It’s still dark at this hour on the west coast. I’m nearly adjusted to the time change and it technically is morning now, but still dark. I look out the window and see twinkling lights in the hills, tiny constellations I could make up names for, like the small beret, or the smiling frog. I don’t think they are streetlights as they are in such a random pattern. I think I’m facing east so should be able to watch the sun rise. But I could be wrong about that. It’s funny that sunrise happens every day but still brings me a sense of awe. It’s like the full moon every month; it always seems special.
Monday of this week marked two years since Hannah left us. I purposely put off the trip west to be home for that. I wanted to spend the day honoring her in some way. Jane had planned to have Hannah’s dresses photographed that day and invited me to be there. I was happy about that. Hannah was a fashion designer. She had a unique style and had made dozens and dozens of dresses, no two alike. I’d never seen a product shoot before and it was fascinating. Jane, Nancy, and I arrived at the studio with (maybe a hundred) dresses and a cement dress form, another Hannah-original. The heavy sculpture was a beautiful size eight, with a rough surface and elegant neckline. As two of us carried it into the studio, I wondered who the model was and how she made it. She stood on a long metal pipe that screwed into a wheel rim. It’s fabulous. I wondered if Hannah named her?
I have a dress form of my mother’s. She’s named Esmerelda. My mother and I always referred to her by name. Once, I was telling my mother I’d been asked to make bride maid’s gowns for a friend’s wedding and she asked, “Would you like to borrow Esmerelda? She might be helpful.”
Esmerelda is ancient. Her skin is tattered. Her innards are rusty. She’s an old model. We could make her into different sizes by reaching into her armholes and loosening her wing nuts. Then we could spread her sections to the size we wanted her to be. She was so accommodating. But she doesn’t work great anymore. Now designers and seamstresses use models of individual sizes. They are expensive, but much easier to work with. I borrowed one from Hannah to make Rachael’s wedding dress. I kept it for a long time. I gave it back to Jane a year ago. She said she wanted to hang her necklaces on it. It’s soft. Esmerelda isn’t soft. I want to refurbish her. I want to replace the fabric that is peeling off her cardboard frame. I want to sand and oil all her joints. I want to do that in memory of Hannah. Until I do, she sits patiently in a corner with my marathon medals hung around her neck. Every once in awhile I thank her for being patient.
The photo shoot took two hours. Each dress was hung in front of a screen, the lighting adjusted, the hems straightened, the shadows evaluated. Every detail mesmerized me. Hannah’s design, the composition of the shot, the decision about which to hang, all were fascinating to me. I felt as if I were watching a time lapse of an orchid blooming. I watched Jane and Nancy collaborate about which looked better together, which colors, which length. I saw their deep friendship, their artistic eye. They worked in synch.
Nancy was there that terrible evening two years ago. I sat across the room and watched as she passed Jane’s chair and knelt. She silently reached up and put her arms around Jane’s neck, and lay her head on Jane’s arm. It seemed like slow motion. Without a word, Jane laid her head against Nancy’s. Nancy cried. Jane didn’t.
As each dress was photographed, I took it down and rehung it, then packed it into the garment bag. As soon as the bags were full I put them back in the car. I wanted to be helpful. It made me feel better.
I think what I have is survivor’s guilt. I can write about it now, since I’ve told Jane. That took me awhile. I somehow feel like she got my phone call, took the hit, suffered for me. We had just finished lunch. We’d been talking about the frock swap, men, spring, work, kids, just stuff. Just like always. It was a normal Friday. I’d been worried about my son and talked about that. Jane listened. We’d finished lunch. The waiting room was filling up. We needed to get back to work. I got a text saying it’d been a good morning. He was feeling better, which meant I felt better. I typed back some response, I can’t remember what, though I could look back and find it. I was relieved. I felt for the first time in a long time, I was not about to get a terrible phone call. And then Jane’s phone rang. My mind got scrambled and I thought there had been some huge mistake. She’d gotten the call meant for me. The call, as Sam said at the funeral, that every parent has imagined, but no parent is prepared for. It still haunts me.
I can see the slightest hint of daylight behind the hills, but the constellations remain. It seems no one is up yet. I heard it raining all night. I’d hoped to bask in some warm sun, but am happy for the rain, the trees, the fruit, the reservoirs, for everything the drought hasn’t killed yet.
It keeps getting lighter, whether it’s raining or not.