“Mama! I’ve got nothing to wear”.
I complained again and my mom had to look up. She looked at my quizzically for a few seconds and then said,
“YOU don’t have anything to wear?”
She shouldn’t ever call me a smart mouth again. She should just think about where I got it from. Making a dig at my scanty choice of clothes is exactly the kind of thing she’d do when I’m having a clothes crisis for a party that’s less than two weeks away.
“Never mind! I’ll just get something on my way back from work tomorrow”.
“Sure, honey! You certainly make enough to get just about anything! Almost on a whim”.
“I’m not an impulsive shopper, Mama”.
My mother returned to her reading. I stood there, fidgeting with my clothes, wondering angrily why she couldn’t just give me five minutes to sort my feelings out about my closet.
My mother and I have always been great friends. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that we don’t enjoy doing together. From traveling to music to literature to having a taste for the finer things in life, we are cut from the same cloth. My mom isn’t a prude or a conservative right wing person. She’s a progressive woman, who may even be called a feminist by some. She is a kick-ass dresser and the life of any party. She has never expected me to go the societal route of pleasing people. In fact, I have a feeling that she’d be disappointed if I was anything but unconventional. She gets me, she truly does. Except for one thing! She doesn’t like the way I consider physical appearance so important to our dignity, grace and social stature.
I don’t hold it against her…… usually. She’s a well travelled and well read woman who has a large circle of friends. She can hold her own in rags if you ask me. Her friends are also mostly Generation X women who are stylish but conservative dressers. My mom is a very stylish woman too but she doesn’t have a lot of clothes. Or shoes for that matter.
But she doesn’t get the pressures that millennials are under. She truly doesn’t. She doesn’t get that I’m judged on the choice of my clothes, shoes, makeup, hair and skin. She doesn’t get that I have to change my phone frequently and necessarily. That my car has to match my salary and my education. I just can’t up and be myself. It’s not the same for me.
The next day I stop at the mall before coming home from work. The party in question is a small affair. Only about twenty people are invited. I haven’t met any of them before. It’s a small get-together with my mom’s good friend’s in-laws who are visiting from out of town. Even though my mom raves about this woman and her husband, I haven’t actually ever met them. Therefore I have to make a good impression.
As I walk into the mall I feel my pulse rising and my breathing getting rapid. This is my normal response to shopping. I don’t particularly like shopping but then how else am I going to get beautiful, coordinated outfits?
I enter the first store. It is lined with beautiful outfits, one after the other, each more expensive than the other. I quickly skim through them, grab a few and go in one of the available rooms to try them out.
It looks perfect. Just perfect. It looks a little like that blue one that I’ve got but that one doesn’t have this little tassel detail on the sleeve. But it looks awfully similar to it though. Except this tiny button on the shoulder. Gosh! That’s such a lovely detail. I’m totally getting this. Blue is really my color. This isn’t exactly blue, more of an aqua meets cyan meets…..
“Are you taking this, Ma’am?”
The sales associate interrupts me politely.
I give her a preoccupied smile, nod and move to the cash register.
“Is this what you got?”
“Yes, Mama! Do you like it?”
“But this is exactly like most dresses in your closet.”
My mother has a bad habit of exaggerating.
“This is like MOST of my dresses? Which one, by the way?”
“Well, I’d say it’s a lot like that blue one that you’ve already got.”
“Oh that one? I thought it looked similar too but that one doesn’t have this tassel and this button. That one is also a little shorter than this.”
My mother looks a little put off. I immediately feel guilty.
“Mama please don’t say anything. You know how I hate it when you jinx my clothes”.
“I’m not going to jinx it for you, honey. I’m just wondering why you bought a new one when you already had similar outfits!”
“But it’s not similar. I told you that this button here……”
My mom has left the room.
I happily take the dress over to hang it in my closet. The other blue dress is right there. It does look terribly similar. I feel uneasy. I look to its right. There is a purple dress which is exactly like the one I bought today. They’re clearly the same dress in two different colors. I don’t want to admit it but I have had this happen before. I forget what I have in my closet. And not because I’m forgetful but because before I can wear some of what I already have, I get new stuff. It’s hard to keep track with an ever-expanding closet.
