The Kindness of Unwitting Strangers
I try to pull the dress up over my head, and just as I feared, I'm stuck. It's about 115 degrees in this damn dressing room, I'm sweating, and now I'm stuck in an Isaac Mizrahi dress at Target.
I knew I shouldn't have put it on. It's a shift dress, like an oversized A-line tee shirt, with no zips or buttons or clasps. It was a bit tight on my shoulders on the way down. And I thought to myself: Maybe you shouldn't do this. What if you can't get it off?
If you don't ignore your own advice, whose can you ignore?
I get the skirt of the dress up above the top of my head, but the bodice isn't budging. I feel the fear rise in my chest. I wish there was a more poetic and original way to say that, but at this moment, I am a half-naked cliché. I look toward the ceiling and gulp a breath, trying to force down the anxiety. No good. I'm suddenly sure I will die.
I yank the dress back down and the stiff cotton makes a flapping noise. I stand there for a minute and consider my options.
Cut the dress off. But I don't have scissors.
Call my husband and tell him I'm stuck in a dress and need help. But he's at work about an hour away.
I check my watch, hoping it's close enough to 6:00 to call my mom and have her come rescue me after work. It's only a bit after five. I consider sitting in the dressing room for the next hour, but decide that's not efficient.
It doesn't occur to me to just pay for the dress and wear it home. (My mom's suggestion on the phone later on.)
What does occur to me is that I need to get out of this dress now. Right now. Because the panic? Still ebbing and flowing. Mostly flowing every time I even imagine pulling the dress above my head.
I realize there is only one option left: I choose utter humiliation over sheer terror.
I take as deep a breath as the situation allows and stroll out to the front of the dressing room area. A middle-aged woman is fussing with hangers and cheap summer clothes. I'm glad to see her instead of the younger, perky girl who was there when I went in. This woman is just right: slightly hardened with a cynical edge; looks like a smoker. Clearly a woman who has seen a lot of things and isn't easily fazed.
I walk straight to the counter. There's no backing out now. "Hi," I say, giving her my most sincere I-swear-I'm-not-crazy smile. "I need your help. I'm claustrophobic, and can't get this dress off over my head. I'm about to have a full blown panic attack. Would you be able to help me pull it off? I know it's awkward, but I figure it's better than me freaking out."
I remain disturbingly chipper throughout this little monologue. The woman doesn't seem to have much reaction. It's almost like I just asked her to get me something in a different size. See? I knew she'd be unfazed.
We walk back toward the dressing room and she asks, "Where do you want to do this?"
"Um, I'm in this room, but I don't think we'll both fit. Maybe we could use the handicapped room there. It looks bigger."
She nixes that idea and suggests that I stand in the open doorway of my dressing room while she stands in the hallway. I briefly wonder if she thinks that I'm running some kind of scam whereby I lure unsuspecting discount chain store employees into dressing rooms to beat them and steal their little vests or nametags. But she has a good unspoken point: I don't want to be in such close quarters while a stranger undresses me. So although I'm not too keen on flashing any other passers-by, I've reached the point of no return.
I'm standing eye to eye with her, and she says, "Do you want to turn around?"
I give her another sincere look and say, "I'm really sorry to put you in this situation."
I turn around and pull the bottom of the dress up to my shoulders. She grabs it and pulls it the rest of the way over my head. I have just a split millisecond of panic as it gets hung up on my ears, but suddenly the dress is off. I'm standing there in my bra and gutchies, and I'm free!
As she walks away with the dress, she calls back, "Oh, did you want this?"