Little Red Dress

Clothes make the man, or so I discovered during one serendipitous moment in my childhood, when a little red dress turned me into a real-life princess… Well, not really, but that’s what it felt like when I wore the new dress my mom bought me.

The dress had a red top and its frilly skirt and puffed sleeves were made of a multicolored quilt-like pattern. It might have seemed like an ordinary dress to others, but to me, prancing around in it and twirling round and round, it was as magical as the gown Cinderella wore to the ball. To make a perfect day even more perfect, my parents took us kids to the Taoist Temple, which back in the days was such a big treat. I remember skipping up and down the stairs of that famous landmark and posing happily for pictures, thinking myself the most fairy-like of creatures. Oh, to have the imagination and innocence of an eleven year old, when a mere dress can put a spring in your steps and a twinkle in your eyes! Life was wonderful. Life was good.

Now there was a party coming up, not a ball at the castle by any standards, but the annual Christmas shindig at my cousins’ house, which in my world was as big an event as there ever could be. I was so excited to show off my new red dress. Little did I know that my little red dress would indeed make it to the party, but not on me.

This is what happened…

I had a cousin who liked to stay with us for the summers and the holidays. Let’s call her Sara. Now Sara was just one or two years older than me, but I was no match to her when it came to the ways of the world. She always managed to outwit and outsmart little naive and trusting me, but she did so with such charm and guile that I never even know what hit me until it was over.

Now at the night of the Christmas party, I was ready to put on my little red dress when I heard Sara say, in our dialect, “Are you sure you wanna wear that tonight? Don’t you wanna save that for a bigger event?”

I thought about it for a minute, then I shrugged and said with stubborn insistence, “Nope. I’m gonna wear this tonight.”

Sara snickered. “You wear that tonight then wash it, then wear it again and again and wash it again and again, and next thing you know, it will be old and faded and it won’t be pretty anymore.”

The wisdom in those words hit me. Sara was right! If I keep wearing my beautiful red dress, it will soon get old and faded. I should really save it for some big event.

I put my little red dress back in the closet and put on my old plain plaid dress, thankful to have a cousin who gave such good advice.

Next thing I know, I heard a big commotion outside. Sara was in the middle of the living room crying her eyes out while my mom was comforting her.

My mom looked at me accusingly. “Your cousin does not have a dress to wear to the party and you didn’t even let her borrow one of yours?”

What! Why, just a minute ago, Sara was all calm and collected, dispensing words of wisdom, and now here she was, hysterical, ready to tear her hair out coz she didn’t have anything to wear? I was dumbfounded.

In the confusion that followed, I heard my mom say, “Ok, Sara, go to the room and pick out a dress to wear, and YOU,” pointing to me in the same accusing tone, “wait in the car with the rest of your siblings!”

In a split second, I went from innocent bystander to accused criminal. I went inside the car with my head bowed down, not even knowing what I was charged with but feeling pretty guilty about it. You know, sometimes mothers have a way of scolding you that make you believe you did it even though you don’t even know what it was you were supposed to have done!

A few minutes later, Sara got inside the car looking like a cat who just swallowed the canary. She had on my little red dress, the one she convinced me not to wear coz I would make it old and faded. My eyes bulged out of my head and I was ready to howl in protest, but one look from my mother convinced me that it was not a smart thing to do at the moment. I swallowed my anger in silence, but I vowed to rip out the dress from her as soon as we got back home. I vowed never to fall for her tricks again.

When we got to the party, everybody complimented Sara on her new red dress while I seethed in the background, vowing vengeance. But it was hard for me to keep a grudge amidst all the food and games, and pretty soon, I was stuffing my face and running around without a care in the world. Sara, meantime, was sly and smart enough to stay out of my sight that night. And it worked, too. Out of sight, out of mind.

When it was time to go home, I had a nagging feeling that I had forgotten something, but I could not for the life of me remember what it was.

In the morning, I woke up to the sound of my mom’s voice scolding me. I think you’ll agree that it’s never a good thing to start your day like that.

“Mom, what are you yelling about? It’s too early…” I complained, but with an impending sense of doom that whatever it was, it was probably my fault again, according to my mom anyway.

“Why did you give away your brand new dress to Sara?” my mom demanded.

“What!” I woke up with a bolt, instantly awake. “I never gave her that dress! I only got to wear it once! Mom, you were the one who told her to go inside my room and get whatever dress she wanted. Remember? I didn’t say anything last night because you were just gonna get mad at me if I did!”

“Well,” my mom said with a resigned tone. “Your uncle just thanked me for giving Sara such a beautiful dress for Christmas. Sorry. It’s hers now. ”

Oh my god! My beautiful red dress! I finally pieced together the jigsaw of Sara’s scheme. I had fallen into one of her traps again. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs and rage at the world for the injustice done to me!!! All I could muster was a little whimper and a tear that escaped down my cheek. My mom just looked at me in sympathy.

Now you would think that with this incident and all other similar incidents in my life that I would be a battle-weary, hardened, embittered old soul, shunning mankind and collecting scars and grudges, but just like that kid at the party who vowed revenge but forgot about it anyway, I continue to trudge along, yes, a little sadder, a little wiser, but still appreciative of every morsel of happiness that life throws my way. The memory of the red dress of my childhood haunts me still, but I have been blessed with dresses that have been far prettier. I could have chosen to dwell in the past, but I choose to move forward. One can either be a victim forever, or be a survivor. I choose the latter.

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