I sigh resignedly and decide to return this . It’s no use having the same dress in two colors, especially because I still haven’t worn the purple which I likely bought months ago.
As I walk into the store to return the blue I’m riddled with complex thoughts.
Even though I have the purple, I don’t have the blue!
The blue looks so pretty!
Blue is my color!
I hope I don’t regret returning this dress!
What if I change my mind and it’s gone tomorrow?
Oh my god! I can’t make up my mind about it. Why am I so indecisive?
As I’m stuck in my head, I spot a pretty pink dress.
Wow! This dress is everything! Talk about chic! Talk about practical! Talk about the dress that could easily transition from day to night. The benefit of wearing this dress to the party is that I could even potentially wear it to work in the morning then just accessorize it a bit in the evening and voila! I’m set for the party.
As I inch closer to the dress I realize that the color is very similar to at least three or four dresses that I have in my closet.
So what? Who says I can’t have more than one pink dress? Or two? Or four?
I try the dress and instantly fall in love with it. It fits like a glove. Come to think of it, I don’t wear dresses in this cut ever. I should probably get more dresses that are a little close-cut. This is so flattering. Now if I could just get matching shoes!
I pay for my dress, forgetting all about exchanging it for the blue that I had come to return and exit the store to find some shoes.
After a grueling two hours I have found my perfect pair of shoes. They’re a pale peach with red soles. My favorite.
I reach home and Mama is waiting for me. She is worried.
“I’ve been waiting for you. Where’ve you been?”
“I told you I had to return the blue dress and get something else.”
“It took this long?”
“Well I didn’t have matching shoes for my new outfit so that took longer”.
As I come in and unload my shopping on the family room couch, Mama holds up the blue dress.
“You didn’t return this?”
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to return it. It’s so pretty”. I say sheepishly. “And I kinda also forgot to return it.”
“How could you forget it? That’s all you went for”.
Before she could interrogate me further I pick up my shopping and exit. Mama follows. She senses that she has upset me.
“Can I see your shoes?”
“No! You’ll have something mean to say. I can’t taint my brand new things with your opinion”.
“Oh come on! You’re so dramatic. Let me see”.
She takes the bag from me and opens the box of shoes. She quietly appraises them and then says
“Do you want me to remind you that you have this color in this same brand already?”
I’ve just realized it too. It looked so different in the brightly illuminated store. But I can’t admit that for her to hold over my head for the rest of my life.
“It’s different. Moreover, you can’t wear the same Louboutins everywhere. It’s déclassé”.
Something in me snaps.
“Mama! I don’t get why you criticize me so much. I work my butt off to make money. I don’t see you objecting when I get you nice presents. But you have a judgment each time I get something for myself. Why? Are you jealous? Do you envy my closet? Or do you envy the fact that I’m still young and able to wear anything that’s out there while you’re stuck with boring, monochromatic choices? Let me point out to you that what you call extravagance and consumerism keeps the world going around. If it wasn’t for people like me there wouldn’t be any generation of revenue and there certainly wouldn’t be any thriving businesses. You think you’re very smart even though you didn’t work a day in your life. When you work in a high-pressure, corporate, cut throat environment like I do, you’ll know how I have to present myself a certain way to make an impression and hold my own and have people consider me important. You won’t get it because you never lived that life. All you do is make sweeping judgments on me and take pride in being a self-proclaimed righteous person”.
Mama quietly leaves the room and I slam the door.
I wake up the next morning with a heavy feeling in my heart. I never fight with my mom. I’m always careful to never hurt her feelings. I call at work and say I can’t come in. I go to the breakfast table. Mama is there, eating a toast and drinking tea. Her usual breakfast.
I can’t stay mad at her. I kiss her and start crying.
“What happened, honey?”
“I was so crummy to you last night. Please forgive me. I’m just under a lot of pressure because of the party”.
“Baby, I don’t want you to feel like I criticize you for your choices. I shouldn’t have asked you so many details”.
“Thank you Mama”.
We hug and everything is immediately okay.
