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We walk slowly at first, my mom and I. My eyes reflect the brightly lit rows of stores, each one seeming just like all the others, neon and screaming “COME IN, CHOOSE ME!” I see the overwhelmed look on my mom’s face, her pale skin getting just a little bit paler, her dark eyebrows going up, up, hiding in her straight brown bangs. Without giving her any time to turn around and say, “Come on, Maggie, there’s nothing here,” I grab my mother’s arm and tug her into the nearest store.
Racks and racks of frilly, teenie-tiny dresses that would be more suited to a clown confront me and send me into a dizzy. Discouraged, but not hopeless, I search the store for anything halfway decent. Well, I guess finding that perfect graduation dress won’t be that easy, I think to myself. Almost answering my thoughts, my mom’s voice comes from behind me.
“Honey, I’m not sure that any of these dresses would be appropriate for an eighth grade graduation ceremony.”
“Really? You don’t like this one?” I hold up a nauseatingly yellow dress, covered in sequins and barely able to hide any skin. My mother looks horrified, her thin lips in a perfect o and her ivory forehead all scrunched up. I laugh loudly and, seeing my mom let out a relieved breath, say, “Let’s get out of here!”
“Ooh! I really like that one,” I say, pointing to a pale pink dress in the window of Forever 21. I hurry into the store and soon find the dress on a nearby rack. I admire it for a while, how it looks sweet and innocent and ready to be paired with little heels and a curly up-do. My mom interrupts my graduation daydream with a handful of other cute dresses, some flowery and flowing, others a little tighter and in bright blues and purples. Together, we head towards the dressing rooms. My mom plops down on a plush chair outside my room, already looking very tired, too tired. I quickly change into the first dress, the pink one I had spotted in the window. It zips up easily, and I turn to look at myself in the mirror, hoping to see that it complements my curly brown hair and tan skin. “Oh no!” My happy smile vanishes as soon as I see the dress on me. The breezy layers of pink completely wash me out, making me look like a skin-colored blob.
“What is it, honey?” my mom calls as she opens the curtain. “Oh.”
“I know! It’s… I thought it would be perfect but it’s all wrong! It just… I wish…” I look up at my mom to see her sympathetic shrug and sigh. “Well, I’ll try on the others. Maybe they’ll be better. A lot better!”
I try on every single one of the dresses only to find each one to be too bright, too tight, too short, too long, or just plain ugly. Without buying anything, we walk out of the store.
We travel inside the mall at a rapid pace, stopping at any store that might have dresses for sale. We pass wide-eyed four-year-olds dragging their exhausted parents into every toy store in the mall, and gaggles of giggling teen girls linking arms, their many colored shopping bags swinging from their hands. There’s an old couple sharing wrinkled smiles over some frozen yogurt, muttering something about “…the grandkids, oh the little joys!” Every store window holds an array of frightening manikins, decorated with the store’s often bright and cheesy clothing. No matter how truly awful a store window looks, there are always swarms of people inside of it. Unfortunately for me, all of the stores that I think would have plenty of gorgeous dresses just don’t. My mom looks awfully tired, and all of the neon lights, loud music, and heavy perfume are making me sick. As I’m about to simply give up and say, “Let’s go home,” my mom drags me into H&M, one of the very last stores in the mall.
I walk through the store, scanning through clothes half-heartedly. I’m about to turn around and call for my mom when I see it. The dress. The one I’d been looking for – it was here! I run over to where it is on the rack and grab it in a few different sizes, just in case. I’m yelling, trying to find my mom, so very, very excited. I whiz around when I hear my mom’s voice. “Mom! Mom! It’s here, it’s right here! This is it! I’m gonna go try it on, okay?”
“Sure, baby. Let me know when you have it on!”
Soon I’m pulling up the zipper of the first size, but when it can’t zip up I toss it to the ground and try on the next size. This one zips up all right, but it’s way too big. I turn to see myself in the mirror anyways and gasp. I look like…like a whole different me. It’s amazing how a single dress can make you feel like the most beautiful, and luckiest, girl in the world. The dress is a light purple-pink, strapless, and it’s long, down past my ankles. A charcoal grey ribbon circles under my bust, and small grey flowers are scattered above that. I let out a little giggle and run out to my mom, twirling around, full of bliss.
“It’s gorgeous, but it’s too big!” My mom smiles, probably because she’s happy that our shopping trip will soon be over. “I’ll go find you one size smaller!”
When my mom comes into my dressing room some time later, she approaches me cautiously, afraid. “What is it, Mom?” I tilt my head to the side, trying to figure out what’s wrong with her.
“It’s… well, I have some bad news. I’ve looked everywhere in the store and I can’t find the size that you need! Let’s talk to someone at the front counter, they’ll know what to do.” She takes my hand and leads me slowly to the cash register. I feel my heart sinking. All of our exhausting time spent shopping for nothing? It has to be in my size! I don’t want any other dress!
I hang back and let my mom do the talking with the employee - named Stephanie, according to her nametag. They talk for a few minutes, my mom looking urgent and Stephanie looking sympathetic. My mom smiles, says thank you, and walks over to me. “Well, she said that we can call the H&M at the mall a few miles away… what’s that one again? The Rosebay Mall? Here’s the number. I’ll call right now!”
Soon we’re parked at the Rosebay Mall, with tired feet but happy smiles. As we walk in, I’m amazed by just how many people go shopping, every day. The mall walkways twist and turn like a river, full of us shoppers, who are the fish. I almost run into the H&M, knowing, thanks to the call my mom made, that they carry my size. There! There was the dress, my dress, ready to be taken home. I hold it to my chest, eyeing the checkout lady as I set it down on the counter. I’m nervous until it’s back in my arms in a bag, swinging beside me. I hug my mom tightly. “Thank you so much, Mommy! It’s so perfect!”
It’s now that I realize how hungry I am. It was 5:30 when we first entered the mall, and now it’s 9:30 and the sky is getting very dark. Four hours with nothing to eat! My stomach growls and my mom laughs, taking my hand once more as we walk into a Mexican restaurant. I sit down and wait impatiently for the food to arrive. When it does, my mom says, “I know you’re starving, but don’t eat too much or else you won’t be able to fit in your dress!”
I smile and take a bite of my burrito.