I didn’t want to snoop through my college roommate’s personal belongings, but her mother insisted. While I stayed at school to work through the summer, Marni had hightailed it home because of health issues. She didn’t tell me what was wrong, but it seemed serious. As she grew sicker, her mother grew more desperate to help her.  Hence, the call that would change my life forever.

She instructed me to go inside Marni’s closet and find a shoebox on the top shelf behind her sweaters, where I would find an old prescription one of the doctors at the school health center had written her. Apparently, whatever it was worked and her mother needed to know the name of the medication. I did what I was asked.

Inside the box, I found Marni’s most treasured keepsakes: pictures, tokens, jewelry and letters. There were a lot of letters. I recognized the handwriting immediately. They were from my boyfriend. The two were close friends, so it didn’t surprise me. I skimmed past them and found the old prescription. I couldn’t pronounce the medication so I spelled it out for Marnie’s mom and we said our goodbyes.

That night, I laid awake in bed thinking about the letters that I had unwittingly discovered. The pull, desire and incessant need to read them was overwhelming. I was one of those people, though, who vehemently believed and respected other people’s privacy, so I held back on the temptation. My boyfriend, “Mark” (I changed his name, but if he reads this, you know who you are,) was home for the summer, too. I called him the next morning.  

He seemed normal: loving, attentive, doting even. I adored him so much and knew we would be married someday. I hung up the phone, sighed my troubles away and headed for the student library. The thing is, I couldn’t read, hold a thought or concentrate. My entire focus was on that shoebox in Marni’s closet, behind her sweaters. I packed up my books and headed for my empty apartment.

I devoured the letters. One by one, I read each heartfelt LOVE note that MY boyfriend had written MY best friend and roommate. After rereading each letter several times, I folded them up as pristine as I found them, placed them back in the shoebox and tucked them behind Marni’s sweaters. I went to my room, locked the door and got lost in my own grief.

When you’re young, your first real heartbreak is desperately traumatic. Actually, if I’m being truthful, my high school boyfriend, Paul, was my first real despair. He was my everything: I wanted to be his, have his babies, be his wife more than life itself, that’s the drama of first love. Tragically, he passed away in a car accident during my junior year. As a result, I put a lot of pressure on “Mark” and even worse, I was a virgin saving myself for marriage.

I knew “Mark” wanted to have sex. I refused, but Marni didn’t. At least, according to the letters. Maybe that was part of her medical problem/condition; I wasn’t sure. I gathered as much, because of her mother’s brief description of her womanly illness. I felt alone, sad and isolated. I called home and told my mother everything.

The next week I dropped out of summer school and sat in my bedroom emotionless. I didn’t cry, laugh, scream or belittle my self-imposed virginity, I just did nothing. What’s more, I didn’t tell Marni or “Mark” that I had read the letters and knew of their secret relationship. I just fell silent. Both of them called and wrote me incessantly.

After a few weeks, my parents collected me from Utah (where I was going to college) and drove me back home to New Mexico, where I sat in my childhood bedroom and did nothing for weeks. It wasn’t my personality either. I was usually a real go-getter, an emotionally stable, fun-loving person, but I just shut down. Thinking back on it now, I realize that it wasn’t just about Marni and “Mark.”

The emotional trauma of the situation cracked open the pain that I had suffered from losing Paul in high school. His death had moved me to a kind of brink that’s hard to describe. I think because I was so young, I didn’t know how to deal with his passing and when he was buried, I, too, buried my pain, grief and deep sadness. Instead of talking about it and trying to understand it, I ran away from it and as most of us discover as adults, you can never outrun the pain. It always catches up, one way or another. I would try, though…

The suitcase I chose to run away with wasn’t practical. Matter of fact, it wasn’t a suitcase at all. It was a big, bulky, black trunk that was better suited for the haughty days of traveling aboard the Titanic. I didn’t care, though, I stuffed everything I owned in it and “ran away.” I find this part of the blog humorous, because I was at the age that one did not “run away” from home, so to speak. I was old enough to live on my own at college, but still young enough to feel repressed by the rules and regulations my parents insisted I live by.

I had always been respectful of their wishes, but at the time I felt that they were partially responsible for me losing “Mark.” If I had only slept with him, given him what he had wanted, I would still be in school with my boyfriend and my best friend. Life as I had known it made such a drastic turn, I wasn’t sure who I was, where I was going or what it all meant. When I was growing up, my parents were religious and insisted I save myself for marriage. I hated them for it.

The day I left home, my parents cried and waved good-bye as a taxi drove me to the airport. I flew back to Utah, then drove to Idaho with a friend to find “Mark.” He greeted me with open arms and told me how much he loved and missed me. Coincidentally, Marni was in town, too. The three of us met up at a local diner and I explained my silence was a result of losing my emotional footing at summer college.

