Leandra Medine first made her mark blogging entries that dealt with hilarity, heartache and high fashion in equal measures. By culling together her most incisive essays into a single collection, "Man Repeller," Medine makes the leap from blogosphere to bookshelf. Here's an excerpt.
THE TENT DRESS
I was lying through my teeth when I told Marla that a girl’s first kiss is like watching fireworks, only even more magical. I’m still not sure what compelled me to say that to my cousin’s thirteen-year-old daughter when I had been so resentful of my mother’s wrongly romantic assertions about “knowing when you know” and “feeling right at the very pit of your existence.” What is the pit of your existence? I should have told Marla what it’s really like: slimy, awkward, and never ever as climactic as the movies that impregnate and then abandon your heart want you to believe. But maybe, too, my opinion was biased.
I didn’t know much about the male species as a kindergartener, but I did know that I had a crush on a boy named Kevin. His hair was a silky bowl that almost always looked like it had been freshly cut. He didn’t speak very much and often came to school with red boils on his arms, which prompted our teacher, Ms. Sherri, to send him home. I always felt a sense of emptiness when he left early—as though my existence at school was pointless and as though I’d wasted my good plaid dress or clean white turtleneck for nothing. On a Tuesday morning that I was certain he would be in school (our mothers had been on the phone the night before and I overheard mine say she’d see his at pick‑up the next day) I walked into Ms. Sherri’s classroom feeling particularly good about myself. Just after the previous night’s phone conversation I had successfully lured my mother into letting me wear my favorite dress to school.
It was reserved exclusively for special occasions such as Rosh Hashanah dinner at my decidedly highbrow grandmother’s house. But standing in my closet, I nudged at my mother’s knee explaining why she should let me wear the dress to school. Even at six years old I understood the fundamental importance of calculating cost per wear. In a final fit signaling the brink of exhausted defeat (losing to a child is hard, I will give her that), my mom tried to threaten me. “If you dirty it,” she warned, “I’m not cleaning it.” It was difficult to take her scare tactics seriously. She diligently tried to instill the do‑what-you-incorrectly-want-and-you’re‑on‑your-own ethos in all four of her children, but when push came to shove we were never on our own. At the slice of a paper cut, there she was, with Neosporin, Band-Aids, and a phone at arm’s length, should the emergency room need advance warning that we were coming.
“Oh my gosh! What a lovely dress!” Ms. Sherri offered when I got to school that Tuesday. It was lovely indeed; in a distinct hue of burgundy that predated the oxblood craze of 2012, my knee-length, tent-shaped dress featured a Peter Pan collar adorned with embroidered grape leaves, and housed an entire layer of tulle in its underbelly.
“I know! Isn’t it the best?” I gushed. Not very humble, no, but I was, after all, wearing the dress because I had won an argument about it—didn’t that score me bragging rights? Hopefully, as Ms.Sherri did, Kevin would find it lovely and then subsequently find me lovely, too.
As I walked to my cubby to put my jacket and pink patent leather knapsack away and to fix my side-parted, side-clipped, shoulder-length hair, my two best friends Sarah and Rebecca walked over to me. I waited for them to compliment my fancy dress, but instead they just looked at me dumbfounded.
“You look like a baby,” Sarah said. She was wearing a grey sweater tucked into a leather miniskirt, her hair in a half pony that looked like a chignon purchased in the sale aisle at Duane Reade. Rebecca, donning a similar hairstyle, concurred, and my ego fell to the ground. They were right. I did look a baby. I guess that’s the thing about age-appropriate dressing—it’s inappropriate. There was no way Kevin would care about my dress. How could I have been so silly?
A feeling foreign to me at the time, self-consciousness, reared its vicious head. For the rest of the day, I did everything I could to cover the dress. I took my jacket out of my cubby and put it back on. They made fun of me. I got hot, so I took it off and put it around my waist. They made fun of that, too. This was a no‑win situation.
I looked at the clock around 11:50 a.m., fretfully dreading what would happen in ten minutes, when recess would start and I would have no choice but to face my friends again. Normally during recess, Rebecca, Sarah, and I would play house with Kevin. They had crushes on him too, but I was almost certain mine predated theirs and, as such, was much stronger. Kevin always played the dad, and the three of us, or rather the two of them, would fight almost every day over who got to play the mom. I wanted to be the mom, too; but I’m a lover, not a fighter, so I typically took the role of the child to avoid conflict. By then, I knew that on this day the girls would unquestionably liken my outfit to the role anyway. I already felt the lump in my throat signaling the imminent cry of defeat. I was trying to prepare myself when Sarah said it: “You have to play the baby because you’re dressed up as one already.”
I wasn’t all that confrontational and thus allowed the following series of events to unfold as they would, with me sitting in a corner while they fought over who should be the mother and why.
“I’m the oldest,” Sarah said.
“So? My mom said I’m going to be the best mom there is. I know how to cook vegetables,” Rebecca retorted. The kitchen in our game was Fisher-Price, for heaven’s sake.
I put my head down, though still paying distinct attention to their ridiculous squabble, when I saw a set of knees clad in khaki slacks bend and land directly adjacent to my own. I looked up and there he was: a rash-free Kevin. He moved from in front of me to directly next to me, and I felt his scaly hand clench mine.
The world stopped. I couldn’t offer much attention to how coarse and unpleasant his grasp felt because my heart was beating so damn fast that I had to wonder if it might explode out of my chest. I was almost certain that I was seconds away from peeing in my pants. Sarah and Rebecca stopped arguing to acknowledge our budding romance, and as they looked over, unquestionable rage in their eyes, he kissed me on the cheek. Now I was certain I had peed in my pants, but I was too busy becoming a woman superior to both Sarah and Rebecca, in spite of my childish dress, to attend to that situation. We never ended up playing house that day, but it was clear that in matters of who got to play whom I was most definitely the mom.
Excerpted from the book MAN REPELLER by Leandra Medine. © 2013 by Leandra Medine. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.