Today I started a task I’ve been dreading for quite some time. I began sorting through all the things I brought with me from my old life in New Mexico.
When I arrived in Portland, I threw these things into the back of my two new closets and gradually piled pieces of the new life on top of them until they became the kobolds lurking in the dark and dusty corners, out of sight, but not totally out of mind. Snickering. Vicious.
It’s been 11 months here now, almost to the day. I’m about to sign another lease for 15 months in the same place. My (probably flawed) logic says that if I’m to continue here, I need to yank the little devils out of the closet by the scruff and examine them closely. I need to confront them and decide whether they cause me too much pain to keep.
Instead of finding a lot of obvious, cut-and-dried yeses and nos regarding what to keep, the pain I felt as I began to sort was more insidious and subtle. At first I was fine, chucking a few BMX-related sweatshirts with minor sentimental value on a pile of things to give away. Then I delved deeper and deeper into the closet, and by the time I reached the back wall, I’d found a gym bag that made my heart drop.
The bag is brightly colored, orange, melon, and pink, with “Adidas” in blue on the side. I open it and find my Beats earbuds; I’d forgotten they were pink. There are swim goggles in the bag that I haven’t used for over a year and a half. A bright orange sports bra is in one pocket, and a day-glo yellow tank top is folded in the bottom of the bag with a matching pair of black and yellow tights. A white (!) Garmin running watch is in the front pocket. I’d been missing the earbuds and the watch since I left Albuquerque, and had replaced both months ago.
This bag rode on the passenger seat next to me in the U-haul, beside my howling cat and shivering dog, while I white-knuckled several tons of combined vehicles through terrible weather conditions toward total uncertainty 11 months ago.
I hunker down on my heels in the middle of the closet. I look down at my black leggings and my band t-shirt. My latest tattoo swirls around my right elbow. I sit down on the floor heavily and stare at the pink and orange bag. Whose bag is this? Whose pink earbuds and white watch? Whose brightly colored running clothes? Who is this woman, and why did she feel that she needed to have these things? Do I miss her? Do I wish I had her life again?
I actually don’t miss her. I miss, as usual, the stability and partnership that previous life provided. I miss my sunny Albuquerque home, the first I ever owned. I miss the hummingbird nests in the backyard. I miss my 90-year old neighbor who walked around the block with me and Eden most days. I miss my BMX track, my team, my friends. I miss racing. I miss all the pets that Marcus and I had over the years together: Jake, Cairo, Memphis, Gabriel, Doo. I miss Marcus.
I sat on the floor of the closet and cried like a broken-hearted child.
I lost the pink lady. I didn’t love her, because she wasn’t really real. She was contrived from all the things I thought I should be. That cognitive dissonance was a source of constant, low-grade pain for more than two decades. That doesn’t mean I don’t mourn her loss, though. She was a part of me for a long time.
I love the woman I am now because she is more honestly me. In some ways I take better care of this woman than I did the pink lady. I mean, this one has therapy. I’m flying by the seat of my pants on any given day, but I’m finally allowed to be myself. It’s the worst kind of loneliness and the purest kind of freedom all at the same time.
I have to continue to clean out the closets, just like I’m cleaning up my mind. Maybe for the next round I’ll do it when I know I’ll have company later that day so the loneliness won’t be so acute and the prospects for the evening won’t look so bleak.
Man, growth is a lonely process.