The next morning as I’m putting my outfit together I realize that the shoes I got are still in their box. I quickly take them out and again feel the pang of disappointment at spending almost a fortune on shoes that I already had.
Well these are new! Brand new! They aren’t exactly the pair I had. Those are a little scuffed.
But you’ve only worn them twice.
I’m gonna get so much use out of these ones. They are a slightly more salmon pink compared to the ones I already had. Are they?
I shrug these disturbing thoughts off and continue to put my outfit for this party together. As I’m rummaging through my drawers for the perfect jewelry my best friend called.
“Hey wanna meet up at the old place?”
I quickly think of what to wear and agree.
As I park my car outside what my best friend calls the old place I become a little nostalgic. I was born and raised in this town. I was away for a few years to finish my degree but then came back to work here. I have never been out of touch with this town. As I sit in my car reminiscing my friend calls me.
“How long are you going to take?”
I hurry out of my car and enter this old but elegant restaurant. My friend is sitting at the far end of this place and looks like she has been waiting for a few minutes. I approach her sheepishly.
“Sorry I’m late”.
“It’s okay. What took you so long?”
“I couldn’t find my jeans”.
“Really? Don’t you have like twenty pairs?”
“Hahaha! Not quite but close”.
“Look at you! You’re like a completely different person from who you were just a few years ago”.
“Just the way you care so much about the way you look. All your high fashion clothes. Your impeccable skin. Flawless shoes. Trendy car. I never thought you’d be so into these things”.
I can’t help getting a little defensive.
“I’m not INTO these things. I’m just a girl who likes nice things. Don’t you like nice things?”
“Don’t be upset. It was just a casual observation. I had honestly thought tonight would be a casual night like old times which is why I picked this place out. We never cared about how we looked here. Just like everyone else here. This is a low key place but the way you’re dressed, you’d think you were going somewhere important. May be you like it or feel like you have to do it but now I feel we should’ve met at a more stylish place. Somewhere you didn’t look so out of place.”
“May be I look out of place but I don’t feel out of place”.
She wistfully picks up a napkin and makes a swan out of it. I watch her silently. She looks sad. We used to be so close. But….. I hate to admit it but she isn’t the type of person I can be seen hanging out with. She doesn’t care what she wears or drives or endorses. She teaches kids at our local elementary school and I’ve heard is a great teacher but nothing much else is going on for her. I have tried to tell her that men don’t like girls like her but she doesn’t……….
I’m distracted by a tall, rugged looking man entering the restaurant. This place is small, really small. This whole town is small. Everyone knows everyone. And the guy walking towards us is the stranger I have long hoped to spend my life with.
He was my best friend in school and then college. But then life separated us and I heard he had a girlfriend and then they broke up. Then I thought he moved to the west coast.
Is he back in town?
I look at my friend to ask her this but she is excitedly beckoning him to come to us. I quickly scan my face in the spoon and look up smiling as he comes towards our table.
“Hey! Look who’s here”.
Look who’s here? Of course I know who’s here. This is the man of my dreams. The guy whose memory has haunted me for years. The one person whom I could leave everything for. If only he asked!
“Hello! Remember me?”
I know I’m nodding but no words are coming out. I’m not completely registering why his arm is around my best friend’s shoulders or why she’s looking up at him like she knows his soul or why they both look like a couple introducing their relationship to their best friend.
“Of course I remember you. When did you come back?”
“Just a few months ago.”
“So are you going to live here now?”
Please say yes!
“Wow! Missed us, huh? We used to talk about you often”.
“I know! Tina has kept me updated on most things”.
“Really? Tina and you have been in touch?”
“I’d say yes”.
They both start to giggle and I smile blandly.
Should I giggle too?
Tina says happily
“We are engaged”.
“We are engaged and you’re the first person to know.”
It’s like a quick sinking feeling in my stomach. It’s like the weight of a thousand stars on my shoulders. It’s like someone has my tongue and won’t give it back. It’s like my eyes want to itch and burn and go blind. It’s like I want them to say any minute that they’re joking.
But they’re not joking.
“Congratulations. I’m so honored to know I’m the first one”.
