular dress, I have only had the chance to wear twice—with the second time being a few weeks ago, when I simply made the executive decision to make my own occasion. Some days, you just need to throw on a fancy dress and go gallivanting about with your fabulous photographer friend. Now, I’m really glad that I did.
These pictures were taken a few weeks ago in the Boston Gardens, just two blocks away from where the bombings occurred at the marathon finish line. This is the part where I gulp and freeze up. Something inside just aches when I think about how this place that I walked through, absentmindedly, hundreds of times—where I would occasionally plant myself against a tree between classes to read a book or work on a short story—is now forever associated with violence and senseless tragedy. My heart goes out to the victims of this attack and their loved ones. I cannot possibly imagine the tremendous sense of shock and grief they must feel. I know that my sadness pales in comparison to that, but still, I cannot deny the profound effect that this act has had on me.
That night, as I sat with my friends in a restaurant in Cambridge, feeling so many things and understanding none of them, the television screens kept replaying the footage of the explosions over and over. And the thing that struck me most was how unfamiliar that scene truly was. A few days earlier, I had walked through Copley Square on my way to tutor at the Boston Public Library, and I remember they were setting up the bleachers for the marathon. The scene being replayed all around me bore no resemblance to the Copley Square I knew—the Copley Square of farmers’ markets, and book fairs, the Copley Square where I spent my lunch breaks when I worked at H&M on Newbury St. This Copley Square was filled with smoke, blood, and panic. Every time the video played, I had to keep telling myself: this is real, this is real, this is real—this isn’t some foreign place; this is my home and it has just been attacked. And, I remember being angry with the restaurant staff. How could they keep this on, over and over? It seemed cruel.
And it was. But cruel or not, it’s real, and turning it off doesn’t make it go away. Things are just different. Every memory I have of Boston will now come attached with a qualifier of before or after the bombing. Part of me really hates that, feels it’s unfair, a complete contamination of my memories and my hometown. But that part of me is still grieving this, and the initial stage is fairly selfish and unable to accept change. Days later, the wound is still fresh but I understand now how little claim I have to indulgent forms of mourning like this, and how purposeless it is to spend any prolonged period of time holding resentments like these. Instead of despairing about how things will never be the same, I think it’s important not to resign myself to wasteful negative, emotions like bitterness and anger—and instead focus on finding ways to help, to care, to love.  

We can never undo the violence that was inflicted on our city, especially not if we focus on the pain, but we can band together and try to find ways to heal. Seeing so many people reach out to help in different ways gives me hope, and inspires me to find a way to be useful. Right now, the primary ways to help out are through donating blood or contributing to the Boston One Relief Fund. But, Bostonians are a resilient and resourceful people, and I have no doubt that in the coming weeks, we will see a wide variety of different types of volunteer opportunities, community efforts, and creative approaches to providing support. I know I will be looking for ways to be personally helpful, to turn compassion into action, and I hope you will, too—in the way that makes the most sense to you.

In the meantime, I am not going to let these bombings replace my memories of a city that has meant so much to me. I have resolved to make new memories, ones that include many more cameos from my fancy vintage party dress collection. I say, life is short; wear what makes you happy.

1950s Blue Lace Chiffon Party Dress ~ Vintage Revenge
Vintage Basket Purse ~ Davis Square Flea Market
Vintage Peal Necklace ~ a gift from my mother
Seychelles Pearl Peep Toe Pumps ~ DSW

1 comment:

  1. so well written. i agree with your sentiments, exactly. i haven't been able to write anything about the tragic events either- it's so surreal and so sad!
    lets hope for better days to come!