I all too quickly resumed what had at one point been a daily ritual of investigating the reason behind why I didn’t have breasts. For a while, I thought only the girls my age in Florida have breasts. Then I would think about some of the girls at school, and I would tailor my reasoning to only girls with single moms and girls who live south of New York have breasts.
Only girls with chemical relaxers have breasts? But Sarah at my school had them, and she was Polish. Plus, that theory eliminated Lucinda, Maelle’s neighbor who—even though some of hers was in all actuality, baby fat—had a distracting enough amount that required her to wear a t-shirt over her bathing suit. Mine just filled up with water and fell down if I jumped up too fast in a rather competitive game of Marco Polo.
Were they even training bras? Two summers later, Junia would complain, demonstrating with a clap of her hands how “I went from an A (clap!), straight to a C!” I prayed I could have problems like that.
So these bras were the real deal. And as my underestimation of Myrtha further revealed itself when she shot me a worried and helpless look, my brain set itself to coming up with a solution.
We would have to strategize. This new dilemma hung over me like a cloud, following me into the guest room where we began to unpack and store our belongings in the dresser drawers. It hung like a portrait in the background as we distracted ourselves with other topics of conversation—Lucinda, her brothers Byron, Rolondo, and baby Keith; along with my grandmother’s sisters Coquette and Tante Therese, who lived across the street and were waiting for us to greet them.
My white tights could no longer waste any time waiting in the wings and would have to be ready for their Florida debut the very next day. This could all be fixed, I reasoned. The cool would be salvaged, and everything would be right in the world, just as it was intended to be.
Except: Where were they? It dawned on me that with the flow of conversation as Myrtha and I unpacked, I hadn’t seen my dependable grey-white ball of tights. I looked through my clothes again and again and ransacked the dresser drawers until finally catching my breath in an effort to remain calm.
And then I knew.
That woman, with all that was pressed to her mind like a cold clammy hand, had somehow managed to have her wits about her, and just when I thought I’d gotten away with it and was home free—she’d outsmarted me. Gone were the white lace trim tights—forever I assumed—as I doubted at this point that they would ever again see the light of day.
The bra issue would have to wait to be addressed when Myrtha and I were alone. That night before we did our usual split up—one cousin sharing a bed with one sister—my sister and I laid side by side in the blue room and set our minds to do what we knew we did best—coming up with a plan.
“I can’t believe Mommy wouldn’t tell us!” she said, exasperated.
That’s neither here nor there at this point, I thought to myself. We were stuck.
“Look,” I said. “We have to get bras. We need to find a way to get a bra right away.”
And then it hit me. We would need to go to Walmart anyway to buy a birthday present for Lucinda. If I knew my aunt well, she would not send the four of us with one present for the birthday girl and would insist that we each buy one to give her personally—or at the very least, a card. And to top it off, my aunt would hardly be the one to trail behind us as we went from department to department in search of just the right gift. Instead she would drop us off and give us a time when we would absolutely have to be back at the entrance of the store to meet her.
If I was strategizing accurately enough, this window of opportunity would give us just the right amount of time we needed to quickly pick out a present (a t-shirt or some really cool stationary would do), after which we would head to the ladies’ department and pick out a bra. I had already taken a sneak peak at one of Maelle’s bras that she had lying around and guessed that if I stayed in the ballpark of a 34A, that I couldn’t go wrong. Myrtha, who had about half of my little bit of nothing, came to the same conclusion. I shared my plan with her, and it was agreed that we would set out on a mission to have and wear our very own bras.
When the day came for us to go shopping for Lucinda’s birthday present, the four of us girls piled into Tante Maguette’s minivan, and she dropped us off at the Walmart entrance. Inside, we split up in pairs and Myrtha and I scrambled to pick out our presents before heading to the ladies’ department, shopping cart in tow.
Considering it was our very first time bra shopping—and who knew when we’d ever get the chance again—I figured I’d better select a very pretty one; of course not so much prettier than Maelle’s or Junia’s for fear of having it taken away from me for being a show-off, but also not uglier than theirs so that it looked like a training bra.
A very real lady’s bra was what I really needed, and when I skimmed through the racks and racks of undergarments as if I were a seasoned pro, my fingers glided across a satiny fabric that reminded me of the dreadful slips we were forced to wear underneath our church dresses. Those white elastic-banded half-slips with their pink rosebuds managed without fail to peek out from underneath my hemline because they were either too big, or I was doing too much of what I shouldn’t have been doing while wearing a dress.
I pulled the bra out from its rack, and my heart just about stopped beating. It was black, which meant it certainly was not a training bra and because of the color in and of itself, it gave me a leg up for being sexy. I was treading on thin ice with the sexy, but it was indeed the most beautiful undergarment that unfortunately would never be seen by anyone other than the women who were most dear to me. More importantly, it was nothing like those pesky white slips.
It even had a two-inch wide black lace strap sewn onto the bottom edge of the whole thing. To this day, I’ve never had a bra as pretty. Luckily, it also came in pink, and when I showed Myrtha, she promptly selected identical ones.
After picking up a few others, I proceeded toward the woman working the dressing room, and on the counter I pushed the bras in front of her. As I dug into my cart to pluck out the last straggler, I heard the woman say something.
“Huh?” I asked, looking up. I was always small for my age and the blue countertop dwarfed me as the woman peered down with suspicion. My hand was still trying to pry a bra strap from between the silver bars of the shopping cart when she said: “These won’t fit you.”
It seemed I would never escape what appeared to be a breast-less fate. Even the Walmart dressing room lady was keeping tabs, obviously, and while I kept my opinions on such matters to myself, she clearly was not above expressing hers. Just then, the remaining bra popped free from the cart, and I grabbed the rest of them along with the requisite number tag exclaiming, “Yes they will!” She watched me walk to the back of the dressing room, bras hanging over my elbows.
Later that evening, we had a fashion show of sorts. One thing that certainly kept us from achieving true coolness was a sheer inability to disguise our excitement for anything. This momentous event was certainly no exception. After trying on the black and then the pink—taking the time to examine and adjust each other—a phone call to Mom went something like this:
Me: "Ma! Today we got bras!"
Mom: "Oh, is that so?" Silence. "Why?" Her voice belied her true feelings on the matter. Could she be any more unsympathetic to our cause?
Me: "Because we need them! Maelle and Junia are wearing them too!" Indignant.
And the rest is history. The truth is, it would take us years to grow into them as we constantly mistook each others’ bra for our own until in a fight (of epic proportions) my mother screamed, “Give me the doggone things!” and printed our initials on the back ticket with a permanent marker.
We wore our bras with pride—the bunched up empty cups of fabric shifting underneath our t-shirts—as we grinned at our own reflections when a little black or pink strap slipped down and peeked out from underneath our short sleeves.
That summer we found ourselves on the cusp of womanhood—period or no period.