Cleaning Out My Closet


You will need about four trash bags. The biggest you can find. The most durable. You will need to lug those bags into your room. One by one, splay them out on the floor.

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This will take about an hour, maybe more, so play some music, something jovial and antsy, a song ripe with the bittersweetness of reinvention. Open the windows; let the light in. Open the closet. Peek in for a moment, tiptoe your fingers along the edges of sweaters and jeans, let yourself drink in the dust and settle into the loss you are about to commit. Decide which section to tackle first. The tee-shirts, let’s say. Pull your hair back. Open up the drawers. Take a trash bag between your hands. Begin.

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There are diaries, the kinds we write in rosy gel ink or thin-lined ballpoint pen, the kinds we store in notebooks, and then there are diaries, the kinds we don’t mean to write. Do not study each item too hard, do not try on every blouse or pair of shoes, do not let yourself graze every life you ever authored (or rather, every life that authored you), every person you ever were. Sift through your clothes, stretch out each and every piece of fabric, hold your garments up against the sunlight like you would a magnifying glass to an ant: let the memories smolder.

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This closet, you see, a confession box: scratchy bloodshot dress made of velvet and polyester, cutting off right at the thighs; what girl were you to buy that? Who squeezed and fumbled into the chokehold of that dress and mimed effervescence? Trace the outline with your fingers until that night swarms every inch of breathing space; remember how you stood alone in the corner of someone’s party tugging at the hem. The taste of orangey alcohol like brine down your throat, smearing the night with warmth and a nameless someone’s mouth on yours, listlessness like a seabed that you could not swim up from, airless, blue-bathed, alone. Fold up the dress and chuck it into a trash bag.

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Rebecca Solnit calls it “the violence of metamorphosis.” Yes: the trash bags transform into cocoons. The process of cleaning out clothesreally a filling of the hearse, a full-body shove of all your chalky corpses into a black car. Is this dramatic? To call the act of cleaning out a death of sorts? A little death: la petite mort. Which is also a euphemism for orgasm. Because how different are they, really? The vermilion flush of rebirth, swallowing you, a release of the self. Writing about orgasm, Percy Bysshe Shelley once said “no life can equal such a death.” The Romantics wrote odes, violent gushing love letters, to this death, to this coming-undone as the moment of self-erasure; you dissolve from yourself, the tissue and bloodrush and singularly-stamped skin of you made anew for one meteoric moment.

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This process may tear certain boxes in you free, ones you’ve kept unopened. You may tug your hair out; you may ruminate and question and pang with sentimentalism so petulant that you pick your nails to shreds. Looking at the hushed yellow of your graduation dress, quiet and coquettish, reeking of I am afraid to feel too good about myself today. Too bright-eyed. I am afraid that I haven’t earned this. Or: you will trail your hands over a plum-colored pantsuit and you will know: the girl who wore that pantsuit wanted to be seen. To radiate like angina, infuse rooms with the purple fabric of her gutsiness. Perhaps all that inanimate fabric is not so inanimate. Perhaps each garment reveals a loss, embedded like stalagmites in the cavern of you, reaching forward until you cannot temper its bottomless sting.

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There are paintings, coins, engravings, most likely originating with medieval Christianity, that all share the same implication: the reminder of our inevitable deaths. These they called ‘memento moris,’ a Latin phrase meaning remember you will die. The marriage of mortality to an object. Yes, death lingers even in your bedroom, this closet not quite a morgue but a love letter to dyingpeople shift, reform, unfold, invert, it says, and each time we wear a piece of clothing we trap our silhouettes in their folds. Things become other things, people become themselves over and over again in a million fractured ways, and this is not a curse. You will long like crazy to hold onto these items, to collect memento moris all your own. But your bedroom will not shapeshift into a catacomb, and you cannot keep every girl you ever were. Bury those people elsewhere, away from where you sleep.

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Your closet gives you away. Elusiveness dissolved; when those doors open, you are knowable. Your secret self disappears. You stain every one of those tee-shirts and bras and dresses. You cannot be washed out. When you empty its contents, things will blur. Everything cohesive about you will taper off. The girl you were becomes ungraspable. You know nothing of yourself; you cannot be held onto. You will slip like foam out of your own hands.

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The bags will swell until you cannot feed them anymore. Bloated with past. You must drag them from your bedroom and find some in-between place, the morgue before the crematory, see, maybe your car or an attic. Push them together, herd them like unruly animals (because although they are quiet, they can still bite), close the door, lock them in. Tomorrow, take them to Goodwill or hand them off to a neighbor or niece. Sell them online. Tell yourself: the person who danced and drove and wrote in those clothes has fossilized. No matter what people say, ghosts can’t live in a piece of fabric. Stop trying to hold them so close to your chest: you will buy new things, you will stand in a thrift shop, try on a dress and your heart will capsize, everything you were will settle like silt in your stomach, and you will fill your closet with what comes next.



By Sofia Sears

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