Wednesday, April 2, 2008

On Goodwill

A few weeks ago, sandwiched between L.L. Bean catalogs, my diploma appeared in the mailbox. I thought: Why does L.L. Bean print all these catalogs? I thought: If you piled up all the pictures of L.L. Bean brand purple windbreakers in the world, how much would they weigh? I thought: Hey, this diploma would look nice under my bed.

I kicked it under there and didn't open the envelope for weeks. My diploma had finally arrived, the physical manifestation of three-ish years of exhausting, mindnumbing busywork, and I didn't want to look at it. Looking, you see, would close -permanently and in faux-Tudor lettering- that particular chapter of my life. And however much I had disliked graduate school, I disliked closing chapters of my life even more.

We're prone to physicalizing ideas, we humans. It's as if things that exist only in the mind make us nervous; we need to concretize them, pour them into the mold of physical matter. Language is an intermediate step: a way to coax something toward reality without letting it weigh you down. Your crush on the Cindy Lou next door is less real if you tell no one than if you tell your best friend Mort. You knowing and Mort knowing pales next to Cindy Lou wearing, over the place where her veins show blue through the skin of her wrist, your id bracelet. (Except it's Mort's bracelet, not yours; he got to her first, the scummy bastard, and you will contemplate drowning yourself in the retention pond but instead eat an entire can of Cheese Whiz.)

Diplomas, wedding rings, family photos, welcome mats: all the little tricks we have for shooing those pesky ideas out from inside our skulls. I was thinking about this earlier in the week when I dropped four enormous bags of clothes off at Goodwill. And "drop" is unequivocally the right verb: I staggered, two bags in each hand, through the sliding glass doors, set everything down with a thump inches inside, and fled.

Later, driving home, I cataloged what I'd gotten rid of. Shirts, pants, skirts, dresses, boots, shoes, some of which I'd had since the seventh grade and kept around because you never knew when they would come in handy. (Answer: never). Stuff I'd bought, stuff I'd borrowed, stuff I'd gotten free at the yearly clothing swap in college. Silk, leather, cotton, rayon, lycra. Fifteen or twenty different ideas of what I was, or what I ought to be, or what I could be if given the chance.

I hadn't worn any of these clothes in years; yet, I couldn't manage to let them go until I realized that, despite my best efforts, the effing chapters were closing themselves. Despite the diploma under the bed, despite never saying goodbye, time had swaggered insouciantly past and various possibilities (career as a go-go dancer; elopement with member of Mormon Tabernacle Choir) had gone running after it.

So I hope someone takes good care of my leotard and my orange boots and that turquoise '50s bridesmaid dress; also my least favorite shirt from seventh grade and my corset and my fluffy white sweater and my transparent purple hippie skirt especially the skin-tight spandex zebra print bell-bottoms. I don't know what idea those were physically manifesting, but whatever it was, it made me laugh.


Ellie said...

I know those orange go-go boots! I convinced my mom to pay for half of them (one of them?) at Ross when I was 14 years old and I paid the other $20. I wore them to high school on days that started out badass and wound up mostly painful. Once, I walked the half hour from my high school to the community theater in them. Uphill.

I was convinced that they looked fantastic with my tightest jeans, my short orange thrift store trench coat and my orange leather cap which Ben Lowenthal inexplicably called my "IRA cap". This was a ridiculous thing to wear in Hawaii. Or possibly anywhere. I think I also wore them to Drag Ball, that one time that I went.

I can't believe Ben Lowenthal just made an appearance in your blog's comments. I think he's a lawyer now, just like his dad. See where nostalgia trips will take you?

Anyhow, I'm glad those boots are now at a Goodwill in Indianapolis. Somehow, it seems right. Some 14 year old girl will be very excited to find them.

Noa said...

Ah, once again your blog calls up another childhood memory seared forever in my brain: This time, your parents' attempt to solidify their Democratic leanings through language. Namely, your welcome mat with the picture of Ronald Reagan hanging over the words 'Wipe Your Feet'.