When I was a child, about 10 or 11 years of age, my Momma bought me an outfit from one of those fancy children's clothing boutiques. I can't remember the reason - if it was for a birthday or Christmas - or if I was with her when she bought it (I seem to think I was). I just know it was, at that point, the most expensive outfit I'd ever been given (Momma spent close to $100 on it), and I loved it.
It was a knee-length skirt (again, I was a kid) and a jacket made out of shiny black vinyl that I pretended was leather. The jacket had cool silver zippers and buckles and snaps that made me feel "tough" in a "I'm a pretty princess" sort of way. The shirt that went under the jacket was stiff, 3/4-length sleeved, and lime green.
I had the outfit for months before I finally wore it. The more I remember, it must've been Christmas when it was gifted to me - I think it was too cold to wear it at first. I remember it was a warm day in Spring when I finally pulled it out of the closet and decided "this is the day. I'm wearing this today." I was a, um...stout child. I wasn't fat, but I was never skinny. The outfit was a bit snug, and I really did recognize that my favorite closet-dwelling get-up was made of black vinyl, not leather. And I knew I didn't see a lot of kids out and about wearing black vinyl. But I felt SO COOL when I wore that skirt and jacket around the house. I had to show it to the world; I had to share it with the world.
It was a Saturday. I was brave, but not brave enough to wear that outfit for the first time to school. My best friend Brooke, who lived 3 doors up the street, came over to play. She loved my outfit. I beamed. The day progressed, and at one point we had to go to Brooke's house. Her mom was weird, and kind of a bitch, so I stayed outside rather than following Brooke into the house. Her mom came to the door to talk to me anyhow.
Brooke's mom (I can't remember her name, of course) was a big woman. The sort that if you hug you'll kind of sink into, but she wasn't a hugging sort of person; she used her size to intimidate. She always had a helmet of box-colored red curls always perfectly styled around her head - that remained the case until her firefighter husband left her a few years later, after which she would sometimes answer the door in her pajamas with half of those curls matted to one side, even at 3 in the afternoon.
So she came to the door to talk to me after Brooke disappeared into the depths of her home in search of her Ken doll so we could even up the odds back at my place or to get her My Little Pony board game or maybe to grab her electric razor because she'd forgotten to shave her legs that morning and suddenly realized it needed to be done RIGHT NOW. (Brooke was a year or two older than me, and she did shit like that. She was a little odd. She also had a missing tooth, with a fake on a retainer that she liked to take out and use to scare me.) The woman stood on the stoop of her porch, looking down on my 10-year-old self standing on the walkway below her, and she said,
"What are you wearing?" I knew from her tone this was not going to go well. I willed her to not say it.
"This is my new outfit. My Momma got it for me. Do you like it?" I'm chanting in my head now "don't hurt my feelings, you mean witch. don't make me cry. please don't be mean to me." I'm just a kid.
Brooke's mom sneers. "It looks like a garbage bag."
My heart was crushed.
I laughed as if she'd made a joke. She said some more words about the material and zippers I was wearing. Brooke appeared from inside the house and walked back with me back to my house, where I quietly changed out of my skirt, out of my jacket, out of the stiff, 3/4 length sleeved, lime green shirt. I hung them in the closet. I never wore them again.
I felt guilt for years when I thought of that outfit. Guilt because my Momma paid so much money for it and I only wore it that one time. Guilt because she and Daddy worked hard to earn that money and it was only worn once and then hung in the closet to moulder for years before finally being donated to Goodwill. Eventually the guilt turned into anger. Anger at Brooke's mom for being such a raging bitch. Who says shit like that to anyone, much less a child?
So yeah, yesterday, when a grown person made a rude comment regarding a sweater I found at the Burlington Coat Factory on sale for like $12 last winter but happen to really really like even if it is kinda awkward and funky, I was floored. And the more I thought about it, the more angry I got. Because I know that I'll always second-guess and doubt myself when I wear that sweater now. I'll never feel pretty in it, never be completely comfortable wearing it. And that makes me mad.
But I'm not going to retire it. No I'm not. I'm not giving another person that sort of power over me again. I'm going to keep that sweater in rotation and when I wear it, I'll make sure it's on days when he'll see it. I don't care about his opinion; he's rude anyhow.