I grew up with a mother who was a jet engine mechanic. When I think of her, I think of greasy fingernails and engine oil. She wore a dress to church because her theology demanded it. She got a nose ring when she retired because she could. I think of intelligibility.
I learned how to hate shopping during adolescence, against the backdrop of a perennial argument over which section to buy my clothes in. She couldn’t bear to buy her only daughter (the only child) clothes in the men’s department. “They didn’t fit well” she reasoned, and when logic would fail her, she knew shame could always do the trick, “why don’t we just forgo the pants and save up for the operation.”
I never knew what the operation was. I knew it only as a cue. I was supposed to roll my eyes and laugh…to protest that, of course that wasn’t what I wanted. It was a mysterious character evoked to loom over my decisions. The operation was a threat placed precariously on the brink of desperation—hers and mine—when we entered into split-in-down-the-middle mall stores.
I remember the day I told her I was jealous. She was admonishing me on how I’d need to grow up someday and wear woman’s clothes like an adult. “But Mom…you don’t,” I pointed out. She wore combat boots and dungarees to work. She got to shop in stores that didn’t even have a woman’s section. I felt more like her failure than my victory when we walked out of the store, cargo pants in hand, towards a silent ride home.