Monday, August 8, 2011

Plain white T

I spent ages 4-13 in a teeny, tiny shelter of a school. Our graduating class at the end of eighth grade had 19 students and it was the largest by far in memory. My friends were kids I'd known since crayons and nap mats and then we graduated and dispersed to half a dozen different high schools and I was on my own.

There was a mall a few towns over, a large mall, a shopping destination to a community like mine. My family never went there; it was too far and too expensive and we weren't shoppers, really; no money, I think, and maybe no inclination. But a friend was going to that mall with her mom and invited me to come. My mom surprised me by handing me $40. "Buy something new for school," she said. My friend was younger and wouldn't be starting in the public high school with me, but she was effortlessly cool and knew her way around that mall.

I bought a pair of jeans from the Gap. It was exciting, to buy a brand that kids wore all the time that I had never worn. I thought I'd feel special to wear jeans from the Gap. They were just jeans, but I didn't know anything about dressing to be effortlessly cool and I'd never had anything at all from the Gap and I didn't know anything at all about the kids in high school except that I was one of the only new ones. Almost everybody in the public high school had been together in the public middle school, and then there was me. I'd be new, but I'd be new wearing Gap jeans.

I didn't know what one wore with Gap jeans. These weren't my other jeans; these were my Gap jeans and that tells you a lot about the state of my esteem and also, perhaps, our family finances, or, if I could fake nonchalance, my family's priorities.

(But also our finances.)

I wanted the jeans to be the highlight of my first-day-of-school outlet. I wanted to be a girl who wore Gap jeans on the day that all the kids that knew each other would meet the girl they didn't know. So I just wore a white t-shirt and white Keds and I didn't tuck it in casually; I didn't wear a cool belt or great socks; I was the most unnoticeable human in the history of clothing ourselves with more than fig leaves. I had on a plain white T and jeans only I knew the make of and plain white shoes.

I don't remember much about the first day of school, so consumed was I with navigating the labrynthine building and hearing the buzz of thousands of people in conversation all around me as I spoke, mostly, to no one. I do remember getting dressed with pride in my new Gap jeans, carefully packing my new backpack and clutching my laminated bus pass, and walking for the first time down the street to the corner bus stop

only to get there and realize, in the eyes of the dozen or so kids standing there who all knew each other and didn't know me, that I wasn't dressed specially in magic jeans, I was the new girl, dull-looking, in the blandest clothes in all the history of high school fashion.

Anthony Youn's memoir In Stitches gives readers a look into the training of a medical doctor who eventually discovers his passion is plastic surgery after years of feeling awkward and different in high school and college. As a member of From Left to Write book club, I received a copy of this book for review. You can read other members' posts inspired by In Stitches by Anthony Youn, M.D. on book club day, August 9 at From Left to Write. Short story? He turned out fine. And so did I: I grew to love high school. You know how so many people say they hated high school and had fun in college? My experience was pretty much the opposite. We can talk about college another day but I had so much fun in high school. Eventually.

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