It is true what they say about underwear. You should always have a good pair on just in case something happens. I was hit by a car at eleven years old and I was wearing bottom of the drawer, blown out elastic, period stained, faded white panties. As the EMT workers cut my brown Lee corduroys off, I didn’t care that my leg was facing the wrong direction, I was mortified to be wearing nasty skivvies.
After that, I put underwear on my Christmas list and wore a good pair every day including ones that were labeled for the days of the week. For me, underwear became the chicken soup for hole. It was my inner strength in my undergarment.
I got pregnant in 1995. I tried to wear my own underwear for as long as possible. I would pull them up over my swelling belly until the elastic curled back like dry scotch tape. I finally bought a pair of overpriced maternity underwear in a boutique in Park Slope. They were bright green and sheer so that when I pulled them up over my belly it looked like I was covering a watermelon with a condom.
I hated them.
When I took them off at night they left a dark red line like the equator across my stomach. Then one morning as I watched my husband Dave getting dressed, I asked if I could try his underwear on. He looked at me quizzically but shrugged and handed over his white cotton Fruit of the Looms. As I slid them on, I heard a chorus of angels sing. It fit perfectly over my belly and was the softest cotton I had ever felt.
I loved them.
Dave handed me an unopened three pack, joking that he loved the idea of being in my pants, even when he was at work.
A month later, I was at a dinner party laughing at my own dirty joke when it felt like someone poured a pitcher of water in my lap. I squeezed hard as one would to hold in a pee, but the water kept coming.
“Um. I think I either peed myself or my water just broke.” I announced to everyone at the table.
Known as a leaky laugher, everyone insisted I peed myself. Not to mention it was a month before my due date. While I marveled at how absorbent Dave’s underwear was, the water kept coming. Our son was impatient. Even then.
After a week in the Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit, we finally brought Aidan home. I continued to wear Dave’s underwear. The thick cotton made me feel safe, padded my broken tailbone and held together my war torn vagina.
A few months later I was trying on a dress at Loehman’s in the group dressing room when I noticed other women staring at me, wondering, I’m sure, why my tighty whities had a penis hole. I hightailed it out of there and made my way to Victoria’s Secret. I can still see the slightly upturned sneer of the saleswoman when I asked her for something comfortable but sexy.
“All of our underwear is comfortable.”
“I haven’t really experienced that.”
“Perhaps you need a larger size?”
“That’s just more satin going up my ass,” I joked but her sneer expanded and she left, returning a moment later with three lacy G-strings. Dave loved them, but I found them painfully uncomfortable. I joked with my girlfriends that they should call them Z strings since they became wedged so far up your ass, I sometimes felt as if I could cough them out.
I settled for wearing cotton briefs. They were like my life at that time, comfortable and lived in. Meanwhile, Dave discovered what he called “the joy of boxers” and when Aidan potty trained, I bought him Thomas the Tank Engine Underoos. Aidan was so proud of them, he would drop his pants on Seventh Avenue to show passing strangers.
When Aidan was five, Dave was killed on our eighth wedding anniversary. I barely noticed what kind of underwear I wore and even wore the bottom of the drawer kind without a care. After countless funerals, flags, memorials, meetings, body parts, wakes, trips, tributes and bagpipes, my mother begged me to go to trauma therapy. Every Wednesday I took the R to 8th street to see an EMDR therapist named Jan. Jan told me to think about Ground Zero while I wore headphones that played soft piano music that moved from one ear to the other. When Jan and I weren’t doing EMDR, I regaled her with stories about my on-line dates. She wrote vigorously on her yellow legal pad as I recounted my date with the four-foot actor, the stuttering oenophile and the bearded Science writer. I cried about disappointing dates because they made me miss Dave even more. I hated the way Jan tilted her head and asked, “What are the tears about?”
