“What do you think of these ones?” I pulled three short-sleeve button-ups from the shopping cart and held them up so that Rae could see them. “Oh, I like this one, the cacti are cute. Ah! Look at the little blue birds on the cactus!” She said, taking the hanger from my hand. “Yeah, they alternate left and right,” I said, holding up the next shirt. “Wait, that’s like a short-sleeve…” Rae began. “Yeah, it’s like a short sleeve version of that long-sleeve I have. What about this one? Is pink my color?” I held up a saturated pink shirt. She paused and reached out her hands to feel the texture of the shirt. “Hmm, I don’t think this pink is your color. But I could see pink on you.” With judgements passed, I placed the pink shirt back on the rack, being careful to return it to the right area of the rack. “Guess I should try these two on. I’ll be back.” Without waiting for a reply, I turned around and surveyed the thrift shop, spotting the dressing rooms and the neat line that had assembled in front of them. I let out a little breathless groan, I was going to be standing there for a hot minute.
As I stood in line, I surveyed the crowd–the homebody in me was now roleplaying the voyeur. In the firetruck red dressing booths, came the familiar clanging and rustling as the occupants restlessly fidgeted. Outside the booths, stood an audience of impatient fury that demanded their turn in front of the dressing room mirror. Each of the dressing room doors was peppered with printed signs on white printer paper. One sheet of paper advised that the maximum number of items to be brought into the booths was six. Another sign warned of the single deaf staff worker who worked there and would have trouble knowing if they were in the booth. Another sign reminded all shoppers not to shoplift. These numerous white paper signs slathered the exterior of the red booths, and I couldn’t help but analyze each one of the signs, noting the plurality of spelling errors that made me internally scream for correction. My attention was drawn by the small Asian woman who was approximately my age, who would appear and disappear from her booth, pulling items off her cart, which stood right outside the booth door. She would emerge every so often, wearing the same black athletic gear and then disappear to rustle and pass judgement on her choices. I reasoned in my head that if she emerged for more than six seconds that we’d have six more weeks of winter. Next to her booth, a mother would periodically stick her head inside the booth to make sure her young daughters were trying on the clothes and to assess their fit. She would gracefully stride over, her multi-colored sundress kicked in front of her in a flutter and she would interrogate her daughters, whose feet could be seen pacing about the booth. Their frustrated voices could be heard as they complained about their mother’s incessant wandering away from the booth. The kids reasoned that if their mother was required to pass judgement, then she should be present and should stop opening the door to check on them. Opening the booth only reminded the girls that the booth was a place for vulnerability, which was constantly threatened by their mother’s open-door policy. The mother, with her casual eyes, would write off their protests and return to the closest rack between visits to look at blouses. In the farthest right booth, a faceless person, whom I had yet to see, jostled somewhat stealthily. I was only aware she was there because of the one-foot gap at the bottom of the dressing room where I could see her cork-colored wedges. In front of her booth, two women stood, checking their reflections in a mirror. They would try on clothes from the return rack and glance about as they debated whether a given article suited them or not. Upon seeing them, my first thought was how much gall they had for cutting the line, by confusing the social order through the creation of a second line. I thought to myself that it’s because of people like them, that we can’t have nice things. The booth with the mystery figure in front of the two line cutters opened and a small Hispanic woman opened the door and peered out. After acknowledging the line-cutters, who moved backwards to give her room to exit, she opened the door and gracefully pirouetted to hold the door open for the next person in line. I realized then that all the changing booths were locked by default and that the thrift-store staff had just let the booth-trading tradition I was now experiencing continue unsupervised.
The line-cutters kept at their game in front of the mirror and the people in front of me, a grey-haired mother in mom jeans with her teen daughter who was holding a green velvet dress, moved to the now-open booth. I scooted myself a little closer and now held the first place in line. Behind me, two teenage guys pushed an overstuffed cart full of clothes, while I daintily balanced two shirts on my middle and index finger. As I shifted my fingers up and down with the hangar tip balanced on each fingertip, I was aware that the two women whom I’d accused of being line-cutters occasionally looked my way. It dawned on me, that the motion I was making with my hand, could appear lewd. Slightly, embarrassed, I quickly stopped and held the hangers in as natural of a position as I could.
