I was an awkward 6th grader, living in Dallas, Texas, when I got what just may be the single most attractive, glamorous invitation of my whole life: I was asked to go on a private plane to Disneyland. It was unthinkable really, way too good to be true. Not only would this be the coolest trip ever, but I had been invited by the coolest girl in my class. When Meredith included me, of all people, on her family vacation, I just about died of happiness.
My mother agreed to let me go, and then explained to me that an excursion of this sort – on a private plane! – demanded a “smart-looking rig.” She was picturing, I suppose, Jaclyn Smith boarding a jet to New York, and she went off shopping without me to find something jetsetty and sophisticated. My mother had style, and I trusted her completely. The day before the trip, she presented me with my travel outfit:
Picture, if you can, a blue tie-dye pantsuit, circa 1974. This is well before Hillary Clinton made pantsuits a thing. This was back when men wore leisure suits, and my mother had gone out and purchased for me a tie-dye, 2-piece, guy-style leisure suit. This may have been the ugliest outfit ever made. I am a people-pleaser by nature, and I didn’t want to hurt my mom’s feelings, so I obediently put on the slacks, zipped up the jacket (yes, zipped), and adjusted the wide lapel collar. I looked in the mirror and saw that I looked absurd. Foolish even. But I struck a pose and told myself, “maybe Meredith will be wearing a pantsuit, too.”
Meredith was not wearing a pantsuit. Meredith and her equally adorable sister Cindy were wearing the most awesome matching outfits: cute, fitted, bell-bottom jeans and t-shirts which had, in my memory anyway, fabulous, iron-on decals of their initials. I took one look at these girls and considered lying down on the tarmac to get run over by an incoming plane. I wanted to die. I was so envious of their totally hip jeans, their casual look, their monogram-decal t-shirts, that I forgot all about California and my good fortune to be going on this trip. I wanted to rip off my jacket and take the t-shirt right off my friend’s back. I felt betrayed by my mother. I think I hated her.
“Kill me,” I mumbled.
“Have a marvelous adventure,” my mother said, pressing my hair in place and handing me the Samsonite suitcase she’d helped me pack. “You look chic and snappy.” She winked at me.
I called Meredith the other day and spoke to her for the first time in over 30 years. I had to know: Was my pantsuit as hideous as I remembered it? (Yes.) And did we almost die in that plane, or was I over-dramatizing events?
“No, we totally almost died,” she told me. “I’ve been scared of flying ever since.”
We never made it to Disneyland. There was a terrible storm, a lot of turbulence, lightning, and vomit, as I recall, and we ended up landing at an airstrip in Mexia,Texas instead. We had a ball there.
Maybe there’s a moral here, like if wish for your own death, you might end up getting buried in a blue leisure suit. Or the clothing doesn’t make the man, but put a 70s leisure suit on a girl and she’ll live to tell a tale. Or maybe: don’t envy your friend’s decal shirt because even if you’ve walked a mile in it, you still won’t have the same initials. Maybe there is no moral here. But there is adult perspective and changing styles, too, and now I picture that day and ask myself Why did I care so much about what I was wearing? And wasn’t I, in fact, ahead of my time? (Annie Hall came out three years later with Diane Keaton, style icon.) Maybe I’m the original member of Pantsuit Nation!
Envy is the worst. Kids feel it. Writers definitely feel it. Everyone knows the misery of resenting someone for what he/she has and you don’t. (Chelsea Handler gave pretty good advice on this topic: it’s fine to feel envy, she says, but “I never blow out someone else’s candle to make mine brighter.”) Was there any way, I wondered after I called my lovely school friend Meredith out of the blue to rehash this memory, for me not to have hated myself and resented the fact that, objectively speaking, Meredith and Cindy were just plain cooler and cuter than me in every respect? It would be so great if in those moments, we could just embrace our leisure suit of a situation and be happy for everyone else’s decal t-shirt of happiness. I’m going to try.
Meredith, in case I didn’t say this in 6th grade: Thank you so much for inviting me on the trip. And I LOVE your T-shirt so bad it hurts.
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