“Well there’s a reason for that”, he says.
“Well when Tina told me about your Instagram and all the cool pictures and your own style sense, I have to say I was so impressed. I mean what a transformation, right? You’re just something out of a magazine. I told Tina that we have to bring you in on the secret because you’ll be planning our engagement news party with us. You have to make sure it’s out of this world stylish. I just love your style”.
Just not enough to marry me.
I don’t know what happened during the rest of the dinner. I know I laughed politely and made small talk. I know I agreed to help with the engagement reveal. I know I congratulated them more than once, insisted on taking the check, ate more than I had to or wanted to and left feeling empty.
On the way back home his words reverberated until they became a resounding gong
“We wanted to bring you in on the secret for a reason. You’ll plan our engagement reveal”.
All my life I’ve been a good person. Yes a little self-occupied and self-serving but essentially a good person. All my life I have wanted to be with this man. All my life I pictured many many incidents where we will cross paths and he’ll be smitten with how I look and how I talk and where I went to college and how many cool friends I have. All my life…….
All my life I spent honing my style when actually I should’ve been honing my people’s skills may be. He was on my Instagram too but he didn’t feel compelled to follow me. Why? My pictures are so cool and amazing. Didn’t he get any feelings when he saw them? I know he liked me in high school even though we weren’t a formal couple. Why didn’t he like me again?
As I walk up to our front door my mother is standing at the threshold with the phone in her hands and a bemused expression on her face.
“Honey! They cancelled the party. They’ll have it some other time. They actually are going for a picnic that day. To them a cocktail party seemed stuffy. Can’t say I don’t agree with them”. My mother finished with a twinkle in her eye.
I smile despite myself. It’s a colossal joke on me. The party I had been preparing for is cancelled. The man I had been dreaming of is taken. What’s left behind are two brand new dresses that I got for the same party, a pair of designer shoes that I already had. What’s left behind is my empty promise to happily plan an outrageously stylish engagement party for my best friend and the love of my life . What’s left behind is my broken heart and my bruised self-confidence.
My mom is my soul sister. She knows something is wrong just by looking at me. She walks in with me and asks
“Tina is good. She’s engaged”. I say in a bright and high voice that doesn’t sound like mine.
My mom momentarily freezes. Then she forces a smile and says
“Who did she get engaged to?”
“Hmm. Good guy. Wasn’t he a good friend of yours in high school?”
“Yes. I’m tired, Mama. I’ll see you in the morning. Good night”.
I open my eyes and see my mom standing over me. She has a cup of coffee and some toast in her hands.
I drink my coffee carefully and slowly. Mama knows just the temperature that I like my food at. I don’t know myself as much as she knows me. Does she know about my feelings for Jason?
“Honey! I think you shouldn’t plan that engagement party or whatever it is for them.”
I feel the corners of my eyes getting wet. She knows.
“I won’t do it, Mom. I can’t do it. It’s like my soul is on fire”.
Mama comes over and cradles my head in her arms. I was expecting to break down but surprisingly, I feel comforted.
“What is it about her, Mama? I thought about it a lot last night. She isn’t good looking. She’s not a great person to have a conversation with. I really consider her my best friend because I’ve known her the longest and we’ve had some traveling together. But I asked myself this a million times last night. Why her? Why a plain, simple, straightforward, awkward school teacher with limited social graces? Why not me? Why not someone else who looked a little like me? Jason is perfect. He’s great at what he does. He’s an amazing dresser. His conversations are mesmerizing. Him and her together looked like a joke to me. Do you think he wants to stand out against her? Do you think that for someone like him it would’ve been a lot to handle if he had chosen me? May be he got intimidated by me. By how exceptional I am. By how well-read and well-travelled I am. By how much I make and how I am as a whole package.”
Mama is stroking my hair and smiling. Then she says,
“Let’s go for a walk and talk”.
I jump out of bed. I’m too restless anyway. Walking is good.
As we make our way to the nearby park Mama asks if I remember all the times she brought me here.
“Of course! Some of my best childhood memories.”
“You used to love this park. Now look at it! Quietly look at this park. Is there something missing here?”
