“You’ve been wearing those same pants all week,” Dickhead (not his real name) said to me in front of everyone in the hallway right after sixth-grade math. Until that moment, I had a crush on him. I looked into his smirking face and hated him and his dark good looks.
“Um, no I haven’t. I have a couple of different pairs, and anyway I washed them.” I stammered, trying not to cry. This was total bullshit, as I had only one pair and we did not own a washing machine. We took our clothes to the laundromat once a week. My dad, whom I rarely saw thanks to divorce and his lack of interest in his own children, had just bought me a pair of dark blue Jordache jeans. I was so excited that I wore those jeans five days in a row, a big middle school no-no. So, instead of having “the Jordache look” I probably had the Jordache smell. No amount of Love’s Baby Soft could cover that up.
Dickhead and the others laughed at me as I walked away, turning red and feeling embarrassed about having only one pair of designer jeans. This was worse than the time I got my period on my chair in science class. I marched down the hall, staring straight down at my Trapper Keeper and trying to suck the tears back into my eyes. This is when I realized that I was poor.
I’m surprised it took me that long, as our little family (just mom and me – my brother lived with my father) had received government cheese twice. It wasn’t bad, really. It was just a big block of American cheese. Also, I had taken some cold baths by candlelight when our electricity had been turned off due to non-payment. If the free cheese and cold baths hadn’t tipped me off, I probably should have realized we did not have money when we had to move into a two-room efficiency apartment with no kitchen. We did dishes in the bathroom sink and cooked dinner on a hot plate. We ended up staying only for a weekend because the landlady got drunk and hit on my mom. The apartment was attached to the landlady’s house. My mom borrowed some money, and we moved back to our two-bedroom, two-bathroom place somehow.
Even with all of these blaring clues, the poverty did not hit me until I became a middle school fashion outcast. Everyone had designer jeans, and I got made fun of a lot for not having the proper clothes. My father, during one of his rare moments when he remembered he was my father, had taken me to Burdines in his little MG convertible to buy the jeans the week before Dickhead called out my poor hygiene. I was THRILLED about the jeans, obviously. Today, they sell Jordache at Walmart, but back in the early 80’s they were only at Burdines or Macy’s or Jordan Marsh – places where poor people didn’t shop.
Shortly after this, at Christmas, my mom’s boss bought me a pair of Gloria Vanderbilt black denim jeans because my mom could not afford them. I had seen the commercials and just had to have them. So when my mom’s boss asked her what I wanted for Christmas, she told him. He didn’t know what size I was, so he just grabbed a pair at Jordan Marsh and told my mom to exchange them. Of course, the pair he gave me was size “tall and skinny.” I have always been size “short and stout as the little teapot.” After I exchanged the jeans and got the right size, I was able to rotate my pants throughout the week. I even got a pair of Sergio Valente jeans from my mom, but I hated them because they had pink threading. My mom has always loved pink. I prefer black.
When I was in eighth grade, two amazing things happened. First, the county changed the school boundaries. This enabled me to leave McNichol Middle where everyone picked on me, and start attending Olsen. On my first day at Olsen, I met Hillary, a super nice girl who introduced me to all her friends. I finally had NICE friends who were not mean to me. Hillary also helped me dress better. She told me I needed to get Guess jeans and huge EG socks. Hillary also taught me how to layer my tank tops to match my layer socks. She helped me with my eye makeup so that I didn’t look like Ozzy Osbourne pretending to be a raccoon anymore.
The second amazing thing is my mom met my step-dad. Until then, my mom had been super protective of me. I wasn’t allowed to do much. My step-dad encouraged her to let me hang out with my new friends. I went to the mall, to the movies, and to the beach like a normal 13-year-old Floridian. My step-dad also liked to shop. He would bring me home Guess jeans and other cool things from Macy’s. I had the right clothes and the right friends. Life was finally coming together.
I still got picked on by some kids for being chubby, having pimples, crying in math class (I’ve always loathed numbers) and sucking at every team sport ever played in middle school PE. I still had bad hair days because I insisted on having my hair chopped into an 80’s do, against Hilary’s advice. Overall, though, eighth grade was a big positive turning point. I didn’t even wear my Jordache jeans anymore. Guess was WAY cooler.
Originally published on Knot So Subtle .