A few weeks ago, I sat down and looked through my memory boxes. There in amongst photographs and letters was a bra to remember.
Strictly speaking, these boxes are stuffed with the objects deemed worthy to survive The Great Black Bag Clear Out of my childhood bedroom. There are five main boxes, all of them bright colours. Mostly pink. Some polka dots. A few adorned with cupcakes. All tucked away for several years.
Open the boxes up and it’s clear to see that they are memory boxes. Photos spill out. I’ve yet to put them all in albums, or even to have the decency to put them in envelopes. There are lots of notebooks and diaries. A few letters here and there. Pieces of jewellery slip out from between photos. There are little ornaments tucked into corners with tiny soft toys. And in one box, there is a bra.
The bra sits on top of everything else in the box. I see the front of the bra first. I don’t have to touch it to remember how soft it is. Picking the bra up, my fingers glide across the shiny black fabric. I stop to trace the lace detail. The underwire holds the shape of the gently padded cups. Turning the bra around I feel the supports around the sides. It was strapless; that I had remembered. The little supports, I’d forgotten them. I found the label and checked the size. A laugh escaped. I couldn’t help it.
The bra was bought to wear underneath my gown for the senior night out. A ceilidh, a DJ, a meal. It was December. I was 16. My dress had taken an age to find. In the end, I found a red silk gown. Empire line. A bodice, too. And just a touch on the expensive side. It was beautiful. I didn’t think I was worthy of this beauty. It fitted, though. It hid my — my problem areas. My best friend held my hand throughout. She was incredible.
I bought black stilettos to go with the dress. I had tights so fitting that they could have given an elephant a waistline. And I had a beautiful grey shawl, borrowed from my mother, as I recall. Perhaps not, but some details will inevitably escape. Unlike some peers, I declined getting a fake tan. The biggest effort I made was getting my hair done very simply. It needed a cut, and I think the hairdresser straightened it. That and a simple nail polish were my contributions to getting ready for the big night on top of the basics.
That dress. I still have it. Still don’t fit back into it. And the bra. I still have the bra. A black bra! A strapless bra! A padded bra! A lacy bra! This was something beyond what usually kept my breasts company.
My date for the night was a classmate and old friend. We had known each other since we were 5. Given my mother was planning to pick me up straight after the dance, my underwear wasn’t there to impress my date. Not that much impression could be made, my date was gay.
That man looked fantastic. I must take a moment to reiterate what we all know: a man in a kilt is a sight to behold. Add a tux and a dress jacket, and well, you’ll have to excuse me for a moment. He was a wonderful partner for the night. Not that we would be drinking with our meal or that we had the capacity to get up to many shenanigans under the watchful eyes of our chaperones, still, I felt safe with him. Especially since I was a high falling risk due to the newly acquired stilettos.
That bra, though. Sitting in our bedroom, boxes around me, I held that bra and wanted to cry. I’m sorry, Teenage Juniper. I’m sorry I treated you so badly. Stroking the black fabric, I know with hindsight that my body was beautiful. I know that the bra gave me beautiful shape. I know that the gown hung beautifully on my body. I know these things, and yet I’m struggling to picture them. There are photographs everywhere around me. There isn’t a single one of that night despite having our pictures taken.
Back at school, we were given the opportunity to order pictures of the night. I chose not to order any. I didn’t think I looked beautiful. I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing myself. I kept what I wore. Those things were beautiful. The gown hangs up in the wardrobe, tucked away inside a garment cover. I rarely wish for things. Wishes make me uncomfortable. And yet. Yet, I quietly wish Teenage Juniper could have seen how she really looked. I know now, but Teenage Juniper needed to know then. Nothing would have changed my mind, I suspect.
The night had been one full of laughter and smiles. All that dancing! The risk of falling from my stilettos was in my favour as we spun around the dance floor to the ceilidh band. Dancing strip the willow. Skipping through the Gay Gordons. With amazing friends, it was a happy night. That I do remember. That I owe Teenage Juniper, too.
And so, I keep the bra. I don’t have photos, but I can still keep some memories. It’s the least I can do for Teenage Juniper. I can’t write her a letter. I can’t ask a favour of the Doctor. But I need to remember. I owe her that. Not simply to remember how I felt then, but to remember how those feelings have changed. To recognise those feelings as something more than teenage stupidity. I owe her that. Teenage Juniper was hurting. I owe her the recognition of just how much. So I keep a bra to remember.