It’s entirely possible that I spoke way too soon about how I used to leave carts in stores, but now I don’t anymore because I’m a big girl and I’m good at life and all that. It’s entirely possible that I jinxed myself in saying that. It’s entirely possible that just a few days later, I slipped quietly out of a store into the sunshine, crap-filled cart ringing loudly behind me and my own shame hanging on my shoulders like a poncho. In my defense, this was not a grocery store and it was not a cart full of food. Nothing that I left in that cart in that store could have gone bad. There was no guilty weight about some exorbitant amount of food spoiling, food that could have fed hungry people right here in my own town. This incident could have triggered apprehension about relapse, but I managed to leave from there and go to the actual grocery store and successfully buy food immediately after abandoning this cart. There was no sobbing in my car, there wasn’t even the same sense of panic that used to simultaneously paralyze me and incite me to flee. No doubt it was reminiscent of the fearful former version of myself, but was also decidedly different.
See, I have this sewing machine. I got it ten years ago for free from a very round woman who taught a sewing class I took with my friend Veronica*. Our teacher said the word “scissors” often – as is probably common in a sewing class – except she said it something like “sillzuzz”. But she would drag out the first syllable so it was more like “siiiiiiillzuzz”. We would come to class, Veronica and I, having gotten together beforehand to smoke pot in the darkest back corner of the large YMCA parking lot. There were huge coniferous trees everywhere and it was winter in the Midwest, which meant the sun went down by 5pm and we were safe in the cover of darkness. We would sit in the back of my barely-functional minivan, the only vehicle I could afford at nineteen, laughing and laughing and laughing until tears streamed down our faces. We were both unhappy in our lives at that time, but too young and clueless about the world to name that unhappiness, much less articulate it with any sense of direction or capacity to reach for something better. We simply shared this unspoken lust for change, this hunger for something bigger or more real or just somehow different than where we were, than who and what we were. It was a yearning that consumed each of us in its own way, gnawing and chomping at our insides. So we sated it to the best of our ability by sharing hitters in the back of my van down by the river, and extracurriculars like sewing classes that were paid for by boyfriends who listened intently to our every whimsical desire, boyfriends whose own unhappiness was as yet unnamed.
We often didn’t even go to class, but would skip it in favor of staying in that van laughing and laughing together and sharing our hearts with each other. But when we did go, inevitably our instructor would say something like “get out your sillzuzz” and we would giggle and stutter and make faces at each other like third graders. We each planned to make pretty little sun dresses for ourselves out of patterns we had chosen in the dead of winter, hopeful that we could count on summer in the Midwest to be as hot and miserable as winter was cold and unbearable. The fabric I had chosen was a dark burnt orange covered with tiny flowers and foliage in a lighter, yet still subdued shade of orange. It was fabric that some hippie somewhere in the United States is using right now as a bag that she (or he! hippie dudes are totes comfortable enough with their sexuality to proudly wear manbags) wears across one shoulder, a bag that probably has a hidden pocket for a hitter box. Veronica’s fabric was an earthy green with yellow floral accents, and I remember thinking how beautiful she would look in that dress in the summertime, tanned skin, blonde hair, and extra-slight frame. We were friends and I didn’t at all resent how pretty she was. But it is our nature as women – or maybe it has been socialized into us, I’m not entirely sure – to compare ourselves to one another. I have come to be more comfortable in my own skin as I have gotten older, but back then especially I felt gangly and awkward and too-tall, and I envisioned my own dress would look frumpy and strange, that it would smack of being homemade and everyone would laugh at me.
Ultimately neither of us would ever know how our dresses might look because we never finished them. We never even came close to finishing them. Eventually we stopped going to the class altogether, though we would still meet up so that our boyfriends who paid for the class (without bothering to ask us if we really even wanted to take it) wouldn’t know what loafers we were. Veronica had a sewing machine that she’d received as a gift, one of the reasons she wanted to take the class in the first place. Barely afloat financially at that time in my life, I had to borrow a sewing machine from the instructor who said “sillzuzz” too often and stared disapprovingly at the giggles that erupted from the idiots in the second row each time she said it. While my guilt about skipping the class was short lived, I had no intention of keeping the sewing machine that did not belong to me, and I set up a time to meet with the teacher at one of the local malls so that I could return it to her. She drove several hours each week from Chicago to teach this class, something I still don’t understand, and she said she would pick it up on her way back to Chicago the week the class ended. It was a Singer machine, an older, sturdy model, off-white with a brown cord and pedal. She had sewn a nice carrying case for it out of a strange fabric that I wouldn’t have chosen if I knew how to sew and had extra sewing machines that I lent to vagrant sewing class students who didn’t even bother to show up to my class half the time. I sat in the parking lot of the mall waiting and waiting for her, smoking cigarettes in my van and listening to a tape and staring at my flip phone that didn’t even have text capabilities. It was just a phone, meant for making and receiving calls, with no games or apps or even a camera. I called her when she was fifteen minutes late. Again when she was thirty minutes late. Once more at the forty-five minute mark. I shivered in my van and pulled my coat tighter around me, unable to keep the engine running for such a long time lest it overheat or I waste the gas that I could barely afford, as I watched happy shoppers emerging from the mall with arms full of overflowing bags of Christmas gifts. She never did show up. I left her voice mails, and when she finally called me back several days later, she simply told me not to worry about it. She could spare the machine, and maybe the prospect of having to set up another time to meet with me was more daunting than the machine was worth. Maybe she thought I was a drug dealer.
