It is still fairly crazy to me how far I have come over the past couple of years. I said to my friend recently that I am enjoying being engaged so much, I do not want to miss a minute of this time, expedited though it is. However, it isn’t just our engagement that has made this particular time in my life so happy. A lot of changes had to occur to get here, and I am thankful every day these changes happened, whether by chance or by my own doing.
I’ve been super into capsule wardrobes lately and the simplicity they offer, and when I was designing mine recently, I uncovered this adorable, white eyelet lace wrap dress I picked up from Ann Taylor Loft roughly five years ago. (Luckily, white appeared within my capsule color palette, and so this dress made it into the “keep” pile.) I remember trying this dress on at the store, something I rarely take the time to do, and feeling like I looked amazing. I bought it, but never found the right time to wear it. It always seemed too “bridal” to me to wear a white dress, and so I just decided to save it until I was engaged and could wear it to a shower or rehearsal dinner or something.
The time is nigh, right? Wrong. When I pulled the dress out of the inner crevices of my closet, I saw that it was covered in black and brown stains, from the collar all the way down to its cutesy little midi bell skirt. This discovery stopped me right in my tracks.
On June 1st, 2014, my apartment burned down.
Alright, alright, if you know me, you know this story. You may even be a little sick of this story. So, CliffsNotes version: I broke up with my partner of 6 years in February of 2014. I found an apartment I absolutely loved in Bucktown. I felt safe, complete, and happy there. It changed my whole perspective and outlook living there. On May 31st, after Do Division Fest and watching Wet Hot American Summer, I went to sleep, and just a few hours later, at 4am on June 1st, 2014, I found myself desperately escaping a building that was burning down around me.
My boyfriend at the time woke me to an apartment filled with smoke and my poor dog crying for us to awaken. My windows broke before me, as firefighters, already in the building above my garden unit, tried desperately to ax in the glass to ventilate. I heard crash after crash of furniture and roof tiles falling and being thrown out of the apartment above me. Glass rained down everywhere as we ran through it all, sparkling like diamonds and sharply pinching into my bare shoulders.
By 9 am the building was gone.
By 2 pm, I realized my home was gone.
My best friend Brett and my ex-boyfriend moved what we could salvage out the front door while I stood in the rubble and stared. Stared at the life I had only just started to build, the safety and comfort I had only just established, the home I had only just lived in for three months. I was fully in shock, and still was deeply disturbed and devastated by the loss. Brett instructed me to see what I could take from my bedroom closet, mostly to give me a concrete task to focus on. I stuffed tattered, smokey clothing into garbage bags. I pulled dresses and jeans from hangers, each of them wet and stained with the ashy, sooty, water from the high-powered hoses that ended the fire. The white dress was among what was salvaged.
That fire marked the lowest period in my life. That fire caused almost two months of homelessness and displacement. That fire caused extreme anxiety and PTSD symptoms in me that led me to therapy and medication to help me cope. That fire took years to rebuild from, emotionally, mentally, physically, financially, and socially. But rebuild I did, to become better than I was, and lead a life better than I’d had ever before. That’s not to say, though, that I don’t still have my fearful moments.
My fiance has watched me crumble and have trouble focusing at the slightest smell of burning. He has watched me check that the burners are off 11 times before leaving to go to a bar. He has held me as I watched a building in our neighborhood burn on the 3 year anniversary of my own fire. He even watched an episode of This Is Us with me when I realized that Jack’s death was a result of a house fire.
I believe I am healed, but I am fragile.
And when I found that dress and those stains last week, my gut instinct was to crumble. BUT – I did not.
I am living happier and fuller than I ever have, but I could not and would not be here without the pains and struggles of my past. Can you truly appreciate the good times if you do not know suffering? I appreciate every minute of my time and the people I know, because I also know what life was like on the flip side, before I knew what I know now.
So, no. I did not crumble. I grabbed my OxiClean stain stick and scrubbed the living shit out of those stains. Scrubbed what I had neglected to truly try to get rid of over the last four years. I threw those stains in my washer on high heat. I tumbled dry on low. And at long last, those stains are GONE. And that dress WILL be worn to a shower or rehearsal dinner or something.
That dress was bought and intended for a happy ending, and much like I have worked hard to give myself one, I should give it the very same respect.