“I have never felt more beautiful in a dress and I was denied the opportunity to wear it. Instead of leaving it to hang alone and dejected in my closet, I took it out and wore it. I wore the hell out of it.”
– Vanessa Schilling
I spend a lot of time using this blog to tell my stories. Today, with her permission, I want to tell you someone else’s.
As some of you may remember from a previous blog, I got an awesome opportunity a few months back to play Glinda the Good Witch at a weekend festival in Beech Mountain, North Carolina. I could fill this blog for a year with stories from that experience. It was just so friggin cool. And, truth be told, I will probably reference various tidbits about it for the rest of my life. Therefore, allow me to go ahead and issue my formal apology right now for that and just get it over with. In fact, may I suggest a drinking game? Every time I say the word “Oz” or “Glinda” or “good witch” or “Darn it, I miss being a pretty pretty princess!!!,” just go ahead and chug. Hey, everybody wins! I get to talk about Oz [DRINK!] and you get to put yourself in the mindset to put up with reading the rest of my blog. Ok, wait. Maybe I’m the only that wins? Eh. Either way…drink up!
Whew. This blog girl sure knows how to digress….
So, back to the point. One of the first experiences I had after just arriving at Oz [you paying attention? DRINK!] was meeting a lady named Vanessa. In fact, I have a photo from about 5 seconds after meeting her. Wanna see it?
There you have it folks. I kid you not. It went pretty much like this, “Hi, I’m Vanessa, and I seriously have to get under that dress. Hold still….” Now, granted, that might not be the first time I’ve ever heard that in my life after just meeting someone, but I can honestly say it was the first time I’d ever heard it from a woman…
But in all seriousness, that story right there pretty much described Vanessa – a funny, charming, risk-taking breath of fresh air who quickly became my friend. She ended up being one of my roomies for the weekend and I found myself looking forward to just being around her. No pretension, no formalities – you could just be yourself around Vanessa because she brought that out in you. She was ‘real.’ And I liked that.
And along with being real, you wanna know what else she was? About 8 months pregnant. Yep, there were actually two people under that dress in that picture up there. (And room for plenty more, to be quite honest…) Vanessa, who usually played the wicked witch for this Oz weekend, was just along for the ride this time since it might look a little odd to have the wicked witch of the west with child. Didn’t want to confuse the kiddies, ya know.
So, Oz weekend came and went and we all discarded our costumes (Darn it! I miss being a pretty pretty princess…[DRINK!]) and went back to our lives. Thanks to good ole Facebook, however, we were all able to keep in touch. I eagerly awaited the updates from my new friend Vanessa’s pregnancy and was excited to see that bouncing baby boy bundle of joy arrive a few weeks later. Her military husband had just arrived from his tour in Afghanistan and her happy little family was complete.
And boy do I wish this story could end here.
Unfortunately, however, as often is the case, Life has a way of stepping in and not letting stories end all tied up in the pretty red bow like we wish they would. And this time is no exception to that sucky rule. Just a few short weeks after Vanessa’s baby was born, her husband dropped the bomb. He told her he wanted to end their marriage.
I sat and watched, helpless, as my friend’s world was falling apart. I watched her go through the motions. Sadness. Defeat. Confusion. Fear. Anger. Anguish. I could list vocabulary words for days and none of them could adequately describe the pain. And I, like so many of her other friends, had no idea what to do to help her. So, we watched helplessly from afar, hoping that our empathy could somehow reach through the technology waves to let her know that she wasn’t alone. What else could we do?
I found myself thinking of Vanessa so often throughout the day. This vibrant ball of energy had lost her spark. And though I had only known her for a short time, it truly affected me to know that her spirit had been crushed. And one of the posts in particular that she had on Facebook especially tugged at my heartstrings.
Vanessa had just gone shopping for a new dress to wear to her husband’s formal military ball. And, as a lot of us who have been mommies know, your body is barely your own after you’ve just given birth. We can all imagine just how thrilled she was when she found the perfect dress, post-baby body and all. A sweet little red number that accentuated her curves to a tee. She had found THE dress. The one that was going to make her the belle of the ball.
Well. There went that.
All dressed up, and no place to go.
As the date for the military ball drew closer, Vanessa’s hurt and pain increased. This was supposed to have been her night. Much like the feeling I had as Glinda during our Oz weekend – now it was Vanessa’s turn to be the princess. To don the dress and watch the heads turn as she walked arm-in-arm with her prince. She was supposed to feel beautiful again. This was going to be night that fairy tales were made of.
Only the prince didn’t hold up his end of the deal.
And there you have it. This sad story could have ended right there. No ball, no dress, no fairy tale. The end.
But no way. Not a chance.
This was Vanessa.
Vanessa had a decision to make. Now, most of us would understand if that decision involved sitting around the house eating a large tub of ice cream and staring at the beautiful dress hanging on a hanger in the closet, right? Of course we would. Heck, that’s probably exactly where I would have been if I was her. But oh no.
Tucked underneath all that hurt and pain and anguish was the same girl that had climbed underneath all that tulle only seconds after meeting me. That risk-taker. That fun-loving breath of fresh air. That beautiful tower of strength. And for a few hours, Vanessa made a decision that took the last bit of courage she could muster.
She pried open the heavy door of pain, and let the real Vanessa run free.
Armed with the combination of her incredibly talented photographer friend, Van Roldan, a gorgeous white horse, a sexy red dress, and an enormous well of strength that I don’t think she even knew she had, my friend Vanessa decided that she didn’t need the prince in order to be a princess.
Channeling all of that pain into something beautiful, Vanessa got that dress out of the closet and created her own memories. And then she decided to share the result with the rest of us.
I looked through these pictures this morning with tears streaming down my face. This was it. That display of human strength and resilience that I am constantly striving to put into words in this blog? These pictures did it. Vanessa did it.
This girl is a survivor. We are all survivors. No matter what life throws our way – no matter how many times we are left sobbing on the floor feeling the world crash in around us – we always, always find a way to drag our sorry selves up off the ground, brush the dust off, and put one foot right back in front of the other and keep moving forward. Even when we think the world should stop spinning, by God, it just doesn’t. It just doesn’t.
So, we might as well just do what my friend Vanessa just did. Hop right back on that horse and see what’s waiting around the next bend. And hey – why not look sexy as hell while we’re doing it?
Thank you for letting me tell your story, Vanessa. I am certain that someone out there somewhere needed to hear it. I know I did.
Welcome to your new role as an inspiration.
Four things greater than all things are, –
Women and Horses and Power and War.
– Rudyard Kipling, “The Ballad of the King’s Jest”