I’d been working on the outfit for days, even if I didn’t have a place to wear it. It was an old Winnie-the-Pooh Halloween costume, but it still fit, though it was more of a short-legged jumper at this point. A bright golden yellow formed the sunny background to the spot of cherry red that was emblazoned on the chest in the shape of a heart. I sprinkled it with sequins and glued them on, then outlined the heart with a thin velvet ribbon that was gorgeously on the border between lavender and purple. It stayed in my closet for when I wanted to wear something special, and I would add a sequin or two whenever I happened upon such magical flotsam and jetsam. A feather or two may have found their way onto the outfit as well, as feathers tend to do in my presence.
Despite my love of it, this wasn’t anything I’d wear in front of people. It was never my intent to show off or put it on for anyone other than the stuffed animals in my bedroom, and certainly not for anyone outside my immediate family. I just loved the way it looked, and loved the way it looked in the mirror when it was on. That was enough then, and it’s still enough now. There was comfort in surrounding myself with prettiness, a safety in being in such close proximity to beauty. The colors of the red and purple together, the sparkle of the glue-gobbed sequins, and the vibrant corn-hued backdrop were indubitably a mess, but I loved it all. Most infantile taste is garish at best, but the brightest beginnings can be just as auspicious as the quieter ones.
My parents didn’t do much entertaining, so when they did it was always an event. On a Saturday night, they were having a few old neighbors over who had moved to Florida but still visited once a year. It was a special occasion, as much for the rarity of the long journey that got them there as for the uncommon dining formality, in which we got to eat in the formal dining room (and slip under the table before the meal was done, as kids tend to do).
I distinctly remembered our former neighbor ~ an elegant blonde woman who personified fabulousness in a way that had me wondering how she had ever landed in Amsterdam, New York. She was brash and funny and outspoken, and I loved that feistiness. She was also bold in her taste, with a big bag that she rummaged in for sunglasses or other fancy accoutrements during the brief course of her stay. It was my first glimpse of glamour. My mother had a chest-drawer full of pretty scarves and a jewelry box filled with gold and silver, but I always sensed she was more practical in her style. I longed for the ridiculous gaudy sparkle of my grandmother’s costume pieces, or the shimmering bugle beads of her ornamental, if impractically small, purse.
Our glamorous neighbor sat on the living room couch and talked to me like I was an adult. Part of me was scared, part of me was thrilled, and part of me felt like someone was finally listening. Unbeknownst to anyone, and perhaps even to herself, she had detected something in me that no one had acknowledged. I don’t know whether it was just that I was gay or different, but at the time I knew that it was something special.
Somehow we got around to discussing my Winnie-the-Pooh-on-drag-acid outfit, and she encouraged me to put it on. I was a shy boy, but in her exuberance I sensed acceptance, an unconditional sort of acceptance that was somehow foreign to me. I bounded upstairs and slipped into it. Almost too shy to come back, I sheepishly re-entered the living room. (Actually, I think I may have cartwheeled in and then crumpled to the floor trying to disappear from view. Such is the bane of the painfully-introverted extrovert.) She summoned me over to her, where she put her hand upon my sequined heart, admiring the not-so-fine handiwork and exclaiming over its creativity and beauty. It was genuine praise, coupled with a knowing glint in her eye. That’s how I read it anyway, and that’s what mattered.
She saw something in me that my parents hadn’t seen. Or if they had, they never let on. It was something I had not yet seen in myself but something so special and so emboldening that at that moment my life changed forever, even at such a young age. Three decades later I still think back to that night and remember the feeling. Whenever I sense my confidence faltering, I recall how impressed she was by a few messily-glued sequins on an old Halloween costume. Sometimes, a confident façade is enough to stave off the cruelty of the world until you can gain the real thing back.
I’m sure I’m the only one who remembers it but I remember it distinctly and clearly as if it had happened yesterday. It has had that much of an effect on me. It was the first time someone saw something special in store for me. It was the first time someone encouraged me. It was the first time I felt like my creativity had worth.
It meant that I might have worth too.Back to Blog