Your underwear is showing

Last night after dinner I walked with my daughter, each of us with a dog on the lead. We walked behind a woman whose dress was caught in her underpants. Though I could not be sure. The dress might be designed that way, a type of culottes. But the woman was my age at least and not someone likely to show off her legs.

‘Do we tell her?’ I asked my daughter. 

‘No, it’s too awful,’ she said, though agreed it was unkind to leave the woman in ignorance. 

When we caught up, I told the woman about her dress. 

‘That’s so embarrassing,’ she said and wrenched her skirt down, then smoothed it with her hand. ‘Thanks,’ she said without making eye contact. 

My daughter and I crossed the road to take the quick walk around the block and avoid the evening heat. That’s when I remembered Mrs P who took us for music when I was in year eight. 

One day Mrs P stood in the concert hall and glared down at us from her place on the dais, which she shared with a piano. There was also a black board behind the piano onto which she turned to write down notes on a set of lines: a gorgeous treble clef in first place. Crotchets and quavers, and demi semi quavers. 

I loved the written language of music. The words for each sign, each black ball with its accompanying tag that told you how long to hold the beat. The open circled ball a full beat, unlike the dark connected quavers. 

When she moved off the piano stool after playing the notes of the doh ray mi and stood to mark these notes on the board, we saw that Mrs P’s dress was caught in her underpants. Her thick fleshy thighs showed all the way down to curve of her bottom. Midway you could see the point where the top of her stockings joined the lines of her suspender belt. No neat panty hose in those days. They had only just come in and were the clothing of the rich and fashionable, not a lowly schoolteacher, a music teacher to boot within the Catholic system whose wages were notoriously less than in the protestant system. 

Our teachers, and especially the nuns, taught for the love of God alone. Out of duty to educate the young. Mrs P, a lay teacher earned a salary, but not enough to get her out of this hideous situation where girls tittered at her exposed behind. Me among them. 

No one told Mrs P that her dress was caught in her underpants and when the bell rang, she left the hall. We filed after her onto the quadrangle and I watched her round behind go up and down in rhythm with her steps. 

What would she think when hopefully one of her fellow teachers finally told her that her dress was not as it should be? How long before someone spared her the greater embarrassment of spending an entire day unknowing that her underpants were showing? 


When it came to the mysteries of the rosary I had no trouble remembering the sorrowful ones, in sing song fashion, the agony in the garden, the carrying of the cross, the crowning with thorns and the crucifixion. 

The joyful were also quick to come to mind: the annunciation, Mary chosen to be the mother of God, the Visitation, Elizabeth visits Mary to tell her as much, the nativity, Jesus born in a manger, the presentation of Jesus in the Temple and finding him there when he is aged twelve. 

But the mysterious remained a mystery: resurrections, ascensions, assumptions, visits from the holy ghost and crowning. All too easily combined with the luminous: the baptism, the wedding at Cana, the proclamation of the kingdom of Heaven, the transfiguration, and the Eucharist.  

To me luminous was that strange off-white colour that turned a spectral green after you left it in the sun for some time and then brought it into the dark.

 I had a set of luminous rosary beads and loved them for this quality. The way things could glow in the dark, but sadly they faded quickly and lasted only if the light they had taken in beforehand allowed. 

My mother’s rosary beads. Not luminous. Each bead in a lace cast.

There is a section in Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s book The fact of a body: a murder and a memoir, where the narrator describes the joy of sexual contact with her newest girlfriend.

Our narrator is gay, purely, she believes, because she loves women, not because she was sexually abused as a child by her grandfather.

She wants people to know this. Even if her grandfather had never touched her, as he did in stealth at night, she still would have preferred women to men. 

But that’s not the point of what she talks about when she describes making love to her partner. In detail: the kissing, mouth on mouth, tongue to tongue, skin to skin, the touch of their hands. But just as her partner moves to touch her below, she is back in liquid terror that leaves her aghast. She cannot go on. She must wrench herself and her partner out of their close bond, out of the joys of dissolving into one for the moment of sexual ecstasy because her mind is ravaged by an unspoken memory of her grandfather peeling back the blankets and his hands on her warm child’s body.

Dissociation kicks in and she is railroaded for life.

It’s easier to write about these things than to experience them. The panic that creeps over you when you slip into some mysterious terrain in which you are no longer an agent of your own movements, when the luminescence moves into a paralysis of mind and body that will not shift. 

Believe me, I’ve tried it.

This is the stuff of panic attacks, the stuff of re-living horrors you could not process when you were a child. Or stuff that your predecessors could not process and by some strange osmotic delivery from their DNA into yours, you picked up the danger signals.

Skip into too much sensual pleasure and you will be wrenched out by an unseen hand into dissolution and fear.