A story of healing in a dressing room

silhouette of woman from the back with hand on head in the sunset

By Krista Genevieve Farris

I cannot zip it up. I walk out of the changing room to look for my husband. The clerk sees me first. Her eyes brighten. “Your shoulders. They look good.” My husband is not there. She pulls up the zipper, but it hits a sticking spot. “I assure you, this fits,” a little tug past my upper back. “There.”

“Wow. Your shoulders.”

I walk to the tri-fold mirror.

Go back to dressing room #5.

The last time I stood in this changing room I tried on eight dresses—different colors, fabrics, cuts—trying to find one to wear to my oldest son’s high school graduation. I was fighting C. diff and side-effects from chemo. I had no hair. I wore no bra over hardening scars. I pulled from racks in the Women’s section, nothing fit. From Juniors, tight fabrics showed my ribs, tailored darts sagged.

I exhausted quickly from the effort of trying to change again and again and again and again.

I bolted out of the store, never making it to the tri-fold mirror. I cursed myself for trying to find something to fit my fading body. I sat in the idling mini-van and cried, my baldness pressed hard into the headrest.

I ended up pulling an old denim dress from my closet that didn’t clash with my favorite head scarf to wear to the graduation ceremony—a jog bra stuffed with pads filled the gap over my heart.

My god, that was a gorgeous May day.

It did not matter.

I focused on not passing out, retaining posture in the brilliant sun.

My oldest son was ready to get out of the house and I couldn’t wait for him to feel the lightness that comes with leaving. We were all tired. He walked across the stage bearing the weight of the world—got his diploma and left before we could find him to take a family photo. He went home to pack his stuff. The next day he drove to the city where he was entering college. Got a job for the summer. Poof. From boy to man.

That dress.

This dress.

It isn’t

chemo curls,
a newly reconstructed chest,
five fresh scars
a new cancer drug next week.

It is

Your shoulders.

I unzip-—manage to get past the tough spot alone.

“Krista, are you back there?”

My husband

I exit the changing room hugging the dress.

“Does it fit?”

I close my eyes, nod,
exhale three times longer than the quick breath I took in
a trick I learned this past year and a half—
to expel.

He draws me in to his chest,
there—in TJ Maxx—
tears breach the levity.


Your shoulders.

This iridescent dress.

Krista Genevieve Farris never imagined a dress would make her cry, but cancer changes things. A year and a half into ongoing treatment and her mind is finally able to digest things with bit more clarity. Links to other essays and poems can be found at Krista’s writer’s website.

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