When I was eight I wore the First Communion dress my mom made – knee-length, starched white lace. The layers of starch turned an otherwise delicate dress into a young Catholic girl’s suit of armor. Plastic Lily of the Valley was stitched to the crown of the matching veil in an effort to soften the look. A lot of love was stitched into a dress that would be worn once, and a religious upbringing that wouldn’t last much longer.
Grandma crocheted a poncho with dark green, Kelly green and white chunky yarn. It was itchy but funky. The white tassels were stained pink from too many dips in tumblers of Cherry Kool Aid.
When the girls in high school walked the halls wearing Hash Jeans and platform shoes, I click-clacked by wearing homemade flared skirts, blazers, crisp white blouses and Candie’s. Hash jeans didn’t fit the dress code at my after-school job.
In college, I traded in the Candie’s for Birks, and the blazers and skirts for baggy Levis and untucked flannel shirts. Mom tried to remind me that with a business degree, I’d need to dress accordingly – makeup, curled hair, and tailored suits. By the time I’d gotten the degree, Iíd donated my skirt and blazer sets. There would be no going back to heels or coifed hair or coordinated tops and bottoms.
I served coffee, made sandwiches, poured beers and grilled steaks wearing jeans or Bohemian skirts, straight hair, no make-up and bare feet if I could get away with it.
I’d finally reached a period where my wardrobe more closely reflected who I thought I was. I chose what I wore and wasn’t influenced by mom, grandma, classmates, a degree or a job.
That lasted until the day I met my future husband., while wearing a long denim skirt and boots. He once told me that he thought I was “The One” the minute he saw me, but would I please ditch the skirts and boots.
Marriage turned my closet into a kiosk for Patagonia, REI and Sierra Trading Post. The skirts were tucked away in a cedar chest to clear space for nylon shorts, polar fleece layers and ski jackets. Boots and Birks were relegated to the garage, making room for Tevas and hiking boots.
I stopped caring what I wore because he told me what to wear.
My closet forgot me.
So did I.
Somewhere close to the end of my marriage, I cleared a space on the top shelf of the closet for the pile of self-help books I read in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. The books helped me see that I’d lost myself.
When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize the person staring back at me. She looked like a woman who had spent her life meeting other expectations.
She tugged at the too short nylon river shorts trying to cover more thigh.
Her face disappeared behind the neon bright t-shirts her husband preferred.
The pockets of the shorts weren’t deep enough to hold all the Kleenexes necessary for wiping the tears she cried every day.
Now my closet tells the real story.
The self help books are in a box in the garage. I’d considered donating them, but I’m keeping them just in case I need to refer to them again some day.
The closet floor is home to Birks and flip flops and four pairs of boots.
Any given day of the week I can be seen wearing a skirt with boots.
My closet holds only the things that I choose. My closet represents me.
Now when I look in the mirror I see me, in all my uniqueness, with a comfortable smile on my face.
I breathe easy now because I am no longer pretending to be someone else – for someone else.
The First Communion dress and the poncho are sandwiched between layers of acid-free paper in the cedar chest at the foot of my bed – a testament to the girl who was trying to figure out who she was, carefully stored away by a woman who finally knows.
About Jesse Blayne: I used to be married. I’m still a mom. I wrote a book – Seeing My Path – about how I married a narcissist, and how I won’t do that again. I blog about the goodness found in life after a marriage ends. I home/un school two brilliantly creative, funny, resilient kids. I write when I can; read more than watch TV; ski when the snow is good; and try to remember to laugh at myself. I drink coffee from small cups so I can tell myself that I’m not having too much caffeine. Every day I discover a bit more about myself and, most days, I like what I find. I am wherever my kids are, and when I’m not, I’m on survivingnarcissism.com.
Share YOUR Story: Email me your answer to the question “What’s Your Story?” to shareyourstory [at] allisonnazarian [dot] com. Your answer, which I beg that you keep to 650 words or less, can be about a fleeting moment in time, the story of your entire life or anything in-between.