They believed me and we fell into our normal roles; “Mark” and I, the perfect couple and Marni, the best friend and confidant to us both. It was all bullshit, really. I guess it was my first turn at learning the game of manipulation. Strangely, I felt powerful knowing their secret and realizing that they may or may not know I knew about their relationship. They were both scared of hurting me, yet instead of telling me the truth, they played along and lied.

It was a valuable lesson for my young heart and one that I’ve carried with me to this day. The lie on either side wouldn’t last, mainly because of my immaturity. Once we were all back in Utah at our college apartment, where I was living with no funds and not enrolled in college, we decided to hold a “back to school party.” I was in the kitchen when everything unraveled. I was making a chip platter when I saw “Mark” and Marni’s reflection in the window.

Behind my back, MY boyfriend kissed MY best friend on the lips and tapped her lightly on the behind. I turned around, chip platter in hand, strode into the living and made the following announcement: “You deserve one another.” The room fell silent. I stood there staring at them as they sat on the couch together. Marni started crying and “Mark” jumped up and scurried to my side to console me. I declined his attempt. The situation was a tearful mess. Strangely, though, I seemed to be the one who hurt the least.

The next day, I left Marni & “Mark” and headed south to Salt Lake City. I crashed at a friend of a friend’s apartment in a bad part of town. With no money, no direction and just a trunk full of clothes, I became desperate. I found a pay phone outside a convenience store, begged for some change and called my father, Sam.

That may seem like the practical thing to do, but the thing is, I didn’t really know Sam. I had been adopted by a kind and loving man when I was quite young who raised me as his own, but he was not my biological father. When Sam answered my call he knew something was wrong. I wasn’t sure if he had been in touch with my family in New Mexico and frankly, I didn’t care and didn’t ask.

I told him my predicament and asked him for help. He immediately wired money, instructed me to eat, sleep and take a cab to the airport the next morning, where a ticket would be reserved under my name. I did and it was. I arrived in Pittsburgh on a dark, cold, gloomy day, where Sam was anything but. He was a bright, warm, intoxicating ray of sunlight. He was happy, quick with a smile and had a wonderful sense of humor. He was everything I needed him to be; exactly when I needed him to be it.

Although he struggled to carry my big, black Titanic-like trunk, he didn’t say as much. We settled into his small, but nice bachelor pad and he generously offered me his spare room and told me to stay as long as I needed. Eventually, I slept off my heartbreak, but my transient spirit wouldn’t dissipate.

l asked my dad for some money so I could travel, with the promise of a quick return. At first, he wasn’t keen on the idea and urged me to go back to college instead of “traveling about the country like a vagabond.” Guilt is a powerful thing, though, and as an absent father he quickly folded, wrote me a check and said he would eagerly await my return.  

Over the next few months, I wandered around Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York and Maine. I made new friends, saw the Blue Ridge Mountains, spent some time in Rye and fell in love with Kennebunkport. During that adventure, I didn’t overthink things or over analyze what had happened, I just lived. I wasn’t running, I was discovering and for the first time, I felt “Wildly Wonderful” and free.

Eventually, I made my way back to my father, got to know and love him and then headed west to New Mexico where I belonged, with my family. I enrolled in college again (this time in The Land of Enchantment) and my parents moved me into my dorm room, along with my big, black Titanic-like trunk that I hadn’t opened since my life had fallen apart that summer day back in Utah.

I carried the weight of that case around with me all over the country (literally and figuratively) and now that I was starting all over again, I knew it was time to rid myself of the excess baggage. After saying goodbye to my parents, I sat on the floor of my dorm and unlatched the lock on the tattered trunk. The memories came flooding back, but not in a bad way.

After sorting through old pictures, a few movie stubs, love notes and letters, I realized that I was finally letting go. Then, there were the clothes: boots, sweaters, jeans and my favorite dress. “Mark” and I had found it one day when we were casually wandering around an art fair in Idaho. It was bohemian and beautiful, with a gorgeous hand-painted flower on it. Unbeknownst to me, he bought and surprised me with it on my birthday, which was just a few days before I had found his letters to Marni.

I got rid of absolutely everything in the trunk, except that dress. I loved wearing it because it was so unique and unusual. Through the years, I tried finding another one like it, but it was impossible. Until I moved to Miami and found the fashion house of Ramona LaRue by Arianne Brown LaRue.

Her dresses capture the exact spirit of a time in my life that was about self-discovery, love and acceptance. What’s more, there’s a feeling of freedom, alluring grace and individuality I get from her designs. Her hand-painted, silk creations speak to my heart; reminding me of the girl I once was, the woman I am today and the person I hope to become.

Shireen Sandoval: Ramona LaRue has such a beautiful bohemian feel. Describe the concept behind your creations.
Arianne Brown LaRue: I create with emotion so every bit of my designs has a piece of me via sexy, casual chic or quintessential flirty bohemian.

