Yesterday I desperately needed Band-Aids for a bloody heel blister I gave myself on my compulsive, hours-long walks around West Hollywood and the Fairfax area of Los Angeles, so I went to Target for the first time in over a year. I generally walk miles south on Gardener, zig-zagging back home on residential streets to look at the weird Chateauesque, fairy-tale buildings and cozy arts and crafts bungalows I like best along the route, daydreaming about the color I’d paint my door if I lived in one, the curtains I would have, an entirely different life with different details for the unique set of circumstances that might culminate in me living inside each perfect box.
Masked like a bandit in the mostly empty Target, I pushed my cart up and down each aisle because there was a sense that this was my one chance to get things I’ve gone without this entire pandemic—new socks, Clorox wipes, a gel insert to potentially stanch my bleeding heels for good. Also, I was very stoned, as I am every afternoon for my city pacing. In the back of the clothes section, I paused in front of a silky, salmon-colored lounge suit that looked like something the heroine of a 1980s primetime soap opera might being wearing as she received a late-night phone call to inform her that her missing husband didn’t die in that plane crash; authorities had found him in a seaside nunnery, suffering from total amnesia but alive.
“Oh thank God,” that woman, inexplicably wearing mascara in the middle of the night, might breathe into the receiver before collapsing into pretty tears born of actualized hopes. I bought the silky pajamas.
At home, at night, I scroll Instagram in yet another endless loop while simultaneously cycling through teen soap operas from the ’90s. It started with Dawson’s Creek, which reminded me that I haven’t seen My So-Called Life in years, and now Freaks and Geeks is back on Hulu, so I figured I might as well throw that into the mix as well. What these shows have in common, besides being teen dramas, is that they are teen dramas from when I was a child or a teenager experiencing things for the first time alongside the characters. Each series has a young woman who thinks she’s one type of person but realizes she might not be, or maybe she is, but is also something else, and can potentially be a great many things all at once.
“People always say how you should be yourself,” Angela Chase says in a My So-Called Life interior monologue. “Like yourself is this definite thing. Like a toaster or something.”
The clothing Instagram’s algorithms think I want look nothing like the clothes I have—they are generally white yet lightly blushing with hints of pastel, whimsical. One brand the app suggested, Unlogical Poem, has an entire collection dedicated to Emily Dickinson, author of the overused sentiment “Hope is the thing with feathers,” a pat little bit of stanza I thought I hated.
But I scroll the almost painfully whimsical designs and daydream about where I might wear them: the almost psychotically cheerful doll-print prairie dress on a weekend trip to stay at the equally delusional Madonna Inn, a sequined cherub jacket with a pair of white go-go boots I wore exactly once before quarantine shelved them to the Gay Asstrology dance party in Silverlake, the evil eye pearl bag I’d wear crossbody to wander the labyrinth of Melrose Trading Post outdoor flea market, kind of drunk from lunch. All of these things, like the firsts in the teenage soap operas, I am fantasizing about doing for the first time again. The first time since the pandemic and stay-at-home and full year of secluded normalcy. I am hoping, is what I’m doing.
The last time I stayed at home, mostly involuntarily alone, was 2016-17, the year I found out I had breast cancer on my birthday, the same day my father made the decision to take the woman who raised me off life support and inform me via text. Mastectomy, reconstruction, chemotherapy, depression, etc. Just like I’ve lived this quarantine before; I’ve told this story. I wore black bra tops and pleather shorts to treatments, eyes darkened beyond my sleeplessness circles by even blacker rings of liner, and emerged from that quarantine with an aesthetic I called Dumb Goth Whore that has mostly been deconstructed to ripped oversized band tee shirts, bike shorts, and Doc Martens (the fuckers that gave me that blister) during covid.
But the difference this time is that the misery isn’t contained within my body. The whole world feels it. Last time, as my hair grew back into a pixie cut I dyed old-lady grey, I scrolled Instagram the same as I do now, ready to go out but with nowhere to go. Instead of phantasm partywear, I mostly found that my friends had moved on in my illness, having dim sum, seeing some pretentious looking band at the Brooklyn Bowl, cheersing champagne before a showing of Marie Antoinette in Williamsburg. It all looked so stupid and fake, likely because I wasn’t invited and it felt humiliating to have ever hoped I would be. Eventually, my “friends” told me I’d been too negative during my cancer and they were really trying to stay positive, so I ghosted them all and slunk away to California, taking only my skimpy all-black wardrobe with me.
And maybe I’m shopping for gauzy, white, quirky poet agoraphobia/wedding attire instead of funereal underwear as daywear because I’ve already had the funeral for whoever I thought I was and learned the excruciating way that simply living long enough to see oneself altered is utterly humiliating. Hoping is not.
So I bought the sequined cherub jacket and the pearl bag despite the fact that I’ve never heard of this company before about a month ago. Their sizing might be weird. The quality might be bad. I might not ever have anywhere to wear my Dumb Baroque Spinster attire. But here’s hoping.