My dear mother and me (in one of the many blouses mentioned below)

Okay, I don’t really want to spend eternity watching women search for the perfect pair of pants, but there is something magical about the dressing room at the Talbots in my hometown. The individual dressing rooms open into a common space containing a couple of comfy chairs and a thee-way mirror at one end, as dressing rooms often do. What is notable is the air of courtesy and quiet enthusiasm. I’ve exchanged smiles with the daughters of little old ladies with perfectly set hair in search of the perfect pair of “trousers“ and enjoyed hearing groups of middle aged women trading clothes between dressing rooms with a “This didn’t work for me, but it would look darlin’ on you, hon!” (Hell, my sisters and I have done that minus the hon and darlin’!) Shopping on your own? Never fear– there’s always someone nearby who is happy to offer her candid but kind opinion about how your butt looks in those jeans or whether the dress you’re on the fence about is flattering. You can bump into your best friend’s mother, as I have done on one occasion. Or run into someone from church, as my mother does religiously. Everyone is very upbeat, very southern, and very sweet. It really is one of the happiest places I know.

With my mother and I slowing down (lucky me to be slowing down at the speed of an 80-year-old), our long jaunts to the mall have become short visits to the nearby Talbots. We rarely miss it when I’m home, and I usually return with a handful of sale items. After a few lazy days on the couch, we mustered up the energy to go to Talbots this afternoon. I optimistically made my way through the store, filling up my dear mother‘s arms with blouses and a dress and more blouses. A flawlessly dressed woman named Jean* took my clothes to a dressing room and scribbled Rebecca on the door. I continued shopping and then went back to try things on. Trying things on is its own challenge now. A funny quirk of MS (mine, at least) is that raising my arms over my head** is exhausting. This has seriously reduced my stamina for trying on clothing, but I haven’t been shopping in so long that I was determined to make the most of this trip. I tried on a pair of white Capri pants with a pink blouse. Jean and I decided pants were a size too big, so she fetched a smaller size. I returned to my dressing room with the smaller pants and should have stopped. Instead I struggled back into my own jeans (a feat made more difficult by at home eating habits) and  managed to get one last blouse on before giving up. I opened the dressing room door and stood briefly to get the approval of my mother and Jean, who were outside chatting about my MS in hushed tones. Mom’s words of explanation regarding her hot mess of a daughter are usually met with sympathy, but there was a surprise bonus this time… perfectly-accessorized, fully-ambulatory Jean, who had been helping us all along, also had MS! Talbots magic strikes again.

As I rested in the dressing room we exchanged fundraising stories and the lengths of time since diagnosis. I asked if I could wear the last blouse out, hoping that the conserved energy would be enough to propel me out of the store. I managed to stand and teetered my way toward the dressing room exit, where I hovered a moment before looking at my mother and Jean and saying “I’m going down.” I sank to the floor, sitting cross legged a while, feeling embarrassed and defeated but mostly OK. Again it’s a magical place. A woman came through with the brightly patterned dress, and I looked up at her sheepishly. “I’m having a day!” She shrugged and said “We all have those!” while stepping over me. Jean brought a husband chair from the main area so I could hoist myself up using its sturdy arm. With some effort I  got my butt into the chair itself. We continued to talk about our medications and symptoms. (Does it get any more ladylike than quietly discussing UTIs in the Talbots dressing room?!) I was offered a Sprite and accepted a water. As things looked less and less hopeful, Jean explained that another one of the employees there was her “support“ and could be brought in to help. Jean got me to another husband chair several feet away for one last rest before the support arrived (in an adorable yellow eyelet top). 


I exited the store flanked by my Talbots angels and poured my tired body into my mother’s car. Everyone was so very gracious and sweet. I waved goodbye and smiled through the window. The moment mom pulled away I burst into tears. Sometimes the kindness of strangers is overwhelming. Yes, there was a lot of embarrassment mixed in there too, but it’s really the kindness that destroys me in the nicest way. I recently joined MS Twitter, and I’m positively appalled at what I read there. The insensitivity others face from friends and strangers alike floors me. I feel so fortunate that that has not been my experience. I am no Pollyanna, but I do have full faith that when shit goes down in public I will not face it alone. It may be humiliating, but dignity is overrated. Actually, dignity isn’t overrated. You can be dignified sitting on a dressing room floor, as long as you keep a reasonably brave face, graciously accept the help offered, and keep your legs together if you’re wearing a skirt.



*Name changed in case Jean isn’t as interested in having her business all over there internet as I am.

**As observed before, waving them like I just don’t care is NOT advised.

 

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