I undertook a big renovation in my house this year, adding a new bathroom and a walk-in closet to the big open room I decided to turn into a master bedroom when I bought the house. This meant stealing five feet from across the back of the garage (which I thought was very clever of me), and then steeling myself for the expense and mess of such a big undertaking.
The workers started in April, about eight months after Zack and I had moved in, and they finished about three or four weeks ago. And it’s all amazing, totally worth it. Now the house is perfectly made for the life I wanted to live here. The master bedroom has windows all the way around it, and has a door that opens onto the gardens. It’s big enough to house both my bedroom and my office, all my beloved books in one place (as soon as the bookcases get here, in a month or so).
So this weekend I finally was able to undertake the labor of putting things to rights. With no closet, no bookcases, no office storage, it’s pretty much a giant mess of piles in here. A new file cabinet is tucked away into the closet, waiting to be filled. And though I didn’t have enough do re mi to finish the closet’s innards, I have two rolling racks at the ready.
I had already sorted out a pretty large pile of clothes to go to Goodwill this week, because—good news—I’ve dropped 25 pounds since June. Part of the weight loss was because of being sick with diverticulitis, but most of it is just because of Being Ready. Ready to let in that I might be safe, that I’m okay. How it is possible that I am still shaking off layers of grief and loss four years later, I don’t know, but that appears to be true.
So I was a little shocked to discover three full boxes of clothes in the extra bedroom, when I started rearranging all the clothing in the closets. (My clothes had been scattered throughout the house before the renovation, tucked into any open closet.) And I was more shocked to see what was in them: Clothes that don’t fit. Clothes from my “smaller” life. Clothes from four years ago.
I know I got rid of a ton of clothing when I moved. After all, I was a magazine editor, and if there’s ever a job that gives you permission to be clotheshorse, that is it. In fact, I often referred to myself in my job as a “pretty pony,” the shiny one, all dressed up and trotted out for advertisers and readers alike. Here I am on TV! Here I am at a fashion show! Of course it was all very fun, don’t get me wrong. But there were many moments I wondered if I’d get paid more as a spokesmodel for Redbook rather than its editor in chief.
So I was really, really surprised to see what must be at least 25 pair of pants, of all different sizes. Four different sizes, none of which fit when I moved (though from 2010 to 2013 I crossed the threshold of six different sizes, which is pretty amazing to consider). Why was I packing all that history up and bringing it with me?
I didn’t realize how much I was still holding onto that old life, life before everything changed all at once, until I saw those pants.
It wasn’t for the fashion, either. The fancy clothes I had sold off through a consignment shop. This was simply Old Navy jeans and J.Crew pants and skirts. Good news is that, yes, a lot of them fit now, but there are still bags and bags to drive to the Goodwill today, along with all the clothes that only recently became too big.
To me those boxes show how deep and intense the need was to hold onto all I knew when everything changed. It was impossible for me to know and see what life would look like moving forward—impossible to believe it would all once again be great—so I had to hold on to some artifacts, a promise to myself of where I would find myself again. I kept the clothes from that time, in the hopes that I could slip back into them, as easy as pulling a dress over my head, and be back in the security of those days before I lost everything I knew about who I was.
The subtle joke, of course—and, oh, doesn’t the universe always have a subtle joke for us?—is that you can’t go back. And I don’t want to go back. Part of me is even tempted to give it all away, as if anything I had from that time is tainted. And because I don’t need it.
I did find one or three dresses from my last winter that I was glad to see again. (Oh, there you are!) But I’m on the fence about everything else. These pants and skirts are my Rosebud. I can’t go home again. My parents are gone. That home doesn’t exist anymore. Nor does the home where a traditional idea of success could protect me and inoculate me from having to face down the wounds imparted during childhood. Nor does the home where life can’t touch me, a mythical place I believed in, for so very long. I had to—it’s what kept me going for years, until I was strong enough, and yes, weak enough, to let in the much more complicated truth.
But I am good with the truth, and the truth is good with me. The inevitable cycle of life has taken its turn, depositing me in a place where I am at peace, and healed and whole.
I don’t need no stinking boxes. I’m good. Really good.