I had a few extra hours today–not usually the case on a busy teaching day–and decided, among the thousands of more enticing projects and leisure-time activities I’ve been meaning to get to, that it was time to clean my closet. Sum total of what will go to Goodwill: three shirts. It is not as if I have a walk-in closet of full of expensive designer clothes or fancy matching outfits that I don’t want to give away–what I have is the dress I wore for my graduation recital in 1984, the shirt I wore for my high school yearbook photo (yes, it still fits), the Liberty of London print wrap dress (that made me look so professional even though it falls to my ankles) which I bought on sale and wore once a week for a year when I taught at the Westchester Conservatory (my students must have thought I owned only one dress), the London Fog rain coat with enormous 1980’s shoulders and zip-out lining that John bought me for my birthday, the only piece of clothing he ever picked out for me, the dresses I wore when I was six, rescued from my mother’s closet after she died–I will never wear those again, but how can I give them away after she saved them for all these years?
It’s a ghost closet filled with clothes that seem to me to still have the essence of who I was at that time. I don’t particularly want to be that person from 1984 or 1975, but somehow it seems important to remember what it was like then, where I was, and to respect the time and distance traveled.
So I can’t ever complain that I have nothing to wear! Eventually it may turn out that my wide-bodied raincoat makes its way to Goodwill and then to a cold homeless person in Detroit or Poland or becomes rags. The sentiments in the cloth, though, I need to retain.
Leaving my son at the airport today, I could feel him pulling away before we’d even said good bye. I would have pinned a note to his shirt: “Please take care of this sweet boy and make sure he gets to where he needs to go, but please bring him back to me at least for a little while.” But he is not Paddington Bear, thankfully, but a smart, vital young man who swears like a sailor, has a mind of his own, and is ready to fly from the nest.
This is what brings the tears–the loss of that responsibility and how my life has been totally shaped around caring for him, his sister, my husband–even the cat! What shape does my life have now? Maybe like vapor, a cloud, flowing around different things, or maybe just dissipating–it would be so easy just to give up and retreat to my comfortable chair.
These are the last few days that The Question will continue to reside in the domain of possibilities, what might be, what you hope will be, before its answer hardens into regret or what should have been. I have stopped listening to the sense of comparative wonderment in even the most polite of questioners–what I want is fierce in my heart, but I cannot admit to this.
Anybody else would not hesitate for an instant to change places with me–a son poised to enter the most prestigious and elite level of education in this country, a younger daughter bright and talented: but I can’t hold on to these things as everything there is for me. I want to have the pride in their successes and transcend it, too.
I know now how intrusive asking that question to last year’s crop of mothers with sons and daughters in the college quest. How genuine I felt in the asking–I did really care, maybe not so much about where their kid was going to go, but, as I realize now with embarrassment, how their victories or defeats might affect MY son–isn’t that genuine enough? How tough and brutal this competition is.