TW: Implied sexual harassment
At birth, all arrive naked into the world; small bodies meet the skin of their mothers before they're swaddled in white cotton, then placed in confinement behind plastic screens. But not you. Your mother refuses the swaddle, clutches onto your newborn body, still red and sticky, to her naked breasts for so long those around you thought the two of you had become one. She says the cotton is unnatural, it's better to be naked.
When the other newborns arrive at home, their parents abandon the cotton for clothing less protective, more colourful, more 'adorable'. But not you.
At five years old, your mother reveals a large garbage bag hidden behind her. The dust on its wrinkled surface floats into the air, causing you to cough. You ask, what's that? With only a smile, your mother unties the bag, pulling out a pair of overalls with its straps missing. They're hand-me-downs from your cousins, she says, then ruffles your hair.
You wear the overalls like pants: tie a belt around your waist and let the top of the overalls flap forward. The flap pools, scrunching up where the hoodie you pull over it ends. It is always uncomfortable and bulky, but for some reason you still like it because it keeps you warm in the winter.
Although they're oversized, you can't wear them past thirteen.
When other teens enter high school, they become the fabrics that cover their bodies. They warp, take on the personalities their clothing portrays. You, too, even though your mother never lets you buy anything short and anything with holes. She tells you that it's safe, but you don't listen. You abandon the overalls and the other hand-me-downs and cover yourself in leather, translucent mid-waist down shirts, shorts two times too small like the other girls.
But the holidays, of course, the winter holidays always have you running through the door in a thick, oversized Christmas sweater shouting, "Family! Family! Family!" until there is no home to return to and no one to celebrate holidays with. Then, you toss the Christmas sweater into the black garbage bag and hide it at the back of your closet.
Like other adults, you leave with the same high heels from last night, making you seem much taller, more confident, than you are. Without them, you feel no taller than a toddler barefooted. Your boss at Fortune Fashion, the one who always smells like rotten lime, offers to buy you a new pair of heels when yours break. Instead, you decline, resign. What he wants in return for the heels isn't a something you're willing to offer.
You abandon the heels, then slouch; slouch until your head is so low that you can't see in front of you because if you cannot be taller, you can at least be different. But even then, there is someone else so bent over that their forehead brushes the ground.
You can't do that.
No, your mother has taught you better.
No matter how far you bend to please the world, your forehead can never touch the ground because touching the ground means surrender. You don't want to surrender. It's not an option—losing face, your traditional pride. Bowing with respect is different from bowing in defeat. Bowing to the dead is different from bowing in submission. You don't do things that harm your pride. Never, never, never. Why is it that you only listen to your mother now?
Your mother calls, asks how you're doing. You tell her you got a new job, a better one, one where your boss doesn't make you bow—at least not in public. Fortune Fashion is the name. Mother seems both worried and relieved. You reassure her: it's fine. Really.
But your new boss's kindness doesn't last long. It's only a facade. You should have known. Since when was your luck so good, anyway? He walks past your cubicle. You stiffen. Today isn't your turn. Let your breath go. His hand connects with the back of your coworker's head. She flinches but doesn't move otherwise. Work faster, your boss says, rapping his knuckles against your coworker's sewing machine. Work faster.
You notice the black garbage bag at the back of your closet when you open it and pull out the freshly pressed shirts you recently purchased at full price. Your coworkers can smell bargains, and you don't want to smell like bargains even though your bank account has long since entered the negatives. Your ex-boss calls you up, offers a raise and something else. No.
You spit at the receiver when the line goes dead.
He made, makes, everyone fall to their knees, unwillingly willing, rip holes where their pants scrap against the ground. As long as everyone suffers, he is happy. As long as everyone is below him—
After your last day at Fortune Fashion—the horrid place they try to call your "second home", where everyone only seems to lose their fortune rather than gain success—you rip your pressed shirts from their hangers and ball them up in your hands. You toss the wrinkled white cottons, an imitation of the soft hospital towels, across the room.
You want to hide under sweaters and sweatpants because, in all honesty, you miss your overalls and hand-me-downs. Much more than the pressed shirts with the collars that will choke you, like they have many others. Only ghosts can handle dressing in clothes so tight.
You drag out the black garbage bag from the back of the closet in your new apartment and dig out the overalls and Christmas sweater. Though you no longer fit the overalls, you pull the Christmas sweater over your bare body and clutch the overalls close.
At ninety-seven, you tell your children and their children who stand next to your hospital bed that you want to be naked when they bury you—without makeup and beautiful fabrics. That is how you entered the world, and that is how you want to leave it.