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A Fine Mess

By Cecelie Berry
Recently, I came to the aid of two mothers who dropped off their boys at my son's birthday party. They wanted to exchange cell phone numbers to negotiate the pickup and needed a pen. "I have one," I volunteered. Eager to be the hostess with the mostest, I dug into the torn right pocket of my beloved old snow jacket. "Here you go"—triumphantly, I pulled out a down-encrusted lollipop, minus its wrapper. "Oh, you don't want that, sorry." I laughed. Unfazed, I plunged my hand into my pocket and felt around madly. "Got it, got it!"—and out came a jagged-edged eyebrow pencil, completely hollow. The two women were eyeing each other now, wanting to ask someone else, hoping I'd surrender, but I definitely, definitely had a pen. I fished about in the other pocket: spare change, used hankies, a single glove, old movie tickets, and finally, a dime-store pen hemorrhaging ink. "It writes." I offered it. "Trust me." They stared at my blue-stained fingers, and I heard the echo of all the family members and teachers who used to ask me, "Girl, when are you going to get yourself to-geth-er?"

I always wanted to be one of those "together" people. I thought the day would come when what I thought of as the exotic style words—panache, soigné—could readily apply to me. Witty badinage would fall from my lips like pearls before swine. I would even be a neat eater. Achieving perfection would free me to be the confident woman I longed to be. Then I'd be able to handle everything; I'd be on top of things and ahead of the game.

As I neared 40, I'd imagine myself swinging down the street sporting a snappy trenchcoat, carrying in a manicured hand a featherweight briefcase containing the essential gadgets of life—completely mastered and readily available—and then I'd pause in my reverie, put on my eyeglasses, and examine the caption beneath the picture in my mind's eye. It read, "Never gonna happen."

Oh, I have days when I wear and say the right thing, but those moments of poise still go toe-to-stubbed-toe with my gaffes. Life for me is always going to be haphazard, and I figure I'll never outfox it, so I'd better brave it instead. Ironically, knowing that I will make mistakes, that I will forgive myself and keep on trying, has given me the confidence I craved. When I was young, I thought confidence could be earned with perfection. Now I know that you don't earn it; you claim it. And you do that by loving the wacky, endlessly optimistic, enthusiastically uninhibited free spirit that is the essence of style, the quintessence of heart, and uniquely you.



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