It’s been an interesting week.. and by interesting, I mean emotional. Far more emotional than I care for. Last Sunday, I decided to tackle the overwhelming task of taking my closet completely apart and then putting it back together, minus all of the clothes that no longer fit or suited me. As a result, two hefty and overflowing bags are sitting on my bedroom floor, waiting to be presented at Plato’s and then donated at our local thrift store. This Sunday – today – I realized that I had only partially completed the task of cleaning out the closet; while passing through the bedroom late this afternoon, my eyes became fixed upon two untouched, medium-sized boxes that still sat smugly on the shelves lining my side of the closet. Bothered by the oversight, I immediately grabbed Chris from downstairs, solicited his help and had him lower the boxes onto the closet floor for me. I then began my little “sorting ceremony” of deciding what would stay, what would go, and what needed to be either relocated or utilized.
With a rough outline now present, I’ll mix in the details.
Last Sunday, while sorting through clothes, I uncovered a simple blue t-shirt with a sunset pictured and the word “Florida” draped across its front.
This Sunday, while sifting through smug and dusty cardboard boxes, I uncovered another shirt: a white Hanes T, splattered with paint that a 12 year old, 11 years ago, considered to be quite lovely, and inscribed with the words “Jesus loves Amber Rose.”
Not that Amber Rose.
Not that “Jesus” wouldn’t, theoretically, love her too, but at the time that the words were written and the paint was splattered, I thought that I was the only Amber Rose in the whole entire universe, so I meant that.. Jesus loved me.
So, in a nutshell, here’s why rediscovering both of these t-shirts reduced me to tears.
Crying in Closets
The blue “Florida” T has a story. When I was 16, I took my brother and myself on a road trip from Alabama to Florida so that we could visit our grandparents as well as my best friend, Melissa. Our trip was pleasant enough as far as I can remember it, but what I remember most poignantly is being about 5 hours from home – still in Florida – and driving with Bobby on the interstate.
“I need to use the restroom.”
“Okay! We’ll pull over in just a minute.”
I steered us off of the interstate and pulled into the parking lot of the closest gas station. Bobby stumbled out of the car and into the gas station quickly, making a beeline for the restrooms, and I walked in closely behind him, figuring I’d use the restroom, too, to make the most of our stop.
Before returning to the car, Bobby wanted to mosey around the store, in pursuit of a Dr. Pepper from the soda fountain and some kind of snack for the road. I agreed to wait for him and glanced around the store, suddenly noticing an entire section of t-shirts on display in the corner of the building. 16 years old and with a stack of my parents’ bills in my back pocket, I strolled over happily, immediately and suddenly infatuated with the idea of purchasing a t-shirt for each person that I had visited with during the trip: Grammy, Grampy, Melissa, and her brother, David.
“Oh — I guess I’ll get one for mom and dad, too,” I thought inwardly, “so that they won’t feel left out… plus, Bobby and I will need t-shirts, too! That way we’ll have something that we can both remember the trip by.”
So, with my mental plans firmly finalized, I excitedly leafed through the rows of hanging t-shirts, carefully selecting what I felt to be the most appropriate t-shirt for each person. Bobby walked over during my escapade and quietly chose a t-shirt for himself.
After making our purchase, we returned to the car, buckled our seat belts and resumed our ride home, Bobby feeling content with his soda and confident that his sister would deliver him safely back home to his recliner and game shows and me feeling very pleased that I had all of these wonderful goodies for everyone in tote.
So that’s the story. Last Sunday, after spending about twenty minutes peeling clothes off of shelves and pulling them out of cubby holes, my heart leapt and then sank as I dipped my hands into the colorful and tangled pile of clothes and retrieved that blue Florida t-shirt. I wept strongly that day, my body crumpled on the closet floor and my mind desperately imagining another car ride where Bobby’s sitting in the passenger’s seat beside me, sipping contentedly on a Dr. Pepper, being quiet, talking a little sometimes and laughing loudly into the windshield at all of the lame jokes that I try to make. My bro. I know now that I’ll never be able to enjoy another car ride with him again — only in my dreams, and only in the best of dreams. My heart sinks now to type the truth, but it is the truth.
