The Price of Vanity

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This is a  story of pride, love, loss, shame, redemption and regaining your sense of humour.

Let me preface this by saying that other than my immediate family, I have shared this story with only five people….my five closest friends at the time. In fact, it was such an unbelievable tale, I had a dinner party for the six of us good friends to ‘butter them up’ before I confessed my secret. No husbands, boyfriends, lovers…just six  women united to share a moment, that I was sure would be as shocking to them as it had been to me.

The fireplace we finally had installed.
The fireplace we finally had installed.

My husband and I had wanted to install a propane fireplace in our family room, but with a house full of kids, two new businesses we were trying to get off the ground, and a mortgage of gargantuan proportions, it wasn’t going to happen any time soon. I had secretly been stashing away a few dollars here and there over the past year and a half and I thought, if I was frugal in my spending, and faithful about adding to the fireplace fund, we just might be able to swing it by spring.

I was about 45 at the time, and had enrolled in a course to become a Non Violent Intervention Instructor. The course was being held in Calgary. Because we had an accredited Security Officer training program at the time, we were always looking for instructors for various specific and specialized components. This was something I felt I could teach, and it meant we didn’t have to invest in training someone who would one day move on.

I arrived in Calgary and checked into the hotel. I had that afternoon and evening free, as the course didn’t begin until the following morning.

This was my first trip to Calgary, other than once prior, when I had met with some Shell Canada executives on a contract we were working on for them on an offshore project. That had been a trip filled with meetings from the time I arrived until I left, so this was the first time I’d actually had time to see anything of the city.

Not having a clue where I was in relationship to the downtown core, business district, or shopping, I just set out walking. I stopped at a nice little bistro and had a lovely lunch. From there, I sort of poked my head into a few stores, more window shopping than actually contributing to the local economy.

As I strolled along, enjoying the newness of a place, I came upon a women’s clothing store called Le Chic. When I entered, it didn’t strike me as any thing special. I didn’t sink, ankle deep, into the carpet, and in fact the place seemed a bit crowded with rack upon rack of very nice business type clothing. Hmmmmm, I had some important meetings coming up, and thought ‘…perhaps I should buy myself a new suit.’

I have never been a trendy dresser. I am more the classic, seldom go out of style, kind of gal. This shop had my taste hanging on every rack!

As I browsed, a lovely woman asked if she could be of help, and I graciously turned her down, saying I was ‘….just looking’.

Well, that ended abruptly, when I found not one, but two, beautiful suits…both with skirts, not pants. One was green, one was coral. I asked to try them on, and the very pleasant, and helpful, woman who had previously approached me escorted me to the dressing room. While making our way toward the back of the store, she told me that they also did alterations and if any were required, they were included in the price! Wow! I was impressed.

I tried both suits on and really, really liked both. The coral fit like a glove, but the green one was big in the waist of the skirt and also just a bit in the shoulders of the jacket. I tried them both on again, but this time I finally took the time to look at the price tag on each.

GULP! I swallowed hard. The coral one was $330 and the green $350. ‘Oh gawwwwdddd’, I silently moaned. Why hadn’t I looked at the prices before I asked to try them on! That was a lot of money, even for a suit of such nice quality and made in Italy.  Just a moment before, I had seriously considered buying both. This changed that idea…well,  the green one is simpler and I’d get more use out of it. I worked hard, I deserved to treat myself. All these arguments sped through my brain as I began to justify what I was about to do.

The seamstress came in, pinned the jacket and waistband of the skirt where it needed to be taken in, I changed and as I was walking to the counter to pay, the power went out.

Having ignored the whispers the universe had been throwing in my path….the suit was too big, the price was too high, the feeling of guilt as I tried to justify my extravagant purchase….this was the 2 x 4 up aside the head…but I was determined to ignore even that.

As I stood there discussing when the suit would be ready for pick-up (late Friday afternoon), the power came back on, I passed over my credit card, the lovely lady rang up my purchase, I signed the slip and left….wondering how I would tell my husband that I had just paid $350 for a suit. Not that he would care….he never questioned or asked what I paid for anything, but I never kept secrets either.

Back at the hotel, I spent the week in training and workshops. Friday came and class ran late, then we all had dinner together where we were given our certificates. My flight left early Saturday morning, but I decided I would call the store Monday morning and have them mail the suit to me.  I didn’t have time to pick it up.

When I called the store on Monday, they were very accommodating and said they would sent the suit by bus and I would have it in two days. Shipping was free! Wow! Free shipping on top of the free alterations. “Please call us when you get it”, said the lovely lady. “We’d like to know if it fits”. Certainly, thank you so much, I replied.

