Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Handout (04/14/11)
TITLE: What Not to Wear
By Theresa Santy
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“I figured out your pattern,” I can still hear her say in a breathless pant.
She is glaring at me with widening eyes as she waits for my reply. She’s grinning and her cheeks are flushed with excitement. I am mute.
Julie was smart, one of those gifted kids who went with a select group of others to an after-school learning facility in order to increase her already above-average brilliance. She was right. I had invented a pattern. My family’s budget for clothing was slight, so in the beginning of each school year my mother would buy me exactly five shirts and three pairs of pants. That was all I got until forever, or until I died a thousand deaths from humiliation, whichever came first.
I wasn’t as intelligent as my friend Julie, but I was clever. I devised a plan of rotation of my shirts and pants, using a pattern mathematically proven to ensure the fewest instances of repeated outfits. I was confident no one would notice my limited wardrobe. Julie noticed. She unraveled my secret pattern and she knew exactly which day to wear brown pants with a yellow shirt. That moment—when Julie had run up to me grinning and out of breath, when she revealed her discovery—was the most humiliating moment of fourth grade.
I can easily recall another humiliating childhood moment. I can still feel the glares from the other kids at school, and the weight of their stares pressing my pride-filled shoulders to the ground as I walked on campus on Picture Day. I can see one little girl’s upper lip curling with a twinge of disgust as I walk past her and her little group of friends.
My family had recently received a gigantic bag stuffed with like-new clothing. This gift was from the Hispanic family that lived on the backside of our apartment building. They were a friendly bunch, these neighbors, who often popped by for visits. I imagine they too noticed my limited wardrobe.
“You must play very hard,” I can remember the mom saying to me one day. She was looking at my pants, the holes, one at each knee, despite layers of iron-on patches.
I tried everything on. It was like Christmastime, gleaning through the bag of hand-me-downs left by our neighbors. There was a dress. An A frame, navy blue polyester, knee length, with a white doily collar, gorgeous dress. It was lovely, and just my size. Perfect for Picture Day.
The dress was unlike anything worn by the other girls. My Hispanic neighbors had different taste in clothing than that of the white families attending my school. My peers showed more disdain for my differently styled clothing than they ever had for my limited and bedraggled threads. I was horrified, and that moment—when I stepped on campus on Picture Day and I felt all the glares from the kids at school—was the second most humiliating moment of fourth grade. And I can remember it like it happened last week.
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