Friday, March 10, 2006

The Clothes Make The Man

Yeah yeah, that is supposedly not true, in terms of someone being more than their outward appearance may indicate. But let’s examine the statement from another angle: the ability of clothing, haberdashery, garments to make a person seem real, tangible and present. One example is at Graceland where all of Elvis’ famously garish outfits are on display. When you look at them your mind’s eye sees him wearing them; they evoke his image. Another example is at the US Holocaust Museum here in DC where there is a room that is nothing but wall to wall and floor to ceiling shoes. The shoes all belonged to victims of the Holocaust, and almost nothing in the world makes such a horrifying yet abstract atrocity more real and present and soul-touching than seeing the actual shoes of actual murdered people: men, women and children. It is exactly and precisely the shoes that make the people real.

Another example is my mom and dad’s place. I didn’t understand before today why my mom was packing my dad’s clothes into suitcases to get them out of the closet. I was thinking it was a bit fast, a bit soon, but was essentially telling myself I was okay with whatever she thought she needed to do. Today, however, I opened her coat closet and saw the blue denim flannel shirt that my dad always, always, always wore as a pseudo-jacket. Still on the hanger, bearing all the un-crisp, un-laundered, shaped-to-fit hallmarks of a shirt just waiting for its owner to come back and settle comfortably into it once again. I almost fell backward with the wave of grief that washed over me simply because in looking at that shirt I saw the shape of his shoulders, the buttons always undone to reveal one of his funny/silly/un-pc T-shirts, the sleeves still rolled up to their exact, preferred location on his arms. I saw *him* in that shirt like I had done thousands of times before. I knew that if I stepped a little closer I would probably be able to smell his aftershave too. I had to close the closet door and walk away swiftly to avoid completely losing my sh*t in front of The Bambina.

So there, in the presence of a simple, average, everyday shirt, I finally understood why my mom was packing them up. Clothes; worn, rumpled, lived-in clothes that seem to live on even when those who wore them do not, can be either warmly comforting or exquisitely painful depending on the recency of the loss. I know that someday I will find it funny to ponder purchasing the right sized mannequins to wear his various threads when I open The Wee Fat Scotsman Museum and Whiskey Lounge, but right now it’s too soon feel anything but heartache when I catch a glimpse of the clothes that made the man.


Vigilante said...

I woulda just snagged, washed and worn that shirt.

But that's just me.

Anonymous said...

I can actually see you doing just that and my heart aches for you. You are right, though, I promise someday that shirt will bring comfort instead of grief. Peej