Last year, the men’s and women’s locker rooms were under renovation at my gym. Each morning, I headed to a tiny, co-ed space where, for obvious reasons, no one was allowed to actually change.

You could wrest off outer garments, like jackets and shoes, and then put them in lockers, but that was it. In addition, the space was so cramped, you had to be a contortionist to successfully remove and stow an item.

To be fair to the gym, there was a “women only” place I could have changed, but it looked like the set from “Stranger Things,” so I avoided it. (I’m not complaining — that’s just the way it was.)

One day, I was supposed to head to a meeting right after my workout and was running late. Rather than walking over to the “Stranger Things” women’s locker room to change, I stayed in the tiny coed place.

I then discreetly attempted to shift my attire in a way that might not have been 100% by the books. But because I was maneuvering quickly in a tiny space, I wound up twisting my back. And I didn’t quite complete my task before a man walked in.

Being in a hurry, I dashed out of the locker room without fully addressing my wardrobe issue. Once I arrived at my car, I saw that the space on the right contained an empty parked vehicle and the space on the left was vacant.

I thought, “If I dress quickly here, all will be OK.” And, it was … mostly. A car pulled up just as I was approaching decency. However, maneuvering around the steering wheel caused further irritation to my back, causing it to go out completely.

When my back is out, I can’t bear dressing in anything uncomfortable. Over the next couple of weeks, I wore black stretch pants I’ve owned since college. They had lost their elasticity, which means I could fit three of me in them. I sported loose, raggedy shirts — easy to get in and out of. To avoid bending, I trudged around in scuffed slip-on loafers.

If you were to spot me walking down the street, you might conclude, “Well, there’s a person who’s given up on life.”

When the holidays arrived, my back was still not right. A family member invited me to a fancy Christmas party — a gathering where I couldn’t get away with wearing my I’ve-lost-my-lease-on-life attire.

As usual, I waited until two minutes before departure to choose an outfit. I decided on a red, short-waisted sweater and loose, low-riding black pants. I hoped the wait staff at the party would not be wearing the same color combination. (This has happened to me on multiple occasions).

I sped out of the house without bothering to glance at a mirror. On the way over, my mid-region felt curiously breezy. When I removed my coat at the dining hall, I still experienced that disturbing sensation of cool air. Turned out, my high-waisted sweater and low-waisted pants did not overlap in the middle of my torso. I looked southward to see a band of exposed flesh.

Had I been 16 and willowy, I might have gotten away with this look. However, I am not a teen nor would the kindest of my friends describe me as willowy. Most of the evening, I worried about being mistaken for an aging belly dancer.

I dealt with the wardrobe malfunction by staying seated all night. No mingling, no dancing, no fun — all because I bent the rules in a co-ed locker room.

The gym renovations are complete. My back is better. Currently, I wear outfits that reflect my impeccable taste; I am a veritable vision of sartorial splendor. The world is right again and might stay that way unless I tempt fate by bending another rule.

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Deborah Prum’s essays and articles have appeared in The Washington Post, Southern Living and Ladies’ Home Journal. Her fiction has won awards and has appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Across the Margin and Streetlight Magazine. Her radio essays air on NPR-member stations.

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