Back-to-school shopping my third grade summer should have been a televised event sponsored by Lacoste. This materialistic extravaganza was made possible by the giant sea-faring drug-smuggler, my mom’s bald and bearded boyfriend. She later married him, but not until she was absolutely certain he was a bona fide criminal. No southern lady wants to make a hasty decision about love.
We had the Belk clerk’s full attention that afternoon because we had a shoe box filled with cash, like you did in the 80’s. If the garment had an alligator on it, and remotely fit me, it was mine, in every color, print, or combination, with socks and headbands to match. Oh happy day.
Two months prior to that, we were living in an unfortunate apartment complex in Fort Lauderdale, and I was wearing clothes that had been worn by nine people before me, or were stolen. But not by me. That came later. So, this shopping spree was the jumping off point for a life-long love of fashion, and I remain steadfastly dedicated to the notion there is no unsavory feeling a good designer can’t fix.
The holy grail that day was the beautiful kelly green Izod wool sweater with the blue alligator trimmed in bright white. I couldn’t pull it on over my head fast enough to admire the “new” me, in a new city, in a new mirror. This year I wasn’t going to be the poor kid with the weird family. I wouldn’t need to sit on my hands to hide the shame manifested in bloody cuticles. I was going to eat white bread sandwiches, and be driven to school in a new car, wearing the right clothes. I was going to quietly blend in with everyone else. The sweater guaranteed it.
It was approximately 102 degrees in South Carolina the day I went home with the sweater. I wore it around the house from August through late September, laying across air conditioning vents daydreaming about its big debut. School finally started, and the day I’d been waiting for arrived: the day it was cool enough to wear the sweater outside from 7:30am to 9:00am. And I did, with pride reserved for middle school girls with C cups.
After school I went to my best friend’s house, and left the jewel of my wardrobe on the porch of their dilapidated and filthy house. These people would buy new pots and pans before considering soap and water as a possible solution. I can get on board with this concept if you have the good sense to dispose of the dirty dishes as you go, rather than leaving them stacked around your home like Mayan ruins. Think Hoarders, without the benefit of a craft service table and per diem while filming.
Naturally, these people had a vicious Doberman. While we were inside, navigating our way through towers of bacteria, he ripped my sweater into nineteen pieces. To break my heart further, he spread it evenly across their lawn, a word I’m using to demonstrate my generosity.
When I discovered the atrocity that had befallen what I believed was my ticket to normalcy, devastation doesn’t begin to cover it. Determined not to cry, I gathered all the grace I had and collected the larger pieces without a word. The only thing that gave me the will to pedal home was knowing my mom would be empathetic to this horrific injustice, and rush me to the mall at daybreak to replace it. Instead, she leapt onto an imaginary soapbox in a tone I didn’t appreciate for a kaleidoscope of reasons, hypocrisy being the largest and most applicable, and began to blather about consequences and being responsible for my belongings.
Uh, pardon? We were moh-ments away from DEA agents raiding the house, at least one parent being incarcerated, the other one being hauled in for questioning, and the possibility of me being whisked away by the Department of Social Services in an unmarked car until my father could be reached on a goddamn circus train. But we needed to lay down the law with the nine-year-old who accidently let her best friend’s dog eat her fucking sweater?
I’m sure there was more to her lecture like “get your Barbies off the bales of pot and set the table,” but all I remember is the stunned realization that my beautiful Izod sweater was gone forever, and the asshole dog responsible for my grief was too big to kill.
My mom’s response was potentially a little harsh, but trust that I never lost another piece of clothing. Until someone I won’t name, Shannon, stole my Members Only jacket in the 7th grade, and denied it all the way through high school. Surprisingly, Mom replaced that one immediately because I had been the “victim of a crime.” I politely explained that the destruction of any designer garment is a crime regardless of the number of legs on the perpetrator, but she informed me that it’s only a true crime if a human is involved.
She would definitely know. It was crime that afforded me that fabulous sweater in the first place. I think I’ll get another one as soon as fall arrives. I don’t know any dobermans.