Changing it Up
My dad was always challenging me to step out of my comfort zone. “Why don’t you try picking up a sport?” he’d ask. I tried soccer and basketball as a kid, but hated all the running. I tried playing baseball in sixth grade, but I was pretty horrible at it.
“Maybe swimming’s more your forte,” he said. I mean, let’s be real, Dad. I don’t think a chubby kid with asthma’s going to turn out to be an Olympic gold medalist in the butterfly. Nonetheless, I gave that a shot too, and quit after a month filled with self-loathing and asthma attacks. I finally managed to satisfy him by signing up to be a student-manager for the baseball team, where my only job was to keep score during home games.
“You really should just leave your hair alone. You look ridiculous,” he would grumble. My best friend and I would get together every few weeks to bleach and dye our hair. At that moment, I believe it was “electric blue.”
This came from a man who, every morning and without fail, would rise at seven o’clock sharp to the sounds of “Come Together” by The Beatles. He would put on one of twenty-five identical pairs of underwear, pick out a left and right sock from his perfectly organized drawer, don a dress shirt and suit pants, and take the stairs down to the kitchen to brew his morning cup of Maxwell House Medium Roast. He’d always make the same joke when he saw me. “Get it? Maxwell house? Maxwell House?”
Our family name was Maxwell. Apparently, this was supposed to be funny.
My dad was always trying to make me fit into these weird, outdated masculinity standards he had, like all boys had to play a sport, had to have short, “normal” hair, had to dress up nicely to go to school. He made me wear a button-down and khakis every day – even on the weekends. Only at choir concerts would I get to wear something different, and I wouldn’t exactly call my tight-fitting suit an upgrade. At least the other clothes allowed me enough room to move my arms.
The date was May 11th. I had just taken my eighth-grade science final, the last exam I would ever have to take as a middle-schooler. I waited for about ten minutes in the carpool line before my dad’s royal-blue Civic finally pulled up. I tossed my book bag in the back seat and hopped into the “shotgun” seat up front. Thirteen-year-old me, having absolutely no respect for the law of the land, never wore a seatbelt. Thankfully, my dad was a very cautious driver, and I never paid the price.
“Hey, I’ve been thinking,” my dad said. I raised my eyebrows. Anytime he started a sentence with “hey,” whatever followed was almost certainly both important as fuck and annoying as shit. “I think we need to get you some new clothes.”
I smiled and nodded. “Sure! I’d love to go shopping this weekend!”
“I meant right now.” I inhaled, hoping he would continue. “But I guess it can wait until the weekend. Let’s say we hit up a couple of those resale shops tomorrow, then the mall on Sunday afternoon for everything else. Deal?”
“Deal,” he said, looking up just in time to quickly halt the car at the busiest intersection in town. Running that light would’ve been a fatal mistake.
I woke up the next morning with a plan. I’d been saving up some money here and there to buy myself some video games, but this was more important. This was probably my only chance to buy my own clothes for another year at least, barring a sudden growth spurt or our house burning down in a fire. Not that I ever thought about anything like that.
I shoved five twenty-dollar bills into the hip pocket of the last pair of khakis I would ever wear. I couldn’t give my plan away to my dad, so I answered all his questions nonchalantly. I wasn’t sure what I was going to pick out. I’d probably go for some T-shirts and jeans, since that’s what most kids my age wore to school.
My dad was a smoker. Always had been. “Zach,” he would lecture me, “don’t ever start smoking. It’s the worst thing you can do to yourself.” Then he would step out and light up a Camel cigarette, every time.
The lecture came again, and I told him I would just go into the store first and start looking. He held up one finger and handed me a wad of cash – fifty dollars, not bad.
I walked in the store, and there it was.
If I was going to do this right, I had to hide it in the bag. Mix it in with a couple tees, some jeans to throw him off the scent.
I darted through the aisles, snatching things off shelves that I desperately hoped actually were the sizes they were marked as. I threw it all down on the counter as my dad stubbed out his cigarette. I started to pant, my breaths becoming heavier and heavier as he turned around.
“That’ll be $56.18,” the boy at the counter said. He didn’t seem to care what I was buying. I set down three of my twenties, grabbed the bag, and spun to face my dad.
“All done!” I smiled.
That evening, after consuming exactly one bite of salad and one very shitty hamburger, I went into my room and nearly ripped the bag to shreds.
Its cobalt tones complemented my eyes perfectly, and its silhouette hugged my awkward frame and its curves neatly.
It was the first dress I ever bought.
Elliott Graves (they/them) is a disabled trans writer whose passions include hockey, baseball, music, loving their friends, and rabbits. They can be found online @softpunkbunny and in print at The /tƐmz/Review, with more publications coming soon.