And then this Sunday, mere minutes into sifting through the old purses, journals, school assignments and birthday cards that were all heaped together into one of the two boxes, my eyes zeroed in on a familiar object and my attention immediately became riveted upon a white t-shirt with the words “Jesus loves Amber Rose” strewn across its front.
The beach. The car. Melissa.
Images and feelings flashed quickly in my head. It’s another story that takes place in Florida. When I was 12, I met a girl named Melissa at church who – if you’ve read anything on my blog before – you know was my very best friend. Well, the first time that we went on an outing together, it was on Sabbath – a Saturday – and both of our families decided that it would be nice to meet at the beach for a picnic. In addition to picnic food and plastic eating ware, Melissa’s mother, Barbara, also brought three white t-shirts and squeezable tubes of paint along with her, quietly mentioning to my mother that decorating t-shirts with nature scenes or Bible verses could be a good Sabbath activity and a great diversion for the kids. My mother enthusiastically agreed, so while our parents lingered at the picnic tables, hovering over second and third helpings of Grammy’s sweet potato casserole and subtly moving mounds of Barbara’s homemade carob pie around on their plates, Melissa, David and I shut ourselves into the family’s beige minivan and spent the late afternoon decorating t-shirts, laughing, and talking. Bonding. Falling in love, like kids do, and swearing up and down that we would be best friends forever and ever. I still remember exiting the car what felt like hours later and running over to the swings where Melissa and I would swing as high up as we could possibly muster, stare – for just a split second – into the vast blue overhead, with all other images out of our peripheral view, and then close our eyes and fall, our stomachs clenching and lurching, our mouths wide open and laughing, our throats screaming and burning.
As of 5 years ago, when Melissa and I last spoke, she believed that she still had the t-shirt in her possession but couldn’t quite locate it. I’ve always known where to find mine, even if that meant that it was stashed away in a dusty old cardboard box.
I am forced to recognize, today, that I’ve changed a lot since Melissa and I were best friends; 5 years ago, when we last exchanged words, I was a devout Christian girl with long hair, modest skirts, unmarred skin, a positively sunny disposition and without even a single care in the world. Today, I’m quite different; in superficial ways, like my appearance: short-haired, unfeminine clothing, and tattoos – but also, in much deeper ways — in aspects of religion, political outlook, and my personal frame of mind. I tend to favor the belief that I’m a stronger, more loving and more open-minded person today than I ever was growing up, but to a person like dear, sweet Melissa, I’m afraid that I would now seem like nothing but a sad, lost soul; an empty vessel, a washed-out fallout.. the mere carcass of a human being. I know that many people (in fact) view me this way, and it can be a tough pill to swallow. I can say this one thing with a certainty: knowing that seeing me today – just as I am – would unpleasantly surprise her makes it easier for me to bear her isolation. Does that make sense? Which is worse; for her to shun me but fondly remember me – and us – as I was and we were, or to look me in the face today and sadly say, “I don’t like who you’ve become — and I don’t even know you anymore”?
Reincarnation aside, the mental idea of former lives being so out of focus and reach isn’t really as accurate as you’d imagine it would be. When I read journal excerpts and view pictures of myself from 5, 10, and 15 years ago, the separation – the visible, tangible divide between who I was then and who I am now – is absolutely startling. I feel like I’ve been a stranger and as though I’ve lived many lives, all artfully blended into a single spinning and blinding curve leading god knows where.
So if you can’t afford a trip out of town but are prepared to be thrown for a loop, go clean out a box or two in your closet. Let me know how it goes. It’s not all tears and t-shirts; I also found a really cool rock that I handpicked by a waterfall in Tennessee 4 years ago, an off-white beanie that goes well with my pixie cut, and an entire box full of completed journals from my preteen years. Wonderful and awful and beautiful things await you.