My Distant Me in White
Have you ever had that thing happen where Life gave you lemons and you squeezed them into a big frosty pitcher, and you were all “Yay me, making lemonade!” and then someone took a drink and started making noises like “pah” and “urkh” and “blggk”?
That’s because it turns out that you need more than just lemons to make lemonade.
What you made, idiot, was lemon juice.
Well, that’s pretty much all you need to know about the beige dress I bought to replace the blue-lace dress that I’d bought for my mid-life wedding and then undergrew (ingrew? Whatever the opposite of “outgrew” would be), and then had brilliantly altered (if, by “altered,” we mean scrunched up, folded over, and tacked down like a piece of wrapping paper that had been cut too large for its gift).
It’s not that I didn’t see the opportunity Life had given me with this particular basket of lemons. Believe me, in the weeks that have passed since my last post on the topic, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder why it was that I didn’t just order the same blue-lace dress in a smaller size. The thing is, while I’m pretty good at figuring out what you are thinking (because I was bitten by a telepathic spider while on a field trip in high school), I’m woefully bad at determining just what it was I had been thinking the minute I’ve moved on from any particular thought.
For instance, a few hours ago, while gathering laundry from one of my daughters’ bedrooms, I had what I’m almost certain was a great insight into why it was that I’d hated that beige dress, and I was about to put down the laundry basket and run to the computer to get it down when I glanced at my daughter’s iPad and remembered that it had been playing an Abba song when I went in to wake her this morning. Which got me to wondering why the song itself hadn’t woken her, and from there it was just a short hop to trying to remember exactly which Abba song it had been that was playing, and within moments I was mentally looping “Waterloo,” trying to parse the lyrics that my teenaged self had probably misheard.
Was it: “In my mind, a Waterloo, Napoleon surrendered/ Whoa yeah, and I have met my distant me in white, I think, in a way,” and if so, what, exactly, did those things mean? More important: what did I used to think those things meant, since I don’t remember wondering about their meaning before? Something about a marriage, probably, since the distant me was wearing white. Unless, maybe, she was in a hospital? But why was my mind a Waterloo, and was I happy that Napoleon had given up on its battlefield?
And then I remembered that it’s 2013, or maybe 2014, and that I don’t have to stand around holding a laundry basket and wondering about lyrics when I can just do what the young people do and use the Google on the machine. And so I did.
And then it occurred to me that it wasn’t so much a case of me mishearing as it was of Abba mis-singing.
My, my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender/ Oh yeah, and I have met my destiny in quite a similar way/ The history book on the shelf/ Is always repeating itself.
What the what? I asked myself, like a history book, repeating on the shelf. How could these lyrics make any more sense than the ones in my head? And what sort of person who isn’t so much a person as she is maybe a wise old animated bear starts a song with the words “My, my?”
Waterloo – I was defeated you won the war/ Waterloo – Promise to love you for ever more/ Waterloo – couldn’t escape if I wanted to/ Waterloo – knowing my fate is to be with you/ Waterloo – finally facing my Waterloo.
So the song was about marriage? But, like, a very brief marriage, since the bride gets exiled to Elba the minute the ceremony ends?
So then I got to wondering exactly how it was that whoever wrote this song came up with the concept. I imagined the members of Abba sitting around in some Bjorn guy’s basement, eating lutefisk pizza and throwing out song ideas like “Ja, okay, so what if love is like war?” and someone saying, “You mean, all your men get killed and then you lose, and you have to get married?” And the first one goes, “Ja, ja, that’s good! Let’s make it our song’s metaphor, ja?” And then they jump up to search the history book on the shelf, but they can’t find any famous Swedish battles.
And then their little grandmother, who looks very much like a wise old animated bear, comes down the steps carrying a plate of Napoleon pastries for dessert. “My, my!” she exclaims when she sees how busy they are, and then suddenly everyone’s singing.
My, my, I tried to hold you back but you were stronger/ Oh yeah, and now it seems my only chance is giving up the fight/ And how could I ever refuse?/ I feel like I win when I lose.
Right? Like, if they’d actually sat down and written the song, they would have noticed the way the line “and now it seems my only chance is giving up the fight” completely fucks up the meter and kind of dribbles its way to the catchier lines, so that if you’d never read the lyrics, you’d just la-di-blah-blah the words in your head until you got to the ones that didn’t suck?
Which, it struck me, is exactly why my teenaged self hadn’t questioned the lyrics: because it had just la-di-blah-blahed through the ones that didn’t rhyme or make any obvious internal sense, so that what I was mostly hearing, after “my distant me in white,” was “Waterloo, blah-di blah-blah-ba-di Waterloo.”
