I have a confession. I’ve stolen. Twice in my life. Both times before I turned 10. Neither was all that satisfying. The first time I stole simply for the risk and thrill of trying to get away with it. In line behind my mother at the grocery store I pocketed what I thought was a roll of Lifesavers. Turned out to be Tums. Not exactly the cherry goodness I was expecting.
The second time I stole, it was a pair of high-top sneakers. I was in the second grade. I stole out of desperation. I was a boy who wanted those sneakers who knew she couldn’t have them. And when I saw Brian, a boy in my class, slide them under the bench in the hallway at school so he could wear his rain-boots home, I saw my opportunity. I only vaguely remember getting them home. But I vividly remember sneaking to my room and slipping my feet into them. They felt great. Just like they were supposed to. Girls didn’t wear high-tops then. It was an unwritten rule that they weren’t supposed to, weren’t allowed to. They were boys’ sneakers. Like a key in a lock, the missing piece to a puzzle, I reasoned out, if I were a girl, they would not have felt so good on me. Right? But they did feel good on me. They felt marvelous, superb, perfect. I was feeling so good in those sneakers that on my way outside, I stopped by my brother’s room and grabbed the hand-me-down suit jacket from my friend Jonathan that was hanging in Peter’s closet waiting for him to grow into it. I must have been quite a sight sneaking out the back door. Black high-top sneakers and a navy polyester bar mitzvah suit jacket. Sure, that look might be in style now (minus the polyester of course). But it was closer to scandalous for an 8 year old girl in the early 70s. And anyway, it wasn’t what I looked like outside, but what I felt like inside that drove me.
We didn’t have a basketball hoop, but we had a small tarred patio-like area on the side of our house. It was good enough for me. For the next half hour or so I danced and dribbled and jumped and vaulted into magnificent moves and flawless layups against the side of the house. I never missed a shot. I remember the exhilaration of feeling so normal, so integrated, so right. And so it was with a heavy heart that I skulked back into the house to remove the vestments of boyhood.
I remember the jolt of panicked shame when those sneakers were discovered in my room. I stammered one ridiculous story after another as to how some random boy’s sneakers found their way into the back of my closet. My mother’s patience and attention ran out long before any sense was made and in a huff she gave up trying to understand and irritatedly removed the sneakers and returned them to the school. The shame lasted what felt like a lifetime and I lost a lot of sleep feeling stupid bad and wrong about boys’ clothes.
Last week I received an email from Land’s End announcing a sale and including a coupon for an even bigger discount. Shopping online is easier for me in some ways… at least in terms of shame. Without any of the paranoia that generally accompanies me when I walk into the men’s department in a store, I clicked directly on the men’s section and began browsing. I found a nice sweater and sweater-vest as well as two dress shirts in my size. I also bought a winter coat. All men’s. There was a fleeting negligible flash of shame before I hit the purchase button. A momentary fear that I was wrong, that I would look stupid. But I pressed buy anyway.
Those items arrived a few days later and I raced up the stairs two at a time with them so I could try them on. Like those sneakers of long ago, I put them on and felt comfortable and integrated and normal. I felt so right. I let go of the shame in a sigh of contentment. And I slept soundly that night.