Clean and Elegant

Clean and Elegant

Tuesday, 4 October 2011


by Erica J. Schmidt

When I was a little girl, my favourite game was dress up.  The dress-up box sat underneath the pine bunk bed that my father had built.  In it was the white clown suit with polka dots that my sister had worn to the hospital two days after I was born.  To go with it was a rainbow wig of curly haired clown hair that my grandmother wore to her chemotherapy 20 years later.  Also stored in the old trunk were my parents’ wedding clothes-my father’s dark beige corduroy suit and my mother’s seemingly patchwork purple, black and yellow baby doll dress. 
“I just loved that dress,” Mom would exclaim when my sister put it on.   “I can’t remember why.”  The material flowed out from my sister’s hips, circling her ankles on the floor.  I had seen pictures of my parents’ city hall wedding.  My sister had been the flower girl and worn a mauve jumper.  I was underneath my mom’s dress, which stopped just above my mother’s knees. 

“I wish you’d worn a pretty white one,” Amy-Louise complained. While Mom was taking her nap, Amy-Louise told me that Mommy hadn’t had a fancy wedding, because she still loved Amy-Louise’s Daddy who was funnier  and didn’t yell.  My sister visited her father every other weekend.  When she returned on Sunday nights, she cried and screamed because her daddy was nicer than mine. 
I liked it when my sister went to her dad’s.  Then I had the whole dress up box to myself.  Otherwise, Amy-Louise made me wear something ugly like Great Grandpa Meier’s gardening overalls or Great Aunt Lotty’s itchy woollen red bathing suit. 

The best costume was the fairy princess dress which was silky, shiny and pink, with bits of material that draped down the skirt, like petals.  Every time I put on the dress, my chest filled with pride and I felt like the most beautiful woman in the world.  There was something extraordinarily special about me and the whole world knew it.  I was barely 4 years old. 
On some Saturdays, my parents made me play with Darcy.  Darcy was four and a half, but I already came up to his nose.  Like me, he had blonde flowing, curly hair that ended at his chin.  Darcy’s father also had long hair which I didn’t understand.  In my parents’ wedding pictures, my Dad had long black hair, but he also had a beard so that everyone that knew he was a man. 

Darcy and I began each of our dress-up sessions in our underwear.  Squatting beside the dress-up box, Darcy cupped his face in his hands and watched me as I slipped the princess dress over my head.  I slid into my mother’s navy blue pumps and took a few clunky steps until I knew with absolute certainty that I was the most beautiful woman in the world.   Digging through the clown suits and wedding clothes, I came upon Darcy’s costume of the day. 
“You wear this,” I ordered, throwing Aunt Lotty’s bathing suit at Darcy.
“That’s for girls,” Darcy whined.
“ Boys don’t have long hair.”
“Some boys do.”

“Not pretty ones.  Now put this on.”  Reluctantly, Darcy slipped into the bathing suit.  The shoulder straps hung loosely and the wool billowed around his crotch and abdomen. 
“We’re going to beach,” I announced, dragging him by the hand across the hallway to the bathroom.  Our house was so old that the bathtub had claws, no shower and individual faucets for the hot and cold water.   I turned both faucets on full blast. 
“Get in,” I told Darcy.
“My undies will get wet.” 
“Too bad.  You’re a girl.”  I meant that he wasn’t allowed to take his underwear off, because then his penis would show and it would ruin the effect.
“So are you.”
“But I’m a princess mother.  It’s better.  Get in.”  Darcy stepped onto the wooden bench that my father had made us and climbed over the edge of the bathtub. 

