An upside of being in my forties is that I can tell embarrassing stories and not care anymore. Also, I get to use the word, “youngster”. For example, “This new generation is crazy. Heh. The things I’ve done… Why, back when I was a youngster…”
My puberty stage hit me late. I got to spend more time than most as a kid. I do not remember having to shave until college. My growth spurt held off its grand reveal until the second or third year of high school. My last gym class was in tenth grade. I was the weakest kid in that class. The guys, the girls; they were all stronger than I was. When challenged to see how much we could bench, I was unable to lift the forty-five pound bar by itself. Hey, at least my voice did not crack often.
This story takes place before any of that. I believe I was in junior high. My summers were more or less the same. I played LEGOs, read comics, and watched lots of television. It was a simple life, I had a cat, and everything was fine.
My sister, on the other hand, liked to learn things. Always up reading, that one. Sometimes she would have a seven hundred-page book in her hand and stay up until four in the morning reading. That was not enough for her. Nope, she wanted to have a Russian exchange student stay for the summer. She had an extra bed in her room. I guess she felt like sharing.
We had a lot of Russian exposure for a few years. My dad hosted a man for a few weeks. We sent him home with VCRs that could be sold for a tidy profit. The Goodwill Games were happening. The U.S.S.R. was making things interesting. And hey, let us not forget the eighties classic, “Russkies”. An exchange student felt like one more detail on the ever-changing landscape.
The gal, let us call her Nikki, was an odd one. She liked to sleep in as late as possible and we were a family of eight a.m. risers. She wanted to call me her little brother. I just wanted to go back to reading “Calvin & Hobbes”.
Also, I was busy trying to figure things out. My hormones were not in full swing. But I was starting to see boys and girls acting differently. Boys just walked. Girls swayed. Boys stomped. Girls swished from side to side. We made beelines. They got from place to place with hip-gliding. What was the deal?
According to my mom, she tried to give me, “The Talk.” She claims that she attempted to have a serious conversation. She also states that I covered my ears and refused to listen; that I was not ready to have that chat. I believe her.
I started to wonder if the differences were due to the clothes. Certainly there were differences. My jeans were all blue. My sister had a pair of pink jeans. She also had floral print leggings. My dad was not a fan of those . He found them too revealing on his teenage daughter. (Poppers would never survive being a parent of a teenager these days. Never.)
The thing that made all the difference, the source of all the changes, seemed to be the swimsuits. Some girls wore two-pieces. Some wore a one-piece. Bright colors, fancy designs, and changes in the way they were cut. Was that what made them feel like girls? Were clothes all that it took?
I decided to find out.
I made a point of waiting to embark on my mission until the house was as empty as possible. My parents were at work. My sister was probably at choir. My brother; who knows. I was pretty sure I had the place to myself. I did not enlist my cat. I was going solo on this adventure.
I walked to the room next to mine as quietly as possible. The door was shut, but that did not mean anything. I knocked very quietly, not wanting to give myself away. I opened the door. The room was dark. I looked at the bed on the right side of the room. No sign of my sister. I looked at the second bed. Crumpled blankets; no exchange student in sight. Perfect.
I shut the door behind me and left the lights off. On the left side of the room was my sister’s dresser. It was, of course, painted pink. I knelt on the carpet and pulled open the bottom drawer. There I found her swimsuit.
I took out the white and flowery fabric and put it on the floor. I turned around to make sure that I was alone. I looked to the gap between the carpet and the door. No footsteps, no traffic, and no passersby. I listened and heard no signs of activity.
Then I took off my shirt and pants. I left my underwear on because I was not that curious. Then I stepped into my sister’s swimsuit and put it on. I turned. I examined. I assessed.
As I stood there in the dark, one single thought went through my brain. The risk, the possibility of being caught up in an act of pure curiosity; it all resulted in one phrase. “I don’t get it.”
My mission was a failure. I had not acquired the privileged information I had risked discovery to attain. I stood there in a girl’s swimsuit just as confused as before.
Which is exactly the moment when I heard a voice and movement.
In horror, I turned towards the sounds. There, in what I had thought was a crumpled mess of blankets tossed aside for the day, was a body. Nikki was still in the bed. She groaned as she turned and readjusted to one side. I could hear her on the verge of consciousness; I saw the blankets that threatened to cease covering her head. I was precariously close to being found out.
I freaked out. How am I going to get out of this? One little twist of that blanket and I’m doomed! I can’t go out into the hall wearing THIS! Aaah!
Very quickly, and very, very quietly, I removed myself from the swimsuit. I put my jeans and shirt back on with as much speed and stealth as a small teenage boy is capable of. My clothes back on, I turned my attention to the dresser once more.
How was the swimsuit folded? Could I put in down like a towel? Was there an official folding protocol that girls went through with these things? Had there been other clothes on top of this? How could I put it back in a way that would not invite speculation?
My desire to escape conflicted with my urge to hide in the closet. I considered crawling commando-style on the floor. Anything to avoid being found out by Nikki. In a few seconds, the evidence had been returned, I had made it the few feet to the door, and I snuck back into the hallway. I managed to let sleeping Soviets lie. I do not believe that I was ever found out. I certainly did not tell anyone.
That is my tale. I tried on clothes meant for a different gender and walked away feeling the same as I had before. “The clothes make the man”, is not a phrase that rings true with me.
I will always prefer jeans and a t-shirt. I tried something different and it was not for me. If others like more excitement in their wardrobe, so be it. (Though I did find out at an early age that hiding in a closet is no way to live. It offers no practical escape whatsoever.)
Now my sister has three kids of her own. Who knows what embarrassing mischief they are getting into? There could be all sorts of shenanigans ensuing. It is almost summer vacation after all…
Oh, those youngsters.