I am twelve years old standing in front of my grandfather’s bureau, a messy, change-cluttered wooden dresser topped with a three way mirror. Completely still, I assess myself from the farthest corners of my eyes. Perplexed, angry, and resolute, I tell my mother, “I am not wearing this.”
This is a navy blue sailor dress peppered with tiny gold anchors, its oversized white lapels converging just below my belly button at an axis of evil, a massive, floppy, soul-crushing white bow.
I look like Annie but less mature and more likely to burst into song.
I turn from the mirror, look at my mom, throw my hands into the air. I cannot wear this, I think, the sentence pounding in my brain, pulsing through my hands and arms and ears and toes. I cannot wear this. I cannot wear this. I cannot wear this.
"It’s soooo cute," she practically purrs.
I think of the pink bunny suit in The Christmas Story.
"Exactly," I mutter.
I am twelve, not eleven, and in one rotation of the earth around the sun, I have finally amassed enough experience and wisdom to know that cute is the last thing I want to be.
I look at my mother like I’ve seen dogs dressed in tiny sweaters look at their owners, the humiliation pooling in my eyes, knowing she could make me wear it and hoping, praying she won’t.
We stare at one another for five hours. Or ten seconds. Whichever.
"Okay," she says, feigning frustration, "We’ll take it back."
She can’t hide the smile creeping across her face and at first I think she’s laughing at me, me in this ridiculous dress.
But later I decide she isn’t mocking me, not at all. I think she’s excited and nervous and happy and a little sad to have a twelve year old daughter and to return the very last sailor dress she’ll ever have need to buy.