I distracted myself with on-line dating, spending countless hours tweezing, shaving, moisturizing, polishing, brushing, preening and hoping that that night’s date would be less disappointing than the last. Since i hadn’t dated since I was sixteen, I found it surprising that I felt as insecure as I did then. I tried on countless outfits, bemoaning my clothes and my aging body . I found it particularly challenging to pick what kind of underwear to wear. My G-strings seemed too expectant but granny panties were screamed that I was giving up. Cotton hip huggers were practical, but I decided on lacy bikinis that seemed like a happy medium between slut and celibate.
One Wednesday I arrived at Jan’s and as she left to get us some water, I sank into her brown leather couch and felt a rip. I stood up quickly and peered between my legs and saw not just a small hole in my pants, but a giant tear that ran from one end of the seam to the other, like the prime meridian dividing the left half of my body with the right. I gasped as I remembered that not only did I have a second date with Jeff the book dealer after therapy, but that I was wearing bright pink lace underwear.
Jan returned with the water and sat down in her black chair, crossing her legs and setting her face to empathic mode.
“You look upset,” she said tilting her head with concern.
“Let’s talk about it,” she said, picking up her pad.
“Well”, I said removing the pillow to reveal my underwear that looked like a neon sign between my legs. She made no attempt to hide her shock and clapped her hand over her mouth.
“You wouldn’t happen to have a needle and thread or something?” I asked. Jan stood up and immediately started looking through the drawers of her desk mumbling to herself. “Now I am sure I must have something.” Her blunt haircut obscured her face as she opened and closed each drawer saying. “I used to have this little sewing kit, but then I just renovated…”
“Even a safety pin or two would be great,” I tried.
“I had all that stuff.” she said. I watched the red digital numbers click to 6:10 as I tried to come up with a plan. I could tie my coat around my waist but it was bitterly cold. I could ignore it and give every pedestrian who walked behind me a good story to tell at dinner.
“Well here’s something” Jan said carefully. “Now, I don’t know if this is too weird for you…” Jan looked embarrassed as she lifted her head, her plastic moon shaped earrings swinging. “I have an extra pair of underwear. I keep them here for my period…you know.” I nodded vigorously in feminine commiseration. She pulled out the underwear under consideration. They were large, cotton and best of all, black.
“Perfect!” I said standing up.
“I hope this is okay” Jan said handing me the pair.
“Better than nothing” I said, heading to her small bathroom across the hall.
When we finally started the session, I tried not to let the fact that I was wearing her underwear distract me.
“Okay. Now. Tell me. You are having a second date with Jeff? ” She asked and I smiled.
“He’s very sweet,” I began, crossing my legs so she wouldn’t have to look at her own panties. “But he’s still living in the house he shares with his ex-wife.”
“How does that make you feel?”
“Then why did you agree to go on a second date with him?”
I paused looking for the right the answer.
“I like him. He’s easy to talk to and I feel like I can say anything and I haven’t really felt that way with anyone.”
An unexpected wave of sadness rose up and I was suddenly crying. Where the hell did that come from? The therapist watched me, her face concerned and patient.
“It’s okay to grieve,” she said finally. I wanted to hit her.
“I know,” I said grabbing a tissue off of the coffee table. “I just want to stop missing him.”
“What do you miss?” she asked and it felt like choosing a branch off an old, familiar tree. Which branch should I talk about?
“I miss having my life witnessed by someone. I miss feeling loved and secure.” I thought briefly of Dave’s briefs and I smiled.
“Same time next week?” Jan said standing up abruptly. Our sessions always ended this way, like a bad edit in a movie.
“Okay…” I mumbled, handing her a check.
I was late for my date because I stopped to buy a pair of jeans at an overpriced shop on Greenwich where a tiny salesgirl translated the European sizes for me.
Jeff smiled when he saw me and ordered me a glass of his Cabernet.
“How are you?” he asked smiling. He had dimples and a square chin that reminded me of Dave. I smiled back, hoisting my bag onto the empty chair next to me as I leaned in and whispered, “I’m wearing my therapist’s underwear.”