Which, it then struck me, is exactly the way I often write, la-di-blah-blahing until I get to whatever it is I really mean to say. And while, ideally, I then go back and edit out the la-di-blahs, sometimes I end up with entire passages of them, and with no catchy musical hooks to keep my audience with me until we get past them. Which -Waterloo – made me remember my Waterloo. My Waterloo: forgetting the thing I was telling you.
And no it was not about shoes. It was about the dress that I’d chooooose!
And then I remembered that I’d had a great insight, and now it was gone. Or, at any rate, it was now buried under a non-stop looping of a catchy but incredibly stupid song.
I tried retracing my steps, telling myself the story of how, just after I’d discovered that my blue lace dress no longer fit, I’d dragged my teenaged daughters to the mall, and this time they weren’t nearly as nice about it. But every time I tried to write a sentence, it got translated into Abbanian:
So I packed the girls up for the mall/ Where they didn’t want to be at alllll!
Mother do/ You have some friends who could go with you?/ ‘Cause it’s true: we’re getting pretty sick of dressing you.
And then I remembered the thing about the lemons. By which I mean that I remembered thinking about the thing about the lemons back in August, when I realized I needed to redo the entire process of picking out a wedding dress, and thinking, hey, Life has given me lemons, and now I will get to make a much more beautiful lemonade! and then realizing, as I was trying on my twenty-seventh dress at Nordstrom, that beauty isn’t really an issue where lemonade is concerned. That Life had given me lemons, but unless Life also felt like giving me some sugar and ice cubes and maybe a big old silver spoon with which to stir it all up, I should just buy this Adrianna Papell lace fit-and-flare dress in beige, and go home.
And so I did.
I left it hanging in my closet for a couple of days, telling myself that it probably looked better on me than I thought it did, but when I finally broke down and tried it on again, it didn’t. It looked like a beige lace fit-and-flare dress that kind of squashed my chest. Because it was summer, most of me was pretty much also beige, so, if you squinted, it was sort of hard to tell where the dress and I left off – there was flare, here and there, and equally beige was my hair.
And then I remembered that I don’t even like lemonade. I crawled into bed to watch So You Think You Can Dance with my daughters, thinking about how Life was like the worst Secret Santa, ever, and then the television screen filled with Cat Deeley, the hostess of SYTYCD, and she was wearing the most amazing little 1960’s-era bell-sleeved, empire mini-dress in a blinding white.
And then I remembered what my brain had burbled up when I saw that dress: my distant me in white.
Because THIS, I realized, was what I really wanted to look like on my wedding day, minus the Cat Deeley. (Well, I mean, of course I’d want to look like Cat Deeley, but I would have to grow at least a foot taller, lose about twenty years as well as pounds, and then buy a Cat Deeley mask. And a wig. And an accent.) This, and not blue lace, and definitely not beige fit-and-flare, was my ideal mid-life wedding dress.
So now, sitting at my computer, laundry basket at my feet, I thought: wait, what? Was this my morning’s insight? If so, I must have had it because I’d heard “Waterloo” on my daughter’s iPad, and it had brought back words that it turned out weren’t actually even in the song.
Thus, as insights go, this one was really pretty feeble: lyrics I’d misheard nearly forty years ago made me not wear the second dress I’d bought for my mid-life wedding.
Which begs the question: which were the lemons Life had given me? The first dress, not fitting? The second, not flattering? Was the distant me in white the sugar, or more lemons, and if my brain had linked an image of my wedded self with a song about how marriage is what happens when you lose a battle, then this entire post was turning out to be a big fat la-di-blah-blah.
Still, sometimes, when Life gives you la-di-blah-blahs, you have to sing.
So I cranked my computer’s volume to Anthem and, in my best Swedish accent, began to sing along with YouTube’s frozen-frame photo of Abba, circa 1975: “So how could I evah re-fyus? I fee like I wean when I loooous!”
And then ten or twenty minutes later, the phone rings, and my husband wants to know what I’ve been doing, and I tell him what I would tell anyone who catches me in the middle of dancing around a laundry basket going “Whoa whoa whoa whoa Waterloo”: “I’m writing.”
“About the beige dress?”
“Okay, well, don’t wanna interrupt. Love you.”
“Love you,” I say, and in my mind, a Waterloo, Napoleon did surrender.
Gettysburg/ Now that’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard/ Vietnam/ Kind of rhymes with Antietam.