I like to think I am organized, in how I run my blog, how I schedule my day and how I plan our weeks:
Gabriel: Bagged lunch on Tuesday
Alex: altar server training on Thursday
Mike: Staying in the city next Tuesday for a client dinner
Mommy: Make tacos, send check for school trip, kids wear mass uniform tomorrow, see journal, register the car!
If anyone looked a little deeper, they would see that there’s a lot I don’t like to organize, a lot that I don’t want to be seen at first glance. I deflect a lot and that’s because living with it is harder. It’s not that complicated an explanation, really.
If you came to my house you would be welcomed by a potted plant of purple begonias on the top step that I just bought over the weekend and a multi colored welcome mat that I bought last year. Ignore the wreath. Why? I want a new one. I would open the door wide and you’d see I was barefoot, in sweats, a high floppy pony tail and a wrap sweater. I love those. Let’s go upstairs, I want to show you what I’m getting at. In my bedroom, I have a dresser. I have two actually. I only really use one. I overstuff it with clothes I regularly use. The other, is left mostly, untouched.
In the top drawers, I keep extra buttons from cardigans, and pretty blouses. I never use them, and I could probably fashion something creative from them, but there they are patiently waiting for me, in their little plastic bags, sealed tight nestled next to the golf gloves my husband got me one year, old clothes that I promise myself I’ll fit into and the few pictures I have of myself in college. On the right side, I have baby teeth my children have brought home in miniature treasure chests taped shut that their teachers send. If I reach way in back, I have love notes that my children have written on the backs of magazine subscription cards and torn off post-its.
In the second set of drawers, things get more substantial. On the left hand side are things I wore when we were first married (wink) and all kinds of bathing suits from tankini’s to cover ups. They’re all practically new even though they’re about 4 seasons out of date. On the right side… there’s just one item in there.
It looks unassuming, even threadbare in places. I did move one button up on this item and that alone tells you how valuable it is to me. It’s a mid-thigh cotton, button-down, nightgown, with short sleeves. The pale blue plaid pattern, with pink stitching, and blue buttons, is contrasted by white sleeve bands and pink ruffle accents on the pockets. The pockets are rather useless, as they can barely hold onto thread long enough before a hole tears through. I think they prefer to be left empty and unused.
The next washing could be its last so I seldom wear it. The right pocket told me so the last time I washed it because it’s torn in the corner and flapped down like a frown. I only have 4 of the 6 buttons and can’t bring myself to add any from those eager buttons in the top drawer.
In my early twenties, I visited my grandmother every so often with my cousin. We would plan to meet up at this or that train station in NYC; usually Union Square where we could catch the L train that connected with the G train leaving us right around the corner from her apartment building. I would always run my hand along the apartment buzzer buttons as my cousin would buzz hers (was it 3N?). After we heard the sound and door click that allowed us entrance to the lobby, familiarity would set in and my shoulders immediately relaxed. How many times did I take this elevator up to see her, or down to the basement to help her with laundry? I would always watch where all the water from the washing machines drained as she folded fluffy towels, or magically tamed fitted bed sheets. I could never fold them like she could. Walking down the freshly waxed floor to her apartment you could hear the low hum of fluorescent lighting. Hers was just past the stairwell on the right side. Every door was painted a pumpkin orange and had a different ring when you pushed the bell, like the muffled plucking of a cello.
My cousin and I packed an overnight bag to get to where we were going the next morning. My grandmother loved to see her girls and would be sure she left her job early enough to make us dinner and hit the supermarket for my favorite desert, Breyer’s Vanilla Ice Cream. We always knew what was on the agenda, chatting about her travels to Mexico and Europe, going through her jewelry and asking for her memories of haggling for the best prices, painting our nails some variation of shrimp pink – her favorite color – and watching The Golden Girls, followed by Benny Hill. One time, I forgot to pack some pajamas, and she loaned me a short nightgown. I thought nothing of it until the next morning, when I should have left it in the hamper before leaving. My grandmother was the principal of a bilingual school in the Bronx and kept very early and very long hours. I was always awakened when I heard the door close as she crept out, well before our alarm went off. I always hated that part of my day – and I still do.
I didn’t want to give the gown back and thought I would just bring it to wear the next time we planned a sleepover. I stuffed it into my overnight bag, burying it under work pants and my makeup bag as we hurried out the door. She never asked about the nightgown and I never reminded her. I didn’t even let guilt push me into mentioning it when we spoke over the phone a few times after that.
My cousin and I didn’t get another night of shrimp pink polish and jewelry memories. I don’t know how soon after she got sick. Breast cancer. She died pretty quickly and I can’t place all of the details around her illness and death either. I avoided her a lot at that time because she was something I couldn’t equate with death. That was selfish. I know.
Yes, I attended her funeral – it was raining. Hard. I was asked to sing Wind Beneath my Wings at her wake, as much as I tried to convince my mother I wouldn’t get through it – I didn’t. I recall blurry splotches of people through my tears staring back at me as I tried to groan out the lyrics, choking and gasping, my grandmother lying, lifeless and cold behind me. She was 64. I was 24.
Sometime after she died, I was given a ring that my aunt gave her. It was a large black pearl ring that didn’t fit either of us, actually. It wasn’t something I remember her wearing and it wasn’t what I was promised (a plainer, simpler bracelet that she never wore either, but kept on a jewelry stand on her dresser). In that moment when my aunt gave me the ring, I remembered the nightgown and searched for it later when I snatched a moment. I remember holding the gown and crying in it. Crying so hard I could feel the wet on the other side. I’ve kept it in a drawer where I would always be able to get to it, when I needed it. It’s always a drawer that has just that nightgown in it.
Now, no matter where I move to, I know that the nightgown is always in the second drawer on the right, waiting, should I need to feel comforted. When I complain of having little drawer space, my husband tells me that I would have plenty of drawer space if I just got organized it. He’s right. But that drawer with her nightgown is so full, nothing else will fit. Her loss and my memories of her fill it to overflowing.
On those rare times, I slip on what I shouldn’t have stolen all those years ago (but am so glad I did) and my husband knows something’s going on with me that I can’t express in words, so he just sits with me. I am always silent but never present. He just reaches for my hand and squeezes it a little. Some times, I don’t even know what it is that’s bothering me.
Most times, I just miss her. I pray for her soul at every mass during the prayer of the faithful. I’m afraid to forget.
This is part of a prompted series from book titled “642 Things to Write About” by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. Today’s prompt was to write about a piece of clothing you keep just for the memory. And yes, it’s all true. If you feel so inclined, write about it. What’s the one piece of clothing you keep just for the memory?