The Holly Golightly Complex

Originally written on May 20, 2013. The following text is a revised version of the memoir I wrote for ENGL 300: Intro to Creative Writing. No changes have been made to the text for this post.

The Holly Golightly Complex

I had hoped to be Holly Golightly some day (but as a Filipino version of her). Truman Capote’s literary heroine came to life in the 1960 film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, starring Audrey Hepburn as the Manhattan socialite, in search of a rich husband and an escape from her rural beginnings as Lulu Mae Barnes. Around Manhattan, one can find Audrey Hepburn’s iconic look—black dress, pearl necklace, tiara up-do, and long cigarette holder—printed on shirts, bags, and posters at souvenir shops. The ubiquity of Holly Golightly’s image in Manhattan is reminiscent of portraits of the Virgin Mary in churches, reminding visitors to keep their faith in what is possible and what may come.

The opening scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s—where Audrey Hepburn’s character steps out of a yellow taxi in front of Tiffany & Co.—would give me chills because that could be me one day. I too would step out of a cab on Fifth Avenue in the early morning, donning a long black dress with black gloves. With a cheese Danish and a cup of coffee occupying my hands, I would walk past the designer stores and window-shop for diamonds. And as long as my fabulous sunglassed face reflected on the glass windows, emanating the aura of wealth, I would not feel inferior to the prices of lovely items.

As a hopeful small town girl, I was inspired by Holly Golightly to find an escape from my suburban life. In my adolescent years of living in upstate New York (though, it never felt like “upstate” to me until some city acquaintances referred to it as such), I grew aware of my suburban boredom: the quiet neighborhoods, with their long, winding backroads and identical bungalow houses; the nicely-trimmed lawns and shiny SUVs that marked territories; the days and nights of being stuck at home while people my age hung out at the mall or attended hush-hush house parties, decorated with red cups and vodka-christened furniture; all those things caused my mind to feel restless. I sought refuge in books and movies, feeding into Hollywood portrayals of glamorous Manhattan and poetry inspired by its bustling streets. But those were not enough; the boredom drove me to physically seek liberation in the urban landscape of New York. I began to regard “metropolis” as a synonym for “sanctuary” whenever I thought of that place, repeating it like a prayer to be answered.

And an answer came to me in my senior year of high school, when I was accepted to four colleges located in Manhattan. It seemed like a terrific idea to apply to colleges exclusively in New York City, as part of my escape plan. Infiltrating into one of the boroughs, as a college student, was the first step into becoming the desired café socialite. The next step was to set up my headquarters: I looked up apartment listings in newspapers, hoping to find a studio apartment that my parents would agree to invest in while I was away at college. Along the way, I looked through fashion blogs on the Internet to get an idea of how urban New Yorkers dressed up. During the process of building my urban identity, I felt excitement and relief because soon I would leave behind the “small town girl” image and turn into a Filipino Holly Golightly.

However, my hopes were cut short. Finding an affordable apartment in Manhattan was impossible, and living in a dormitory was out of the question (though I did not intend to do so, since that would defeat the purpose of living like a socialite). So I settled for a two-hour commute from my little suburban home to the city. The dream of a studio apartment would have to be put on hold for a long while…

But the “urban uniform” was set. I wanted to transform out of my black Chuck Taylors and outgrow the hoodie sweatshirts and boot-cut jeans. My closet was soon adorned by fancy-looking clothes from Forever 21 and H&M, designer bags that identified me as a member of the Bloomingdales congregation, and high-heeled boots that clapped against the cement sidewalk as I walked. No longer would I look “boyish,” because before college, I could not fathom the necessity to dress like a 1920’s flapper girl or an equivalent to such for school. I was socialized to treat school as my gateway to the real world, not as a runway to prove that I am America’s next top model. But college called for a different setting: it had to be both if I wanted to go anywhere in life.

And I felt that reality coming true throughout my freshman year of college in the city. There, I put on a different persona that was more outgoing and fashionable than “small town Lulu Mae”: the Filipino Holly Golightly was alive. She would walk into a Starbucks café, wearing a rose pink blouse under a black suit jacket, complemented with blue skinny jeans and black suede wedged-boots. She would order a tall iced caramel macchiato and pay for it with a Starbucks card from her black leather wallet, taken from her black leather bag she got on sale at Lord & Taylor. And as she stepped out of Starbucks with the pricey drink in one hand, she would slip on her black sunglasses; similar to the ones Audrey Hepburn wore in the film.

No longer did I feel like the introverted suburbanite who only saw New York City through a silver screen or pages of a Frank O’Hara poetry book. But it was not until I saw how other girls dressed at my college that I grew self-conscious of my persona. Their poise emanated confidence—their heads held high, the straps of Longchamp and Dooney & Burke bags hung at their elbows, and sunglasses crowned their heads like tiaras. Their clothes were ripped out of fashion magazines and materialized onto their bodies, fitting them nicely like mannequins. And their hair was salon-straight, hanging like curtains in French-styled ballrooms. They were the genuine Holly Golightlies.

I realized at that point in my first year of college that I could not become “Holly Golightly, the ideal café socialite of Manhattan.” The only thing I accomplished in this transformation was to become “Holly Golightly, the no-name slob who tried to distance herself from her country life and assimilate into the high culture of the city.” I had believed that Manhattan was a glamorous place where I could find a new life under a new persona. Conversely, I learned that it was a place filled with people who were thrust into a society of pearly untouchables, coming from different areas—whether from the other boroughs or the small towns in the metropolitan area. New York City gave that welcoming impression of turning dreams into reality. But the price of such dreams was the long-term struggle of stretching out dollars for budgets, finding convenient housing and transportation, and facing the silent judgment from others who feel like their personal territory was invaded.

My infiltration into the urban landscape failed on its part of me living like Holly Golightly. The suburban boredom still persists within me: staying at my bungalow home during the weekends, watching TV and reading books while dreaming of that studio apartment in Manhattan. But my escape method worked, in terms of having the same aspirations as the former Lula Mae Barnes—we were two no-name slobs that did not want to be put into a cage of the rural/suburban life; we wanted to find urban satisfaction in New York.

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