After my mastectomy and reconstruction last March, my mom came to stay with us to help out during my recovery. I decided–after a few long, dull days of writhing in pain and wallowing in Netflix, at a point in time when both of my JP drains had been removed and I was feeling thin, having lost five pounds on the effective (but not recommended) anesthesia- and pain-med-induced nausea diet–that we should have an outing to one of my favorite places: the thrift store run by our local Humane Society (bonus: they sometimes have an adoptable cat in the shop that you can love on).
I went in thinking I’d focus on button-front shirts, since at that point in time, I couldn’t lift my arm over my head on the post-op side. My current supply of button-front shirts was pretty small, and smaller still was my motivation to do laundry.
It was one of those days when the gods of thrifting shone down upon me and laid out treasure after treasure in my size, and when almost everything I tried on looked amazing. I was winning. I could do no wrong.
Then I saw it. A beautiful Joan Holloway-esque dress with an eShanti label on the $5 rack. A sewing aficionado friend had introduced me to eShanti—you send this company all of your measurements and they custom sew you a dress. So I knew the quality would be high, but it also meant that the size tag only said, unhelpfully, “custom.”
I waffled about trying it on. It appeared to be about my size. The print was lovely, in a flattering color palette, and the jaunty little attached necktie had so much Mad Men charm I ultimately couldn’t resist. It had a side zipper, so I figured I could just step into it to try it on. I was healing and gaining some flexibility, after all.
So into the dressing room with me it went. I got it on easily enough and wondered why I’d been worried at all. It looked good. Definitely one for the ‘yes’ pile.
Then I went to take it off.
I unzipped it down the side, thinking I could retract my left arm in enough to get it out of the sleeve and then worm my way out, all while keeping my bad arm at my side. But this fabric had no stretch at all and wasn’t having any of that.
I took a different tack and pulled up the bottom hem with my good arm, holding the bad arm out straight in front of me parallel to the floor, and started backing my way out, contorting and wriggling like a cat who’s gotten his head stuck in a cup. It worked up to a point, but then the fabric pinned my upper arm firmly in its grip, and I could feel the stitches in my back from my reconstruction pulling and demanding to know what was up.
I started to sweat. Which I thought might sort of lubricate my skin and help me slide out of the dress, but which had the opposite effect and stuck the rayon-ish fabric to me like glue.
Panic was about to overtake me. For the first time in my adult life, I was seriously regretting my decision to thrift shop. Who did I think I was, some normal girl who just gets to keep her original boobs and wash her own hair and put clothes on and then take them off again all by herself whenever it strikes her fancy?
From some deep, primordial, pissed-off reserve within, a small voice said: Maria, they chopped off your left boob, not your innate ability to shop. They can’t take that away from you.
My jaw set. I writhed and pulled and strained and raised my left arm until it would go no further. I’m not sure exactly what happened, because at this point in the struggle, most of my vision was obscured in the tight hold of the dress—maybe the thrifting gods waved their wands and added a few extra teeth to the zipper to lower it just a little, or maybe they let out one of the seams a few centimeters, or loosened my incision stitches just a smidge. Crouching as low as I could, I inched the fabric over my shoulder slowly, slowly, until at long last, the dress submitted to my hold and I was able to pull it off and pin it to the floor.
I was free, red-faced and breathless and sweatily triumphant as any victorious luchador.
And you know what? I bought that damn dress.
I look at it sometimes and say, “You thought you defeated me. You thought I’d cry uncle, go out in a state of partial undress looking for help from my mommy, and that someone was gonna have to cut you off me. But no. It didn’t go that way. Now I own you, bitch.” Then I close the closet door in its face. In. its. face.
Because y’all see by now, that’s just what I do. I win.
Remember that, all you other articles of clothing, next time you try to get the better of me.