On a warm, spring Saturday when I was 12, I'd been given permission to ride the city bus to meet a friend for an afternoon movie. It wasn't the first time I'd be riding the bus alone, but it was the first time I wouldn't have to report to an adult at the other end of the line.
I can't even remember which friend was in on this scheme, but I do recall that we'd arranged to meet two boys (suave, mature 12-year-olds) at the movies. We knew we didn't technically have dates with them, but we felt pretty grown-up just because we'd be sitting next to members of the opposite sex.
Tony R., the boy who was to be my "movie-partner," was a neighborhood kid I'd known from first grade on. He'd always been just a schoolmate, never even a playmate and certainly never anybody I'd considered boyfriend material. He wasn't bad looking, though, and in my mind on that day, I was woman, he was man.
I gave a lot of thought to what I'd wear and finally chose a simple cotton dress that my mother had made. It was a medium-purple cotton, constructed of two A-shaped panels, front and back sewn together at the sides, each panel gathered at the top onto a white band. The white bands tied together at the shoulders to hold the dress up, and there was a third white band that gathered up all the fabric and tied around the waist. It was a little girl's dress. In fact, I'm pretty sure my eight-year-old sister had one just like it. Because I was a young girl, the dress would have been appropriate had I not chosen to accessorize it the way I did.
For years, I'd admired my mother's opal jewelry, its strands of large stones sparkling yellow and pink and purple, each stone completely surrounded by orchid-colored rhinestones that exactly matched my little cotton dress. My mother wore it only for fancy occasions. The big clip-on earrings pinched, so I didn't bother with them, but I smuggled the necklace and bracelet into my pocket. On my walk to the bus stop, I put them on and knew with absolute certainty that I looked stunning.
Nothing at all memorable happened at the movies. The boys were goofy, as 12-year-old boys usually are, and Tony didn't even seem to notice how sophisticated I'd become since he'd seen me at school the day before. After the movie we went our separate ways. I put the jewelry back in my pocket and rode the bus home, where I slipped it safely back into my mom's jewelry box. As far as I know, nobody was ever the wiser about the jewelry or about the boys.
For some reason, that day has stuck in my head. Although nobody told me I looked ridiculous, it didn't take long for me to realize that I had, and it's bugged me all these years. Not that that's the last time I ever made a fool of myself, no indeed, but that I felt so extremely confident while looking like a little girl playing dress-up.
Even now, long after I've learned to see the humor in the situation, if I think about that day too long, the self-doubt starts creeping in. Am I still completely clueless? Are there still occasions when I do stupid things of which I am totally unaware? If I live long enough, will there come a time in my 80s when I look back and cringe at what a jerk I was in my 60s? God, I hope not.