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Okay. I’ll admit it. I cling to things. I’ve been working on it. Hard. And I’ve gotten pretty good at letting go. Of places…and in some cases, of people. That’s the hardest one. I’ll leave it at that for now. But for some reason, the stuff you’d think would be the easiest to let go of…is for me, the hardest. And that’s: old clothes.
Maybe it’s because they can hang in a closet, or lie in a box in an eave, unopened for years. They don’t require attention or interaction. And they don’t leave unless I make them leave. Maybe I keep the small stuff in my life because when I’m lying in bed working with letting go of the big stuff, I can at least believe in the lie that those silly things in those closets and boxes are still there to save me a little…should I really need it…one difficult day. Like today.
Because what does a full closet of old clothes mean? Resourcefulness? Gratitude? Personal history? And what would an empty closet, an empty box, say about my life? Who would I be without the proof of an old wardrobe of the people I’ve been on this planet? Would I be such an empty shell?
Of course not. And I know damn well what fills a human soul. It ain’t clothes, that’s for sure. I know this. And yet…I mean my Guess skinny jeans from the 80s? My Police Synchronicity tour sleeveless T-shirt? Jeez. Get over it, girlfriend. Sure, a baptism gown or a wedding dress—that’s one thing. (And let’s not even get into the clothes I kept from my father’s drawers and closets after he died. I can’t even unpack those suitcases. That requires nerve I just…don’t…have yet.) But my wrap-around corduroy skirt with the emerald green whales on it? My old argyle knee socks? Come on.
I respect those people who go through their closets every season, and are honest with themselves. Haven’t worn that in two months. Too fat for that. Too skinny for that (like that ever happens, but I’m just saying…it could). Sayonara.
I’m the child of Depression era parents. I think in terms of darned socks and three minute phone calls. I think of Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors that her mama gave to her. Made up of the fabric of old clothes. The fabric of old life. When I’m giving myself a break for such hoarderly qualities, I say: it’s because I love story. Those clothes, that fabric– the stories they could tell. But isn’t my brain the ultimate container for those stories? And my journals? And the people I love who lived through those times too? So why do I need a Laura Ashley dress circa 1980? My old Frye boots, the first time they were in vogue—70s style. My kilts and Fair Isle sweaters from my impossibly preppy days. My wedding shoes that no longer fit me because somehow my feet and ears are still growing, just like they say of old men. My hippie skirts and even that tweed Ann Taylor suit with the shoulder pads and big wool covered buttons that I wore to all my temp jobs while I was writing my first novel in Boston.
And let’s remember that these aren’t just old clothes hanging in my childhood bedroom in a suburb of Chicago. My parents got rid of their home of 45 years long ago. No, I opted to pack these items into boxes. I opted to have them shipped to Montana. To not just one house, but to the next house we moved into—this one. I have worked hard to preserve this legacy of old beloved materialistic crap.
Yesterday, a kind voice, not prone to bullying as I’ve procured the voices in my head to be now in my 50s, told me: Laura, it’s time.
I dreaded it. It took all day and a string of daytime talk shows all the way through Martha, who would probably do something industrious with all that fabric, like line bulletin boards or sew wine gift bags, or make chicken coop cozies…but let’s face it, I don’t sew. I use duct tape when I rip a hem.
But I did it. And you know what? It was easy.
I guess if you hang on to something long enough, and it haunts you enough, and it’s benign enough…it loses its luster. My grandmother’s silver and china are still shiny, for instance. No haunt there. But yesterday, it was like I was exfoliating my brain. Opening up space in my house (and the house of my brain) that was full of grumpy ghosts who wanted out. To move on and torture some other woman reckoning with the loss of her maidenhood, in some other bedroom in America. They flew out of here so fast, they didn’t even stir the dust they’d been stashed in for so many years. Didn’t even say goodbye. And why would they? They have been dormant—lording over fickle charms; thin talismen. Ghosts don’t like to be dormant. They like megaphones and chains. I’ve left those for the other ghosts of the Big Stuff. These ghosts were so outta here.
And what I was left with was a pile of clothes and dust and the remains of long dead flies and stink bugs. Clothes I’d once beheld lovingly and thought—Oh, my daughter might want that pair of vintage riding breeches some day—we’ll get the leatherwork re-done, and the elastic too. Or, my grandmother’s ultra suede suit might come in handy if there’s ever a dress-like-Barbara Bush Day in my imminent future—suddenly lay limp and dethroned on my bedroom rug. And I wanted them out of there.
So I fetched five lawn bags, and shoved it all in. Dragged them outside, and launched them in to the back of the old Ford pick-up to take to the Salvation Army.
For a flicker of a moment I thought, with a lunatic’s altruism and over-blinking eyes, “Well somebody in rural Montana is surely going to feel lucky to stumble upon such finery.” After all, I’m the one who remembers walking through the streets of Chicago once, seeing a homeless person wearing the exact same bridesmaid’s dress I’d worn in a recent wedding and thinking how lovely it must be to wear a gown of peau de soie silk whilst rummaging through garbage for soda cans—but also thinking how rude and unromantic and socially irresponsible even not to at least have the decency to keep the dread thing hanging in a closet somewhere. To promise to wear again with those same over-blinking eyes. Of course I was that girl. I bet whichever of the other six women who got real and ditched that dress at the local Goodwill doesn’t have a pick-up full of clothes sitting in bags from the last 30 years of her life. I bet she has a very dust-free brain. As a rule. Never mind her closet.
And then I laugh-snorted and got over myself. Was I kidding myself? No one with any level of dignity whatsoever would find any of this stuff wearable in 2017. Sometimes one person’s trash is NOT another person’s treasure. But then again, if I see someone walking down the street in a patchwork coat, made up of the fabrics of my life, I decided right then…I’d be pleased. Because one thing seemed true in that grey on rust on plastic on textile moment: one person’s clinging could certainly be made into another person’s winter coat. That was for sure. Fancy could indeed become function.
In a month, ask me if I can remember the clothes I gave away for adoption yesterday. In a month, ask me if I care.
So many little stitches in freedom.