Cast of Characters
Sarah: 50s, middle-class background, college-educated, professional
Anywhere in the United States or Canada
The little black dress. “LBD” in advertising lingo. They've been pitching it to us all our lives, right? (advertising voice) “Banish all your nothing-to-wear dilemmas with the versatile staple little black dress. It has you covered whatever your plans. Opt for a sexy style or keep it simple but chic, with the little black dress you can take from day to night with ease. Easily styled up or down, the LBD is the foolproof go-to for any occasion.”
This is not the dress I secretly bought in high school because I'd read in Glamour magazine that every woman should have at least one little black dress. I so wanted to be glamorous. I must have looked at what I was: a girl playing at being a woman. I smoked my first cigarette then, to complete the picture. The next … what's her name—you know, that forties actress, husky voice. Married Bogart? Begins with “L” I think. Damn. It'll come to me ...
This is not the dress I slipped easily out of the first time I had sex. Oh, Roberto. He undid the buttons so slowly and exquisitely with his long fingers, making me shiver. Roberto, o Roberto, wherefore art thou now, Roberto? Gone, gone, long gone. Like so many things. What we remember, what we forget.
This is not what I wore to my first job interview, trying so hard: “I am diligent and super organized, my only weakness is I work too hard!” And on my honor, I will try to serve God and my country, to help people at all times, and to live by the Girl Scout Law. All those years trying to live up to someone my father would be proud of, trying to live up to my name, Sarah, which means “woman of high rank.” Always striving, never good enough. Always daydreaming some alternate, better, bolder self.
This is not the dress I tore off like a madwoman giving birth to my son. Oh, the miracle of him, his sweet milk smell, translucent eyelids, his fierce, delicate fist that grasped my finger.
This is not the dress I wore to his band concerts and baseball games, his graduation. Certainly not to his wedding, even though I knew she was not the right woman for him.
This is not the dress I had on the night I was … I won't say molested—that sounds cozy, like nested. Accosted? that sounds like the price you pay. Hurt’s too slight, injured could be accidental. Violate is closer, violet like bruises or storm clouds gathering. No, the right, the only, word is raped. One syllable, like axe or rage. But to say “I was raped” is to use the passive voice, a voice without agency. “Accidents happen.” “The glass broke.” No, he raped me. Why? (beat) Why? (pause) It happened. To me. By him. So many things I have forgotten, but this I remember. “And that's all I have to say about that.”
“That which does not kill you makes you strong/sets you free.” So they say. Free to be afraid, free to be alone, to be furious. Free to be widowed. This is not what I was wearing the night of the accident. I was the accident. I was the one driving, controlling one ton of steel and glass—and then not controlling it. I had been drinking. We had been. Dancing, drinking, some dark quarrel. I got lost, took a wrong turn …
This is not the dress I put on for my husband's funeral, in a daze. My friend chose which necklace and earrings, which shoes to wear. The wind whipped, such a cold day. March 16, two years ago. Crows kept landing on the cemetery lawn. I loved him in a deep and complicated way. I could have done better by him if I had been a better person. Freer, fuller, less constrained. I loved him the only way I knew how. This is not the dress I wore to grief group meetings or to sit alone those long nights when I didn't want to talk to anyone. Is that when I knew I would always feel lost?
Whatever was I wearing when I first heard the words “early-onset dementia”? Or the many days when I sat staring out the window, wondering how much time I'd have before I would not be able to take action? I needed time to take care of things, to say goodbye—but I couldn't wait too long. I had to be able to carry out my plan before I couldn't remember where I put my keys.
So I went shopping. Found this little black dress. With pockets. I'll wear it the day after tomorrow, no matter the weather. The colder the better. My car will tell me the way. Basically just drive east until there is no more road, just sand, and water. This dress has enough drag, deep pockets. Remember that writer who filled her pockets with stones and walked into the river. You know who I mean. She wrote the best-ever ending: “Against you I fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death! The waves broke on the shore.”
This is that dress. This versatile, daring, necessary little black dress.
Poet and playwright Debra Kaufman has written over two dozen short and five full-length plays. She produced Illuminated Dresses, a collaborative project, in the fall of 2019. She is the author of four full-length poetry collections: God Shattered, Delicate Thefts, The Next Moment, and A Certain Light, as well as three chapbooks. She received a North Carolina Arts Council playwriting scholarship and two grants from the Central Piedmont Regional Artists Hub Program. www.debrakaufman.info