NOTE: The following post was originally published on the blog “Steepings” on February 26, 2018, five months after my surgery to cure Cushing’s. It has been edited.
“Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however ragged or dirty the old, until we have so conducted or enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel like new men in the old, and that to retain it would be like keeping new wine in old bottles.”― Henry David Thoreau
Your pants are falling down. Belts look ridiculous; you need new pants. In the bedroom, you look up in your closet to the shelves of old clothes, clothes you never bothered to sort because you didn’t want to deal with it, too tired, not willing to accept that you might be this size forever. You had gotten rid of the very small stuff years ago when you simply figured getting older meant going up a couple of sizes. But when you kept going up, you just shoved the clothes away. Lucky for you because maybe you can find clothes that fit now.
Pulling down something that looks like pants, a whole pile cascades down to the floor like a flutter of old letters filled with sentiments and memories. From the pile, you find the old jeans that drag at the heel, the old shirt in rusted orange that isn’t your color, but you liked anyway. You bite your lip anxiously while trying them on. They fit.
Walking to the next room, you show your teen son. He gives you a hug and tells you you look great. You go back to the pile of old clothes in the bedroom and pick out a brown corduroy jacket with a plaid lining that you only wore once. You burst into tears at the memory. Nothing was fitting back then and you wanted to look nice in church so you went to the consignment store and found that beautiful jacket that fits perfectly. You wore it to church the next day and during coffee hour someone came up to you and asked when the baby was due. You came home that day and shoved it high in the closet. But now the jacket looks ridiculously large.
You scan the pile of old clothes on the floor: in-between sizes, clothes that never fit exactly right, and a few very small geeky t-shirts you just couldn’t throw away way back in the beginning of the changes. Then you cry more lifting out a floral dress you bought to try and look pretty when you were never feeling pretty. You had worn it on a beautiful spring day, walking to meet your husband for your anniversary lunch. A stranger on the street commented on your weight. You didn’t want it to matter, but it did, how could it not? Your weight was a reminder that something was wrong with you, and doctors were not paying attention when you said, “I look in the mirror and I’m not me.” And you cried while walking to that lunch, but tried to pull it together before you saw your husband, but couldn’t because you were so sad and so worried and so, so tired. He had given you hugs and told you you were beautiful and that he loved your new dress. It had been a delicious lunch outside on the restaurant patio.
You fold the floral dress and the memory and place it on the bed. You don’t bother trying it on, you know it would be too big now. But you wish maybe you had kept some of the very small dresses, the ones that had happy memories of dates and restaurants with the man that stayed during all the changes and challenges. You search the mountain of old clothes. No. You had gotten rid of those early on. But when you think of wearing some of the dresses from before, before the sickness and uncertainty, you give a shudder. Your body may have shrunk in size, but the scars on your abdomen reflect a permanence of change. Perhaps it’s good they are not here. The memories can stay free from the bad times without a patterned reminder of what was lost.
In sudden energy of purging, you take out the clothes from your drawers too. Anything too big now goes plop on the growing pile. But even clothes that do fit start going in the give-away pile. Your adult daughter comes into the bedroom and finds you amidst the flurry. Gesturing wide, you tell her you don’t want any of this! You can physically fit in some of the old clothes but you don’t want them, you don’t want ANYTHING here. She quotes Thoreau on keeping old wine in new bottles, and then says, “Get rid of them. You don’t owe them anything. They’re just clothes.” And then she reminds you that you need to drive her to the bus stop so she can go back to school and take her art history test.
So you pull yourself together, which is much easier to do nowadays, promise yourself that you will compliment a stranger on their outfit today, and leave.