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The Red Dress

It started out as an ordinary day.

If I could go back in time I’d go to Valentine’s Day 1968. I was 14 years old, and I was smarter than my parents.

Sometimes I fantasize about going back in time that night as a grown woman. An articulate, mature, married woman with daughters of my own. And very pissed off. I would walk into their room, flip on the light and start yelling. Yelling at my self-centered, immature parents. And letting go of all the frustration and anger.

We lived in Richardson, Texas, a suburb bordering the northern edge of Dallas. In the late sixties Richardson was growing quickly because of the invention of the microchip at Texas Instruments. TI was just a few miles away from where we lived. Heading east from our house near Spring Valley Road, you’d cross under north Central Expressway and enter the sprawling complex of buildings and parking lots that was Texas Instruments. The engineers at TI invented the first hand-held calculator in 1967, and introduced the first microship in 1970. Of course, I was a young teenager and had no idea what was going on over there. And, I really didn't care.

Daddy worked at an electronics company in Plano. I didn’t understand what he did. Seems like he built electronic components. But, did he really? That’s what the company did, but my father had something wrong with his hands so I don’t know if he could build something as intricate as computer electronics.

On Valentine’s Day Momma baked a pink strawberry cake, probably from a mix, and covered it with handmade icing and maraschino cherries. I have such vivid memories of that evening -- most of them red and pink. I saved a piece until after my babysitting job. I still eat something sweet in the evenings. Kind of like a reward for getting through the day. Looking back that’s about the time sugar became my comfort food, my drug of choice. I could’ve done worse than eating cherry cake.

I had a babysitting job for a Greek family whose name I have forgotten. When the little girl’s father picked me up he was smoking a strange, exotic type of cigarette. Looking back, it was probably a foreign import. There wasn’t much ethnic diversity in north Dallas at that time. Technically we lived in Richardson but very near where that suburban city bumped up against the northern edge of Dallas. The most exotic thing about him besides his dark eyes and slight accent was the way he held his cigarette -- between his thumb and index finger. He also pressed the brake pedal with his left foot, not his right. That also seemed strangely exotic. I’d never seen anyone do that before.

He made hand-built custom designed aquariums that looked like expensive, ornate furniture. He and his family were of Greek descent, and I thought he was exotic, in a sultry and scary way. I liked babysitting for them because their little girl was usually in bed when I got there.

If I had known that evening would be a turning point in my life, I might have marked it on my calendar. I certainly never dreamed I would be writing about it nearly 50 years later.
When he drove me home there were three cars in our driveway. The old Chevrolet Deluxe that barely ran and our new copper-colored Ford Galaxy 500. Those cars belonged to us. But there was also another car I didn’t recognize. I knew Momma and Daddy had gone out with another couple, so I assumed they were all in the living room.

When I opened the door the first strange thing I noticed was that, except for a lamp in the corner, all the lights were off.  No lights in the kitchen or den or down the hall. There were four pairs of shoes under the coffee table, and there was music on the stereo, cocktail party-like music. Andy Williams or Perry Como, probably.

I went into the kitchen and cut a big slice of cherry cake and walked down the hall to my room. Then mother came out of the master bedroom. She jumped when she saw me. Her hair was a mess. She didn’t have any make-up on. No hose. No shoes. Her red dress was wrinkled and unzipped, and she was flustered.

I may have been only fourteen, but I knew exactly what was going on. All four adults were in my parents’ bedroom. Having sex. Four of them. In one bed. That’s crazy.

I felt dirty and stupid and embarrassed. I didn’t know what to say so I went into my room with a big slice of my little brother’s Valentine’s Day cake. No one said anything. I closed my bedroom door and turned on my radio. After a few minutes, I heard the front door close and a car drive off.

The next morning, I was scheduled to babysit in our church’s nursery. Momma drove me to the church and picked me up. It was very quiet in the car.

The only thing she said was, “Don’t be such a prude.”

That evening was never mentioned again.

Looking back, I have three vivid memories of that night: the pink cake, the red dress and how stupid (and crowded) it is to have four people in a double bed having sex.


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