Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Brenda DiGiacomo's Nikes

Remember these? Do you have a pre-pubescent daughter? How about a daughter who may be 6 months now but one day will be 144 months? Or perhaps you were a pre-pubescent yourself once, as ugly and awkward and skin crawly as the word itself.

Take heart. We were all there. Some of us had the right Nikes and some us us, well, we shopped at K-Mart for the Irregular irregulars.

Here's a story to make you laugh during this difficult time for your daughter, or to help you prepare for it. Enjoy...

“Who is Brenda DiGiacomo?”

I’d mentioned the name; it was only natural for my therapist to ask the question. She was wondering if I felt it increased my value as a person to spend over three hundred dollars on a pair of shoes. Yes, I’d replied. It had started in junior high. With Brenda DiGiacomo, I tried to explain.

“I never felt so ugly in my entire life,” I began, remembering Brenda and the gaggle of gorgeous cheerleaders and - even worse - majorettes who ruled the school with their Sasson jeans and Farrah hair.

“Everyone wanted to be her. I remember she had those perfect Nikes – the red, white and blue ones.”

A hideous memory shot through me. “I smelled them once,” I said.

My therapist looked up. “Why?!”

“Because…” but there wasn’t one sentence that could explain.

Brenda DiGiacomo was the reigning queen of our junior high. She had dirty blonde hair that rolled down to her shoulders in two perfect seventh grade sausage curls, flawless olive skin, and the body of a 20-year-old stripper. She was a cheerleader. She was also our brother’s girlfriend.

Our brother was captain of the football team and the baseball team. Back then he had a lot of hair and looked like Matt Dillon on steroids. He was very popular. He and Brenda had been going out since the beginning of the school year. She would come over after school and they would slink off to his room, where they’d listen to Boston, Journey and Steve Miller Band records and presumably earn the reputation the school had secretly bestowed upon them.

We didn’t know for sure of course, my sister and me. Not that we had any idea what third base was aside from being a very big deal. I was 12 and spent most of my time at the horse farm down the street. People often mistook me for a young lad with a budding weight problem. I was somewhat plump and had unfortunate bangs. I had no breasts and no hips, facts which were glaringly apparent in my hand-me-down Levi’s corduroys. My brother and I could not have been at more opposite ends of adolescence’s ruthless sociological rainbow.

In addition to being a cheerleader, Brenda was on the softball team, even though she didn’t play much. She looked cruelly beautiful in her polyester blue and white uniform that was unforgiving at best for the rest of us. When the team had physicals at the beginning of the school year, we were lined up in the nurse’s office wearing nothing but paper johnnys with a plastic string belt. Brenda’s body made her johnny look like Prada had made it. I remember wanting to look as good in my best dress as Brenda looked in her paper johnny.

When Brenda came over to “hang out” with our brother, she would take off her sneakers and leave them in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs. When I came home from the barn each afternoon I would pass by them, sitting there smugly on my carpet - the podiatry perfection of Brenda DiGiacomo personified in these particular Nikes.

The Ladies Cortez, in red, white and blue, was the most sought after athletic shoe in the entire school. If you ever hoped to have a boyfriend or get asked to the dance you’d better have a pair. You simply had to have them. You had to. God forbid your parents couldn't’t afford to shell out $42.99 for sneakers. Desperate, baffled parents would try to reassure their kids that footwear didn’t matter, a sneaker was a sneaker. Perhaps you too, were once told, “it’s what’s on the inside that counts!” Right. When you’re ninety.

For us, the answer was Kmart’s Jox. A sorry substitute, Jox spelled certain social doom for anyone foolish enough to don them in 1982. You were better off going to school with plastic bags on your feet. An early candidate for fame, Brenda DiGiacomo knew this. The rules only came to me a few years ago when I first started therapy.

There they were. Neatly removed from her princess feet, one leaned up against the other, cuteness oozing from every stitch, every lace hole, each perfectly wrinkled bit of nylon down to the beaming red swipe that said I am pretty and popular and you’re NOT!

I stopped in the hallway and looked down at the shoes. I was in my riding boots, covered with wood shavings from the barn. Behind my brother’s door, Journey blared.

One love feeds the fire...
She was so perfect, what was it like? What could it possibly feel like to be the most popular girl in school? What was it like to have the prettiest clothes, to have a new outfit every day for two weeks straight, to have every girl want to be you and every guy - including my brother - want to be with you? Did she have any flaws at all?

Two hearts born to run...
Did she have any self doubts? Did she worry about ANYTHING? Did she have the problems of normal people? Did HER FEET SMELL?

I had to know. I had to be assured that there was one normal thing about her, a single simple detail that made her human. There had to be something she could be vulnerable about. Otherwise life was unbearable.

I picked up one of the shoes. I glanced toward my brother’s room. No one would know, and I’d be so much happier if I knew that Brenda DiGiacomo had smelly feet. I could write it in my journal over and over again and be reassured that no matter how many times a mean kid whinnied in my direction, I knew the truth.

I held the unsuspecting footwear up to my face and looked deep into its cavernous arch, the space that carried Brenda DiGiacomo through her sunny world every day. I looked both ways and sniffed deeply.

It smelled just like my Jox.