I was broke and broken hearted—my ex-boyfriend Matthew had left me three weeks before—when my doorman buzzed to say a package had arrived. I envisioned long-stemmed roses with the card: “I changed my mind. Let’s elope.” Instead was a box from my mother in the Midwest.
Inside were two sweaters: a purple cardigan and a turquoise pullover. Knowing my dark mood, Mom was overcompensating with gifts of rainbow gear. Since I was a black-clad urban working girl who would rather pay my bills than own two more Mom-picked neon tops I didn’t need, I called “Marlene’s Designs” to see if they could be exchanged for cash. Marlene put me on hold for seven minutes then said, “Sorry, hon. Return policy is five days.”
I went to my closet to examine all the clothes my mother had sent since I’d moved to New York. Each had its own bad memory. I took out the red striped satin blouse I’d worn for my interview at Interview, with the beige skirt outfit she’d mailed. I thought I’d looked sophisticated. The editor-in-chief—in camouflage pants and army boots—thought I was a salesperson and sent me to advertising.
I held up the gray potato-sack dress I’d donned for my brother Ben and my former best friend Elizabeth’s rehearsal dinner. Bad enough being newly dumped as Elizabeth the bride won the ring, the wedding, and my brother the doctor, but I had to do it looking like the Goodyear blimp on stilts.
I removed two Donna Karan dresses, a purple Betsey Johnson zipped blazer, a cotton sundress with bolero jacket, a pink angora sweater, a fox coat and the full-length seal fur she’d given me for my last birthday.
“Haven’t you heard of PETA?” I would ask. “People who wear dead animals are emotionally depraved.”
“Fur’s back in,” she’d retort. “I’m more comfortable in jeans and black sweaters,” I’d confess. “Face it, I’m schlumpy.”
I laid it all out, this colorful wardrobe of another woman, the daughter my mother always wanted. It was time to get rid of her. I Googled consignment shops—apparently booming in this lousy economy—and found the address for the Upper East Side resale shop Second Chance.
“Goodbye, fox and seal,” I bid the pelts adieu.
“Your sister-in-law Elizabeth would die for these,” I could hear my mother taunting.
“So give them to her,” I’d tell her. “She has nothing better to do than shop anyway.”
“She was smart enough to get herself a good husband,” Mom would say.
I continued the imaginary screaming match with myself as I put on my ebony jeans, Gap sweater and cowboy boots. I placed the expensive clothes in a hanging suitcase I had to sit on to zip and kicked it downstairs and out the door, trying to hail a cab. No dice. I schlepped the bag to Seventh Avenue, feeling desperate, when I finally found a taxi. At the shop, I lugged my baggage up the stairs. The saleswoman had short red hair like my Aunt Ida.
I spread my clothes on the counter, as instructed. Ida II inspected the stash, checked hems, turned sleeves inside out and made two piles. She held up the beige Armani.
“The top is size six, the bottom eight,” she said.
“The pieces were sold separately.” “How many women do you know who wear size eight bottom and size six top?” “Thousands,” I said. She went through the sweaters, stopping at the ones my mother just sent. “These two are lovely; we’ll definitely take them.” She folded them neatly then stared at the seal and said, “This really isn’t our favorite fur.” She checked the label. “Well, maybe.”
I was sure I’d earn thousands, yet she wrote $240 on a card she slipped me. My heart sank, but at least that would cover the month’s phone and electric bill. Then she said, “It’s on consignment. When it sells, we send you a check. If it doesn’t sell in six months, you have two days to retrieve it or we throw it out.”
I tried to focus on the upside: My mother’s bright colors would never threaten my closet again. I’d finally taken control of my own space. Mission accomplished.
“And these items we won’t be needing.”
Ida pointed to the second pile.
“Bargain basement price?” I asked. She shook her head.
I repacked my rejected garments and lugged the still-heavy luggage down the stairs, taking the train home. In my apartment, I spread the hanging suitcase on the floor so the clothes I would never wear wouldn’t wrinkle. It looked like a dead body. I sank into the couch, shutting my eyes. In my dream I wasn’t wearing anything and Matthew said, “You look beautiful.” Then the phone rang. Rushing to grab it, I tripped over the suitcase and fell. The answering machine clicked.
“Honey, it’s me,” Mom’s voice said.
“Marlene didn’t realize you were my daughter; I explained it. She’ll extend the return policy for a week and send you cash. Sorry the sweaters weren’t your style. They were $250 each, so mail them back right away. I bought the same ones for Elizabeth, they looked great on her.”
"SECOND CHANCE" is an except from Susan Shapiro’s new novel OVEREXPOSED, recently published by St. Martin’s Press.