SmokeLong Quarterly

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What I Wore

Story by Claudia Monpere (Read author interview) June 17, 2019

Art by Margaux Lange

I wore my lululemon jogging pants in nocturnal teal when Ken said he was leaving. I’d stopped dying my hair, and hoped the teal color looked attractive against my gray. “All this stuff,” Ken said. “Dear God, Barbie–all this stuff.” He didn’t fling the piles of unopened shopping bags or knock over the stacks of Ms. magazines and 60s posters or topple the pile of boxes stuffed with Peruvian textiles or the stack of plastic containers still with their labels from the Container Store. He just spoke, his voice quiet, sad. “The upstairs was bad enough,” he said, “but now—the living room? The kitchen? I can’t bear it.” 

I wore my two-piece baby dolls in pink sheer smocked fabric with blue ribbon straps. My best friend, Midge, wore her yellow eyelet ruffle baby dolls. We were fifteen years old. I used my mother’s knitting needle. It hurt. There was blood and I was too scared to keep going and Midge woke up my parents and I woke up in the hospital and later there was an airplane and I was gone for many months and still later, my baby was born. I named her Skipper after her father. I never told him, the boy whose paintings were filled with golden trees and birds who flew kites shaped like people. How he made me laugh.

I wore my white brocade sheath dress, chiffon purse with bead closure, white tricot gloves, pearl necklace, and white open toe heels at my coming out: The Emerald Debutante ball. I was eighteen, and Ken kissed me on the dance floor. Midge kissed me in the garden under the trellis, the white trumpets of moonflower unfurling their perfume.

I wore my rose sleeveless dress edged in white crochet, white apron, and white chef’s hat as I barbequed burgers at Skipper’s fifth birthday party. Running through the sprinklers tossing her new Nerf ball with her friends, she got a bee sting. “Mommy,” she wailed. She lifted her hands to my mother.

I wore Midge’s multi-colored patchwork dress with bell sleeves to an anti-war protest when I visited her at U.C. Berkeley where she was going to grad school. While the Campanile chimed 5:00, we kissed for the second time ever. We did more in her bed that night. Later I showed Skipper photos from the protest. She laughed. “I never knew my big sis was a hippie,” she said.

Wore white at my wedding. Navy at my first day teaching third grade. Gray when I hugged Midge good-bye as she left for Peru and the Peace Corps. Burgundy at the celebration for Ken’s IBM promotion. Black at my father’s funeral.

I wore lemon yellow bell bottoms with a wide white belt and striped ribbed knit shirt when I finally told my mother and her sister, Aunt Debbie, I wouldn’t wait any longer for Skipper to know I was her mother. Multiple gin and tonics made me brave. My mother made me scared when she told me she had heart trouble; this would push her over the edge. Aunt Debbie said Skipper had already lost a father and now she was worried sick about her mother and what more did I want to put that child through? What more did I want to put my mother through? My mother clutched her chest and wept. She was having trouble breathing and an ambulance was called. I was being selfish. Cruel. I closed my eyes and thought of Skipper’s real father, the boy who painted birds who flew kites.

I wore a Peruvian Alpaca beanie with gray and white stripes and Skipper wore a lapis lazuli and silver llama ring, gifts from Midge. She had settled permanently in Peru with her lover, Lucia. Skipper and I wandered around Gumps admiring the cloisonné vases when she asked me why all I ever wanted to do was shop. We’d made the trip to San Francisco to celebrate her high school graduation. “I’m so glad Mom’s better,” she said. “Did I tell you we’re going to Europe in August before I start college?” I held up some carved green jade floral drop earrings. “I wonder why all you want to do is shop,” Skipper said. “What do you do with all that stuff you buy?” I wondered if Lucia counted Midge’s freckles when they lay in bed together.

About the Author

Claudia Monpere’s flash and short stories appear or are forthcoming in The Forge, River Teeth, Creative Nonfiction’s Sunday Short Reads, The Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner and elsewhere. Her poems appear in many journals including The Cincinnati Review, New Ohio Review, Plume, Hunger Mountain and The Indianapolis Review. She’s a recipient of a Hedgebrook residency, lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and teaches at Santa Clara University. Claudia Monpere tweets @ClaudiaMonpere.

About the Artist

Margaux Langeʼs Plastic Body Series art jewelry collection utilizes salvaged Barbie doll elements in combination with hand-fabricated sterling silver and pigmented resins. The series is an examination and celebration of our cultural relationship with the icon known simply as: Barbie. Lange has been developing this series and exhibiting extensively since receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2001, where her Plastic Body Series was first conceived. A Fine Arts education gave Lange the foundation necessary for conceptual exploration in her jewelry work, however Lange credits her childhood Barbie obsession with nurturing her creativity and dexterity from an early age. Lange’s jewelry has been published in numerous books and has garnered international press coverage from the worldʼs top Art, Fashion and Design magazines. The Plastic Body Series is sought after by Art Jewelry collectors, Barbie nostalgics, and bold individuals alike.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty-Four of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Four

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