Remember how Brando Skyhorse asked his memoir students to rate sentences in a drafted story either "A" or "B" with "A" meaning the sentence was strong and "B" meaning the sentence was weak? (Scroll below and see the end of the "Take This Wisdom 8" post for more details.) Matissta's dog, Huckleberry ate my first re-write of the Nordstrom's story using the "B" sentences as a framework, so I started over again:
I had been proud to own my first pair of designer dress shoes until the day I stumbled out of them.
I was in the ballroom of a Disney Hotel, directing the annual meeting of my largest client. Sprawled on the carpeted floor, the stage above and to my right, the stage lights reflected in the shoes of audience members to my left, I knew this wasn't me. This cheesy environment. This expensive designer wardrobe. These expensive designer shoes. This unrelenting, suffocating bullshit about vital metrics, paradigm shifts and meta-narratives.
I had known it wasn't me the moment I had walked into Nordstrom's two days earlier and had asked for a personal shopper. A personal shopper? "You were raised in a blue-collar neighborhood in a small western Pennsylvania town," I thought. "You live now in an 800-square-foot unit of a 1600-unit, blue-collar coop. You own eight pairs of New Balance sport shoes, fourteen pairs of jeans, and at least three dozen smart-alecky t-shirts. This isn't you."
"How can I help you today?" asked Millicent, my personal shopper. She had a Jamaican accent and looked like she had just stepped out of an ad for Caribbean luxury resorts. Of course her name was Millicent, and of course she had what looked like a diamond inside a star on her name tag.
"How long have you been working for Nordstrom's?" I asked.
"Twenty years," Millicent replied.
"You must be good at what you do," I said, knowing Millicent had her work cut out for her as she looked me up and down making mental notes: New Balance sport shoes -- oh dear; L.L. Bean mom jeans -- what was she thinking?; and t-shirt that said, "Yet despite the look on my face, you're still talking" -- sweet Jesus.
I needed to stop the train that had left Millicent's mental comfort station and was thundering toward disaster.
"I'd like to look more professional," I said.
"What is your dress size?" asked Millicent, quickly making eye contact.
"I don't know."
"What is your dress shoe size?"
"I don't know."
Millicent again looked me up and down. "I'm thinking a size 12. Let's see." From beneath a cash register, Millicent whipped out a tape measure and wrapped it around my chest.
"You're not wearing a bra," she said.
"I don't own a bra."
"Well, let's see what bra size you are." She whips out another tape measure.
"Hmmmm," she said, pursing her lips. "This can't be triple A, can it?"
"You mean like the auto club?" I asked.
"No, you're just small. I bet we can find some lovely bras for you in our teen section."
"But don't forget that I need professional clothes. I obviously don't know a damn thing about how to dress."
"Yes, dear," responded Millicent, "that's why we are starting at the top and working our way down."
"How long is this going to take?" I asked.
"As long as it needs to," said Millicent. "Not to worry. I don't want you to buy anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or less yourself."
"But I already feel less myself."
"Maybe we can change that," she said.
Three hours, $3,000 and at-least-three-hugs-from-Millicent later, I walked out of Nordstrom's with eleven items of clothing from Eileen Fisher and Misook -- designers I had never heard of. I also paid $25 for a pair of pantyhose that Millicent had assured me Oprah herself wore ("You won't even notice you're wearing them"), and my first pair of designer dress shoes. When I got home, I methodically tried on every item with the shoes. I looked good -- like the women in the Nordstrom's dressing rooms. No one would recognize me at the annual meeting on Monday at Disney World.
And most people did, in fact, pull a double-take when they saw me in the ballroom. "Wow, Sharon, you have legs! Great legs!" or "I didn't recognize you at first!" or "You wash up real good." I was proud and stood tall in my new designer threads and shoes. It was the new me.
Then, about 30 minutes later, just as the annual meeting was about to begin, I fell out of my shoes. A colleague rushed over and helped me up. "Wow, those are beautiful shoes," she said, "Are they Ferragamo's?
Who the hell was Ferragamo? Pulling down my skirt and pulling up my panty hose, I replied,"No, they're mine. But if Ferragamo wants them, she sure as hell is welcome to them." I straightened my headset and said, "Cue the music" as I walked to the back of the ballroom. The house lights dimmed. "Camera one, pan right now," I said. I took off my shoes and stood tall, determined. It was the old me.