“Sit,” I ordered.  He sat and as predicted, his underwear got wet and Aunt Lotty’s bathing suit grew soggy and even loser around his pelvis and middle.  Darcy whimpered and began to kick his legs as though he we pinned to the bottom to the bathtub and was trying to wriggle himself free.  I looked down at him with disdain and mimicked my father when he was speaking to my mother.
“Christ, Darcy what are you doing?”  Darcy whimpered like a dead cat.  “Crying won’t help.”  Bubbles formed behind Darcy’s buttocks.  It smelled wet and foul like diarrhea.  “You better not pooh,”  I warned.  
Next time, stand up.”
“You said sit,” he said.
“What are you, a dog?”  I dragged the bench to the sink so that I could reach above the sink to the medicine cabinet.  Inside was an open package of my mother’s pink disposable razors.  I removed one from the package, removed the plastic cover and clicked back to the bathtub.  I wanted to slide the razor along Darcy’s skinny legs like I’d seen my mom do.  Clutching Darcy’s handles, I pulled his leg straight and brought the razor to his skin.
“Hold still,”  I said.  Darcy ay on his back and kicked the razor out of my hand.  It fell into the water next to Darcy’s thigh.  Seizing the handle, Darcy stood up and lashed the blade at my face, pushing it down hard so it broke the skin on my left cheek.  I screamed and rushed out of the bathroom.  As I ran downstairs barefoot, blood dripped on the puffed sleeves of the princess dress and I wet my pants. 
We wore our regular clothes to the emergency but Darcy refused to borrow my underwear so he didn’t wear any.  In the emergency room, we sat on orange chairs and I  held a washcloth on my bleeding face.   At the end of our row of clothes, an old bald man was wheezing heavily.  His right pant leg was rolled up and his purply veiny leg was draped along the chairs beside him  Across from us, a tall, pale, emaciated lady with stringy blonde hair was shaking her hands, neck and feet as she spoke to the fluorescent lights on the ceiling. 
“How are you, Sheila?  Are you having a good day.  No I’m not.  My colon is bleeding.  Bloody colon.  Bloody colon.  Not a good day.”  She stood over, pulled down her pants to her thighs and bent over, mooning the lights on the ceiling. “Bloody colon!”  Now she was yelling.  She place one hand on either ass cheek and spread them apart.  “Bad day.  Bad day.  A security guard came up behind her, pulled up her pants and led her away.  My mother stared, fascinated.
“Every time I come to a hospital, I just wish I’d finished my nursing degree.  I just wish I’d finished it.”  She was a piano teacher.
On the way home, my mother decided to raise her voice briefly.  “I’m really mad at you guys,” she declared.  Darcy started to cry but I remained silent and solemn.   The doctor had said that the cut wasn’t deep enough to need stitches and taped it together with a fancy band-aid.  My mother washed the princess dress by hand, but I could still see the blood stains.  Just the same, a few days later, I slipped it on with my mother’s blue pumps and waited for the beautiful, extraordinary I’m so special feeling.  I crossed the hallway to examine myself in the mirror in my parent’s bedroom  Suddenly, the magic dress appeared too shiny and too pink.  Plus it was way too big for me.  I knew that the special and extraordinary feeling that I used to have didn’t match my face, which was round, fleshy and of course, punctuated by the band-aid on my left cheek.  My unruly curly blonde hair hadn’t been combed or groomed and its knotted frizz stuck out in a different directions.  The image was so devastating compared to the way I had imagined myself.  Everything I had thought had been a lie. 
I didn’t stop playing dress up, but I never wore the Prince dress ever again.  Also, I decided it was a bad idea to look in the mirror if there was any hope in rekindling the spectacular sense of unique beauty that had once arose so easily. 
Then one summer afternoon, I found myself in front of a mirror in an elevated chair in a hair salon.  My hairdresser’s name was Terry which I thought was confusing.  With her broad shoulders, fat chest and thick legs, she could have been a man or a woman.  She dug her nails into my skull and ran her fingers through my curls which almost came to my shoulders.
“Curly hair’s so cute when it’s short,” Terry said. 
“And it will be so much easier to take care of, sweetie,”  my mother gushed.  “Your first haircut at a real hairdresser!  How exciting!”
I did not feel excited.  I looked down at the floor so that I would not see my round, sad, unspectacular face with the scar on my left cheek.
“Hurry up,”  I said.  “I want to go swimming.  Twenty minutes later, I looked in the mirror again and saw a bowl of tight curls jutting out from my head.
“So  sweet,” my mother exclaimed.  “Thank you Terry.
I refused to go swimming that day.  I couldn’t wear my blue and red bathing suit with the dolphin on the tummy.  Everyone would look at me funny because my hair made me look like a boy.  I announced to my parents that I was a boy now and I needed new clothes.  They bought me a pair of blue shorts and green swimming trunks with sharks on them.
In August, my cousin got married in Manitoba.  My aunt wanted me to wear a frilly blue dress with flowers on it.  I couldn’t because it wouldn’t match my hair.  They tried to convince me that it was just like playing dress up, but I remained adamant.  Finally, we agreed upon blue trousers, a white dress shirt and suspenders. When Darcy came over to play we played doctor, cars and cops and robbers.  When I went over to his house, we played with his guns, even though my mother didn’t want us to.
