Too Strong for The Role

It was inspired by the influx of my childhood toys.

My childhood belongings.  Their exodus a complex story in and of itself, one that — like many other portions of my narrative — will someday get its moment in the spotlight after enough emotional distance has been established.  But, for now, we’ll skip to the end, with the final cargo of my past now delivered to our house, our guest room looking more like an adolescent’s bedroom mid-pack, and me bitterly musing to myself, “Fitting enough.  The ghost of my upbringing has been the perennial guest as of late, anyway.”

But, again, that’s a story for another day.  Like many stories of mine, when it’s time to be revealed, I will unapologetically give it the stage.

The role of my childhood belongings is that of an antagonist in this story.  The catalyst, the spark — riling up the part of me that realized it was time to clean out my closet.

(Insert another bitter, slightly amused musing here.)

The double-edged sword of a house is its space.  And in that space, things can accumulate.  Our one-bedroom apartment off the Orange Line in Boston didn’t grant us much clemency when it came to clutter, and our two-bedroom apartment that hugged the border of New Hampshire and Massachusetts didn’t relieve much, either.

But in this idyllic house in an area that straddles the border between civilization and the country, there is room.  Things can be moved and relegated and forgotten about.  There is no impetus to really clear out until you are given a household’s worth of your old belongings, and you find yourself closing the door to your guest bedroom, looking at the overflowing closet in your own bedroom, and going:

“Enough is enough.  It’s time to clear this out.”

I’m a hoarder by nature.  Not in the sense that I’ll collect do-dads and trinkets and refuse to throw out even the morning paper (that is, if we actually subscribed to a morning paper), but in the sense that I ascribe emotional sentiment to inanimate objects.  I keep mementos, as if the weight of memory is too much to keep in the ether and I must transfer it to something tangible.  Such a sentiment will make it impossible to get rid of old handbags that had been worn past the ability of being donated — but somehow have enough structural integrity to hold the years that it had been by my side.

(It will also make it impossible to, say, sort through your childhood belongings, let alone decide what should be saved, donated, or thrown out.  As if cracking open a box is like cracking open a heart — as if the cardboard boxes were something given to Pandora, filled with all the demons inside, rearing to get out.)

(But, again, more on that at a later date.)

Clothing is no different.  It can feel like the act of donating an old shirt is akin to donating the very memories attached to it.  It’s usually enough to make me look at my expanding wardrobe, sigh heavily, and refuse to do anything about it.

Unless, that is, you become inspired to finally clear it out.

The first things I honed in on were my clothes from my preschool teaching days.  Clothing that I bought specifically for the role of early childhood teacher, specifically to be worn in an early childhood classroom.  Baggy khakis and cotton shirts with cheery pastel colors.  Things I hadn’t worn since I put in my final resignation letter and left in a burned out glory, ashes trailing behind me.

I reminded myself that I will never wear these clothes again.  It’s been over five years, and I’ve yet to find a place for them outside of the classroom.  My professional wear is in stark contrast to the khaki pants these days, and the cheery tops look out of place in a night-out setting.

But I decided to give them one last wear — a last hurrah, if nothing else.

A lot has changed in five — going on six — years, and the changes manifest into the physical.  I now teach as many as 15 yoga & fitness classes a week.  I’ve taken up kickboxing and weight training.  I’ve upped the miles considerably on my runs and I’ve stopped joining martial art studios just to quit a month later.  I’ve put to bed the version of me who thought she was gangly and awkward in light of an inherent athleticism I swore I never had.

It’s the first thing I think about as I attempt to put on one of the pastel shirts.  I had bought this shirt when I was skin and bones, a lingering relic of my modeling years.  Now, the additional weight of muscle is far too apparent.  My shoulders are too broad.  I can barely move my arms.  My biceps press against the fabric when I try to bend my elbows.

“I’m too strong for this outfit,” I muse to myself, wryly, without a hint of bitterness.

The cleaning out of my closet becomes a purge.  My husband joins in, sorting through clothing he’s outgrown in one way or another.  Soon, our bed is an avalanche of clothes, and there’s still more to go.

I let the realization that I can’t even fit into most of my preschool clothes propel me forward, becoming merciless with what I cut from my wardrobe.  A lot of outfits from that time in my life find their way to the chopping block.  I toss impulse purchases that had proven to not survive the shimmer of retail therapy.  I toss clothing that served no purpose but emotional weight, reminding myself that sometimes it’s good to let certain mementos perish.

There’s a song in my head as I try on outfit after outfit — one from Maria Mena, the lyrics and the melody a lullably in and of itself:

Finally see the progress made in me, the hard work I’ve put in, the person I am
But you’re still involved with the old me, the baby, I don’t blame you, maybe
It’s because I still wear her clothes.
I’m wrapped in her role.

The metaphor is effortless.  I’m too strong for these old clothes, these old roles.  They have no place taking up space in my life anymore.  It’s time to clean out my closet and bid farewell to the past.

The line immediately following the previous stanza: But the path I am on is a different one.

I’ve grown stronger in ways I never could’ve predicted as a meek little preschool teacher, getting bullied around by higher ups, feeling powerless among her own peers, among the children sometimes.  I’ve grown stronger in ways I never could’ve predicted even a few years ago, especially when I was at my lowest and felt the insurmountable weight of it all, when I swore everything that was happening would inevitably crush me.

(But, again, stories for a later time, when enough emotional distance has been established.)

I’m getting stronger in the present day, even without that sense of urgency, that warning of, “get strong or die.”  Every day, something is a little more defined, and I become that much more determined to keep at it, to let nothing atrophy.

There are roles that won’t fit me even if I tried.  I would have no room to move my arms.  My strength would press against the edges.  These are outdated roles that I don’t even want to have around taking up space.  Even if they hold emotional weight, I’m through with them.  Clear it out and make way for things that will serve me better.

I wish I had taken before and after photos of our closet.  The walk-in went from overflowing to almost sparse, there were that many clothes to give away.

“The thrift store is going to love us,” I muse, warmly, thinking of the thrift store arm of a nonprofit in town, the good that they do, the good that our old clothes will hopefully help with.

In some weird way, I miss what the closet used to look like.  I don’t miss the clothes so much as I miss the sequence of them, which hadn’t changed since I first unpacked our apartment boxes and organized our clothes.  It’s strange, the things that will ping at us, as if we’re so much creatures of habit that we can’t handle when positive changes clears things out.

Of course Eminem’s “Cleaning Out My Closet” finds its way into my head — I’m not all sad, heavy songs with huge emotional undertones.  Much like the literal clearing out of my closet isn’t all heavy and triumphant.  I hum out, Cuz tonight, I’m cleanin’ out my closet with a slight amusement, calculating when I’ll have the time to drop off the boxes — perhaps another sign that I’m outgrowing certain roles, that I’ve used my time with the Enneagram to notice when I fall into ruts with sad songs and hurtful memories and to clear out for something new, something better.

Our cats love the boxes — which, ironically, stay stacked in our closet, taking out space, until I find the time to clear out my car and pack it back up.  Perhaps a reminder that you can’t just prepare to clear out: you have to actually go through with it and see it to the end.

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