clothes

Stolen Goods

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I recently got out of an intense relationship. One of those whirlwind, sweep-you-off-your-feet, what-the-hell-just-happened-that-was-insane type of relationships. You know what I’m talking about. Where suddenly your world is their world and their world is your world and maybe there is no other world but our world and wait, hold on, what?? This isn’t the right time for the two of us??? But I was just—and you were just—and we just met two months ago but I feel like I’ve known you forever and now it’s over. You know, like that.

I remember a conversation I had a few years ago with a different ex before we’d officially become a couple. He told me he hated getting into relationships because he dreaded that sensation after breaking up of having the world as you know it ripped away from you. For weeks or months or years you spend every day with this person, and then suddenly, they’re just gone. It’s like a death. Of them, of you, of “us.” I nodded. I knew what he was talking about. It was hard to let go. Maybe that’s why I’d been holding on to so many T-shirts and sweatshirts for all of these years.

* * * * *

I stole my first one in high school from my best friend Alex Frost. It was thin, grey, worn, with three navy stripes on each arm. Ralph Lauren Polo Sport- a label I would never associate with him. Not that I would ever associate any label with Alex. He’s never been the guy who cared about names, unless it was Cronenberg, Palahniuk, Fincher, Anderson.* But this was his favorite hoodie, and I stole it. And his was just the beginning.

I suppose if I’m really analyzing it, I can go even further back, and start with my dad’s pocket T-shirts. His multi-colored Hanes were my signature style in my Holy Cross days. Most of the Catholic school year, we sported crisp white button downs and navy blue slacks, but on those rare “free dress days” like Valentine’s or St. Patrick’s, you could find me swimming in a red or green cotton T, proudly rocking a pocket over my underdeveloped chest.

Technically though, my dad’s shirts get placed in the “borrowed” category. I wore them, mom washed them, and then they ended back up in dad’s dresser. While Alex’s hoodie may have begun as “borrowed,” it eventually turned into “stolen,” because I had no intention of ever giving it back. I just loved it too much. Not because it flattered my figure (quite the opposite) or provided exceptional warmth or comfort (see above description: thin, worn), but because it reminded me of him in such an intimate way. Like sharing a toothbrush or a burned Dashboard Confessional CD. I mean, I was inside his favorite hoodie. That’s major.

After Alex, I started collecting clothing items from other people I was close to- mostly boyfriends, but also a couple of girl friends. There was the Nike zip-up from Dan, the tear-away Adidas pants from Zack, the AEPi sweatshirt from Mike, the Kix t-shirt from Greg, the cashmere sweater from Ben, the cashmere pants from Justin, the grey sweatpants from Hannah. They were like my Dexter slides – little tokens I’d taken to remind me of my past relationships. I knew I should return them to their rightful owners, but they felt so good every time I slipped them on. They made me feel… less alone. And so I’ve kept them. All of them.

* * * * *

This time I have a zip-up and a pair of Ray-Bans. Both are too large, although I really like rocking the Ray-Bans, even if they’re scuffed and slide down my nose. They make me think of him and his laugh. I miss him in those moments. But in a pleasant way. Not a lonely way.

We texted briefly a couple of weeks ago. It was cordial, even sweet. I asked him if he could find my favorite pair of jeans. I’d left them in his hamper. He said he’d looked for them. I told him we could do an exchange. After all, I still had his stuff, too. And I wanted to return it. If only to prove to myself that I’m fine the way I am. Which I am. Single, but not alone. And even if the world we had created no longer exists, it doesn’t mean that I don’t still hold a part of it. Because I do. But it’s not in a sweatshirt or a scarf or a pair of boxers. It’s in my heart, where it rightfully belongs.

P.S. Alex, I still have that hoodie if you want it back. I know it’s been 13 years, but better late than never, right? Love you!!

*P.T. and Wes

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Summer Cleaning

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This week, not one but three of my friends cleaned out their closets. (Well, one was a storage unit, but same difference). It must have something to do with the changing of the seasons, the departure from May and the arrival of the summer months. It goes from warm to hot in Southern California, and suddenly everyone feels the need to strip down, declutter, show off their bikini bodies. For my three friends, getting rid of their stuff was a way of simplifying their lives, figuring out the essentials, clearing the physical and spiritual space for new possibilities. For me, it was Christmas in June. New bed, new couch, new clothes – woohoo! Never mind that every inch of my closet space is filled to the brim: bring on the stuff!!

