This selection, chosen by guest curator Heather Leigh, is from Beauty by Christina Chiu, released by SFWP in 2020. Content note: Beauty contains graphic depictions of consensual sexual encounters.
Cameron is the man I’ve just broken things off with; we’d been seeing each other for the past three years. We initially met through the Master’s Class, but got to know one another better at a Buddhist meditation retreat. Marriage—the idea of it—must be in the air. “I’m 78 years old. I’m too old for that business,” I say.
“And I’m too young, right?”
“Uh, actually, yes, you are.”
She shakes her head. “I never thought I’d hear you say you were too old for anything.”
“Well, there’s always a first time.”
She sighs. “For what it’s worth. I really liked Cameron.”
I cross my arms. “He’s a good man.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Are you looking for a hidden agenda here? Because this would be where you back off. As much as I love you.”
“No, Grandma. I’m simply asking what it means. You’re the one who tells me all the time to question my beliefs and ask if they serve me. It would be a shame if one stood in the way of you experiencing the true love of your life.”
“So you have determined he’s the true love of my life, now, have you?” I feel my blood pressure spike.
“If you really need to know, Cameron doesn’t believe in Viagra,” I say.
Katheryn’s eyes bulge. “TMI,” she says, making a T with her hands.
She fidgets with the ring.
“Do you actually think people stop fucking when they get older? Or is it that you think orgasm is reserved only for the young?”
“I don’t know. Sort of. I guess.” Kathryn blushes. She catches my gaze and all of a sudden we’re laughing until tears are flowing from our eyes. It takes a few minutes to gather myself. “No, seriously, Kathryn. You’re doing so well. What’s all the rush?”
She smiles. There’s an earnestness about it that feels deadly. “We want to start a family.”
My heart—everything—stops. What is wrong with this younger generation? They have freedom to choose who and what they want to be. What they want to do. Where they want to go. Everything my generation of women fought against, they embrace like shit got turned to diamonds.
“What about your career?” I ask.
“What about it?”
“Your father and I think it’s time you joined JJ.”
“Why would I do that?” she says. “I want to have my own line.”
“The two are not mutually exclusive,” I say. “The company could use your creative talent.”
“I don’t know, Grandma.”
“Think about it, Kathryn. Your father’s not getting any younger.
In five or ten years, he’ll be handing the reigns over to you.”
“What if I don’t want it?”
“Not want it?” I yell. “This is your Grandfather’s legacy.”
“Okay, I’ll think about it.”
“Think long and hard. The decisions you make now can impact your entire career. Your life.”
“Oh, Grandma. Career and family aren’t mutually exclusive either.”
“Do you really think it’s so easy to juggle kids with a career? Just like that?”
“Of course not.”
“Have you given any thought—any thought at all—to who will take care of the kids while you are working?”
“Vanessa will help,” she says. Vanessa is an academic with two published books—one about the politics of beauty and the other about feminism and fashion—who teaches out of the women’s studies department at Columbia. I thought her feminism, intelligence, and prudence would eventually butt up against Kathryn’s unwavering impracticality and unbridled creative passion. If Kathryn gets an idea to do something—it could be designing a dress made from safety pins— everything else gets dropped until she successfully completes, or totally fails, the task. From my viewpoint, what makes them such an incredible couple is how driven they both are to succeed in their careers, and I assumed, wrongly, I now realize, that the success of both their careers took priority over all else. Wouldn’t it be possible for Kathryn to succeed as a fashion icon in her own right before squelching her energy and attention by focusing on marriage and children? At her age, I had assumed I could have it all, too, and look where it had gotten me. A few golden years before retirement, and even that only because of Jeff. I was lucky.
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