Soon, I was greeted by the clicking sound of the hinge of the far-left booth, where the familiar face of the small Asian woman poked out. This time though, she emerged into the daylight. She had completed her task and she vacated the dressing booth, throwing items into her cart. As I approached to take her booth, the door slammed behind her. As she scurried to move her cart out of the way, she breathed out a quiet and curt apology at the inconvenience of her presence and her perceived rudeness for having not held the door. I reached for the door and tried the latch to confirm what I already knew: It was indeed locked. I scanned the door up and down. I was pretty tall, but I probably couldn’t reach over the top to get to the latch on the inside. I looked at the handle. I could probably just flag a staff member down and have them unlock the door but that would take time. My eyes landed on the one-foot gap below. I guess I could just crawl under the door. Although it would look weird for me to do so; if I did it quickly enough only a handful of people would see and I wouldn’t feel shame for being strange for that long. Plus, there was a deep internal pride that I held for how skinny I was and how I’d managed to fit into all sorts of nooks and crannies in prior instances. Without too much thought, I bundled the two shirts on their hangers in my left hand and knelt on the ground. I placed my right hand on the ground, just inside the booth so I could pull myself through. I placed my weight on my right shoulder as I reached my left arm -still clutching the shirts- through the bottom of the door. There was a loud “pop” noise and I felt a welling of instant pain on my right shoulder-my arm now seemingly stuck at an angle behind me. I was in immense pain, and I did not know what just happened. For an instance, I thought about just staying still and calling for help. I was experiencing an unknown pain, that rivalled the pain I remembered from getting tattoos, and I was pinned halfway under a door. I was completely vulnerable and in shock. In a panic, I clawed at the dingy grey carpet of the booth interior with my left hand like a desperate animal, having dropped the shirts at the first tinge of pain. I pulled myself through kicking awkwardly with my legs behind me. As embarrassing as the flailing probably looked, I reasoned that getting stuck under a booth door was more embarrassing. What would the onlookers have thought? I was already beginning to look weird by refusing to ask for help from the staff. It would be shameful if I asked for help now, right? With my left arm, I was able to right myself up in the booth into a more amiable kneeling position, my right leg still sticking out of the booth. I slowly stood up, my body shaking with trembles that dared to make me lose balance.
Looking in the mirror, it was now very clear to me what had happened to my right arm: I had dislocated my right shoulder while crawling under the booth door. My body felt simultaneously like I could faint, and like I was being sobered by a thousand prickly spikes being injected into my body. Once again, a thought popped into my head: you should get help. I stared into the mirror thinking about the social awkwardness of the situation and how I would become a new misspelt paper sign on the red doors of these booths-that my hubris and folly would be embedded into the monotonous fabric of this thrift shop’s everyday. I winced and continued to internally debate what I should do. What do you do in this situation? What do they do in the movies? I thought about it for half a second before it seemed my right arm began to move on its own as if it was responding independently, of whether my mind had settled on a course of action. In the movies, the buff bald actor resets their arm by themselves and without much thought. I flailed my right arm back and forth and tried to make a semi-circle. Excruciating pain shot throughout my body. I imagined that I was like a Ken doll having his arm ripped off by a toddler. But within a second or two, I compelled my right arm to go back into its socket -a barely audible crunch sound could be heard as it landed back in place. I winced and grabbed my right should with my left hand, leaning my head against the walls of the booth as I tried to recover in silence.
It seemed like an hour passed between the floor, the crunch, and my self-soothing against the dressing room wall, but in truth, it’d been only a minute or so. I stood reeling from the pain of having reset my arm and I looked at the mirror in front of me. Well, I was in the dressing booth, there was a line outside, and I had to try on the two shirts which were on the floor, visible to the people outside. They would think it pretty weird if I didn’t immediately pick up the shirts, right? I reasoned that I couldn’t spend all that effort and not try on the two shirts. I slowly began to undo the buttons on my yellow and green flannel shirt, expelling curt exclamations at each movement of my body. As I went to undo the highest buttons I winced and pushed through the pain–my shoulder was on fire. I leaned back to let the shirt fall off my shoulders so that I could avoid articulating my shoulders. Only partially successful, I gently bounced in place to let the shirt completely fall off. I reached down, keeping my right arm fixed and unmoved, to pick up one of the shirts. I tried desperately to repeat the same process in reverse and only managed to trap myself between the arms of a cactus-and-bird-spotted shirt. I took a deep breath and began to turn both arms to let the shirt fall into place. After getting the shirt in place, I held my shoulder for a moment to recover. I looked up in the mirror at the absurd performance I was making, noting that this button-up was just slightly too short for my long torso. After all those theatrics, it hadn’t even been worth it for this shirt. I repeated the painful process of peeling off one shirt, applying another, and finding that the look-alike of one of my long-sleeve shirts was a perfect fit.
Great, not a total loss.
Conscious of the time I’d invested in the dressing booth, I finished buttoning the last button on my flannel with the now well-rehearsed grimace to accompany it. I grabbed the two hanging shirts and opened the booth door. I pirouetted in a similar fashion to the woman I’d observed earlier, spiking my body with another jet of pain. The two guys who’d packed half of the store in their cart pushed forward and uttered an eye-contactless “thank you” as they rushed past me. I wonder if they knew I was performing. Had they heard the same pop and the same crunch? Had they just giggled at my flailing, unaware of my theatrics? I slowly turned my head around to spot where Rae was. It occurred to me, throughout this entire foolish endeavor, that I hadn’t considered how she would feel about what I’d just experienced. As I spotted her blond hair, which often poked a head above everyone else’s, I was overcome with embarrassment at how idiotic and bull-headed I’d been. Instead of asking for help, at multiple points throughout this performance, I doubled down and pushed myself. As I walked towards her, I shook from the pain I was still feeling and perhaps anger at myself that I was now feeling. Should I tell her? Will she be mad at me? How could I have been so stupid? These thoughts plagued my mind as I finally walked up to my fiancé. She met her cool light-blue eyes with mine. Still trembling,
I quietly whispered “Let’s go. I want to go home.”