The Shame of it All

In the weeks prior to starting high school, prior to that accusation by that boy, my parents took me shopping for uniforms and other necessities. We weren’t well off, so new clothes were a treat.

My memories of clothes shopping, up until that point, was this: In the dead of night, down a dark Perth back alley, my father’s wife’s mother surreptitiously drove my siblings and I. She would turn the headlights off and coast to a stop behind a row of shops. Grandmother shushed us and motioned for us to get out of the car quietly.

I have no doubt my father’s wife told her mother my father couldn’t provide for us, but that was so far from the truth, it’s laughable.

As we stepped from the car, a rear shop door rolled opened and another elderly woman motioned for us to get inside. Once in the shop we were told to go, ‘Pick out anything you want.’

Dream come true right? Not really.

It was a Red Cross second-hand clothes shop, but you take what you can get, and that was as close to clothes shopping as we kids had ever been, although there was one other time when I was much younger, but will leave that for another post.

I always had a notion new clothes were a luxury, ‘and what could go wrong?’

My father’s wife insisted I needed bra’s, so bought me four pairs of Fibs, black ones. My grandmother had been working me for a year. Telling me all about the lovely long brown skirt she was getting me for school. My expectations were high to say the least.

Grandmother arrived on the Saturday, as usual. Dad disappeared into the bedroom, as usual. My excitement was brimming over when I saw the brown paper wrapped package in her hand. She handed me the package, but as I tore into it, I felt my heart sink. I wanted to scream, ‘Oh the humanity of it all,’ but didn’t.

‘Go try it on,’ my father’s wife called as she shoved another jam and cream scone in her mouth. ‘Try on the clothes we got you last night too.’

I did. I tried them all on.

The long brown skirt I’d been promised, with its fine pleats, was a thick fabric, no need to iron. That baby could’ve traveled to the Moon and back, and the burn upon re-entry, wouldn’t have even scorched it.

It was heavy, with no shape, and the large, thick pleats were just the icing on that year long promise fail. If not for the thick elastic around the band, it would’ve fallen right off me.

‘It’s a bag,’ I thought trying to muster the strength, both physical and psychological, to bite my tongue, while looking at the horror in my hands.

I pulled out the clothes I was bought the night before and cringed, just as I did when my father’s wife bought them. I opened the package with the Fibs inside.

‘How bad could this be?’ I’d thought… how bad indeed.

I put a pair on… and if not for the over shoulder bands and elastic around the bottom of them, they too would have fallen off.

I wanted to cry, but stopped myself.

‘I don’t really have to wear them,’ I thought taking another look in the mirror at the black bags hanging from my chest. ‘No-one would know. I’ll just throw them in the wash each day.’

I picked up one of the yellow T-shirt’s, bought the night before, and pulled it over my head, and felt every last ounce of hope get sucked from the room. I believed, no needed, the shirt to cover most of the damage, it didn’t. I stood stock still, staring at myself in horror, in the mirror.

(I have an aversion to mirrors. I have two in my house, one is a small rectangular mirror, the other is a larger mirror attached to the front of a wardrobe. That mirror is kept in a dark room. After writing this post, I have to wonder if it was this event that began my inability to look at my reflection.)

‘Hurry up Karen,’ my father’s wife called with a tone quite different to her usual.

It was ‘My mother’s here,’ voice and it gave me the shits. At least when she was herself, I knew what to expect. When her mother was there, I had no idea if I’d done something wrong until the face slap after she’d left.

I didn’t want to move, never wanted to be seen in general, but, ‘Like, like this,’ I thought staring at my reflection in the mirror. I didn’t want to be looking at it either.

The yellow T-shirt was see-through and blaring back at me were those empty, black sacks folded against the yellow fabric. Between that and the skirt, I was in hell.

‘I like the singlet option,’ I recall thinking, but didn’t have any.

I couldn’t wear the shirt without something underneath. I was fucked!

I walked out in all my glory, put on a show for them both. They were too busy eating, and drinking tea, to make me stay in those clothes for long. I ran back to the bedroom I shared with two of my younger siblings, and tore the clothes off.

‘I’m going to have to wear them on the Monday,’ was my teary thought.

I slipped out through the back door of the house, and made it to my tree without incident. I sat in my tree for a very long time that day and cried.

I felt so ashamed of those bras, that T-shirt, that skirt. All I needed was a snotty nose, broken spectacles, a pair of impressive front teeth, and corrective shoes to top off the ensemble. Though not even that would’ve drawn the attention away from my new school uniform.

I was wearing a brown bag, that if I pulled up over my head, would still look like a brown bag. I’d mastered the art of being invisible, and it’s how I wanted to stay, but those clothes changed all that. The accusation topped it all off. That boy, who I’d love to name but can’t, because I think he’s now a journalist, put a bulls eye on my back.

Everyone saw me.

It was the beginning of a whole new hell, and feel to this day, those bras, the yellow see-through T-shirt’s, they were a deliberate act by my father’s wife to humiliate me. I could be wrong about that, but it sure as hell feels right.

These things defined who I was, how I was perceived by my peers. They were fuckers! All of them.

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