I t happened again when I came home from school today and as always, I wished I could crawl out of my own skin with embarrassment. I know I’m not the only girl in my class who gets them; some girls, to my constant shock and amazement, talk about the bags on their porch openly and gratefully… but not me! Oh, boy, no way!

I don’t know when I realized that my family is poor. As a little kid, you’re blissfully unaware, accepting the “we-can’t-afford-it” response from your parents when you come home asking for the same fancy backpack as Leah Schwartz, happily wearing hand-me-downs, not even realizing what that means.

But slowly, slowly I began to see the differences: my father’s run-down, dusty van pulling up alongside the other parents’ shiny cars at pickup time. Whenever I suggested a car wash, my father, who earns a living buying and selling junk, explained that his customers took him more seriously if his car was dusty; they acted suspicious if his car looked too clean! The first few times he said this, I laughed, seeing the funny side, but when my friend Chayala jokingly suggested writing the words “wash me” in the dust, I bristled, insulted, and never saw the humor in it again.

But it was the bags on the porch that got to me most. When I was little, I remember getting excited whenever I saw them. You never knew what was inside! Sometimes it would hold some jewel — the same kind of sweatshirt that everyone in school was wearing, just your size, only a little faded. Perfect! Sometimes there were gorgeous skirts, with their tags still on! The whole family would gather round as my mother would pull out each item and everyone would chorus excitedly as someone would scurry off to try the piece on.

When I was about 11, I wore a newish looking pink sweatshirt proudly to school. Malkie, who was slightly intimidating and not quite in my circle of friends, eyed me up and down and then headed over.

“Is that mine?” she asked bluntly, pointing to my new sweatshirt. The girls nearby looked at us curiously.

“No. It’s mine!” I said.

“Well, my mother said my sweatshirt was too small for me but I love it and would wear it anyhow… only I can’t find it. And that looks just like it. Where did you get it?”

And suddenly, I realized. I couldn’t say, “From a bag on my porch.” The bag was probably from her family!

I remember my heart racing, my face turning pink and baruch Hashem another girl — I don’t remember who, but I do remember the floods of relief I felt — said, “Well, from (and she named a store), of course. That’s who sells them.”

It was only later that day that I saw the MALKIE written in faint letters on the tag. It really had been hers.

I never wore it again. (Excerpted from Teen Pages, Issue 680)