Lately, I have been buying a lot of clothes. I’ve been ducking into any store that has a sale — there are plenty of those, at this time of year — and filling my arms with as much merchandise as I’m allowed in the fitting room.
I shop alone, and I shop cheap. Static viscose blouses that don’t breathe and smell ripe fast in the summer; thin wool-blend jackets in those knock-off colors that are somehow both brighter and more faded than expensive, name-brand originals; faux fur collars; gaudy, chipped gold necklaces; shapeless, dime-a-dozen cotton boyfriend cardigans; imitation leather boots. In the dressing room, I strip self-consciously, fluorescent-white, and try on skinny jeans that are the biggest size in the store and don’t go up past my hips. My eyeliner is smudged and in this light, the pimple on my chin looks even redder.
I buy cheap clothes because I can buy a lot of them and buying a lot of new clothes makes me feel better, at least temporarily, in the 30 minutes I have before I go to therapy or after work when I just mean to stop at Target and buy a scented candle. I buy cheap clothes because I used to cry on some mornings in high school and put on every article of clothing in my closet and cry some more. I buy cheap clothes and I shop alone because I believe in social justice and somehow, simultaneously, support sweatshops; believe in the power of 40% off; believe in sterling silver; believe in the ability to peel off a bad day like a sweater that’s too loose in the wrists.
You dreamed too big for yourself; you didn’t dare to dream smaller.
You imagined your hand being held across the street, a warm hand on your lower back to guide you through a dim restaurant. You made him grandiose, the love of your life, the biggest dream man too big to fit into any man’s shoes, and so you touch somebody else’s spouse or look at a man you’ve been obsessing over, a man who doesn’t know you exist. You dreamed too big. You didn’t dream yourself small enough to fit hip-to-hip in a kitchen on Sunday, drinking coffee and reading the paper and messy and imperfect. You didn’t dream small enough.
You painted friends against the backdrop of your life, over drinks on Friday and brunch on Saturday and you didn’t dream small enough to know that they’d have babies and disappear for six months, you didn’t dream small enough to realize that a lot of people will get drunk with you but not everyone will watch you cry, very very sober, in your living room when even the traffic has stilled outside. You will make friendships bigger than stories that begin with being wasted into the biggest version of yourself. You didn’t dream small enough.
You dreamed success in broad strokes, promotions and publications and your name in everybody’s favorites list. You did not see yourself hunched over the small failures, the small hours of pettiness and meekness and not speaking up for yourself and working at it, and working at it, and working at it, and watching yourself change — you might have suspected that this would be your biggest success, the cultivation of your deepest self — but you didn’t dream small enough.
1. My twelfth birthday party was a sleepover. In the morning, my dad left for a little bit while we were still giggling in our sleeping bags and came back with a pink box full of doughnuts. When he opened the box, my friends all grabbed donuts, and one of them took the one that was meant for me — my favorite — a donut with chocolate filling and chocolate icing covered in chocolate chips. Nobody said anything as she bit into it, the filling oozing onto her fingers. Later, my parents said that it was sweet of me to let her have it.
2. In French class, the teacher asked me to read a passage aloud from Frankenstein. I stumbled through the sentences, ears growing pink. After I’d finished, the teacher looked at me for a moment and said, “You know, you’d have such a lovely reading voice if it weren’t for that awful American accent of yours.”
3. In my high school there was a huge staircase that went up to the second floor. In the mornings, it got really congested right as the bell rang and students moved from one classroom to another. One morning I tripped and fell right in front of my crush. He laughed, his friends laughed, and my friends laughed. I laughed all the way into a bathroom stall and then I wasn’t laughing anymore.
4. My other American friends and I rode bikes to school the first year we lived in France. The other kids in school made fun of us and a group of them used to follow each one of us home on their own bikes, yelling mean things in a spattering of broken English. One day, all of our bike seats had been stolen.
5. A girl I looked up to told me that I wasn’t friendly enough, that I should be more outgoing if I wanted to have friends.
6. I wrote a love letter to a boy once (ill-advised) and he wrote me back and told me that the fact I liked him made him sick.
7. My French philosophy teacher asked me if I had a religious background and then called me the Virgin Mary.
8. I was late to history class one day and my teacher wrote a note for my parents to sign. It was the only time I’d been late, but she wrote, “Your student does not show the proper discipline in class.” She wrote the same note in all of my friends’ books, but I was so ashamed I could barely pay attention in class.
9. My English teacher asked me, during almost every class, if I could correct any mistakes she had made. I couldn’t say no but it was so embarrassing to be singled out in front of my classmates. I got called “teacher’s pet”.
10. Another English teacher reveled in giving me less than perfect grades on simple tests because he didn’t want me to “forget I was the student”.
11. In my junior high one of the boys drew a picture of girls giving him blow jobs and showed them to me and said that he wanted me to be his girlfriend so he could say he’d been with an American girl.
12. One of my friends in junior high, a tiny perfect French girl, said I had fat arms because I probably ate too much McDonald’s when I lived in the States. I was too ashamed to wear short sleeves or tank tops for a few years after that, no matter how hot it got in the summer.
Anonymous asked: Do you and the other This Recording writers get together regularly for cake and to discuss business?
Yes. Only in my fantasies, but yes.
It’s a little bit like the famed question, “If you could have dinner with any person, dead or alive” and that first act in Caryl Churchill’s play Top Girls where a group of (in)famous women in history gather to gab over drinks and dinner. I always imagine the people I admire and respect and love the most sitting around a table, gossiping and sharing ideas and splitting a cheese plate.
like carry-ons: surreptitious enough to hide under your
seat best prose, elegant enough to be worth a second glance, able to fit into the overhead compartment tone of your piece.
person paragraph, unless your trip it is going to be very long.