61: Sweater Girl

61: Sweater Girl

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

Sweater Girl

A man’s errors are his portals of discovery.

~James Joyce

I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She sat on the bleachers in jeans and a chunky cream sweater. Her blond hair fell perfectly on her athletic shoulders. She was beautiful, even in the eighth grade, and she never had a reason to talk to me. I didn’t know her name, but I was convinced I had to be just like her.

“All right, ladies, to the red line,” Coach N. said as she blew a sharp whistle. The pretty girl was so cool, the noise in the gym didn’t even affect her. She just kept staring off into space.

As I dribbled a ball up and down, I considered all the ways I wasn’t as gorgeous as her. I was not slender like a model. I had chicken legs, according to my sister’s boyfriend. Chicken legs covered in brownish-blond hair. I checked the ball to Angie, my best friend, whose mom let her shave her legs because she thought Angie might feel embarrassed in gym class. My mom just kept saying she didn’t think I was ready.

Above my gross legs, I wore blue shorts that I had to roll up at the waist three times because I was so tiny. Some people might think that’s cute, but the V-shape it formed down my front side was not. I also wore a baggy gray shirt with a bear’s face on the front and the words “Bair Middle School” below it. I hated this uniform. The small-size shirts weren’t long enough to cover the V my shorts made, and the medium-sized ones were too baggy.

When the dribbling drills were over, we lined up outside the locker room to wait for the crowd of eighth graders to finish dressing. One tall, muscular girl walked by our line to talk to her friend who stood next to me. She asked what grade I was in. I told her seventh. She laughed and said “Girl, you look like you belong in fifth grade!”

If I were brave, I would have told her that I was actually in high school level Spanish and eighth grade level math. But I didn’t.

In the changing room, I twisted like a pretzel to get half my gym shirt off and pull on my regular shirt. Then I shimmied out of the gym shirt. All of this was necessary to hide the fact that Mom wouldn’t buy me a training bra, and I was too embarrassed to buy one myself with my allowance.

Two weeks passed by, and I hadn’t seen that girl again. But I remembered her when Mom took me clothes shopping. When we got to Marshalls, I went straight for the long racks of sweaters. I picked out a couple in purple, my favorite color, but I HAD to get a cream-colored one. It was a plan: Wear the sweater, be gorgeous, and have the boys, especially Zack, like me. Finally, I found one. It was a cream-colored chunky sweater with big “C” and “K” letters, standing for Calvin Klein.

When Mom came over to my section, she asked to see what I wanted. I showed her the clothes. She immediately said no to the cream sweater. She hated brand names and thought it was too expensive, even for Marshalls. I begged and whined. She just didn’t understand why I needed this sweater, and I couldn’t find the words to tell her how much it meant to me. Eventually, she said I could have it only if I gave up the other sweaters. I pouted and stamped my foot, but put back the purple sweaters.

That night, before I took my shower, I quickly grabbed one of the pink disposable razors Mom kept in the bathroom. In the shower, I shaved a small rectangular patch, no bigger than an inch, off my right leg. It looked good and felt smooth. I held the razor and thought about doing the rest when my dad banged on the door and told me I was wasting water. I got out and hid the razor in my towel, pulling on pajama pants to hide my secret.

The next day, I walked into the gym wearing my sweater and feeling bold about the bare patch of leg hidden under my jeans. Because we were all watching a video, we didn’t have to change. I kept stealing looks at Zack and smiling at him over on the boys’ side of the red lines. He had fluffy blond hair and a goofy smile. He was the cutest boy in our class. He must not have seen me because he didn’t smile back.

That weekend, because my mom thought I was mature enough to do my own laundry, but not mature enough to shave, wear a bra, or date, I washed the sweater with my other clothes and threw it in the dryer.

By Wednesday, I couldn’t wait to wear it again. Even though the temperature had warmed up to the 70s, I still put it on. But something wasn’t right. It had bunched up, and I had to keep pulling it down to make it reach my waistline. It didn’t look cool; it looked like a little girl’s art smock.

“Mo-om! Something’s wrong with my sweater!” I told her.

“Oh, Britt. Don’t you know by now not to put your nice things in the dryer?” She touched the fabric. “Look at it! It’s all stretched out!”

I sniffled as I ran my fingers down the lines that made it look pleated right above the bottom seam. “Can we go to the store and get another one tonight?”

“No, we cannot.” Mom had her car keys out. “That sweater was not cheap. You’ll just have to live with it and remember not to put everything in the dryer. Now go change before your father takes you to school.”

She left. I went to my room and looked in my closet. I looked at my sweater. I had nothing to wear but this. I felt miserable all day at school.

That night, as I was doing homework, Mom came home. She handed me a Marshalls bag. “Here.”

Inside was a purple sweater, one of the ones I had picked out last week. It hung from my hand like a jewel and seemed to sparkle like one. “Thanks!”

The phone rang. “Bobby, can you get that?” Mom yelled to my brother. Then she turned to me. “There’s supposed to be a cold front next week. No wearing it till then. Okay?”

I nodded. Bobby walked toward the kitchen.

“And what are you going to do with it when it gets dirty?” She reached out for the phone, but Bobby shook his head.

“Wash it and lay it OUT to dry,” I said, and snatched the phone from Bobby.

“Hello?” I answered.

“Britt? It’s Zack. From class.” Ohmigosh.

“Hi!” I managed to say.

“Do you have the social studies homework from today? I was sick.”

“Yeah. It’s the workbook pages 34-37.”

“Okay. Um, thanks. Bye.” Click. He hung up.


I took the sweater and hung it up carefully in my closet. I thought about picking out something for tomorrow, but now I didn’t care. It felt much cooler to be noticed by Zack when he wasn’t even at school looking at my clothes. I pulled out a skirt. Uh oh. What about shaving? I put it back. Oh, well, I thought. No use shaving—there’s going to be a cold front anyway.

~Britt Leigh

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