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The suit arrived and it fit perfectly. I called the store to advise them that all was well. The next day I wore the suit to work. No one mentioned it, and somewhat disappointed, I met a friend for lunch…we had chinese food and I was very careful not to spill any of the sauces!

I still hadn’t worked up the courage to tell my husband I had paid $350 for a suit!

It wasn’t long when my credit card statement arrived. I always took my bills to work to pay them. I grabbed my reading glasses, opened the statement, ready to write a check for the balance owing.

There, a line item for the suit jumped off the page. Actually, it seemed to pulsate ….I felt my life’s breathe leaving my body as the bile rose in my throat. I managed to get up, walk to my office door , close it and get back to my chair without passing out or throwing up.

I looked again. I grabbed my purse and pulled the business card from my wallet. Shaking, I dialed the number. Second ring and the lovely lady answered.

‘Hello’, I said…my voice trembling. I told her who I was and that I had just received my statement and I was certain there must be some mistake.  With a smile in her voice, I heard her respond: “Oh no dear. There is no mistake. We don’t have anything in our store for less that $3,000.”

I don’t think I even said goodbye. I just hung up and sat there. Too stunned to cry, to frozen to move, too sick to even vomit.

OH. MY. GAWD. I had just paid thirty five HUNDRED dollars for a suit. THIRTY FIVE HUNDRED. NOT three hundred and fifty.

All of the “D” words went through my mind. Dumb. Divorce. Death.

How could I have made such an error?! How could I not have seen that second zero behind the three and the five??

I knew exactly how. Pride and vanity.

For a few months, I had been using reading glasses, at home, and at work, but rarely did I ever take them when I went shopping, and my trip to Le Chic was no exception.

All of the ‘what-ifs’ started going through my mind. The biggest was ‘What if I had decided to get both suits? This wouldn’t have happened as I didn’t have that high a limit on my card.  I would have been momentarily embarrassed when it was rejected, but I would never see those women again in my life, so what difference would it have made ?’

Ohhhhhhhhh, I felt weak. I had to tell my husband now…without delay. This was a serious amount of cash….no more procrastinating.  The lovely lady had made it clear I couldn’t return it. It had been altered and I had worn it.

I left work early, went home and prepared a delicious dinner….the last supper….mine. I was certain.

As our family sat down to eat that evening, I pushed my food around my plate as the nausea swelled. Finally, I could bear it no longer. I pushed away from the table, blurted “I have something to tell you after you eat”, burst into tears and ran up the stairs to our bedroom.

Within seconds my husband was in the room holding me as I sobbed so hard I couldn’t speak. Finally, between gut wrenching crying, I told him. The whole sordid tale. Start to finish.  When I finished begging for my life, our marriage , his forgiveness; he started to laugh. Had he gone over the edge? He wasn’t sort of snickering, he was belly laughing! I sat stunned…waiting for the end.

“Peg”, he said: “That is the best story ever and I know how we’re can get a couple of hundred dollars back”.

He had lost it. He continued, “This is going to be the best “In Real Life” Readers’ Digest story ever!”

Had he heard me? ‘Three thousand, five hundred dollars’  I said.

“It’s only money”, he replied. “When you left the table, in those few seconds it took me to get up here, I thought you were going to tell me you had cancer or something and were dying. This is nothing!” he said, holding me tighter.

I had married a saint. A SAINT!!!

I told him. I also told him that I would not have been so understanding had the tables been turned. I would have been livid. He was letting me off the hook. Just like that. Unbelievable. True, unconditional love. Of course I was still mortified. Embarrassed beyond words so I made him promise not to tell anyone until I was ready. And then I had my dinner party a few months later. As my friends sat in stunned silence, I gave them each permission to tell their significant other. ‘No matter what you do, you can now say…it could be worse. I could go shopping with Peggy.’

It was another 18 months before we got that fireplace. We used my savings to pay for the suit.  I wore the suit the first night we used it. We toasted the addition to our home with a glass of wine. I drank white…just in case.

I haven’t worn the suit since. I was too afraid of staining it, and then I out grew the size 8. I tease my granddaughter that the suit will be her inheritance. I also think perhaps I should put it in a frame, like a valuable hockey jersey, and hang it in my living room.

The best idea came from my friend Ray. He said I should wear that suit for everything, including changing the oil in my car. I think he is right. If I ever fit in that suit again, while I don’t change my own oil, I think I might split a bit of wood, or do some painting in it. If I never fit it in again, my granddaughter will have quite a story – complete with props- to tell her grandkids one day.

By the way, I have several pair of reading glasses now.  I don’t buy anything without them on…not even a jug of milk.  And now, finally more than fifteen years later, I can laugh about it, and I give you all permission to share. 🙂

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