You know, there are some events in our lives that are SO momentous, that we must repeat them every so often in order that the following generation might understand. This is one of those events in my life....
I was going to my first formal occasion in many years. Wonder Sweetie, my dashing and handsome husband, was to attend a formal military function, and I was going to be on his arm to drink in every minute of it.
I love military functions. I love the pomp and the ceremony and the tradition. I love the mess dress with its white shirt, and wide cummerbund. I love to see racks of ribbons on a tight-at-the-waist, straight-at-the-shoulder mess dress jacket. I love to see the wives in long, beautiful gowns, with sparkling eyes and ruby red lips. I love flags and honor guards and tables with TWO table cloths on them. I love the excitement of the hunt in finding my name printed in clear script on place cards. I love it all.
The invitation read “mess dress”, which meant, for the spouses, that we are to be in formal attire. Some choose to eschew protocol and wear day clothes or work clothes, but not me. I love to dress up, and I believe it shows honor to respect these occasions with dressing the very best I can.
And besides, it was no problem. I had a dress already. Years ago I had found a dress on sale at Sears and it had been kept in eager anticipation in the back of my closet for just such an occasion. So a few days before the ceremony, I tried it on…
I will spare you the gruesome details, but I will give you one word that sums up how I looked in that dress: unfortunate.
I did not WANT to look “unfortunate”, I wanted to look RAVISHING. So I set out immediately to buy the most perfect dress that Fairbanks, Alaska had to offer…..and found it The Perfect Dress.
That dress was a testament…a testament of an earnest woman who had gradually awaken over the past year from the sweet dream of youth to the cold light of day that reveals wrinkles, brown patches, or sags. Gone were the days where a careless ponytail was “cute” instead of “frumpy”, where no makeup meant “natural beauty” instead of “tired and worn”. Frilly underwear had been replaced by “foundational undergarments” that were literally engineered, with struts and guywires and spandex to hide 20 years of insults and indiscretions to what was once a girlish figure.
This dress was the counter of all of that. Its color was intoxicating--deep and mysterious like a sapphire worn by a beautiful international spy. It clung adoringly to my waist (which, by the way, is my only body part to defy gravity. It used to be around my belly button but is now nearly hidden under my armpit. Odd location notwithstanding, I still have a bit of a waist and I like to show it off occasionally.).
The dress then flowed away right above the hip in a solemn promise to keep the evidence of my passion for fried foods away from the prying eyes of the public. The skirt was A-line without being too “prom-y”, and hit at the perfect spot on my foot for a night of worry-free walking.
Now, the dress did not stop there! No, dear reader, this dress was so much more! If I liked the dress for what it did for my waist and hips, I loved it for what it did for my shoulders.
See, I am a strong woman. “That is good!”, you might say. No, you do not understand. I have broad, muscular, chub-covered shoulders. The shoulders of a Green Bay Packers lineman. The only thing that balances out my shoulders is the fact that I also wear a size 11 shoe, so thankfully I am still in proportion.
But the unfortunate reality of being a woman who still has a shot at a promising NFL career, is that it is very difficult to find a dress that does not scream “SPRING TRAINING HERE I COME!”. I once, in my foolish youth, wore a dark strapless dress with black opera length gloves. The result was that in my pictures, all that was clearly visible was my stark white shoulders. It looked rather like someone had tried to stuff fully risen bread dough in a black tube sock.
But this dress…ah this dress….
The straps were made of a delicate chiffon and crossed over my shoulders perfectly, cutting their bulk into visually manageable pieces. Not only that, but somehow this dress managed not to draw attention to yet another unfortunate trouble area, the outside spot on my shoulder blade, right behind the arm. You ladies know which part it is. It is that part on your back that squishes above the bra strap and bulges with brazen indiscretion when thin cotton shirts are worn. It is that devil area that no one warned you about, nor has anyone developed a cure for. On me it looks like someone whacked open a can of Hungry Jack biscuits and glued one on each side of my back. Dreadful. But this dress denied that part its evil power.
This dress was nearly perfect. It hid the bad and flattered the good. How could such beauty, generosity, and garment-loyalty be had for a mere $134 dollars? It was a miracle. I was going to wear that dress and I was going to be smashing. I could not wait….
The first rumbling of distant thunder that would become a disaster typhoon happened the night before The Big Event. Wonder Sweetie casually mentioned that there was no hot water, and that I would have to call the repairman in the morning to fix the heater. I sighed and resigned myself to a wipey bath that evening.
The next day was THE day—the day of the Big Event. I called our VERY kind repairman who mentioned that he was full that day, but that he would get over as soon as possible, though it would be after 2pm. No problem, thought I, that gives me MANY hours to prepare myself, as we were to leave the house at 5:30. Wonder Sweetie and I kept a telephone vigil for the repairman. He would call every couple of hours… “Is he there yet?” he would ask. “Nope, not yet, but that is ok” I would reply gamely. I could afford to be game at that point…I had The Perfect Dress.