Darcy and I went to different kindergartens since Darcy’s parents believed that children should be educated according to a theory made up by a man named Mr. Walnut.  My teacher’s name was Ms.  Strotman.  On my first day, I wore my blue trousers from the wedding and a red t. shirt with a yellow praying mantis and the words “Party Animal” on it.  My sneakers were navy blue with light blue Velcro.  My hair had grown out a little bit, but my mother had taken me to Terry for a trim on the weekend.  Now it fell a few millimetres above the tips of my ears.
“You’re so pretty,”  Terry had cooed from behind the chair.  I disagreed.  I looked like a boy.
All the other little girls had to sit on their heels or pull down their frilly flowering dresses so that the little boys couldn’t see their underwear.  I sat in a comfortable cross-legged position next to Ms. Stroman’s rocking chair.  Ms.  Strotman had long shiny wavy brown hair that went down past her shoulder blades.  She was wearing light beige Capri pants and a dark purple 3 quarter length shirt with sparking designs on it  I thought that she was very beautiful but I was shocked that she didn’t have to wear a dress on the first day of school. 
“Good morning girls and boys,”  Ms. Strotman greeted us.  I wondered if I had to wait for my hair to grow back before I could be a girl again.  I wanted to be a girl, like Ms. Strotman. 
We stood up and pretended to sing along as Ms. Strotman played Oh Canada on the piano.  Afterwards, she gave each of us strips of construction paper with our names on it.  My strips were red and orange.  The first one was for writing practice and the second was to put in the Helper of the Day box.  Ms. Strotman reached in the box and pulled out a long green strip of construction paper.  Consequently, the Helper of the Day was Ben.  Ben stood up.  He was tanned with rosy cheeks, blue eyes and wavy brown hair that was just a little shorter than mine.  Ben got to turn the weather wheel and determine whether it was snowy, rainy, cloudy and or sunny.  He selected the day of the week out of seven rectangles of Bristol board with bold, illegible letters printed on them.  Ben knew that it was Tuesday.  Ms.  Strotman had to help him with the month and date.  Still, I admired his choices.
At playtime, I saw Ben in the Kitchen Corner where there was a Fisher Price kitchen set, as well as a box full of dress up clothes.  I gazed longingly as Ben rummaged through the costumes and pulled out a police hat and blazer.  Tentatively I approached the kitchen set.  I removed the plastic egg from the frying pan and replaced it with the piece of plastic French toast. 
“Hi,” Ben said.  I’m the police.  I say you wear a tutu.”  From the box, he procured a tutu with a light blue silk body suit and a dark blue lacy skirt.  It was beautiful, perhaps more beautiful than the princess dress ever was. 
I stared at Ben in shock.  Didn’t he know that I was an ugly boy and that I couldn’t possibly  belong in a tutu.
“I’m the police,”  Ben repeated.  Too stunned to be delighted, I slipped the tutu over my trousers and party animal shirt.  Ben took my hand, opened the dishwasher and found a plate.  He removed the French toast from the frying pan and we ate it together.
Playing with Ben was the closest I ever got to retrieving the sensation of being extraordinarily beautiful, that I’d lost when Darcy cut me in the bathtub.  Every day at playtime, Ben at I met in the house corner.  He was the policeman and I was the blue ballerina, with trousers for leotards.  By December, most of my hair had grow back again.  Ben and I were partners in the Christmas pageant.  Ben wore the policeman uniform and I wore the tutu.  At the end, Ben bowed and I curtsied.  Backstage we kissed on the lips.  . 
My parents finally split up when I was twenty.  While I was helping my mother move I found a framed picture of Ben and I.  We are holding hands under a tree.  There are pink flowers at out feet.  I am wearing a long white dress with tiny burgundy blossoms on it.  I have bangs and pigtails.  After kindgarten, Ben and his family moved to Australia.  His mother helped him write me a postcard.
Ben says he loves you and misses you and wishes you were here.”  LOVE BEN was scrawled in enormous angular underneath Ben’s mother’s writing.  That was the last I heard of him.
Our family moved to Perth in grade one, so we didn’t hear much of Darcy either.  I always kept the scar from when I made him wear Aunt Lotty’s bathing suit.  My Dad said that Darcy had a hard life.  He took a lot of drugs and didn’t get along with his parents.  My mom said that that was because he was a test tube baby.
I wear dresses all the time now.  And my hair is never cut shorter than my shoulders.  People tell me I am beautiful, but when I look in the mirror, my reflection never comes close to the image of beauty, I believed I’d exuded as a child.  If I take of my dresses and sit down, admirers would see my thighs spread out into what they really are.  Mammoth.  Grotesque.  Inside, I feel fragile, like a broken, ruined delicateness.  The part of me that matches that is Darcy’s scar.  It will live as long as I do.  Last weekend, my dad called me to say that during his sleep, Darcy had asphyxiated on his own vomit and died in his girlfriend’s arms.  He was 22. 
I just got a job modelling luscious wedding gowns next to handsome grooms who look like the kind of men that Ben must have grown up to be.  At each makeup call I close my eyes as the assistant tweezes my eyebrows, and covers my face with powders and blushes and skin coloured face paint.  Maybe, if she does a good enough job, when I stand beside the groom, the dead wonder of the princess dress will come back.  When I open my eyes, I can’t see Darcy’s scar in the mirror anymore.  I get up and walk out to meet the groom.  But before I even get through the door, I know that the wonder won’t come back.  It is too late.   It has been too late for a very long time. 

The End.

Twitter: @mypelvicfloor

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