My mom purchases my sister and me all new gym uniforms the summer before we enter 4th and 7th grade respectively. She buys them from Jim Mayer Sporting Goods, the monopoly proprietor of all Catholic schoolie gym uniforms in Cleveland. As I have not yet experienced a “growth spurt” (which next summer will consist solely of my hips expanding two jean sizes), I am still wearing youth sizes. When I try on the new Youth Large shorts, they come down just past my wrist.
I am so already winning at junior high.
“Mom? I cannot wear these. Like, all of my organs are showing.”
My mother works part-time for the federal government and then comes home to wrangle three kids: a hormonal rageball (myself), a sweet, sensitive secondborn (TP) and our younger brother Michael who has special needs. My dad, a criminal defense attorney, sometimes pays evening visits to his clients in the slammer. Friends ask me why they don’t see my dad very often. I tell them he is in and out of jail, which is basically true.
My parents always look tired. My mother, since I have known her, yawns from the three o’clock hour until she goes to bed at 10:30 p.m. It is only now that I understand why. BECAUSE PARENTHOOD EXHAUSTS.
My mom is a natural redhead with turquoise eyes. When you have pushed her last button, you will be seared by a laserbeam of ginger-headed cat-eyed NO. The day of the gym uniform reveal, I am sure that I have not even tread close to that threshold, not even flirted with it, but down the axe falls when I tell her she had clearly purchased me the wrong size.
“I’m not going back there. Jim Mayer assured me that large was the largest size he carried for youth. If you want to buy yourself a new pair, you can be my guest.”
I regret not thumbing a ride to Jim Mayer, just to see where it would have gotten me. Idaho? The 6 o’clock news? Into a pair of gym shorts that was not ill-fitting?
I rock the gym shorts the first week of school, mostly to spite my mother, because I am a peach. Because I am in 7th grade.
I am blushing before I put them on. My whole body feels as though it is radiating blush as I emerge from the lavatory where we change into our gym uniforms.
The one salvation that first gym class is my very best friend Mary. She is the only good thing happening to me in 7th grade besides Jonathan Taylor Thomas renewing for another season on “Home Improvement.” She spends most of the class period shielding me, which is a Herculean feat since her frame is the width of a Pez dispenser.
Our gym class winds single-file through the halls of the junior grade levels en route to the school gymnasium. Occasionally the gym instructor with her array of bright windsuits stops us in the halls and rebukes us for interrupting the first graders from learning to read. As we pause outside the classroom, I see 25 1st graders turn from their pint-sized desks to stare at the Big Girl in the hallway who seems to have gotten hold of their gym shorts. I pull my T-shirt over the shorts and yank a sweatshirt down, but then it looks like I had just forgotten my shorts. The official gym uniform of St. Raphael School is maroon, which nicely complements my flushed complexion.
After the first physical education class, I need to find another solution if I do not plan to transfer to a school without a gym uniform.
My solution is in a box.
(To be continued….)