(One time he asked “Can’t you just go without washing your hair?”. Honestly, if he had asked me to go in flannel pajamas, I could not have been more aghast at the thought. After 48 hours of no shampoo, I was not even going out in my YARD, never mind a formal with The Perfect Dress. I mean, didn’t I owe it to that wonderful dress to do my part? The Dress’s obligations stopped at the neck…it was up to me to do the rest and I was not going to let it down.)
A blithe 2 pm slipped to concerned 3 pm which melted into a VERY stressy 4 pm. At a little after 4 pm the repairman showed, riding in to my rescue in his shining white truck. I mentioned casually that I had a formal to go to and needed the hot water.
At this point, please indulge a bit of digression…..All day I was lamenting my lack of hot water to wash my hair to every living being who would listen. In the lower 48 states, that would have met with gasps and offers of sympathy….perhaps even telethons in my honor to raise money for plumbing supplies and beautiful hats to cover my unclean locks.
However, I live in Alaska. Not only did not even one person offer to put together a telethon for me, but I received no sympathy at all. Period. In fact, instead I was given reproving looks and tales of how they had to heat their own river water to pour into a tin washtub in their kitchen when they were three years old. I was reminded of the fact that I did, indeed, own a functional stove and well and could MAKE my own hot water. If I was looking for sympathy, I was barking up the wrong spigot.
Now, dear reader, I know that I can heat my own water. I know how to wash my hair with nothing but two bottles of Evian, and have actually done so. That was not the point. I did not want to prepare for the Big Event with the Perfect Dress by simultaneously trying to untangle my hair from the drain plug of the bathtub, while blinking shampoo out of my burning eyes and trying to rinse two feet of hair with eight ounces of water. No, that would not do at all. I was rolling the dice on a hot water gamble—I was going to wash my hair with my head held high (not bent over the edge of the tub) or not go at all!
The repair man looked things over. A few turns of the wrench and my hot water was returned…. kinda. After many hours of sitting idle, my tank was filled with lukewarm water. He suggested I wait for another 20 minutes for the water to heat up. That left me less than an hour to fully prepare for the Big Event. Seeing my desperation, he relented “Well, go ahead and give it a try, the pipe is hot. Worse thing that will happen is that the water will be cold.”. That was all I needed to hear! I raced up the stairs and into the shower.
Success! Squeaky clean hair! Well, squeaky clean WET hair, to be more precise, which generally takes all night to air dry. Wonder Sweetie, the darling that he is, offered to run to the store to get me a blow dryer. However, a desperate search revealed an ancient, but still functional dryer, and away I blew.
Now, there is one problem with blow drying my hair. My hair is baby fine, straight as a board, and I have a ton of it. Blow drying serves only to make my hair wholly unmanageable, like trying to comb an impertinent cloud. The odds of me being able to actually STYLE my hair after blowdrying are like winning the lottery while simultaneously being hit by an asteroid. However, I had no choice. I finished drying and commenced to styling my hair.
You know, you would think that someone who had had long hair for as many years as I have would know something about styling it. Nope. Styling hair is as foreign to me as changing the oil in an army tank. However, I am nothing if not ridiculously optimistic about things in which I am completely inept. So I dove into my hair (literally), and tried a style. And another. And another. Each was slightly more hideous than the last. Wonder Sweetie would pop his head in the bathroom door to offer a bit of silent moral support.
(Ok, to be bluntly honest he was probably trying to gently remind me that we were running exceedingly late, but if I had, for one minute, thought he was trying to put on the pressure, I would have smacked him with the hairbrush the next time he popped his head in the door. So we both just wordlessly agreed that he was in a supportive role, not a timekeeper. )
Then it happened. He popped his head in just as I finished another style disaster, and he uttered words that nearly ended his life at the tender young age of 38. He took one look at my hair and said “It’s not bad”.
Please allow me to convey the tone in which he said those three innocent words. He did not use the bright and smiling “Hey! That’s not bad!”, as in “Not too shabby! Come here you vixen you, and bring your gorgeous hair with ya!”.
No no no…..This was offered in that tone that one only offers when it really IS that bad. When someone is trying to stall for time in order to think of something, ANYTHING that is not horrible about what they are seeing.
It is the tone that one uses when consoling a friend who tried a do-it-yourself hair color treatment for the first time ever and managed to lighten just one spot on the crown of the head so it looked like there was always a light pointing at her scalp. Or that one uses to comfort someone who has just forgotten her lines during a monologue and was standing on stage, red faced and dressed in nothing but a pink curtain and fairy wings. (yeah those both happened to me)
Yes, it was THAT tone. And let me tell ya, it did NOT go over well. Down the hair went. It was now T-plus-20-minutes, the sitter is here, Wonder Sweetie is waiting, and we are LATE.
“Forget it. FORGET IT! Just go without me!” I pout at Wonder Sweetie who, at this point, is realizing that he unwittingly started WWIII. He, of course, refuses to go without me and I try one more time…..
