My Wretched Clothes

I looked down at the jacket I’m wearing at work today. It’s a bit snug, worn out and piling on the letter splashed across the front. I tried to remove the little balls once, but they’re back after just one wash. It’s beat up and possibly a little sad looking. Why don’t I get rid of it? Why don’t I get rid of that shapeless, pull over “Josh Groban” hoodie in the back of my closet, that isn’t soft anymore and hasn’t been worn since college?

It sounds like a hoarder problem at first—I don’t want to. They mean something to me. But it’s different than the stack of unread books in the hall or that pair of shoes I only wore once. These clothes are me. They defined who I was and who I wanted to be at the time I wore them and, in some cases, who I wish I still could be.

I have a shirt I got a Torrid that has the Eiffel tower and a Christmas tree on it. I wore it several times, out of season, until I noticed the Christmas Tree. I wore it anyway until I finally regulated it to my pajama drawer. It’s beat up now, and the back tie broke that created a little keyhole so I haphazardly sewed the shirt to itself. I couldn’t donate it to Goodwill if I wanted it—it belongs in a rag pile. And yet I keep it. It’s one of my favorites, but not just because it’s comfortable.
How many trips did that shirt take with me? How many friends did it see, movies did it enjoy, and dreams did it experience? It’s like a grown up version of a childhood teddy bear, tucked in a drawer that I can wear for comfort instead of regulated to the top of a hutch so my dog won’t pull out it’s insides.

I remember what I wore the night we got in the car accident that changed who I was. I found excuses to throw almost everything away I was wearing over the course of the next few weeks. My favorite undershirt with polkadots had a tiny hole—I stared at it all night after I had to take my glass-ridden shirt off. There wasn’t anything else to look at in the hospital bed while I waited for my knee to be x-rayed. I struggled to clean up my purse and favorite wallet, but the glass had managed to invade every tiny crevice and they both went in the garbage. I kept my Vans, though, then forgot what I wore on my feet when they hid in my closet for a couple of years. I later tossed them when I wore them again and I found little shards of glass in my socks and  I couldn’t get the glass out of the inside of the shoes or the sick feeling out of my stomach when I remembered the last time I wore them.

I also remember when I bought the big black hoodie I no longer wear—it was my first Josh Groban concert and I got to meet others I knew only online from the fan club. I remember wearing it nearly ever day to college, stuffed in a to-little desk, hoping the blackness of it would make me invisible from class participation. And I remember the last time I pulled it out and felt how rough the fabric had become before pushing it back into the recesses of the closet, still too attached to it to let it go.
And clothes don’t have to stay clothes to keep them. I have an amazing t-shirt quilt my sister made me out of old shirts that I couldn’t bear to part with: my t-shirt from gym class, my Backstreet Boys concert tee, and a bunch of other squares that tell me what I’ve done and where I’ve been.

Clothes are like scrapbooks without photographs and most of what I can’t seem to let go of are associated with good memories. They’re reminders of the life I’ve lived because they’ve lived it with me. I have shoes that stepped on foreign soil with me and led me to The Circus in Bath. I have the shirt that I was wearing when Josh Groban took his photo with me, back when he was almost famous. I have my Josh Groban tour shirt that has become so soft in the wash and fits so well that I can’t help but wear it to the trainer or curl up in bed with it on when it’s cold outside.

That’s why I hold on to them.


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