We need to get back into that dressing room at Macy’s, but the story doesn’t make any sense without an explanation of how I ended up losing my groove in the first place. I need this story to make some sense, damn it. So please bear with me while I set the stage for that shopping day and try to make sense out of what happened.
I live on a Mountain, hence Chloe of the Mountain. Our decision to move to this Mountain was impetuous to say the least. One day we were sitting fat and sassy with our two, happy teenagers in our home in San Diego, enjoying two very stable jobs, great friends, family surrounding us, and all the security and comfort of life one can expect this side of heaven and the next we were throwing all caution to the wind to move to the middle of nowhere. I think from first fluttering thought to moving van pulling away after dropping off all our stuff into our new home was about two months. Some of our friends called us “rash” and “reckless” and warned us that we’d regret it. We laughed at them.
My husband and I wanted out of San Diego so badly that when we saw our window of opportunity slamming shut we leaped through it without really thinking it through. Five years into this adventure and I haven’t decided yet whether it was a good decision or a bad one. My husband loves it here and this is truly his dream life. My daughter took the move in stride and, as always, blossomed where she was planted. My son and I didn’t fare so well but we’re recovering now and who can say what would have happened had we stayed in San Diego.
After our move, for the first time ever in my life, I became very anxious as everything felt like it was spinning out of control. My job situation was unbearable. On top of that, we’d splurged on a bigger home than was probably wise and that created pressures we just weren’t used to having. We also discovered quite quickly that we needed totally different vehicles to navigate our way through the heaping drifts of ubiquitous snow. We’d obviously not planned the move at all. On top of the money and job pressures, we were lonely.
In San Diego, we had enjoyed the benefits of a large home school co-op. Of course, with my limited brood, I’d never really been accepted into the inner sanctum of the ruling class of home school moms, but I’d been the biology teacher there and I did feel like I had a place. My kids took classes and had several friends. On the mountain, the only people who home schooled teenagers were the Radical Religious Isolationists or kids who couldn’t attend public school for one reason or another. People right away wondered which group we fell in with.
Church was another quite unexpected problem. Even though we’d circulated easily within the conservative Christian homeschooling movement and we were probably the most conservative family in our Southern Baptist Church in San Diego, we enjoyed a vibrant social life there. We were all four of us very active in ministry and we enjoyed a large core group of terrific friends. We loved to throw parties and we often did. Non-alcoholic, of course. Every few weeks we’d host some type of party. Our home was a flurry of dinner parties, karaoke parties, pool parties, barbecues, etc, etc, etc.
That all came to an end on the Mountain.
Everything was different here. People didn’t socialize that way. I guess they already had the friends they wanted and didn’t feel a need to take on any more. We offered invites only to have them declined.
I’d long since turned into a lumpy, shapeless frump to fit in with the homeschooling crowd so I posed no threat there. And while I’ve never truly been really overweight, I’d definitely let myself go. Not in a resigned kind of way that some women do because they’ve lost their looks or it is just too much effort, but rather in a self-righteous kind of way as a sort of lay-it-on-the-altar sacrifice to God in my hopeful certainty that He would then be obligated to bless my offering by making my children into a “godly legacy”. All of my thoughts, when it came to my behavior or dress, were focused on that end.
In our new Church, I became instantly involved in Women’s and Youth Ministries and took the helm of a young women’s small group. My husband, an ordained Deacon, was asked to head up Children’s Church on Sunday mornings and of course joined the Worship Team. Our children also took on leadership roles within the church in Music Ministry, Children’s Church and Youth Group. On the outside, we were the Aryan Poster Family for Church Work, but on the inside parts and pieces of our family were starting to come loose and fall apart. Despite all our good and visible church work and volunteering we just didn’t make friends at church. I spent much time in prayer and fasting especially over my son who I could see was troubled but I didn’t know how to help him. It was horrible and I was a nervous wreck trying to home school without any external support, fit in and make friends, impact the youth of my community for the Kingdom of God, guide my daughter through her teenaged years into young womanhood, and try to save my son before anyone else noticed he was foundering.