SUCCESS!!! WHOOHOO!! My hair FINALLY looks good enough to be seen with the Perfect Dress! Feeling sheepish for blowing up when my hair was only one more hairbrush from submitting to my will, I apologise to Wonder Sweetie and start throwing on makeup like a mad woman. Now THIS I can do…I am a fair woman with a paintbrush, and the worst of the day seems over.
You know when, in hindsight, you see that what seemed to be a wholly inconsequential event actually was the pivot point for the rest of your life? Well that event happened to be my choice of deodorant at that moment. My own deodorant had a distressing habit of going on clear, but turning white. Well of course it would not do to mar the Perfect Dress with cheap deodorant, so I grabbed Wonder Sweetie’s Old Spice.
I love Old Spice. It smells like a man should: crisp, clean, strong without relying on false machismo and pleasant without smelling ridiculously feminine.
And it stays CLEAR. It would not insult the Perfect Dress. I might smell like a man, but I would look like a woman.
I put on the Perfect Dress, and am so happy that I do not even bat an eye when I realize that the shoes I had originally planned to wear did not match. I dove into the closet and found a pair of black pumps. Not beautiful, but functional and comfortable and, as I told my friend SHAW, my feet will be under the table for most of the night anyway. The patoot did mention that my shoes WOULD be seen on the way in and out, but I blew that off—I walk fast and the Perfect Dress was an A-line…it would mask poor shoe choice.
Finally I am ready to go….and only 35 minutes past schedule. I give the baby sitter a few last comments and grab my purse, ready to go. Then I hear Wonder Sweetie say “Oh no, Steph your hair is falling down!”.
Oh the agony! So near and yet so far!
I run to the bathroom to find that, again, Wonder Sweetie has understated the extent of the emergency. My hair did not merely “fall down”…a good 7 inches of it literally EXPLODED out of the top of my hairdo! Honestly, dear reader, I have never seen the like. I now had a tight French twist on the bottom half of my head and a skimpy 7 inch ponytail waving impertinently out the top. For a brief minute I thought that, perhaps, I could just keep the ponytail there, but both Wonder Sweetie and I agreed that that would not work. But since my hair had submitted once, perhaps it could again. I raise my hands to redo my hair and see that….
MY ARMPITS WERE BLUE!
BLUE. As in…..well….BLUE!
Picture the sky in June. The Danube. Frank Sinatra’s eyes. Yeah, THAT blue.
I scream to Wonder Sweetie “MY PITS ARE BLUE!” and we both stand a minute in horror and disbelief. Apparently the Old Spice plus “we are LATE” perspiration interacted with the dye of The Perfect Dress to stain my underarms a distressing shade of “headache blue”. I looked like someone had taken a baseball bat to my armpits.
Which crisis to handle first? Exploding hair or diseased looking underarms?
Now, let me take one moment here, dear reader, for as you know, I am an optimist. There is a thought that rambles occasionally through my head, even now, several months after the Blue Pit Incident. It is something that, truly, I never thought anyone would say. It is this:
“Thank the Lord my hair exploded, or I never would have known my pits were blue”.
That phrase is destined to become my favorite tension breaker. I mean, just think about it…mull it a little….even say it out loud….there is no way to be mad, stress, depressed or angry if you say that out loud “Thank the Lord her hair exploded or she never would have known that her pits were blue.”.
Yes of course it is ridiculous to say out loud…think of how ridiculous it was to LIVE it!
One might expect this to be the pinnacle (or depth) of the night….but the night was not over. Never underestimate the ability for everything that could go possibly wrong to do so….
With a quick hair repair and freshly scrubbed underarms, we raced to the function. We got there during the social half hour, which meant that our tardiness largely went unnoticed. The Perfect Dress and I have made up-- it promised not to stain any more of me odd colors, and I promise not to put on anything else male. I look ravishing….well, not frumpy anyway, and feel like a princess as I take Wonder Sweetie’s handsome arm and we go find our table.
Our table is in the farthest corner from the door. We make small talk with a few people who are from Wonder Sweetie’s squadron as we wait to be seated. I look around at everyone and imagine that everyone is looking at me. They dim the lights and we find our place cards and start to take our seats when…
PING! A bobby pin launches out of my hair and lands on the table two place settings down. It is at this point that I wonder exactly how much pressure my hair is under to explode at one point, then to shoot projectiles at another. I worry briefly that I might be bald at the end of the night as I snatch the bobby pin off of the table and show Wonder Sweetie. He gives me a look that can only be described as “Are you SERIOUS?”. He offers that it might have come from a woman behind me, but I am doubtful.
In any case the the night was beautiful. The general had a brilliant story, the food was fine, and I discovered that black coffee with sugar is the height of all things good that one can expect in a warm beverage. My hair never shot any more projectiles, that I know of anyway, but no one came in with bandaged eyes the following week, so I feel pretty safe. There was one point where I started literally weeping heartbrokenly at the table…but that is another story for another time.
My dress and I made peace. My hair and I made peace. My pits stayed pit-colored….the night was full of blessings and wonders.
(By the by, please feel free to use the line "Thank the Lord her hair exploded or she never would have known that her pits were blue" anytime. I guarantee it to put things in perspective.)