I felt her in the airy fabric, the vibrant colors. I handled each piece tenderly…pausing to breathe deeply, to smell her from a distance. Smiling, I closed my eyes and remembered moments belonging to her. The remembering was both achingly foreign and warmly familiar. The energy in the room lifted as if removing the lid from this long-forgotten storage bin somehow released the lightness and joy stored between folds of cloth I hadn’t seen in so very long. I was sifting through a box of summer clothes…clothes my 20-year old body wore as she frolicked playfully through hot, carefree days some seven or eight years ago.
Where did this girl go? I wondered silently as I pulled out an impossibly tiny tank top. No way I was ever small enough, confident enough, to wear this. But the evidence mounted alongside the pile of itty-bitty shorts. Yes, you were I realized, somewhat astonished. In the past, this kind of realization would have drummed up feelings of anguish and self-flagellation. But on this particular day, as I sat carefully holding up articles of bold, flamboyant clothing, I found myself beaming instead. “I know you,” I whispered to myself.
She existed once, this version of me who felt at ease in an aqua tube top and fringed jean shorts riding dangerously high up her thighs. I couldn’t seem to reconcile the difference between the me who thought nothing of sunbathing in the Rastafarian string bikini I held between my fingers and the me who hasn’t worn anything sleeveless in public in at least a few years. I remembered her, but her audacious style confounded me. When, exactly, did I leave you behind? And why?
The clothes were several sizes smaller, sure, but that didn’t feel as important as the cuts and colors: the vibe emanating from these articles of clothing. Happiness. Pride. Confidence.
In stark contrast, the vibe reaching through the open doors of my closet spoke of something darker, more subdued. Black, shapeless garments occupied nearly half the vertical space. When did that happen?
At some point, I must have folded these sundresses and shorts and halter-tops…layered them one by one into this bin…and closed the lid. What did I wear the following summer? Was there a day I opened this box only to discover I no longer fit into this size? Or that I didn’t feel confident enough to don these wickedly bright colors? I searched my memory, desperate to recall some kind of definitive turning point. I couldn’t.
I can see it, though, like I’ve never seen it before: a metaphor staring me blankly in the face every day as I selected my attire over the course of several years. The evolution of my wardrobe, my body, was the physical manifestation of what was occurring inside my heart, my mind, my soul. The transition was slow, imperceptible to me until now, though I know others noticed. My shine wore off. I was disappearing, little by little…season by season.
There was guilt over cheating and secrets and feelings of failure and inadequacy and discontentment. There was a deep and disturbing hatred of my naked form…as women, we’re told hundreds of times each day what is ideal. I was not ideal. There was alcohol to help me get out of my head, to shed inhibitions. There was alcohol to help me get naked and have sex because I was supposed to want to have sex and I didn’t want to have sex because all I could think about was the cellulite on my ass. There was alcohol to keep me numb and asleep to a bigger calling. There was comfort in food and restaurants to pacify a long-term relationship that was easy…too easy…unnervingly easy…and I didn’t want to confront the lacking. I was not whole. Not even close.
The cycle of guilt, insecurity, doubt, anxiety, booze, food (repeat) slowly eroded the very best of me. I worked hard to disappear, to destruct.
But that’s the thing about being human. You can try all you want to disappear, to dissolve into nothing. But there is no erasing the brilliance, the confidence, the awareness. The best you can do is forget for awhile. And that’s what happened to me. I forgot for awhile.
Somewhere along the way, I decided to forget her. I chose to bury her…that version of me who was confident and joyful and proud. I decided to box her up and move deeper into the forgetting. I buried her under layers of black and pounds and fear and trauma and self-harm. The problem was not that I got bigger. The problem was I became so very very small.
But here’s what I knew in my bones when I lifted the lid from that old storage bin: she’s been here all along. I’ve been here all along. I remember her; I know her; I see her.
Those parts of me have just been laying dormant, boxed up alongside cheery sundresses and magenta mini-skirts. She never left. She’s been waiting patiently for the moment I was ready to find her…to release her and recognize her zestful radiance.
To remember she is me. I am her.
“I have met my self and I am going to care for her fiercely.”
― Glennon Doyle Melton,