It wasn’t working. My son and I grew increasingly lonely and dissatisfied with life. He became sullen and I grew more and more anxious and we both withdrew. I turned to the forums and my son eventually turned away from us. My daughter fared much better here socially as she was embraced by the church and especially the other youth group leaders. It was odd that she was so readily accepted and they were so quick to take credit for her godliness while at the same time my son was rejected and labeled as that “Surfer Kid”. That’s a whole ‘nuther can-o-worms right there that I’m sure has contributed overall to where I’m at now, maybe somehow that’ll become clearer as I write.
Inside I was suffering mightily. I was lonely and growing bitter about our impulsive decision to move here. My answer, every time, to internal chaos is to exert more external control. I commenced upon extensive home renovation projects. And I prayed and I fasted. I stockpiled some food and thought about homesteading and leaving society behind altogether. I looked at properties off the grid…maybe that was the answer. I just didn’t know. I could see my son being attracted to popular culture like a moth to the flame. Maybe getting him totally away from the world was the answer.
In some ways, my marriage, which has never been bad, actually improved. We were delighted to be removed far and away from all of the annoying extended family issues that had become a blight upon us. But I was becoming less and less socially functional and more and more anxious. Friendless and withdrawn, I sometimes didn’t leave the house for days at a time. We sent our daughter to high school because we felt she needed to go and we sent our son as well in a desperate attempt to make him happy which gave me a lot of time on my hands. Stripped of my Christian Home school Mom identity, I was feeling lost and I didn’t really know who I was anymore, so I sank myself into gardening, house projects, Church Work, and the forums. And that’s where I was on the day I went shopping at Macy’s.
Our home is an hour from any shopping mall and to be honest even that shopping mall is really just a collection of glorified catalog stores compared to a mall in San Diego. Real city shopping is at least three hours away but on this auspicious day, I only went as far as the tiny two-story Macy’s.
A shopping day in town is generally a 7-10 hour ordeal what with the obligatory run to Costco, the painful journey to Winco (the discount bag-it-yourself grocery store), and everywhere else I need to go to justify the cost of the gas. On this special early spring day, I had planned an exciting side-excursion to Macy’s to procure some new bras for myself. It was a big event. Mine were piously worn out. Threads of latex protruded righteously from the worn band. The straps had been cinched up to their furthest limit and yet the cups still sagged in a way that let everyone with eyes to see know that I was a good mother. Anyway, no one could possibly have seen those sagging socks of rocks under the size 10-size 12 clothes I wore. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with size 10 or 12 clothes, if you are size 10 or 12. But I wasn’t. Not even close. Shapeless was a goal and I’d achieved it. No man would stumble over me, he might trip over the oodles of extra fabric but he’d never stumble. I was protecting the virtue of all men and esteeming all women by being completely sexually non-threatening. Wasn’t I grand? And so humble too.
Part of the reality underneath all of this was that my sexuality had been a heavy burden for me to bear in my youth and being relieved of publicly carrying it wasn’t actually that bad. My own father had trouble with it and had told me once in a fit of rage that “not even the Pope would be safe alone with [me]. (Yes, I’m not making that up). Clearly, my sexuality was a dangerous thing and, if I wanted my children to grow up right, I better hide that sinful, corrupted part of myself and deny it had ever existed. All the gurus told me it was so and I believed them. In fact, for a season, I even considered covering my head. In the end, I never did wear a head-covering but instead chose the less ostentatious alternative of wearing crappy, unattractive hair which achieves basically the same goal.
Anyway, getting back to the story, all I needed was some new bras. A few modest and temperate bras were all that were needed for one such as me. I was a youth leader after all. And so I entered the Macy’s prepared to buy appropriate bras for one so sober as myself.
