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On Monday, though, I turned my attention to clothes. My dad asked what I wanted to wear to sixth grade, and I told him I was tired of ordering my clothes from the Sears catalog. I wanted to go to one of those stores that sells Levis and get a real pair with the name on the pocket. Dad said that Lester would take me, so one afternoon we set off for a store that had light bulbs blinking on and off and rock music coming from a speaker.
My brother is nineteen and has a mustache. I asked him if girls like to kiss a man with a mustache and he asked if I wanted to find out and I said no. Lester and I don't say very much to each other, but when we do, it's right to the point.
Of course, there are some things we don't talk about at all. Like how to buy a bra. Not even Dad can talk about that. At the beginning of June, he noticed that my breasts made points in my tee shirts, so he said, "Al, don't you think you should be wearing something under that shirt?" I went upstairs and put on a second tee shirt over the first, and all summer long I wore two shirts at a time just to hide my points. All because I didn't know how to buy a bra.
I looked them up in the Sears catalog once, but there were nine pages about contour uplifts, fiberfill supports, underwire minimizers, DD cups, and something called the "Seamless Ah-h Bra." I mean, I couldn't even speak the language.
When we got to The Gap, I followed Lester inside and stared helplessly at the bins of folded jeans that reached all the way to the ceiling. Each bin had two numbers on it, like 29-33 and 32-31.
Lester stuck his hands in his pockets and looked me over. "Well," be said finally, "I'm thirty-three, thirty four, so I guess you're . . . oh, maybe twenty-nine, thirty."
I didn't know what the numbers meant, but Lester got down a pair of Levis for me. Then he took me to the row of dressing rooms in back and found one that was empty. I went in. There was no lock on the door. I went back out.
"What's the matter?" asked Lester.
"Hold the door," I told him.
Lester rolled his eyes and came over to lean on it.
I slipped off my Sears Toughskins and pulled on the Levis. They didn't even bend. I tried to imagine going to school in jeans that sounded like windshield wipers when you walked.
I stepped in one leg and then the other and promptly fell over. The jeans were so long my feet couldn't get out. I pulled them up around my ankles and stood up. There was enough room around the waist for a sofa cushion.
"Hey, Al," Lester was saying outside the door.
I opened the door a crack, and Lester stuck his bead in.
"Stay here," he said when he saw me. "I'll get the smallest they've got."
I held onto the Levis until Lester brought back a pair that said 25-30. 1 tried them on. They still came down over my feet and I could stick both fists in the waist.
"I can't figure it out," said Lester. "Maybe you've got a strange body or something."
I felt like I had swallowed an ice cube. I was what I always suspected: a freak. Other girls my age wore jeans with Levis on the pocket, but I would never be able to wear them because I was obviously deformed. Tears sprang up in my eyes.
Have you ever bad a perfectly rotten experience turn out wonderful? At that precise moment a
salesgirl was passing the door and she looked in.
"How we doing?" she said, and checked the size. "For heaven's sake," she told Lester, "she should be wearing Levis from the girls' department." And with that she took my arm and guided me out to a huge rack of jeans just made for me.
If I had had a sister, she would have known. If I had had a mother, she would have asked. Instead, Lester told me I was strange and would have taken me back home in tears. I shot him a dirty look as I clutched a pair of jeans to my chest and marched triumphantly back to the dressing room.
Have you ever bad a perfectly wonderful experience turn out awful? I opened the wrong door. There stood a red-haired boy in blue underpants. He wore white sport socks with yellow stripes around the tops and he was staring at me with his mouth open. I slammed the door as Lester pushed me into the right room, and I decided I would never come out as long as I lived. They could call the Rescue Squad, but I would stay in that dressing room forever. Miserably I tried on the size one jeans and they fit perfectly, but I was so embarrassed I couldn't even enjoy them.
"Al," Lester said finally. "You still alive?" "I'm not coming out," I told him, "not ever." "He's gone, Al."
"I can hear him breathing."
"He's gone. That's someone else."
I came out at last and went with Lester up to the cash register. There was the boy with the blue underpants in line just ahead of us. I stood behind Lester with my forehead pressed up against his back and didn't look up again until we were in the parking lot.
"When are you going to grow up?" Lester asked me.
"It was awful!" I told him. "It was so humiliating."
"It could have been worse," said Lester. "It could have been you standing there in your underpants and he opened the door."
I had a long, hard think about myself that night. I remembered a fairy tale I'd read once about a princess who worried all the time about getting old. One day her fairy godmother told her that if she really wanted, the godmother could fix it so that the princess grew younger instead of older. "Think about it for three days," the godmother said, and when she came back, the princess said yes, she really, truly, sincerely wanted to grow younger. So the princess got her wish. For the first couple years she was happy, but at the end of the story, she was lying in bed shaking a rattle and then she wasn't anything at all. I got to worrying that instead of growing up , I was growing more babyish all the time.