For those of us sentenced to Catholic school, back-to-school shopping promised few thrills beyond walking to Kresges with all the neighborhood mothers and our supply lists. The most we could look forward to once we got there was something as mundane as two-holed versus three-holed paper, or a choice between anklets and knee socks. Vickie Johnson changed that for all of us the summer before sixth grade.
Long before anyone else thought of shopping that year, Vickie's mom left the other nine children behind, shunned Kresges and the other mothers, and took Vickie downtown to shop, just the two of them. When they hadn't returned at dinnertime, I wasn't sure I could eat around my growing anticipation. I pictured her with all sorts of extravagant things: the cartridge pen with the pointed cap, the roll top pencil holder, a madras purse. If she came back with them all, I'd die of excitement with her.
As I shoved bites of pork chop around the plate, picturing Vickie in a red stretch-headband, she charged through the door without stopping to knock. "Wait 'til you see what I got," she squealed.
I didn't have to wait; my whole family sat staring at the bra she swung over her head like she'd win a prize if she lassoed the light fixture. I hid my disappointment, hoping she would still get at least one of the good things I had dreamed for her.
She handed the bra over for my mother to examine, neither of them showing any sign they shared my regret. After I had my turn at holding the bra, Vickie rushed out to show the others.
Mom bit her cheeks. Daddy said now Vickie would have something to carry her apples to school in. I asked to be excused and ran to catch up with my friend.
Within an hour, every girl in the neighborhood had rubbed, stretched, fastened and unfastened, adjusted the straps, and pined for Vickie's bra. She pulled a few of us aside and promised we could all try it on the next day.
Caught up in the excitement of being included in the select fitting club, I approached my mother that night to see if my world was changing also. "Am I getting a bra before school starts?"
"I don't think you need one," she said. "Do you?"
Suddenly I wanted breasts. "When do you think I might grow?"
She reminded me we were in the same grade, but Vickie was a year older. "Besides, people grow at different rates. It'll happen when the time is right for you."
That was my first lesson in careful what you wish for. Had I known the bra would become a pain in my ass forever, I would never have wasted those wishes.
My time came, and I got my bra. Even after Mom helped me adjust the straps, it refused to stay where it belonged. I tried not to move, but it didn't matter how still I sat, the darned thing climbed up and I had to tug it back down. At times, I was afraid it would crawl out the top of my blouse. It itched. I couldn't pay attention in class. Mom said I would be more comfortable after she had washed the bra a few times. She lied.
Once the newness wore off on that first bra, I wondered who could possibly have invented the contraption. What woman hated herself so much she decided to design something that would make her miserable every waking second of her life? Who thought gee, it might be a good idea to bind her breasts tightly, connect the binding to her shoulders for added discomfort, and then put a piece of elastic across the back so boys could snap the crap out of her back? That woman must have been crazy, along with all the ones who followed her. And if a man thought it up, women were stupid to listen to him.
I changed my mind. I did not want breasts.
Not much changed over the years. My friends saved for months to get implants, I turned down freebies. My plastic surgeon friend retired feeling like a failure because my chest was still flat. I didn't want a hunk of flab hanging off my stomach, so why would I want two hanging off my chest?
I haven't seen Vickie in years. I picture her as a Victoria Secret regular, with a wardrobe of sexy lingerie. I'm still thinking about that fountain pen with the pointed lid.(In the spirit of adapting to the "new Gather" I am republishing old articles without doing anything to improve them. I hope you will forgive me for cheating just a little by adding the italic font to this one. Old habits are so hard to break.)