For my 25th birthday, my mother bought me fetish wear.
I’m fairly certain that she didn’t recognize it as such — although, really, you never could quite tell with my mother. It’s just that we happened to be at a clothing sample sale, and on the rack she spotted a pair of black PVC pants and matching jacket in a snakeskin pattern. “Try these on,” she must have said, and I must have obliged, and then they were mine.
The entire thing might have been slightly less weird had she not also got me a birthday card that pictured a bunch of vaguely creepy antique dolls having a tea party, with the words “Happy Birthday, Daughter” printed on it in an old-fashioned, flowing script. [Returns to the computer after trying, and failing, to find said card amidst boxes of memorabilia.] Oh, and the cupcakes. She had picked up a half-dozen spongy vanilla supermarket cupcakes with hot-pink icing and sparkles. Together, the PVC and the dolls and the cupcakes made up some oddball trifecta of a mother’s — my mother’s — tribute to her daughter’s first quarter-century. All of it was vaguely out of character for and thus even more memorable. I never wore the pants without thinking of my mom, and those dolls, and those cupcakes, and I always smiled and shook my head.
I wore the pants again a couple of weeks ago, to a wedding. The brides had specified a 1920s theme, and I swear I was going to go for it, the whole flapper dress with the fringes and pearls and some kind of headband, but I hit the costume wall that day. Hit it hard. I have no idea why, but the spectre of trying to pull it all together and make it work just got to me, twisted in my gut. “I’m going in jeans,” I huffed to Rachel, who was busily altering the dress she’d picked up at Value Village. “Jeans and a sweatshirt.”
And then I rifled through my closet and there they were: my PVC pants. Pants, dolls, cupcakes, mom. I pulled them off their hanger, found a matching top, tried them on — yes, they still fit after 16 years —the furthest thing from the 20s, but it was either the pants or maybe some overalls, and so PVC was it, with apologies to the brides.
You know, I have such a hard time with the idea that things wear out. You buy quality the first time round, and it should last, right? Last forever? But the soles of my shoes, even the leather ones, wear away. My bike, my beloved bike, finally gave up the ghost this year after nearly two decades, creaking and whining its way up hills, the bolt holding the seat to the frame hopelessly stripped. How can something made of metal actually wear out? We put new shingles on the roof when Rowan was baby, and it amazes me that they’re nearing their half-life. I still think of the car as the "new car,” but it’s two years old, and the jeans I bought last year, the ones I wear almost daily, have faded. I should know these things happen, but they never make sense to me. I don’t want them to.
But these pants — they’d been worn only a handful of times. How could they be anything but nearly brand-new? And yet, over the course of the evening, as we celebrated my friends’ marriage, the pants slowly, irretrievably, disintegrated, the snakeskin pattern rubbing off (mainly in the crotch, no less) in so many rubbery, plastic rivulets, sticking to the back of my chair and gumming up my hands, leaving skid marks on the floor.
PVC, as it turns out, is one more thing that doesn’t last. I’m not so up on my fetish wear–storage techniques these days, or else maybe I would’ve known to dust them in some talc, layer them between sheets of tissue paper somewhere with humidity control.
Instead, I danced amidst the beautiful people in their flapper dresses and newsboy caps, shedding my skin and doing my best to think of the whole thing not as yet another loss but as a metaphor for rebirth. Take a picture, tell a story: pants, dolls, cupcakes, mother, love.