Monday, November 4, 2013

Ghillie Suits in the Closet - The Clothes We Wear

I've the smallest collection of clothes of any woman I've ever met. There are a couple of expensive dark blue suits, worn only in court, a little black dress and heels, purchased to take a terminally ill friend to the symphony with another gal friend, when he said he could not get a date to attend (and boy did he get some looks with a blond on one arm and a redhead on the other). There's some easy to wash, dry or burn clothes for work, jeans and such for play.  I have two pairs of boots, sneakers and a sensible pair of shoes for work that look like something Mickey Mouse would wear but in which I can stand all day if need be without the knee hurting.

I view shopping for clothes somewhere along the lines of a root canal. But "clothes make the man" it's said (or woman). From our Christening outfit to our burial outfit, something special is to be selected, even if you're not in a position to even care. Even the Bible has it's own fashion standards, white linen for the resurrected or the angels, sackcloth and ashes for penitence or mourning. Priests wore robes of purest linen while Job's flesh was clothed in worms.

Our scars are our stories, not what we wear.
A fashion magazine has never graced my table, though I've thumbed through one at the hair salon, for lack of anything else to read. I remember the one magazine that would post photos of "fashion don't s", of real people, not models, wearing something the editors deemed "unfashionable" the persons eyes covered with a black box, like a gift from the executioner, the blindfold blocking out your last view, which is someone laughing at you.

When I was in six grade, there was this one little girl who wore a different outfit every day, for weeks on end with shoes and accessories to match. I had five or six dresses, sewn by my Mom. Beautifully made actually, but still home made, for which she made fun of me at every opportunity, words hurled like fists, invisible bruises blossoming under fabric. I remember one day vividly, when a cheap mustard yellow purse I got to try and "accessorize" was ripped out of my hand by her, held up for group ridicule as she and the popular girls ran off, leaving me there, flapping in the wind like a lone shirt on a line. That was the only time in my life, that something like clothing mattered that much to me.
We all know about such girls, for they don't change as they age, resting in curled balls of fur and hunger, just waiting to show their claws to the weak, before the weak realize they are not weak at all. Now I just pity them; back then it simply hurt. Fortunately junior high loomed and I went to a different school than she. Miniskirts were now "in" and I remember having to kneel on the floor while a female teacher would measure the distance from floor to hem.  If it was too short, one was sent home. Soon it didn't matter, as jeans were allowed.

I pretty much lived in Levi's, "waffle stompers" or sneakers and turtlenecks, purchased cheaply. As girls we decried those of our friends going to the Catholic school that had to wear uniforms, fashion being about choice, then wearing almost identical clothing to school each day.
No one wore dresses anymore, except for the prom, that night when parents would spend money they didn't want to on clothing you'd wear once. Except my household. If I wanted a prom dress I'd be doing some extra babysitting. A lot of it. And I did. I had this fairy tale of a pale blue and white dress, off the shoulders but with a sheer shawl that covered them, I wore it, long red hair curling down my back, fingers nervously plucking at the fabric as I waited for my date. Who did not show. He didn't call, there was no emergency or accident, he simply stood me up. Dad watched as I waited and waited, the tears not coming until it was almost 9 o'clock, the silent doorbell like a fist through a wall. I went to my room and ripped off the long dress, not caring if it was damaged, feeling as Job did, rending and tearing what I'd been promised, in my lamentation.

But there were other dresses in happy colors, there were pep sweaters and handkerchiefs, fragranced with perfume, and stained with tears. There were thick winter coats dusted with snowballs and bright colored swimsuits that leaped from rocks into the river, suspended in the air like jewels tossed away. Then there was graduations and there were bell bottoms and uniforms, the stiff fabric that shielded us from cold, the soft cotton lace of a nightgown on which a broken sonnet was etched in blood.
Now there are things in the closet that mean nothing except to me, draped on hangars, or wrapped in plastic. There's a "candy stripers" smock from the hospital, adorned with pins that show the hundreds of hours spent there. There's an ancient but warm and fuzzy pink bathrobe, a dress I wore my first day of Kindergarten, that Dad found packed away and sent to me. There's a Celtic dress of jeweled blue.

In another closet, there's my Dad's "Pinks", the clothing that marked military service, still standing stiffly at attention years later. There's a blue shirt, a man's shirt, that brings about the most wistful of smiles. There is a sweater that was my mother's. She left it draped on the chair when she left, where it remained for weeks, as if my Dad expected her to walk in again, healthy and whole. I try to picture it being worn, but can not, the garment laying flat, still beautiful, but one dimensional, as if painted upon canvas in which there is a tear.
There is a set of camo coveralls, worn, but clean, simply waiting. I recall the last morning I wore them, the east soon turning to primrose, then red with the firing of that first weapon, two of us walking in, whispers no louder than the silent dawn itself. The darkness seems alive, God's breath biting at the back of my neck, raising goosebumps as under the weight of my clothing, the blood surges, runs hotter, pentecostal flames licking up my legs as we chase the sound of our blood into the treeline.

That night, we don stiff jeans and shirts softened by the hands of a hundred washes, we prepare a drink, an amber hallelujah pouring from a shot glass, as out on the railing, the coveralls hang, waiting for another season of need. So many good memories there in that faded garment that still smells faintly of gunpowder and woodsmoke.
Although I have little regard to fashion as a statement of our worth or need, I recognize something from the bits and pieces of clothing that are around me. What clothes we've possessed and retain are a chronicle, a story, a visual summation of small pieces of our life.

All around me now are bits of clothing, some mine, some not, getting organized, making their own memories. A pillowcase lays across the chair like a lovers shirt, the dog makes a nest of sweaters there on the floor, hoping not to be noticed. The clothing of two lives is strewn about in happy disarray, shoes and shirts and hats, and paper, like a  Captains log scattered, missing a few entries but for silken laughter. Half of the stuff doesn't match, some doesn't fit, but I don't care; bury me in the fabric of this place, where I am happy.

I take down a box from the shelf, the leaves blowing past the window reminding me of the winter and of needed warmth as I head out for a walk. My coat is years old, the hat, the hat is hand knit, my gloves and my socks do not match. Outside in the village, someone aims a camera, taking a picture of the new cafe, but framing me instead. I laugh and wonder if they will print it with a black box over my eyes and the words "fashion don't!". I don't mind, for what has value to me, is not which we wear on our backs but what we carry with us, our faith and our hopes, as strong as stiff boots, as delicate as old lace.

 - Brigid