When I was a teenager, I got a place on a youth leadership scheme. This meant a summer, travelling between camps in America. Six weeks of adventure, hard work and disposable knickers.
It was my mother’s idea. She figured (rather reasonably) that I wouldn’t be able to do much laundry while I was travelling. From this, she decided that the best solution would be paper pants: the kind that people wear in hospital when recuperating from operations. The kind that people wear at the beautician’s to protect their actual, proper, non-disposable underwear. The kind that people do not actually wear to go about their day-to-day business.
Every day started the same: I would gingerly climb into a fresh, fragile pair of knickers, hoping that this time I wouldn’t tear them while putting them on. This was more difficult than it sounded as I was also pulling them on at top speed so my roommates wouldn’t see my underpant shame.
Knickers normally fit reasonably snuggly, whereas these gently puffed out, like an adult nappy. I was desperate that no-one saw them.
I wonder now if this was some deliberate move on mum’s part to ensure that I didn’t get up to any sexy mischief, by putting me in pants that were guaranteed to kill the libido of all who saw them? If so, she had very little to worry about. I was plum in the middle of my most socially-awkward period, where I could barely talk to anyone, let alone BOYS THAT I FANCIED. I think, at that point, I’d only been kissed once and that was only because someone had felt sorry for me. There was to be no party in my pants, regardless.
Anyway. Once I’d delicately wiggled into them, the days then followed a similar pattern: around mid-morning I’d sit down, cough or perhaps blink a little too vigorously, and I’d feel the dreaded “give”. The first pants rip of the day. The disposable fabric simply wasn’t strong enough to cope with *any* form of activity.
By lunchtime, my knickers would be mostly torn, but just about recognisable as undergarments.
By mid-afternoon, there’d be bare elastic around my waist and thighs, and shredded pieces of pants gently wafting from my clothing.
I couldn’t wait for bedtime each night.
That summer was six, endlessly long weeks, each day disintegrating as slowly and inevitably as my underwear.
And I’d forgotten it until last week, when I was visiting the beautician and she handed me a pair of paper pants.
As I carefully, carefully pulled them on, I was transported back, to an anonymous dorm room in middle America, to the unending social shame of my teenage years.
And I wondered… why didn’t teenage-me just go to a shop and buy some proper pants made of actual, non-dissolvable fabric? It would have been such a simple fix. Perhaps I deserved to wear the pants of shame after all.