Magical Virginia prom dress keeps friend’s spirit alive

(WPRI Photo)

EAST GREENWICH, RI (WPRI) – Emma Schambers talks about her prom dress as though it’s magical – and when you hear where the blue gown has been, where it’s going and how it can morph to fit at least four different girls – you might agree.

“When I’m in the dress, I feel more beautiful,” she said. “It’s a really, really special feeling. I feel her spirit is with me.”

The spirit of one of her best friends, Catherine Malatesta – an Arlington, Massachusetts girl described as smart, funny and confident, whose life ended last August after a battle with a rare form of cancer.

Catherine’s junior prom last May was her last night out. She had just been released from the hospital, but the 16-year old would pass away in August. But not before she left an impression of strength and courage on her friends.

“For how sick she was feeling it was incredible how much she did,” Emma said. “On my worst days, sometimes I’ll think, ‘alright, my friend who had cancer who’s going through chemotherapy tried to go to school whenever she could.’ So I can suck it up.”prom dress

It was a quip from Catherine’s mom that led to what is now known as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Prom Dress, a play on the novel and movie of similar name.

Emma and a few other close friends were in Catherine’s room about a month after she passed away.

“And Catherine’s mom said, ‘does anyone need a prom dress,’ just kind of joking around.”

There were eventually four nods, and with the magic of a few stitches in the hem, the dress fit.

“It goes from the tallest, Lauren who’s 5’10”,” said Emma, who’s 5′ 9″. “To Carly who’s 5’2″. So, it’s pretty amazing that the dress can shift in that way. It’s really magical.”

For Emma, who met Catherine at camp about three years ago, it’s more than a dress. When she puts it on for her prom in Newport, she expects her friend to follow.

“She would definitely be so delighted that we’re doing this for her,” she said. “And she’ll see us in the dress. She’ll find some way to look down on us. She’d love it.”

The dress hits the road again next week for yet another prom back in Arlington.

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