The Emperor’s New Clothes

I gotta wonder if my mother’s life would have been different if she had lived it all along like she was worried what people would think of her after she was gone.

Not that I think everyone should go around thinking about death all the time. Far from it. But I suppose there’s a fine line between what people think of you after you’re dead and what they think of you while you’re still alive. Or maybe a not-so-fine line. Seems to me that the people who get the most respect after they’re gone are the one who didn’t give a fuck what people thought while they were alive.

Or at least gave the impression that they didn’t care. The image of not-caring what others think has to be carefully cultivated by some. While others genuinely don’t give a fuck.

Which people’s opinions you give a fuck about also matters, but we can talk about that later.

Janine was talked into joining us for hearts a couple of times. I liked the game better when there were four of us; it just seemed to click better. Call me crazy but I found something soothing about the numbers lining up? Even if I wasn’t winning, it was still satisfying in some way I can’t explain.

It was during one of those games that a conversation about dress shopping happened.

“Rita,” Claire asked, “you know this area. Where’s a nice place to shop for a dress?”

“What kind of a dress?”

“My youngest daughter is graduating college and I’m going to go to Boston for it.”

“Oh, so you need something dressy but not formal.”

“Exactly.”

To which I said, “Aren’t they all?”

“Aren’t all which what?” Rita asked,

“Aren’t all dresses by definition ‘dressy’?”

“Don’t mind him; he’s always saying smart-aleck stuff like that.” Janine was not amused.

Claire was undeterred from her point. “Nothing I had fits me anymore.”

Rita was also undistracted from the goal. “Oh and you definitely need something new for an occasion like this. There’s a mall my daughter takes me to sometimes. The department stores are good for that sort of thing.”

“What do you think, Jan, could we—“

“Oh, no.” Janine slapped her cards down on the table. “You are not roping me into another endless changing room hellscape.”

“Jan! Watch your language!”

“What? Oh, honestly, Mom, this is just the kind of thing I’m talking about. If you think I’m going to trap myself with you for a multi-hour slog though mall-land just so you can harangue me non-stop about every little thing, you are very wrong.”

“Is it wrong to be sensitive to people’s… sensitivities?” Claire tried. “Some people here are very religious.”

“Oh, their virgin ears.” Janine mimed putting her hands over hers. “They’re not gonna die.” She blushed suddenly. “From that, I mean, from hearing a word like ‘hellscape.’ Besides, we’re the only ones in here.”

“But we aren’t always and sometimes you have Landon with you,” Claire pressed. “You really ought to be watching your language all the time. Make it a habit.”

“You make it sound like I didn’t choose my words intentionally.” Janine was on the verge of getting out of her chair. I could feel how tense she was.

“Oh, seriously, Jan. You make it sound like dress shopping was some kind of torture I put you through.”

“It was! And the shoes! And making me strut up and down the store!” She was on her feet then and gesturing with her hand on her hip. “Until I had blisters! And in the end we ended up with the dress you liked and the shoes you liked, not the ones I liked!”

“So maybe it’s good that it’s a dress for Claire you’ll be picking out?” I said, trying to lighten the mood a little.

It didn’t work. “Fuck you, Daron. Fuck you, Mom,” Janine said, and stormed out.

Rita quietly gathered up the cards and started setting us up for a three-person game while Claire blustered through a heap of excuses. Let’s see if I can remember them: Oh surely it wasn’t that bad. She’s just angry because she didn’t get to go to the prom with the boy she wanted to. You should have seen the dress which was spectacular and looked great on her. She had such a great figure then. She was such a hormonal teenager she was always dramatizing everything so she doesn’t even remember how it was. Can you imagine being so unappreciated? I know girls who didn’t get to go to their prom because they didn’t have a parent buying a dress for them. Or they showed up looking like they were wearing a potato sack. Et cetera.

“Well, I’d be glad to go on a shopping trip with you, Claire… if our chauffeur is available,” Rita batted her eyelashes sarcastically at me.

“Ha, Sure. I’d be happy to take you to the mall.” I had never been subjected to quite that level of scrutiny during a clothes shopping trip, and after about age twelve I stopped going with Claire. If you went through my closet you’d probably still find shirts that had been Remo’s. But I knew the ways that Claire could criticize and disapprove. I wondered how it would be different when she was the one looking in the mirror.

I supposed I was about to find out.

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Comments 1

  1. sanders wrote:

    I actually feel for Jan right now. I had a conversation Tuesday with my own mother, looking at pictures from when I was three through to kindergarten, and burst into tears when I was trying to explain why I kept saying, “I really was a cute kid.” Mom asked if I was just realizing it, and, yeah, I was really was, because it was never said. I didn’t know, a couple of weekends ago, how to explain to the person with whom I’m involved, why it hit me like a ton of bricks when he called me pretty. I don’t know how to tell him I was in college before anyone said that to me and meant me, not the clothes I was wearing or the way my hair was styled, but me and my body. I don’t know how to continue the conversation with my mother to explain how it felt to have every ounce of me that existed examined and criticized, or how I internalized it to analyze every bite of food that passed my lips and to still be my own harshest critic in the absence of outside commentary.

    It’s a hard thing to endure, and hard to unlearn, and hard to explain to anyone growing up aligned with a validated masculinity what it’s like to grow up in a cis female and feminine body.

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    Yeah. I escaped a lot of the feminine appearance stuff my sisters were put through the wringer over. I was put through the wringer over whether I was being ‘man enough’ or the right kind of man or whatever when I was still a boy, but that wasn’t so much about body image as it was about behavior, about what I said or how I said it, about how I reacted or acted.

    [Reply]

    Posted 27 Jun 2019 at 10:49 pm

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