“Why aren’t you dressed for church?” Momma stood in the doorway to my room. Her hands on her hips. Yeah. She was angry. But I didn’t really know why.
I looked up from my bed, where I was sitting, and Momma saw the tears.
“Oh, honey. Why are you crying?” She sat down next to me on my bed. “Was Freddy mean to you again?”
I shook my head. “No, Momma.” I tried to wipe away my tears. All I really did was smudge them around my face.
“So, tell me. What’s wrong?” She always tried to be patient around me. Not like Daddy. Daddy would have wiped my face on his sleeve, and said, “Get ready. Now.” But not Momma.
What was wrong? How could I explain to her what was wrong? “Why do I have to wear a dress?”
Momma looked at my dress, draped across my bed, where I’d placed it to get ready. It had started like any other Sunday morning. Everybody ate breakfast. Momma’s homemade donuts. There were biscuits, really. From a can. But she poked big holes in the middle, and made them into rings. And she fried them in oil. Like real donuts. And then dipped them in icing. Maybe it was only powdered sugar mixed with milk and stuff to make it look like icing. But it was good.
And we always ate all the donuts. Donuts, and orange juice. And those little frozen sausages. Momma always threw a box of those in the microwave and heated them up.
Then, we brushed teeth. And used the bathroom. And got dressed for church.
And I put on a dress. Momma always picked out the dress I should wear that day, because I always picked out the same dress. And Daddy said, “That dress is too old to wear to church.” So, Momma cut a deal with him. She’d pick the dresses, and I could wear what she picked. That way, Daddy didn’t get angry.
But, see. I didn’t like dresses. I felt naked in them. They didn’t fit right. They were made of the wrong stuff. All fluffy, and cottony, and silky and stuff. All sissy, girly stuff. “Why do I have to wear a dress, Momma?”
“Oh, honey. It’s Sunday. Girls and mothers wear dresses to church. That’s how it is.”
“But…” I fought back more tears. I didn’t want to wear a dress. I didn’t want to have to worry about the boys looking up my dress, and telling me what color my underwear was. I didn’t want to have the wind blow up my dress, and show the world my legs. I didn’t want Jimmy, at church, to whistle at me, and wave his hands and go, “va-va-va-voom!”
“But, why?” I was crying, and I couldn’t help it. “Why, Mommy?”
“Because, you’re a girl.” Mommy shook her head. “Can I tell you a secret?”
“I hate dresses too.”
I sniffed, “You hate dresses?”
“I’d wear my sweatpants and a t-shirt to church if I could.”
I tried to imagine Mommy sitting in the church in her grey sweatpants, with the hole in the left knee. And her t-shirt with the big bear face on the front. And her hair in a scrunchie. “You would?”
Mommy nodded. “But, I can’t.”
“But, why, Mommy? Why not?”
Mommy shook her head. “I’ll try to explain someday, honey. I will. All I can say right now is girls and mothers wear dresses. And boys and fathers wear pants.” She sighed. “And your brother doesn’t want to wear his suit. But he wears it anyway.”
Momma checked my pants drawer, and pulled out a pair of shorts. They were light blue. And they didn’t have pockets. I hated them. “But, today, you can wear these under your dress. If that helps you feel better.” She winked at me. “Just don’t tell your father.”
Momma helped me get dressed that morning. We put the shorts on, and a t-shirt. A tank top. One of my favorites. And then, we put the dress on over it. Momma tugged here and there, and moved parts around. “There. That looks good enough.” She whispered, “This is our secret. OK?”
I nodded. At least no one would see my underwear. And I could run. And play. And dance if I wanted to. And no one would see anything if my dress got blown up by the wind. “I just wish I could wear real clothes.”
Momma nodded. “I know, honey. Oh, how I know.” She looked at me in my mirror. Then the tapped a couple of places on her face. “And you’ll hate makeup even more.” She stood up straight. “Well. Let’s go get this over with, shall we?”
And we marched out of my room, ready to go to church.