On our way back from the wedding this weekend ("the wedding by which all future weddings will be judged," as it's been dubbed), we stopped at the outlets on Interstate 71 to visit the Levi's store. I'd been to these outlets once before, with my friend Dana back when we were in high school; we drove the whole 2 hours on our own, feeling brave, most likely with an REM cassette whirring on the Scirocco's stereo. I bought a burgundy button-down long-sleeved shirt from Banana Republic that I ended up wearing well into college.
How strange, then, to walk in there and see the very same colors of that long ago brave car journey. A table of corduroy pants folded neatly, relics of 20 years ago: burgundy, forest green, gray, rust. I picked up a pair of the forest green and held it in my arms for a moment, remembering the last time I wore those colors.
"These are great colors, aren't they?" said the salesgirl, who in all likelihood was born around 1992, the same year I bought that pair of men's forest green corduroys, cut off the legs, and wore them with a "London Calling" Clash t-shirt and combat boots to my first Lollapalooza. "Really different."
"Really nineties," I said, and laughed. I remembered dancing in them to The Jesus and Mary Chain and Lush. Getting emotional over Pearl Jam. (I've wondered before what the music I listened to back then must sound like to the youth of today. If they hear it with the ears of false nostalgia the way I hear music from the seventies. I miss it, even though I wasn't there. The music of the time you were born, the soundtrack to your very own physical realization. How's that for liner notes?)
The most jarring thing about being here in Ohio is trying to fit these old memories into the new pattern of my life. The Cincinnati that exists now is a different place than it was back then, just as I'm a different person than I was back then. I knew I'd have to come to terms with this place in a new way, that my old feelings about it would take on new meaning. But what I didn't expect was how similar I'd feel, how provoked I'd be to remember everything exactly the way I felt back then. The thrill of driving two hours from home to shop at a Banana Republic; the giddiness of spotting someone at Lollapalooza in a Blur t-shirt as we stomped in our combat boots across a grassy hill; the crunch of leaves under foot and the feeling of fists shoved in the pockets of a hooded sweatshirt as we stand around a crackling campfire.
I don't mind the 90s revival trend. This is our chance to do that part of the past over again, and do it better. Acknowledging our bodies this time instead of hiding them. But it's even more than that: this time, when I comb the thrift store racks for crushed velvet in burgundy and come out with a floral printed rayon dress, it's nothing to do with fashion. It's giving physical shape to those memories, allowing them to live in the now. I don't mind the deluge of them hidden in the seams of the same fabric I wore the first time I thought I was falling in love, the first time I heard the words pretty little girl, she shines, knowing she is young, she smiles and was convinced every song was about me. I don't even mind a few reminders of what I've learned since I wore that fabric: that love is not just about crying, that he is not The One, that not every song is about me. Now, when I pull on these clothes, they've been tailored by hindsight, stitched together with the knowledge of the differences between love and longing, between past and present.
Standing there in that outlet store, I put back the forest green corduroys and settled on two different colors: rust and gray. Colors I never wore back then. Colors I look good in now.
© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.