My objective was to make swimsuit shopping as painless as possible. The environment would be key. I needed a calm store with wide open aisles, soft music, helpful salespeople. Crawling under a disheveled clothing rack, searching for the elusive bottom to the perfect top, or wrenching it from the clutches of a woman who believed it was hers, would not work. Been there, done that.
So at 9:05am Monday morning I coaxed myself through the doors of Lord & Taylor.
There wasn’t a soul in the swimwear department. I glided around the circular racks like a guppy. It was so civilized. This kind of swimsuit shopping was a joy. I could do this! I let out a heavy sigh. I started to feel lighter, optimistic.
The perfect bottom was important. Not too Betty White, not too Kardashian. Basic and black. How difficult could that be? I found one. I felt around for the tag to see the size and saw instead the price, $98. I gulped. I rationalized, instantaneously, that although it was more than I wanted to spend it would be worth it if it fit well, looked good, and had me be back in the car with my ego intact. All that for $98?! It was beginning to sound like a bargain.
I glanced over at the matching top, took it off the rack and twirled it around to see the back. As I spun the hanger, a tag flew under my nose that read $198. How could that be? The price tag on the bottoms said… No way! Oh my gosh. I froze. They couldn’t be suggesting… No—
Yes, they wanted $98 for the bottom and $198 for the top. Assuming you’d need both, it would set you back $296.
Before you could say “are you out of your freakin’ mind?” I jumped back in the car driving to the nearest Marshall’s, using the energy from my anger and hostility to fuel my focus. I gave myself a mini pep talk in the car: Don’t make this complicated. Just saddle up to the nearest cluttered, over-stuffed, disorganized rack and start grabbing.
But unlike Lord & Taylor, these bathing suits would be organized (a.k.a. disorganized) by size, not style. So what size was I? I really had no idea. I held up a 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 and 14. They all looked the same. I took them all. A combination of two-pieces and one-pieces and one that looked like a two piece but was really a one piece. Something strange happened, somewhere in the middle of this haphazard plucking, I got rather bold. I pulled patterns and colors, bathing suits with zippers and buckles, one that had more than two straps with an appendage that looked like a shawl. I was going for it. And it felt good.
I’d try size 14 first—start large and work my way smaller.
I climbed into the leg holes and proceeded to snake myself into the rest of it. It did not go swimmingly. It was unclear which open spaces were arm-holes and which was the head cavity. I twisted at the waist and looked in the mirror to see what was going on in back. There was nothing back there. The remainder of the bathing suit was hanging off one hip. Maybe it was supposed to sweep across my middle and be held up by one shoulder? Who knew. These things don’t come with instructions. There were several stretchy synthetic appendages. I yanked to find the longest one into which I stuck my arm. However, it only went slightly past my elbow. I curled my shoulders toward each other and hunched over while twisting from my waist—and yanked again, getting it only slighter higher up my bicep. Something was wrong. The strap dug deep into my flesh. It was too short and obviously not in the proper place. There were still other pieces of fabric hanging from my hip. What to do with them? First, I had to move this strap—it was quickly turning the lower half of my arm a concerning shade of red. Pins and needles were creeping up my hand. I stood hunched over with braided limbs. Moving this strap down off my arm would necessitate some form of contortion. I bent my knees, tipped my head toward my stomach and twisted my left shoulder across my chest, while tugging at the strap. Then something terrible happened. Since I’ve never been in this position before, and more importantly, humans were never intended to be—I threw my back out. Snap. I was frozen except for the excruciating pain shooting up my back. It knocked the breath out of me. I was a twisted wire hanger with two unbound protuberances. The strap on my arm still cut deep into my skin, my lower back felt bludgeoned as if by a garden tool, I was for all intents and purposes naked, and now, fearfully immobile. A breathy “help!” was all I could manage. Anything more aggressive would have ruptured an organ.
I heard someone walk by. “Hello! Help!” I cried through the dirty louver door—grey, greasy fingerprints along the edges. I nudged the door lever with my good elbow and the door popped open. The look on the woman’s face was alarming. Sometimes I still see that woman’s face in my nightmares. She turned away and shielded her eyes. She said something in an unfamiliar language. “Please help me get this off! I can’t move!” I begged. She made a move toward me and I yelled, “No, don’t touch me! Get a scissor—you have to cut it!” This was all quite mortifying.
A moment later she returned with a group. I was now, officially, a side show. One of them had a scissor. The moment she snipped the strap on my arm, I felt the tears stream down my cheeks. The relief was extraordinary. One lady yelled for someone to grab a robe. Another suggested they call the paramedics. Her friend asked me if I wanted anything.
Yes. I just wanted a bathing suit that fit well, looked good, and had me back in the car with my ego intact.