I am, by nature, a hoarder. Old boyfriends’ t-shirts, decade old Easter cards from my Grandmother, Ikea dishes – as far as back as I can remember, I have had a difficult time parting with just about everything. Growing up, I maintained huge collections of myriad things – stuffed animals, Barbies, My Little Ponies, hair barrettes. It wasn’t because I was a collector, though, it was because I couldn’t bare to get rid of anything. And I do mean anything- I even saved used gum. I had a massive wad of it hidden away- dozens and dozens, maybe even hundreds of sticks worth, all chewed and stuck together- just in case. In case of what? Well, that’s a good question. A Wrigley factory explosion? A Guinness book of World Records attempt? A way to shut up my brother? Who knows.

My mom has postulated that my inability to throw stuff out stems from my early childhood years spent in Thailand. Living in a third world country, you learn not to waste. Everything has value, can be repurposed, may come in handy at a later date. People subsist on almost nothing, a dollar a day or even a week. When you can’t afford much, what you do have increases in value. If you own only one pair of shoes, or have just a little bit of rice for each meal, these become precious. Not that we were living quite under those circumstances, but as a missionary family we were surrounded by it. It’s an interesting theory.

Whatever the case, my struggle with hoarding has extended into adulthood. I can think of fifty things off the top of my head I could toss right now: a chipped red mug above my stove, a bag of clothes from high school at the top of my closet, candle jars burned a quarter inch to their life, perfume that probably smells like rubbing alcohol. Even as I type this I wonder why I haven’t thrown these things out. The answer: a potent combination of sentimentality and What if?

What if I get an audition for a cowgirl from the 1990s? Better hold onto that button up Abercrombie top and Gap jean jacket. What if I shoot another short film at a café? I’ll need as many mugs as I can get, chipped or not (and the red matches so well with my kitchen.) What if I’m out of disinfectant and need something to make my bathroom smell “fresh?” Better hold onto that Escada perfume from 2004! And you just never know when you’ll be hosting a séance – those candles have to stay.

This level of attachment isn’t healthy, I know. I hear Hannah talk about getting rid of her bright colored clothes because her wardrobe has matured into variations of “black and white,” and I think of how wonderful it would be to be able to open my drawers. Instead, I drive to her house and adopt all of the rejects – these shirts need homes, and I will make sure they find a little space in the back of my closet. Katelyn comes to town to clear out the storage unit she’s been holding onto for four years and I jump to it. Lamps, books, a TV, picture frames. I already own all of these things, but it didn’t stop me from taking them. This stuff is in great condition, and it was hers, and it has a history, and… and… what if?

Like I said, I’ve known I’ve had a problem for a long time, but I don’t think I really realized how bad it was until I started unpacking the espresso machine. My friend and I had given Katelyn the Delonghi as a birthday present 6 years ago, in an effort to save her money on her three latte a day Starbucks habit. It hadn’t worked, and the machine was practically brand new. My identical machine, however, had been run to the ground, so I was replacing it with hers. As I took my worn out Delonghi off the shelf and put it in a box in my mud room, my eyes landed on yet one more espresso machine – a Villa Spidem. I’d inherited this one from a friend a couple years back, had loved it, but it had since stopped working. I had kept telling myself I would have it repaired, but it had been lying dormant for over a year. I knew what I had to do.

Katelyn was removing a tool kit from my trunk when I stepped outside, Spidem in hand. “I keep saying I’m going to fix this, it’s an expensive machine, but I haven’t. It’ll probably cost a couple hundred dollars.” She shrugged. “Toss it.” She said it so effortlessly, like it was spoiled milk or rotting meat (two things I do not hold onto). “Yeah, you’re right.” I opened up the lid to the garbage can, and stared into the dark abyss. Goodbye, espresso machine, see you on the flip side. I held it over the mouth of the can one moment longer, and let go.

And a remarkable thing happened. The second I closed the lid, I felt lighter, somehow lifted. Now that it was gone, all the energy I’d been expending holding onto it and thinking about it was freed up. I had done it! I’d actually gotten rid of something! What a relief! I felt proud of myself, like I’d taken a step closer to Englightenment. I understand you, Buddha! I get it now! I practically patted myself on the back. And then a feeling of dread swept over me. Now that I knew what I knew- I mean, really knew it- it was time for me to do my own summer cleaning.

I hope the Goodwill’s ready.

For My Mom

Mom and Baby Amy

 

“No one has had a single greater influence on my life than my mother.” -Me

Three years ago, a friend of my parents passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. At 60, Danielle had been in terrific health- hiking daily, active, social. One day she went to work at her dentist’s office, saw a movie with some friends, went to bed, and then never woke up. It was the day before Thanksgiving. I drove in from Los Angeles that same day to spend the holiday with my family, and my mom told me about it in her bedroom. We both started crying.

