Whenever I pack a suitcase to travel somewhere, I always consider the most important thing. Often, the most important thing becomes everything and I can’t decide on what to bring. I’ve tried to narrow down the contents I schlep along, but invariably I bring too much. I wonder where this idea of bringing too much came from. I didn’t come from much as a kid. My family didn’t necessarily have that much money. When I was an adolescent on the cusp of becoming a teenager, I didn’t have a wardrobe like my other friends, the girls that I went to school with. I do not recall one time that my mother made it an occasion to take me shopping for my fall clothes. If we did buy me something it was one outfit. I wish that I could remember an outfit I arrived to school in on my first day of fall semester. But there is no memory of such a thing. Instead there is the memory of Betsy leaning to her right over the desk in the back of a classroom. I was sitting alone in the same row, she by her friends.
“Psst,” she said. I leaned in hoping that maybe she was inviting me to a sleepover. I was never invited to sleepovers or parties being the foreigner that had showed up to Peoria from lands unknown. California and Germany. Betsy never let me forget it.
“Psst,” she said. She smiled.
“What?” I asked my body electric.
“Why do you always wear the same three outfits?”
I imagine I pulled myself back into my chair and stared at the chalkboard as she and her friends snickered. Why I wondered did my mother let me go to school with only three outfits in my closet. My mother had money for books and art that covered our living room wall. But she forbid me makeup other than foundation and powder that made my face look pale. When I turned 16, or age appropriate to get a job, I applied to Wendy’s. And with the money I saved I bought outfits at Just Jeans, and makeup at Bergner’s that I applied on the school bus or in the bathroom at Peoria High. And money I saved bought real hair appointments, where at each visit the stylist took more snips off the butt-length hair my mother had insisted I wear for years.
What would my mother say if I asked her why she paid no attention to my closet attire, why she kept me in what I considered a state of ugly? I have no idea because I never had nerve to ask her.