“Why?” I ask her.
“Because it looks dirty. And I don’t want people to see you wearing a dirty fleece.”
“It’s not dirty.”
“I didn’t say it was dirty, I said it looks dirty.”
“It’s just a little pilly,” I said, pulling off one of the pills with my fingers. “But it’s not dirty—I just washed it. And who’s going to see me wearing it?”
“Who knows,” my mother offers. “I work a few blocks away—there could be people there from the office. Or someone from church.”
“We haven’t been to church in twelve years.”
“Even worse,” she says. “First they’ll wonder why we haven’t been to church and then they’ll see you in that fleece and think you don’t wash your clothes.”
“Ok first off,” I say, “You are being ridiculous. I love you because you are my mother and I want to eat lunch with you, but you are being completely ridiculous. And secondly, even if I wanted to go home and change fleeces we don’t have time if you have to be back at work in an hour.”
My mother pauses, thoughtful. This is the hard part. The hard part for me is that she is not malicious or evil—it would be much easier to just have a horrible mother that I could hate with abandon but my mother is not cruel or unfeeling, she is simply omnipresent and easily embarrassed. If someone were to ask me, “Would you rather have a wonderful, heartfelt talk with your mother or throw her out a fifth story window?” I would reply, “Yes.”
“Here,” she says suddenly. “Take my jacket.” She is tugging her arms out of the sleeves, disengaging herself from the jacket in the awkward confines of the car.
“I can’t take your jacket—what are you going to wear?”
“I’ll just be cold,” she says. “I’d rather be cold than have you go in there with that fleece.”
“I really don’t want your jacket,” I tell her sheepishly.
“I’m fine,” she says, rubbing her hands together enthusiastically, her upper arms sporting a shallow layer of goose pimples. “I’ll just order something warm.”
“I don’t want to wear your jacket.”
“What’s wrong with my jacket?”
“It’s a petite jacket,” I tell her, “and the sleeves are up to here on me.” I make a motion with my hand at where the sleeves will hit, which is approximately two inches past my elbow. “It’s not going to fit me. I’m going to look like a giant.”
“You can pretend they’re three quarter length sleeves,” she says cheerfully. And it’s the “cheerfully” that kills me. Because it’s the “cheerfully” that is my mother saying, “Look, Kelly, I’ve FIXED this! I’ve fixed it and found a way for us to go out to lunch together and please don’t ruin it!” when I want to cry out that it was her disdain for my recently-washed-but-pilly-fleece that created this situation in the first place. But even while oblivious to her role in the problem, she is desperate for a solution because deep in her loving, well-intentioned, easily embarrassed heart, she wants very much to go out to lunch with me because she loves me. And deep in my crazily screaming, frustrated heart, I feel the same way.
“It’s not just the sleeves,” I tell her. “It’s a petite jacket. And I don’t like it—I would never wear this jacket.”
“Just try it on,” she says.
And angrily, begrudgingly, I take off my fleece and put on the petite navy blue suit jacket which obviously, obviously does not fit, and which looks ridiculous. I am five foot-nine, wearing a suit jacket that would need only slight tailoring to fit either a Wizard of Oz munchkin or a five year-old, my long, Frankenstein-like arms protruding from the sleeves.
“It doesn’t fit.”
“It looks fine,” my mother says happily. She has unlocked the doors and is already getting out of the car.
She is happily walking toward Panera, chatting away—telling me that last time she got French Onion Soup in a bread bowl but that she is trying to watch her weight and that maybe she will get a salad. I walk behind her awkwardly, the suit jacket pinching around my armpits.
I am thirty years old, wearing a blazer that would fit a Kindergartener. It looks as though I started out the morning as a child, my mother dressing me for elementary school picture day, saying “let’s put on your good blue blazer for the pictures,” and now here we are only a few hours later and I am wearing the same clothes, but have somehow aged 25 years and grown a foot and a half taller. I look, frustrated, up at my mother and she looks longingly back at me and I realize, in a way, that that is exactly what has happened.