Danielle had never been married, and thus her best friend Jim was left to be executor of the estate. Without children to spoil, she’d spent a good deal of her disposable income on one of her passions: clothes. She had a closet Carrie Bradshaw would have envied. A lot of things had never been worn, the tags still hanging from the designer duds. Jim called my mom and told her to come down to see if she wanted anything. “Better to give the clothes to her friends and family to remember her by then sell or donate them,” he explained, “She would have wanted it that way.” My mom returned with several bags full of beautiful items.

A few weeks later on Christmas morning, there were more presents under the tree than usual. Traditionally, we’ve had spending caps on our gift-giving around $100 a person. For a middle class family, this is both reasonable and more than sufficient in spreading cheer. But this year when I went to open the beautifully wrapped presents with my name on it, I found dozens of exquisitely crafted garments. What fun it was trying on the pieces and modeling them for my mom! Danielle’s clothes were given a second life. After the last skirt had been tried on, my mom helped me fold them in my room. “I always wanted to be able to give you a Christmas like this,” she said, starting to cry. “When you were at Lincoln and all of your friends would get all of these amazing clothes…” I began to cry too and hugged her. “Oh Mom, you’ve always given me a great Christmas.”

Now, three years later, I’d like to rephrase that- Mom, you’ve given me so much more than just a great Christmas. It’s hard to even know where to begin, but how about that most basic and awesome of gifts – life. You gave birth to me. Can you believe it?! Well, yes, of course you can, you were pregnant with me for 9 months. You threw up for me, got fat for me, stopped drinking alcohol for me. I mean, talk about the ultimate gift! It’s truly the most spectacular thing that’s ever happened to me, the seed from which everything has blossomed. I know you don’t watch True Blood, but you are my “maker”- I am forever bonded to you. How can I even begin to repay you for something as miraculous as life?

You’ve also given me art. I’m not just talking about the landscape painting that hangs in my living room (although I love that work of yours!), I’m talking about art as a concept. For as far long as I can remember, you’ve cultivated within me a love and appreciation for the arts. At the tender age of 2 and a half you sat me in front of the Taj Majal and tried to make it my first memory – who does that? You took Kevin and I to museums all throughout our childhood, an invaluable introduction to the world of culture. Granted, you may have had to bribe us with Cheerios, but that early exposure proved to have a lasting effect. I ended up studying Art History for goodness’ sake! Oh, and let’s not forget the hundreds, maybe even thousands, of art projects you set up for us. I can’t thank you enough for your early investment in my creativity. My life and career would be so different today without it.

Which brings me to the next thing you’ve given me – opportunity. Yes, simply being born a white middle class American has afforded me more opportunity than 99% of all humans who’ve ever lived. But beyond that, you’ve nurtured in me the belief that with hardwork and patience, I can do anything. You’ve always seen the potential within me, and done everything in your power to support that. When I was 16 years old and had decided I was serious about becoming an actress, you told me if I wanted to graduate high school early and move to Los Angeles you would be right by my side. How many times have I heard other young artists complain about their parents disapproving of their chosen career path? I NEVER had to worry about that. I always knew you were behind me 100%. And when I applied to transfer to UCLA and didn’t get accepted due to some bureaucratic misunderstandings, who called up and straightened things out? Whenever a door has been stuck, you’ve been there to jimmy it open (or if it’s locked, you’ve helped me find a new one.)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another valuable thing you’ve gifted me with – health. Your genes gave me a strong, able body with all the working parts: two eyes, a nose, legs, arms, a pumping heart. But you also taught me the importance of nutrition and exercise. When other kids’ parents were taking them to McDonald’s, you were feeding us home cooked meals with vegetables from our garden (no matter how much Kevin and I begged for a happy meal). You gave us balanced daily meals consisting of real food, not all the junk you find in the center aisles of grocery stores. You also forced us to go outside, be active, and PLAY by restricting our television and computer time. It may have seemed unfair back then, but now I could not be happier for it. Ten years after flying the nest, I continue to exercise everyday, and maintain a delicious, healthy, fast-food free diet. All thanks to you.

I could go on and on and on with all of the things you have given me over the last 28 years, but I’m going to try and keep this under 1000 pages. So the last thing I want to thank you for giving me is perspective. I am who I am today because of the values and beliefs you have instilled in me. You have taken me around the world and opened my eyes to other cultures, walks of life, possibilities. The depth of your heart knows no boundaries, and you have given it freely to your family, to your art, to others. Instead of worshipping the emptier things praised by our culture – money, beauty, fame, sex, power – you have pursued truly meaningful values – compassion, humility, honesty, love, creativity, empathy. By following your example, I am developing a rich life of my own, not in the material sense, but spiritually, mentally, poetically. I could not have asked for a better role model in shaping my perspective of the world.

So Mom, this Mother’s Day, I just want to say it once more – thank you for everything that you’ve given me. Amazing clothes included.