Yesterday, I sat on a little silver ottoman that I found outside of the fitting rooms at H&M. It was shaped like a cube and was button-tufted to boot, the kind of perch meant for parents who are waiting for their teens or forlorn boyfriends who wonder how they’ll be compensated after being so patient.
I sat looking out at the bright, shiny store, musing about what had landed all of these people at Fayette Mall at 2 o’clock on a Tuesday. A girl flipped through the racks looking at a series of cropped tops with words like “Oh” and phrases like “Où est la piscine?” written on them. Meanwhile, another, holding an armful of prospective purchases, declared she hated shopping.
Then my phone buzzed.
It was Gabrielle saying, “Wanna come and take a look?”
I headed into the dressing room and Gabrielle had on a copper, pleated skirt that perfectly offset her newly permed hair that is now the color of honey. She tilted her hip a little to let me know she was pleased and I praised the choice. Then she tried on a jean jacket embroidered with flowers and looking like it had been swiped from my closet circa 1988. It, too, was a clear winner.
As she went to try on a pair of jeans, I returned to my perch, now holding the skirt and jacket that I would buy for her.
The day had started with me waiting at Super Kroger for AAA so the dead battery in Gabrielle’s car could get a boost. It had proceeded with me getting a speeding ticket in trying to get back home in time for an appointment.
The events had made my mood jagged and unpredictable, but I was bound and determined to shift gears and do a back-to-school shopping spree on this rare day when Gabrielle didn’t have any plans or work shifts. So, we’d driven up to Lexington and had had lunch at P.F. Chang’s, as we have been doing since Gabrielle was about 7. And, as we’ve been doing for years and years, we had hot and sour soup and re-declared to one another how much we love hot and sour soup.
After lunch, thinking my mood had been restored by Gabrielle’s bubbly one, we walked through the mall toward H&M. But as we went, I started thinking about all the stores we’ve visited over the years as we’ve done this exact same back-to-school spree in this exact same mall.
For years, there were Children’s Place and Gap Kids, with adorable little ensembles featuring stars and turtles, flowers and sailboats. There was that unfortunate year she fell in love with Justice, where I desperately tried to encourage her to make conservative, glitter-free choices. There were the middle-school years at The Gap, from which we emerged holding swinging navy bags filled with pink jeans, aquamarine shorts, periwinkle ballet flats. There was her one and only foray into Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch where William and I almost threw up over the smell of the cologne. And for years now, there have been Forever 21 and H&M, where the clothes are so cheap I almost feel guilty about it, and Sephora, which is decidedly not cheap but every young girl’s dream shop.
Of course, as we walked and she decided to get a black iced coffee at Starbuck’s, I realized how ridiculous I was for getting sentimental about being in a shopping mall. I mean, if ever there were a place bereft of meaning and love, this was it. And yet, here I was fighting tears, wondering where all of that time, all that bloody time, had gone.
As I sat on that strange silver cube and Gabrielle tried on jeans in her silver fitting room, we both knew that shopping sprees wouldn’t be the same after this. In less than a month, she is off to Case Western Reserve in Cleveland and the idea of packing into a car for an hour to eat at P.F. Chang’s and heading to a slew of chains stores will become trite, small, even depressing.
Her world will open up, as it should, and she’ll be introduced to flea markets and second-hand stores and boutiques. She’ll buy what she needs when she wants it while out with her friends. The goal will be thrift and originality, the day won’t be a symbolic event before school starts, it will just be a nice Saturday afternoon before a fun Saturday evening.
I sound like I’m upset about this, but I’m not. I want everything to expand for this little tiny kid. But as I sat on that little cube holding the jean jacket that I think used to be mine and a skirt the color of a sunset, I acknowledged this ending and that it was hard.