My parents had a bit of a whirlwind romance… Met, engaged and married in less than a year. And then, to continue with the theme, three children by the time my mother was 24 years old. I, as if you couldn’t tell by my generally spoiled disposition, am the youngest. My sister is four years older than me but my brother is only twenty months older. I was something of an accident, albeit a happy accident.
Given the age difference between my sister and I — not to mention our incredibly different builds — I didn’t get to borrow her clothes until late in middle school. And I use the term “borrow” very loosely. I would just… um… steal them. She would get up in the morning and zip off to high school before I was even awake. So I’d saunter down to her room, as if it were my own private dressing room, and pick out whatever sort of weird polyester, throw-back strange clothes she had that I wanted to borrow. You see, it was the early nineties, and everyone was wearing vintage cords and those hideous, busily printed polyester shirts with the long pointy collars. I would scribble this note on a post-it and then drop it behind her bedroom door,
“Can I borrow your (fill in the blank)? If it’s a no, just write me back. Otherwise, I’ll assume it was a yes.”
See, I was clever. It would be very easy to say, “No, Julie! I left you a note! You didn’t write back! I thought that meant I could borrow it!”
But it was a necessity! At the beginning of the school year, I’d get some new clothes of my own. I remember in sixth grade, my mom bought me this magenta mock turtleneck body suit. I felt like such a woman wearing that snapped-crotched contraption. Nevermind that it rode up my ass, look how it clung to my budding body! Look! I had a woman’s shape!
That is… until you got to my lower half. I remember getting my period in middle school, without any pads in my back-pack, while I was wearing the hand-me-down Bugle Boy Jeans that were once my brother’s. He was taller than me, but I rocked a big cuff at the bottom. What an outfit! Adidas sneakers, boy’s jeans, and a woman’s body suit. Oh, the awkward years. I miss ’em.
It wasn’t all that bad, though… I mean, I was a tomboy. Even if I had been given lacy dresses or frilly things as hand-me-downs, I’m pretty sure I would have refused to wear them. It made sense that I wore a lot of my brother’s clothes. Plus, we were poor. Well, not POOR. But certainly not in a position to be springing for new clothes every month at the mall.
I was reading Katie Makkai’s newest blog post tonight after dinner. It’s a long one, but worth the read. I’m slowly falling in love with her writing, having nearly burst into song and dance and tears at her spoken word piece, Pretty recently. As all great writers do, her writing brought up a memory for me, specifically about hand-me-downs.
The baby daddy and I were new parents and newlyweds and went to visit his parents for dinner one night. Dinner with his family was always a little weird because you never knew exactly how it would pan out. His mother was bed-ridden (sometimes), dealing with chronic pain that the doctors couldn’t even diagnose. She had been to the Mayo Clinic, even, and the best they could come up with was something called Stiffman’s Disease. Whatever she had, her treatment was a perpetual daily dose of narcotics, via pain patches she wore on her chest. When we would go over there for dinner, most of the time, it was his dad in the kitchen and his mom up in bed, sunk all into her husband pillow, drowsily calling down the stairs for someone to fetch her this or that. There would be the random day when we would come over and she would be up, vacuuming, cooking, whatever… Seemingly cured from her crippled status. I suspect it was/is all in her head and that she’s thoroughly addicted to pain killers. Having done my fair share of drugs, I know that feeling when you’re all cranked up and you can’t sit still and you must DO something…
On this particular night, she was slumped in their country-style-decorated bedroom, soft lights on pushing a cozy glow past the lacy window treatments into the night. We’d make our plates and eat downstairs with the ex’s father and then traipse upstairs and visit with her for a while, letting her hold the baby (supervised, in case she fell asleep mid-coochie-coochie-coochie-coo).
She asked the ex to go downstairs and help his father with something and told me she had something for me. Ooh! A wedding gift? Something for the baby? Fun! I love presents! I watched her start her seven minute procedure for spilling her tired, creaking body out of her bed and onto her unsure feet. She shuffled over to the closet and emerged with a large garbage bag filled to the top, as round and fluffy as a pillow.
“I was going through some things and found a few items that I’m pretty sure will interest you.”
Groan. Hand-me-downs. But this wasn’t your garden variety of hand-me-downs, kids. This… This was a bag of ancient, used lingerie. MY MOTHER IN LAW WAS GIVING ME A BAG OF HER OLD LINGERIE.
Stunned, I watched her pull this item and that item out of the bag, explaining the specific washing instructions for each piece. “This one will need to line dry, otherwise it’ll lose it’s shape.”
It was a red lace body stocking… Long sleeves and full feet and, I assume, crotchless. I’m not sure how my face looked to her… Surely my mouth was agape, voice cracks breaking free from my throat, but no words came out. I remember thinking to myself, “This… this has got to be a side effect of the drugs, man.”
As she heard my ex coming up the squeaky, old stairs, she hurriedly stuffed the remnants of her (clearly) active sexual youth with my father in law. She was retying the bag when my ex emerged from the hallway, poking his head in the door and saying that it was time we headed home. We gathered up our things, baby, diaper bag, leftover dinner and bag’0’sex’tricks and headed out to the car.
As soon as we got to the car, I burst open at the seams.
“You are NEVER going to believe what your mother gave me.”
We’re driving down the road, headed toward the highway. It’s dark outside and there aren’t any streetlights on this road and when I tell him, you could HEAR how crimson his face was in his screeching, “WHAT?!”
He rolled his window down, yanked the bag from my hands, and shoved it out of the car as we sped down the dark street. I recall looking back, trying to get some sight of all of her lingerie scattered across the road, but it was pitch black outside. We both just sat in disbelief until eventually, we were roaring with laughter.
What in the FUCK was she thinking? Did she think I could actually wear these things and make love to her son? It was clear, based on the style of some of these items that it could be quite possible that my ex was conceived while she was wearing some of this stuff … did she think it was like, the Circle of Lingerie Life? Did she hope I would carefully launder, line dry and preserve these items to pass down to my son’s wife one day, fully freaking the fuck out of her?
Any time I see lace bodystockings, I’m rocketed back to that car ride home and I can feel the chilly air blowing into the car as my ex just chucked it all out into the darkness. I always wonder what that street must’ve looked like in the morning… and even more, if my father in law recognized anything as he drove his car over the lace and marabou and cheap satin underthings as he left for work the next morning…