SS: A lot of women in Miami describe your clothing as Boho Chic. What does that
phrase mean to you as a designer?
AL: Boho – ease of life style. Chic – The woman who is wearing it. Confidence  – What I believe they get wearing it

SS: You started your label about 7 years ago. How has it grown and changed?
AL: The change may be drastic to others, but to me, it was a gradual progression. As I’ve grown, so has the line. To elaborate: I think not only have I matured in my personal style, I would love to believe my Ramona girls have also grown with their style.

SS: Do you remember the first piece of clothing you ever designed and would you wear it today?
AL: I laugh at myself because my first hand-painted “horse” tunic “The Monroe”, I thought was the sexiest dress at the time. I still wear it today and it remains still my sexiest dress. It’s a testimony to the longevity it creates and the style that is simply Ramona LaRue.

SS: When I wear your dresses, I feel effortlessly beautiful, comfortable and confident. With that said, I’ve often wondered if you take your own designs
for a spin?
AL: I couldn’t dream of not wearing my designs, but not in the typical designer
way. I wear them because if I don’t love it, I can’t expect my customers to.

SS: You named your label after your mother, who was also a designer. How did she inspire you and what is the most important thing she taught you about your craft?
AL: The simplest way for me to answer this is not that she inspired me, she just
simply was my inspiration/muse from our laughs to our dances. Her passion
remains with me in everything I do.

SS: What is the most memorable hand-painted silk piece you’ve ever created?
AL: Besides the horse “Monroe” Kaftan that I mentioned before, the piece that
gives me the most emotional fulfillment is the orchid which she (my mother) started and I finished.

SS: When someone walks into one of your boutiques, how do you want them to
AL: Like they belong.

SS:If I saw you on a random day, say, when you’re not working…what would you
be wearing?
AL: Most likely, if you saw me you wouldn’t recognize me. Jeans and a Ramona silk

SS: Who is the most fashionable person you know?
AL: Aldrick Bradley who is the Creative Director of the Delray location. He works side by side with our design team. He knows hands down what a woman wants, what a woman needs, even if she doesn’t. He is the essence of style.

SS: What’s the last piece of clothing you purchased?
AL: Ironically, Ralph Lauren riding pants. They simply took me to a time when I
was riding horses in Spain. As I said, I do everything with emotion.

SS: What does fashion mean to you?
AL: Fashion means to me, freedom. Freedom of love, expression and passion.

SS: Who is the Ramona LaRue woman?
AL: I would love to believe the Ramona woman has no boundaries, feels beautiful
even when things aren’t perfect, lives life every moment with a sense effortlessness and most importantly, appreciates great style.

When you walk into a Ramona LaRue boutique (I especially love her midtown Miami location,) it’s about a certain kind of lifestyle, not necessarily a fad or a trend. It’s for a strong, independent, beautiful woman who loves to express her complex inner layers with “Wildly Wonderful” outer trimmings.  

Whether it’s with bold colors, distinctive prints or flowing silks, Arianne creates it like no other designer. The outfits she styled me in (pictured in the blog) all possess the qualities of the dress I found back in Idaho combined with a modern maturity I’ve developed over the years. For the record…

I’m glad Marni’s mother called me all those years ago and gave me permission to open that box; Pandora’s box, if you will. What happened between the three of us (Marni, “Mark” and me) may have sent me running, but later I would find out I wasn’t running at all. I realized during my self discovery that actually ‘discovering’ new people, places and things was really who I was, who I was meant to be. I never spoke to Marni or “Mark” again, but if I did, I’d thank them.

That year of living like a “vagabond” (btw, my dad still lovingly calls me that,) is when the reporter in me was officially born. It’s no mistake that I would choose a career that allows me to travel the globe: seeing, doing, being and sharing what it’s like to be a citizen of the world.

If my way of life and my kind of style makes me “bohemian chic” – I’ll take it. After all, it’s a phrase that describes me well and that’s why “Wildly Wonderful Ramona LaRue” will always be one of my favorite things.

(This blog is dedicated to the memory of Paul, whose spirit lives on inside me.)

Blog wardrobe & Jewelry by Ramona LaRue
Styling: Arianne Brown LaRue
Website: www.ramonalarue.com
Twitter: @ramonalarue
Instagram: @ramonalarue
Facebook: Ramona LaRue by Arianne

Twitter @ShireenSandoval
IG @ShireenSandoval

photography by tod p/t4twophotography
Twitter @todp_photo
IG @Tod_p

Hair & Make-up by Odette Hernandez
Twitter @Odettehernandz
IG Odett_Herndz

Editor: Matthew Auerbach

Join our Newsletter for the latest news right to your inbox