The lingerie section of this particular Macy’s was sad. I think the lot of it could have fit in a space not much larger than my living room. There wasn’t much to choose from but I was excited to be in an actual department store instead of picking through the clearance section at Ross. My spirits were high. A stout saleslady in her 50s was my helper for the day and boy was she helpful. Since I couldn’t give her an actual size (I couldn’t remember since it had been that long since my last bra-shopping excursion) she insisted on sizing me. That’s an embarrassing little operation right there, standing naked from the waist up in a fluorescent-lit dressing room with a matronly woman armed with a measuring tape. She measured me and then insisted on helping me pick out bras. What the hell was wrong with this woman? I didn’t need help; there wasn’t that much to choose from anyway. But she insisted on doing her job as she saw it.
She loaded me up with my allotted dressing room limit, three I think, and put me in a dressing room and THEN she started bringing me more bras. The nerve. I didn’t need her help and I didn’t want her help. And then it happened. She brought me a red satin bra. With matching red panties. Not even a thong, just red satin bikini panties.
I stood there, half naked, peering around the door at her and her hangers of devil’s underwear, perplexed. Why in the world would she bring me red underwear? And then I said it. The most embarrassing thing I’ve ever said. I said, with indignant dismay, “I’m a deacon’s wife; I don’t wear red underwear.”
Yes, I said that. I said that out loud to another human being. I heard the words come out of my mouth. Yes, I said out loud:
I said it like those two things have anything at all to do with one another. I said it seriously like it would actually make sense to another human being. I said it like it was an actual explanation of why I was the way I was. I said it like she would instantly understand what I meant and immediately realize the effrontery of her scandalous offering. Which she didn’t. She didn’t have a freakin’ clue. It was as though I’d said something in Russian to her. She stood there blinking blankly at me waiting for the translation.
And so I offered, meekly, because obviously she didn’t comprehend the great truth I was now sharing with her, “I’m very religious.”
She seemed to sort of accept that and carried the offending red satin away from my holy eyes.
For about one minute I felt great. I’d told her. I’d set her right. I was quite the righteous woman, wasn’t I? And right here in the underwear department at Macy’s I had witnessed to her the glory of the Lord and the Kingdom of God. It was a triumph of good over evil. It lasted all of one whole minute and not a second longer before I realized that I was a pompous ass.
You know that famous scene from Vertigo? Yeah, that one. That was what happened to me in that dressing room. The walls and the bad lighting fell away and there I was standing alone with just my pants on realizing I didn’t make sense anymore. Not to me. Not to my husband. Not to my children. And certainly not to the saleslady at Macy’s.
My brain started to taunt me, “You don’t wear red underwear because YOU’RE A DEACON’S WIFE?” Over and over again, my brain was caught like a skipping record. “You don’t wear red underwear because YOU’RE A DEACON’S WIFE?” “That’s your excuse?” “You actually said that out loud?” “To another person?” “Like that makes sense?” “That doesn’t make sense. You know what? That doesn’t make any sense. You don’t make sense anymore.”
And finally, as the room careened back into focus, my brain told me in no uncertain terms, “You are full of shit.”
I think I bought four bras that day. Two white, one beige, and one black. Maybe it was five, three whites or two blacks, I don’t exactly remember. I know that I didn’t buy any red ones. But the damage was done. The thorn stuck. My brain just would not let go. Did I honestly think that by not wearing sexy underwear that was going to ensure me a godly legacy? Were the Deacons going to award me Mother of the Year for abstaining from red underwear? Were my children going to rise up and call me blessed at my funeral because I’d eschewed panties the color of Satan? What the hell was I thinking?
I had lost my way.
I finished my shopping day and drove the long drive home lost in thought, “What the hell has happened to you? Where are you?”
Apparently, somewhere along the way to raising the perfect children, having the perfect home, and living the perfect life, I’d lost me. Where was I? Was I really the woman who couldn’t dare wear red underwear anymore?
“I’m a deacon’s wife; I don’t wear red underwear.”