In any case, I ended up with a sewing machine and I have carted that thing around to ten different residences in the past ten years. Somehow I have never parted ways with it. I sewed crooked edges along one piece of the pretty fabric that should have been my sundress, but other than that I have scarcely messed with it. Until recently. My dad and step-mom had it serviced and calibrated and fixed up after so many years of being dragged around as part of my traveling gypsy nest of belongings. My step-mom and I were supposed to spend a Sunday one weekend going over some basics, but some things came up and it never came to pass and ultimately they dropped the machine off with me Friday night. I’ve been aching to sew things, especially skirts and other clothing I can wear. I lie in bed and watch YouTube videos of super easy! projects and I read blogs of fashionistas who find hideous items at thrift stores and turn them into masterpieces. I found this discarded parka on the side of the road and transformed it into this beautiful a-line dress! Also, I’m better than you.
This whole weekend has been a bit foggy, and I have been somewhat adrift, just watching hours of television. So a half formed thought about how I wanted to sew some things morphed into me finding myself in a chain fabric store. At first I was overwhelmed by all the fabrics. They were everywhere, and of every variation. I aimlessly pushed my cart up and down the aisles, touching the ones that looked like they might be pleasant, avoiding those that didn’t, trying to dodge the women who actually knew what in the Sam Hill they were doing there. I was in way over my head and the smart thing to do would have been to admit it right out of the gate, go home, regroup, come back to the fabric store when I actually knew what I needed to buy and how much of it and what kind. But once I started putting things into my cart, it was game on.
Bias tape? I read that I definitely need that! Into the cart it goes.
This fabric is stretchy and I am pretty sure my sewing machine isn’t equipped with a needle to handle it! Probably better buy it!
Then I stood in the middle of an off-the-beaten-path aisle so that I could Google on my phone what kind of needle to buy for my sewing machine so that it might be able to accommodate jersey, except I couldn’t get a good signal and I wanted to keep moving so that I wasn’t obvious with my ineptitude.
Probably I should buy some of these bobbins, and look at all this fabric that’s on sale! I’ll take twenty yards altogether!
Except I was too afraid to acknowledge that I didn’t really understand if the sale price reflected the per-yard price, or if you just bought whatever was left of the bolt. And there was a constant line of people who knew what they were doing who were having yards of fabric cut. The whole time I was maniacally piling my cart with fabric I could hear the chipper, efficient ladies at the fabric counter chattering with patrons about their various projects. The thump-thump-thump of the bolt of fabric as they unfolded it to make precise cuts was like a shot of cocaine to my already fluttering and anxious heart.
You have no idea what the hell you’re doing here, screamed my brain. Put this stuff back. What are you thinking? You don’t need to spend this kind of money on a bunch of aimless nothing that you don’t even know if you’ll use now or ever, said my reasoning skills.
This was mostly a losing situation. One option was that I could buy all of this stuff, in essence probably wasting the money, given that I have no idea when or if I’ll actually learn to use the sewing machine that I have been carting around for ten years despite my inability to operate it. And even if I do, it’s not as if I’m the kind of person who has so many projects in the works that I need yards and yards of fabric. The best case scenario would have been some very fancy homemade hammocks for the rat cage. Perhaps not the best use of my hard-earned dollars. Option Two would be to put everything back where I found it, and exit the store with a little less dignity than when I came in. And then there was Option Three: GET THE EFF OUT OF HERE OHMYGOD GO NOW. The problem was that by the time I was actually weighing my options and that little voice of reason had gained some traction, I was overwhelmed and vulnerable. I was hungry and hot, I had to pee really bad, and mostly I just wanted to be back at home. So I’m standing in this out-of-the-way aisle where they keep most of the beginning sewers items, an aisle deserted because none of the seasoned professionals in the store had any need to be there. I picked up items and started putting them away. Then I put them back in my cart. Then I put them away again. A clerk walked by and looked at me. People were laughing and enjoying themselves and preparing for projects and making sound purchases. Meanwhile I was having an internal argument with myself that was so heated I was certain other patrons could hear my psyche.
You’re a grownass adult. Put this stuff back. Or buy it. You can do what you want with your money.
Maybe I should just go. To put it all back, I’ll have to walk all the way over there. Plus I’ll have to push the cart. And then bend over and stuff. That sounds pretty tiring. I think I’ll just go home.
If there was a camera on me, I’m certain I looked like an unstable human being. I was an unstable human being. I am an unstable human being, whoamIkidding? Pacing back and forth between my cart and the shelves near it, putting things back, picking them up again, running my hands over some of the fabric. You might imagine me saying pretty, preeeettttyyyy, soooo preeeeetttttttyyyy with wide eyes and harried laughter.
You know the ending to the story. I said forget about those judgmental judge judies who might judge me. I have to get out of here. After forty-five minutes of putting together beautiful skirts and dresses and blouses in my head despite not even knowing how to thread my machine, the mostly-rational side of me won out and was like, seriously, you’re not buying all this crap. Go home, fool. I count this as a victory. Next step, put away all the stuff that you pulled off the shelves like a five-year-old. Step after that? Don’t fill your cart with a bunch of junk you don’t need. Maybe the final step is not going there in the first place, followed by a bonus track of NEVER LEAVE THE HOUSE UNLESS IT’S TOTALLY MANDATORY.
* I think we’ve been over this, but I love unnecessarily hammering home innocuous points: names have always been changed, even the names of people I don’t know anymore.