I tend to attach very strong memories to physical objects and for that reason have a bit of a hard time getting rid of things other people would have no issue parting with. Though I don’t have a photographic memory it is closer to photographic than most have, meaning the memories I have and hold onto are stronger (not more meaningful to me than anyone else’s are to them, simply just much more like when I first experienced them on the day of the actual incident that I am recalling). This is both good and bad, and wouldn’t you believe most of my memories are tied up in clothing. I am a clothes horse. There are some precious articles that I thought I would never part with but because some charities could actually put them to use I was able to keep my memories and let someone else make their own by taking photos of them – my senior prom dress, the formal gown I wore while in a friend’s wedding which I actually held not only because it was beautiful but because it also showed how far I have come. I did not recognize myself as sick at the time, in 2002, but it was then that I was at my worst. I did not weigh myself then as I do not now but the day that I lifted a tray of entrees at work, got dizzy and remembered nothing else until finding myself in a hospital bed I was told my weight registered in the low 80s. I was told I needed to eat or die — those were the only two choices. Luckily I was able to, in time (and not too much time) see both the severity of the situation as well as the fact that though what I had been striving for had originally had something to do with an impossible standard of beauty** I was gaunt, entirely too thin and had permanent dark circles underneath my eyes. My hair was beginning to fall out in clumps. I am only bold one-on-one or in a classroom; It took me 10 years or so but I have become accustomed to people looking at me in public to some extent in measures that are rude (staring, leering and so forth) and I always assume they are doing so because there is something on my face. When I check with my mother, she often gets agitated, responding as lovingly as possible, “No, moron. You’re pretty.” During the 6 months or so I could fit into that teeny tiny pink gown people were not staring at me because I was pretty. They were staring because I looked as though I could snap in half at any second. It was oddly bittersweet to give that one away. I am secretly hoping that no one will be able to fit into it.
I have another thing about clothes: when I wear something to an event that is especially difficult I never want to see it again. My grandpa passed away in April eight years ago. I had lots of black clothing but nothing formal enough for the occasion at the time. It was more difficult than we thought to find a black sheath dress in April. When we finally did it was from Ann Taylor, it was $89.99 and it was a great little number. I distinctly remember the sound it made as I peeled it off after the long drive home from VA. I remember looking at it with disdain as it lay in a heap on the floor while I was in an overheated tub of bubbles, sobbing, a few feet away, for well over an hour. It was beautiful and I hated it. Perhaps it was because it was beautiful that I hated it. I gave it away the next day. I was in such pain I didn’t want to look at it another second.
I’ve said that I have wisely or unwisely ended some relationships for seemingly the same reasons. Because I was in pain and it seems I just couldn’t leave well enough alone.
I have tried to think about this from every possible angle for a long time now. On the one hand I can say, what was I doing self-sabotaging like that? On the other, I can say, whether or not I was “self”-sabotaging, it proved entirely too effective so clearly there was nothing there.
When I happen upon an especially hideous article of clothing in my closet that has been with me and that I somehow have sentimental feelings for but would never wear, I have to pause and make myself give it away. In another time, in another place I suppose it made sense, just like he did. Looks can be deceiving and it isn’t a good fit. Not in the light of day, where there’s no room for sentimentality and where no amount of fixes will make it good enough for me.
** It (anorexia) was not for me and it is not others as simple as that – my facets were unyielding perfectionism, as strong a desire to be invisible as my desire to be seen, some very conflicting notions about sexuality and faith and also some additional ones about being sexual and smart – though feminist studies do a bang-up job of exploring the issue that women are told sometimes they can’t be pious and pretty, ethereal and embodied, this one is relatively easy enough to work through. I wish they (we?) would talk about the other, lifelong paradox: that smart and pretty are assumed mutually exclusive. You pick a camp. If you’re pretty and you do well, it is assumed, especially by females, that you got lucky or that the professor got lucky during office hours. The only thing you can do to shield yourself is to pipe and dress down and keep a low profile.