I scan up and down, left and right, all over. This park is perfect.
“This place is perfect. The swings, slides, the water fountain, the dirt pad. Everything is perfect.”
“Let’s argue that it’s not perfect. Why, it doesn’t have a restaurant, a poker place, a salon, a gym, a racetrack, a museum, a pool. It doesn’t have the full package”.
“But it is the full package. It’s a park and it has everything that a park needs.”
“What is the word package to you, dear? From this conversation it seems that to me it’s a lot of non-essentials on top of the essentials. To you it’s just the essentials. Do you think I’m right in thinking that my definition of a package is actually wrong?”
” Mama! It would be nice if it had a nice covered area for some cold drinks. And yes may be the parents would appreciate it if they could work out on a treadmill while their kid used the swing and slide. And a salon? I don’t know about a full salon but if there was a woman here who could just do my nails while my kid ran around the water fountain I think I’d be happier. But none of that is required to make this a park. Or a good park. It’s already such a good one”.
“So you think that the essentials are all that’s required to make a package?”
“Hahaha! Why’re you stuck on that word?”
“Because, my dear child! All my life I tried to consciously and subconsciously steer you clear from thinking of a person as a package but somehow society conditioned you into thinking that you have to be a package. And while focusing on the package you somehow developed laser beam focus for the non-essentials and completely disregarded the essentials. It’s hurtful to a parent when their child becomes the antithesis of their conviction as a person. I want you to be your own person but I never wanted you to be a mindless consumer or a woman who appraised other women constantly on how they looked or valued them on what they wear. I had thought that some day you’d be chosen for the woman you are. But I was hurt to know that you hope to be chosen for the package you are. My child referring to herself as a package was hurtful because I see my child as the biggest gift of the universe to me. If you didn’t have an eye or a ear or a limb, you would’ve still been perfect. Your package would’ve still been complete”.
I’ve never seen my mom so hurt and disappointed. She’s a strong woman who is critical of me on most occasions but also my biggest champion . When she reprimands me on my ways I always know that nothing she says in dissent will change her opinion of me. But I can see how her opinion of me is that of a shallow person. A person who hoped to make friends in shopping stores and find a husband by luring someone on Instagram.
We are both silently crying. The hurt of losing myself is somehow stronger than losing Jason. The opinion that my mom has of me is louder than the squeals of appreciation that I get from my coworkers each morning as I walk in, impeccably dressed.
I take my mother’s hand.
“I was wrong, Mama. I hated it when you pointed this out to me each time I spent my hard-earned money on trivial things. I also didn’t like it when you suggested to me to dress simpler, live simpler. I was wrong”.
“There is nothing wrong in wanting and having beautiful things. But things are things. When you see someone with a Hermès bag, what does it tell you about them? Nothing, right? But when you get to know that person and realize that they’re kind and generous and loving and a great human being, you realize that the non-essential which was her bag only acts as an accessory to her already stylish and well-rounded personality. There is a lot of charisma and attraction in being a good human. I want you to value that. That’s individuality. There are many women swinging the same LV that you’ve got on your shoulder right now. But there is just one you. Rock your you! That’s your strength. That isn’t available in any store. That is what attracted Jason to Tina. Tina attracted Jason. May be if you opened up more and drifted a little away from your ways of assessing people, you’d be attractive for who you are too.”
Even though Jason’s name hurts I can’t help but feel a little proud in the moment of my best friend who got the most eligible bachelor in town just by being her. My best friend is a cool girl.
“Mama! I promise you I won’t lose my authenticity and my individuality in this. I promise I’ll be mindful of this conversation each time I go stray. I can’t plan the engagement party but I’m a little happier for them now. I promise you that I won’t let my love for nice things color my opinion of people who dress differently or use their money differently or don’t have as much. I promise you.”
“You’re a good girl. Don’t plan that party. It will hurt you. Being true to yourself doesn’t mean that you have to be a saint and not care about your feelings”.
“I’m not a saint, Mama. Surely you know that by now”, I say mischievously.
Mama looks amused,
“I know, my sweet child! You’re no saint. Trust me, you’re no saint”.