The woman in my closet is watching me again. Flash of white through the folded door, crisp linen tea dress, fascinator, prim buttoned gloves. I laugh. That was never me.
The crimson red sheath, shot of sunset, wild smear of blood; that was me once, dancing on a beach on a millennial New Year’s, downing tequila smooth as the silk on my legs. You’ve forgotten those days, she teases, but it’s more like this me never had them—who wasthat woman, shimmering like fire?
She flips through my suits, the consultant’s pin stripes and tailored cuffs, the professor’s give-me-tenure jackets sculpted with assurance and a bust. I wore those high-waisted velvet trousers for conferences, my hips sinuous with knowledge. They look good on her. Once I had jewelry to wear with those severe lines, but they’re buried in a box from three houses ago. You’ll wear these again someday, right? I mean, you’ve kept everything.
I thought she was here to steal something, but nights I can’t sleep we have style shows. The puffed purple sleeves when I was fifth bridesmaid—how is that friend now? There’s a picture of me in that wraparound cling holding a cake—birthday? Graduation? Was it even my cake? I pour wine as she struts her tiny catwalk, flinging the silk scarves I bought in Italy and Berlin. She excavates all of me: the backless phase, the navy phase, the phase where I looked like upholstery. But I draw the line at the wedding dress. It’s in its box and will stay there. What, to be buried with you when you die? Who are you saving it for? she accuses me. It’s the first and only time we fight.
After that she disappears, and things disappear with her. The sweatshirts and ripped-out jeans from my grunge days, then the maternity pants. One day every orange shirt vanishes, like a fire has gone out. Beneath thinning piles I see cracks of underfloor, the yellow of subcutaneous fat. He never finished the floors in the closet, and it’s one of the many things I’ll never ask for. Maybe she’d come back if I kept the doors open, put in a window. Let in a little light.
Nights I can’t sleep I imagine her out in the world, reveling in the fabrics of my lost selves, living what I never finished. Dancing on a beach in Mexico in flamenco red. Curled in a dorm lounge with my sweatshirts and ripped jeans, dreaming. Climbing the corporate ladder in my burgundy set with the knee-length skirt and the stacked leather heels. Giving a conference paper in the charcoal grey suit, Italian silk knotted at her throat.
I scuff through my days in baggy cardigans and stained yoga pants, worn slippers, grey showing in my hair, with no narrative for how I came to be here. One day I open the white wedding box with its glamorous gleam, shove it back into the closet. Who’s it all for, anyway?
Take me in a professional pause, a self-help book on emotional clutter blocks, a wardrobe-thinning pandemic project, and Meg’s story “Sundresses” about secrets in closets. Mix. Listen to the whisper of your past selves uncovering what you’ve been not looking at.
Or take it all to the nearest donation drop off and call it good.
Misty Urban is the creative nonfiction editor for New Flash Fiction Review. She really did celebrate New Year’s Eve Y2K on a beach in Mexico and was a college professor, once.