I’ve been dreaming a lot about shopping malls lately. Almost every night, for several nights in a row. I am always living and/or working in them, and forever walking. I walk all the way to the ends — those corners just inside the sets of double doors where the ceilings rise in exaggerated angles like a church, broken only perhaps by a squiggle of neon; some design relic from another era that’s so far escaped remodeling. In these corners it’s quiet save for my footsteps and the hum of the massive HVAC system. Late afternoon light slides through the glass and across the aggressively polished floor in rows of golden trapezoids. In my dreams I always pause to look through the doors at the concrete parking lot, but I never leave. I just wheel around and walk back into the bowels of the mall.
One night in the mall I pushed my way through crowds of people and down a long carpeted hall into an office. The receptionist was wearing a red sweater with a sparkly brooch and carefully arranging holiday candy in a glass dish. I walked to my desk and sat down, then swiveled my chair to face a coworker. My coworker was my mother, exactly as she was in her 30s when she was working as a secretary for an endless string of corporations with nonsense names like Moonspace. She was wearing a red turtleneck and her brown hair had yet to be frosted with gray. “Did you know it’s already Christmas time?” I asked incredulously, and I could hear her blue eyes rolling up in her head. “Yes, Lyn, everyone knows it’s Christmas time,” she said in that tone she reserves for when I’m being ridiculous.
Last I knew it was summer, I thought, but I kept that thought to myself and got back to work, lest my ignorance cause an interoffice scene.
The other weekend we caused a car accident, sort of.
We were waiting to cross an intersection to go for a run in the park. The light turned green and the line of cars in the oncoming turn lane began to roll forward, but the first one stopped because we were still in the crosswalk. Two cars back: bam! A woman in a Mini Cooper sheared the spare tire straight off the tail end of the SUV in front of her, leaving her hood crumpled and steaming. I glanced back and could see her bringing her hands to face, reeling with the reality of what she’d just done.
It was her fault, of course, but I felt bad. We were that butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil and setting off a tornado in Texas. If we hadn’t been crossing the street at that exact moment, interrupting the flow of traffic, everything would have carried on just the same as it had before.
August felt a bit like clawing at a blanket covering my face: heavy, close, hard to breathe. A barrage of bad news in the world knocked a hole in my chest a mile wide and filled my head with sand. I struggled through daily motions like a battery drained.
Well, don’t blink or everything will change. I’ve finally surfaced just as summer’s fading into fall. Folks are back from vacation, kids are back in school. I’m back in German class for another semester. We somehow got another room painted in the house when I wasn’t looking. We’re all here, still, but we’re all different somehow. I don’t understand how I can continually be shocked by the passing of time, but I am. I always am.
Autumn is harder to take than other seasons because it seems like the beginning of an end. Autumn is: shrinking, waning, closing down. And any little change appears all the more dire if you’re already feeling vulnerable about it.
When I’m at my most helpless about the state of the world, it helps to find some measure of control. So I started with reorganizing the cabinet under the sink in the bathroom.
Really, I’d only intended to switch my stuff from one side of the cabinet to the other, because the doors are stacked in such a way so that to open the left door you must also open the right. It had only taken 10 months of continuous use for my reptilian brain to recognize that it was within my power to cut out one whole step. Efficiency! But I’ve never been one to do things in half measures so before you know it I was upending our other assorted toiletry boxes and scattering the contents hither and yon like a drugstore had exploded inside my house.
In our bathroom in California we had an original built-in medicine cabinet/mirror, a laminate-topped cabinet with sliding doors that was probably added in the 1950s, and a storage shelf above the shower that was actually quite spacious but to access it you had to balance one leg on the lip of the tub and the other leg on the towel rack on the opposing wall and use a pocketknife to pry the doors open. To combat the lack of accessible organization solutions we’d bought some plastic storage boxes and have been using them ever since. Even when we finally moved into this house for good last November it was like, OK, if you need hydrocortisone then you have to go into the weird closet tucked under the house eaves and crouch down in the semi-darkness and blindly pull out packs of band-aids and bottles of rubbing alcohol until you find the little tube you want at the bottom and then you have to carefully restack everything just so in order for the box lid to close again. This was not the smartest, most efficient approach but it was the status quo and for too long we were quite content with that. Changing a system often seems much harder than continuing to do nothing at all.
Once I had every toiletry in the house spread across the floor of my bedroom I wanted to just walk out and shut the door and never come back, of course, but I worked my way through it. Anything expired got tossed, and clearly I had missed some things the last time I did this judging from those eyedrops that peaked in the year 2000.
We still don’t have optimal storage in the new house, but I am happy to report that in the end there was a place for everything and everything in its place. We have a properly dedicated medicine cabinet, now, where the hydrocortisone and band-aids live on their own separate, easily accessible shelves. Days later I am still going in the bathroom just to open everything up and gaze in satisfaction at a job well done.
On a high from bathroom organization, I decided to tackle the matter that is my wardrobe. For hours on a Saturday night I pulled clothes on, tore them off, and made decisions.
I wouldn’t say I’ve been on a new clothing fast, but the majority of my clothes are a few years old, and going through them was sort of akin to putting on an old mix tape and going yeah, yeah, I remember that one. I remember wearing that on a thousand sunsoaked winery afternoons. I remember wearing that on that freezing New Year’s trip to San Francisco. I remember wearing that during my work’s holiday lunch when I got mad at something my boss said and spent the majority of the meal cramming complimentary bread slices in my maw and trying not to cry.
It’s hard to get excited about wearing your clothes when you open up your closet and contemplate a row of neatly hung memory skeletons. Of course memories can be good things but these just felt like daily revisitations of parts of myself I’d long outgrown. Dresses with cropped leggings were a thing I used to really, really like wearing! So were drapey, three-quarter sleeve cardigans whose open ends always ended up wound tightly around my midsection and clamped into place under my armpits because I was so cold in them. Guess what, into the donation bag went a dozen cropped leggings and any cardigan lacking practical warmth function.
I don’t know when exactly I changed but I did. At some point I just got older. My weight has stayed roughly the same over the last few years but my body has sagged a bit; softened and gnarled. I’ve hung onto a lot of things I still liked but just didn’t suit someone in her mid-30s. Out went any strapless tops (terminal armpit pooch!) or short skirts (rapidly advancing varicose veins!). It felt like ridding myself of the last vestiges of my late 20s. I should have been sad, but I only felt free. At the risk of sounding schoolmarmish, all the more room for comfort and accessibility!
Result: five paper grocery sacks filled and my closet and dresser now operating at half capacity. But I’m not in a hurry to fill the empty space just yet. I need some time to figure out what’s coming next.
Image credit: “Before and After Painting No. 1” by Oliver Jeffers, oil on canvas // www.oliverjeffers.com