Paper pants

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.

THE WINNING LINES: Tales from my dating days #17

I’d been seeing a guy for a little while; he lived a long way away, so all our dates had been in restaurants and bars. Things had been going well, and I’d agreed I’d stay the night at his.

When I arrived, he was apologetic; there was a problem at work and he’d been thinking about cancelling, but still wanted to see me. However, he’d need to check in with work occasionally.

He left me with a drink while he answered a few emails. I checked out his books and his CD collection while he was gone (doesn’t everyone?) When he came back, he explained he’d have to keep an eye on his phone during dinner.

Well, there’s a difference between keeping an eye on your phone and giving it your full attention. We didn’t talk much during the meal, and he seemed to get more and more agitated about work. I tried to chat about his taste in music and books, but a frostiness settled; he shut the conversation down and went back to looking at his phone and ignoring me.

It just didn’t make sense. He’d said he was happy to see me, but his actions said the opposite. It’s not fun hanging out with someone who blatantly doesn’t want you there, and I wanted to leave; but I was 70 miles from home, I’d had a few drinks and couldn’t drive, and public transport wasn’t an option.

I was stuck at his. There was nothing that could be done but brave it out until the morning.

He had the one bed, so we both had to spend the night sharing it, keeping as much distance from each other as possible; not talking, not touching. I didn’t sleep a wink.

The next morning, he woke and said he had to get onto a conference call with work immediately. I said I’d leave, but he told me to stay, saying that the call wouldn’t take long. I didn’t want to seem rude, so I stayed.

Two hours later, he was still on his call, and I was feeling thoroughly stupid. Several times, I stuck my head around the door to say I’d be going, but he insisted I stay, that he’d be off the call soon.

Eventually, my anger and discomfort finally overtook my desire to be polite. Enough. He didn’t want me there, whether he was prepared to admit it or not. And—more importantly, although it’d taken me long enough to get there—I really didn’t want to be there. Time to go.

Time to go. As I headed for the door, he muted his call to tell me: “It’s been a long time since I’ve had anyone over to mine. I’m not good with having other people in my personal space.”

I drove home, angry and upset. I presumed I’d never hear from him again, but he phoned me three days later. Maybe he thought he hadn’t insulted me enough yet; he told me he’d called to explain that he didn’t want to “take the relationship any further, because you’re obviously much keener on me than I am on you.” And in the next breath, he asked, “Do you want to be friends, though?”

I laughed—a sharp, hollow, laugh—and said no, thank you.