by Kate Tooley
Everyone knows when you’re wearing the cranky pants.
You feel it as the fabric slides up your legs and bumps a little too hard into your crotch. And you think “why today.”
You’re not going to be comfortable again as long as you have them on. They don’t always look the same, but they are always the kind of pants your mother would approve of: not too form fitting, “classic,” impossibly constricting. They appear out of nowhere with no warning, though you have tried to do a calculation and they seem to have a preference for Mondays and the seventy-two hours before you go home for the holidays.
Your work friends see you coming, look you up and down, and sigh deeply, like that guy in the bar who is fundamentally disappointed that every woman is not Margot Robbie.
The bold ones will say: “I see you’ve got your cranky pants on today.”
The less bold ones will duck their heads and remember they’re late for coffee dates.
Everything you say or do will be filtered through this choice (it’s not a choice) of clothing: your opinion about the new hire, the way you water your desk Philodendron, your scathing review of the newest Star Wars movie.
At night, at home, your girlfriend slides her hands into your back pockets, teases you; you get mad at her and grouse, but she kisses your neck and before you know it, slips a hand around front, pops the button, and slides the pants down your legs to reveal what’s underneath, gets, as it were, to the “bottom” of the problem. Because what’s underneath is of course the dark secret of mood altering clothing… the struggle undies.
The struggle undies are like the cranky pants, but far worse: they have shape shifting properties. They can look like any pair of undies you own and you can only recognize them for what they are once you have slipped them on and have the mother of all thwedgies, which is their particular provenance.
You have avoided acknowledging them all day, but now it is impossible. You think “why now,” but you know it is because the last thing you saw before bed was a Facebook comment from your cousin. Why she had been digging back seven years in your photos is a mystery, as is her need to remind you how “pretty” you look with long hair. You look down at the pants and think about setting yourself on fire, but your girlfriend puts her forehead against yours and you feel okay, just for a minute.
The cranky pants will continue to manifest each morning until you get the struggle undies to disappear. Your girlfriend is the best at this, but if she is out of town, sometimes your cousin Jess will send you hours of cat videos and clips from old Suzanne Wasserman comedy sketches until you find the will to unhitch yourself from the fractious cotton trap, or you will get on the phone with Izzy (your oldest friend) who is so excited to finally be on HRT but is also pissy because puberty at thirty-five sucks and you will laugh so hard when she asks “are your boobs uneven?” because they really, really are and you didn’t think there was anything you didn’t know about each other. By the time you stop laughing, the struggle undies have disappeared.
But some days nothing works and you just have to wait it out.
It’s day two and on the train you spread your legs like the man next to you and hear someone mutter dyke, and an older woman squeezes in beside you and shoves your leg back to center with her fifteen pound pleather purse. Your struggle undies dig in and your cranky pants squeeze your thigh and you shoot the entire subway car a look that makes your southern childhood guilt rear up and slap you in the back of the head. The woman with the bag ignores this and continues to play word cookies on her phone. And then you are late for a meeting because in the bathroom you try to find a way to position the struggle undies so that you can sit with your legs together.
Tonight, as your girlfriend gently pulls at the elastic around your waist and centimeter by centimeter detaches the horrible piece of cotton and spandex that has been torturing you for two days, you begin to cry; you cry harder when she runs her fingers over the complex pattern of dark red rivulets that have dug deep into your hips and groin, that won’t let you forget the struggle undies even though she’s kicked them under the bed with her anxiety socks and the bravado bandana you only wore once. She pulls you into bed and reminds you of the reasons you like your body and you fall in love with the taste of her for the three thousand, six hundredth and twenty-forth time. Afterward, you talk about trying a new recipe for Saturday dinner and maybe adopting a dog. You don’t talk about the Big Presentation you have at work in the morning. One thing at a time.
In the morning the struggle undies have disappeared (temporarily, ominously) and you leave the cranky pants in a heap on the floor. You’re still naked from the waist up—the Imposter Syndrome Bra is calling to you from where it’s climbed halfway out of the dresser; you can see the place where the underwire has pushed through the pink fabric, you know exactly what it feels like digging into the soft edge of your boob. You retreat back to the bed, think about calling in sick. You don’t. Instead you do up the clasp and all day try not to make any sudden movements that will cause the wire to gouge you. No one notices—they’re all just relieved you didn’t wear the cranky pants.
Author Bio: Kate Tooley is a writer living in Brooklyn with her wife, pets, and a collection of dying houseplants. Originally from the Atlanta area, she is currently pursuing an MFA in Fiction at The New School. Her writing can be found online in Longleaf Review, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, The Inquisitive Eater, and others.