Perhaps Danny McGuinness had x-ray eyes, I’m not sure. But in one or two snaps of my right bra strap, he discovered the weakest link in the connection. Which, now that I think of it, was kind of the entire brassiere, because it was a fairly flimsy wad of cloth. In an instant the device was in ruins, and it collapsed underneath my dress, while I detected a note of relief from it. After being produced at the training bra factory, it probably expected to grace the shoulders of someone like Carolyn Westermann, not Maroon the Goon, and here I couldn’t even handle it for one week.
I raised my hand and asked to go to the rest room, with McGuinness giggling behind me like a jackal. Mrs. McGuinn, who now had something like six writing instruments sticking through her hair bun, obliged me. She was the easiest of all the eighth grade teachers for getting a hall pass, but unfortunately I only had her for homeroom and English, first period. When I really could have used her liberal urination permission was something like fourth period, or right before the bus ride home, but that’s another story. I left homeroom and crossed the hall to the girl’s room and hid inside a stall to remove the bra.
Somehow the material that was the volume of a French cut bikini bottom grew once I tried to ball it up, and now it was the equivalent of a softball. Of course removing the bra made no difference to my bust line, or lack thereof, but stuffing it into one of my two hip pockets made me look like a person with a really bad, meandering goiter. This was untenable; I couldn’t walk around with my bra hanging out of my pocket all day. Instead I wadded it up in my hands, realizing I couldn’t simply throw it away because my mother would ask why she never saw it in the family laundry (dress shirts, socks, trousers, blouses, and one training bra to stick out noticeably from the rest of the pile).
I walked back to the room, sat at my desk, and zippered the bra inside my book bag inside my desk. Two layers of foolproof protection against increased levels of embarrassment. Homeroom was over soon enough, then English class began, and then the bell rang for second period, when I grabbed my algebra textbook and headed across the hall to Mrs. Gordon’s class. None of us ever dragged our bags around with us—it was standard practice to leave those in our desks. I didn’t give it a second thought, but I should have.
Danny McGuinness was smart enough to notice me shoving satin into my desk, so he told David Love about it, who whispered into Tim Carey’s ear as the first/second period bell rang. Tim Carey had come up with the “goon” moniker, but I think it was just projection, as Tim towered over every single other eighth grader. He’d run for class monitor against me at the beginning of the school year, and when he won in something like a landslide—I blame my campaign manager, Willie my cat, really—he instituted a rule, later rescinded by Principal Sr. Valerie, that everybody bow to him in the hallway. Slowly he’d bounced back from his own flirtation with megalomania, and because he suspected people regretted not voting for me, liked to get whatever comeuppance he could find. Hearing about my failed experiments with breast support was a perfect opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
Thanks also to Mrs. McGuinn for maintaining her pattern of obliviousness, for she heard not the creaky desk lid opening, the zipper of the bag being pulled across, nor the increasing amount of giggling as one by one, the English class passed around my broken bra for inspection. At some point a student—I heard it was David Love, who called me “spaz,” so often I’d come to believe it was one of only six words he actually knew—aimed the fabric up like a bow, and managed to shoot it up at the florescent lights hanging from the ceiling. There it hung, limply, radiating back blue light on the class, my humiliated bra.
The students erupted in laughter, and Mrs. McGuinn turned around from writing up her lesson on The Scarlet Pimpernel to see my undergarment in distress. She barked at the students, her usual easygoing demeanor evaporated, and castigated them once she’d realized what had (literally) unfolded.
Unaware of the debacle in progress, I tried to find the value of X. The bell rang, and it was back in the hallway for my social studies class. Tim Carey caught me in the corridor.
“Your bra is in the garbage!” He said it through a laugh.
While I was confused for a moment, my shock gave way soon enough, as Mrs. McGuinn pulled me into her class during the 3-minute break. She handed the garment back to me with a very strange expression on her face that I later understood to be great pity. I sighed, and put it back in my book bag, then fished around for my combination lock to keep the zipper in place. A lump formed in my throat, eventually dissolving in the middle of social studies.
The day dragged by, as notes flew around my classmates’ desks that I was the owner of the magical traveling brassier. I pretended not to hear the whispering, busying myself instead in New Jersey history, which is cool enough to include legends of devils and pine barrens. I could make my home in the pine barrens, I figured. I would live as a braless devil girl child, feral and running with the squirrels, or whatever lived in among the conifers.
Final bell of the day, I nearly ran to my vandalized book bag. Carolyn Westermann put out a hand on my forearm to get my attention. She had Farrah Fawcett hair and a sparkling smile. I couldn’t recall her ever speaking to me before, even though we’d been classmates for five years.
“They just tease you because they think you’re pretty,” she said.
“They do?” My brain reeled. That’s not possible. Does not compute. Failure, failure. Every synapse for itself!
“They really do. So don’t pay any attention to them.”
I looked at her and a dove landed on her shoulder. Okay, I’m exaggerating just a little. The next moment left me flabbergasted.
“I’m having a movie night this weekend. Want to join us?”
“Sure,” I said, expecting a trap door to open underneath me, after which I would fall into a hell of broken training bras that were magically enabled to laugh at me.
“Great!” She did seem pleased. She even waved her tresses at me a little.
I paid no mind to the snickering of David Love on the bus home.