Jewish Child Care Agency, 1985. I hand-cut this t-shirt so it draped as seen; the skirt too was made from a t-shirt. I also wore a lot of slips that year, and once when I was introduced to a boyfriend's mother I realized, "I'm wearing underwear in public." But she was a nice woman. She painted pictures of porches, successfully, meaning that her pictures of porches sold well, also that it was remarkable how well she captured things like the folds on a flag, the stamen of a flower, light diffusing through a half-open screen door.
Genteel. I had no place there. He went away for the summer and when he came back he'd fallen in love with someone else. I'd bought him a pocket watch. I was so excited to give him this beautiful pocket watch that I'd got from a second-hand store near the group home; I'd been winding it for days, so much so that I wasn't sure, by the time I got it into the box and wrapped, if it was still working. I had broken up with the guy I'd been dating for the summer while waiting for my boyfriend to return; I'd been counting down the days until we'd see each other again. Then he called and said he was back and I could come downtown to see him the next day. I was stunned -- the next day? Not right now, after the ten weeks we'd been apart? He didn't sound right, and I asked if something had happened, and he said he was tired and we'd talk more tomorrow.
When I got to his apartment the next day, his mother opened the door, cheerful. I hadn't been expecting her there -- how were we going to have sex if his mother was home? And how was I going to convince him to stay with me, as I was starting to suspect was going to be necessary, if we couldn't have sex? I was wearing something even more inappropriate than usual, my red bra showing through my white shirt, garters visible from under my skirt. He came out of his room and greeted me with a hug. I pressed against him hard, but I could feel him pulling away. We went into his room to talk.
The Tom Petty video was playing on the TV in his bedroom, "Don't Come Around Here No More." It was a coincidence, that video was always playing that year, but it sounded like Tom Petty knew what was coming. My boyfriend had a TV with cable at the foot of his bed; I'd spent good hours laying there in complete comfort watching videos and fooling around and eating ravenously whatever was brought to me. This was the warm and happy room where I'd napped in someone's arms, had them kiss my neck and tell me I was beautiful. My princess, he sometimes called me, and I'd rolled my eyes at first, but confidentially I'd grown to relish it.
I gave him the watch. He opened it and looked surprised by it, said wow, this is really cool. This is really cool of you, Janice. You're a cool girl. Then he looked sad.
At least he broke up with me in person. Or broke mostly up -- he said he needed to "think," and I took that to mean that I still had a shot, so I left without incident. I must have left his room with a crushed expression on my face, but his mother didn't seem to notice any more than she seemed to notice my egregious lack of clothing. "Bye, dear," she said, and smiled at me, as I passed through her kitchen for the last time.
Was this photo supposed to lure him back? No, this had been taken before the summer's separation -- something to remember me by. That broken-necked, victimized look -- that's supposed to be sexy. The submissive posture with the challenging look. The only reason I have this photo is because once I realized I was doomed, I made him give me the pictures back. And my letters, I said, and my notes. And the pocket watch.
Okay, he said, sounding hurt. He wanted the remnants of me, the sentiment of having loved and somehow lost it. With me, it was all of me or none of me, that's what you got. But I hung onto his letters, and the gifts he'd given me; a hand-hammered locket on a tangled metal chain. I found them recently, along with this picture, in a shoebox in a plastic tub in the closet. He'd brought all my things to school with him when we went back the week after Labor Day, including the watch.
It didn't even work, he said.