Here is… (Cleaning Out My Closet)
1993: Here is the sleeveless navy blue rayon dress, ankle length, clingy and cut on the bias, that I wore to our rehearsal dinner, the night before our wedding, when our beautiful silver-haired grandmothers were still alive and loving us. I borrowed my mother’s silver, square heeled sandals, and the silver, geometric earrings (three triangles, hooked together) I had worn on our first date. I felt lucky and loved in that dress.
1993: Here are the white satin Ferragamo pumps I wore to our wedding, yellowed from spending too many years alone in their shiny red box. I couldn’t bear to throw them away. I thought about dying them but when would I ever wear satin pumps?
1997: Here is the long, ribbed camel colored cashmere cardigan and turtleneck sweater set. I wore this when our older son Lucas was starting to take his first steps. In the photo, we are holding hands and laughing.
1998: Here is the green ribbed l turtleneck I was wearing when Lucas and I bumped into my therapist and her son at Harry’s on the Upper West Side. The black jeans I was wearing were too tight and the zipper on my fly had zigged its way down. It was March and I was sweating. I can’t remember what we bought that day but I know I wanted to be just like her.
1999: Here is the peach cashmere sweater set I wore to my surprise 35th birthday, which you threw for me after I’d had a miscarriage. You rarely noticed what I look like. But that day you asked that I get dressed up because we were having dinner with your clients. I said sure, even though I wanted to lie on the couch, stare out the bay window and eat handfuls of jellybeans. You had gone through my Filofax and invited all of my friends to dinner without me knowing it. We conceived our second son two weeks later.
2000: Here is the cornflower blue, short-sleeved, crew and cardigan cashmere sweater set that was never flattering but was marked down and the same color as a cardigan Daddy used to wear when he was sick. I wore this sweater set three days in a row, while rewriting a short story that my professor liked. Jenny and I were both pregnant with boys at the same time, she with her first, mine with my second. She had bright blue cornflower eyes and was tall and apologetically gorgeous, the way women who no longer want to be known for their looks can be. She had been a model and journalist, and was on her way to becoming a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist. I had been a prize-winning journalist and was on my way to becoming an unemployed housewife.
2005: Here are the navy blue running pants and the orange and blue running shirt I wore the day Daddy died. I had just gone for a run after dropping our sons off at school. We gathered around his hospital bed. The last time Dad had seen me in that running outfit he had said, “I know you like to look lean and mean, Pup, but this is too lean.” I stood at the foot of his bed and stared into his pale blue eyes. His kidneys were failing but his eyes were shining. I had never seen him look so scared and needy. He looked like he was speeding towards something fast on a sled and was terrified of what he saw ahead of him. I wanted to kiss the top of his head and put my lips to his cheek. I wanted to whisper, “Daddy” one more time. Instead, I stood at the foot of his bed and silently watched him say goodbye to this earth.
2005: Here is the low cut, clingy black, rayon sweater set and matching black swing skirt I wore to Daddy’s funeral, aware that I might look too svelte and attractive for the occasion. In my eulogy, I stood at a podium in the chapel of our synagogue and in front of 150 people, described my father as a man who could be as cruel as he could be kind. After the funeral, my friend Pam thanked me for saying what she had always wanted to say out loud about her father.
2005: Here is the clingy black and white, long-sleeved jersey dress and matching black velvet blazer I bought after Daddy died and wore to the break fast we hosted on Yom Kippur a few months later. I was wearing it when Jimmy walked into our dining room and asked, “Don’t you know I’m in love with you?” Jimmy was Mom’s third husband. I should probably give the dress away before I discuss it with Mom.
2009, 2013: Here are the knee-length dresses I wore to the kids’s bar mitzvahs, which I bought with the help of my friend Annette, a marathon runner and personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman. She has bright blonde hair and a can-do New England spirit that reminds me of the women I went to college with. She helped me find the red Prada crepe dress I wore to Luke’s bar mitzvah and the purple and black Phillip Lim dress I wore to Hank’s four years later. It took her years to tell me she had a brother who was schizophrenic and when he died and she posted pictures of the two of them together on Facebook, I understood her better. They looked like twins.
Here is what I gave away:
2004: The green sequined halter top I wore to your 40th birthday party. My stomach bulged in it but I loved the glitz and of course, I loved you.
2009, 2011: The dresses I wore to other kids’ b’nai mitzvahs, including but not limited to the lavender cotton pique shift I wore to Noah’s and the red-yellow-green-black shift with wide self belt I wore to Josh’s, when the power went out because of the hurricane and my sister-in-law Tina and her freckled, blonde, sisters danced and sang and made us all laugh and dance around the room with them. The room was dark and the food was cold but those sisters knew how to keep the lights on and we were joyous. I held Rona’s hand, while we did the hora in our heels. My brother’s friend, Jack, a psychiatrist from Northern California, complimented my dress and said he couldn’t figure out how my brother and I had survived our childhoods. I laughed. I couldn’t figure it out either.
2004: The black short-sleeved top, with rhinestone buttons, and the matching black linen pants, so snug, no matter how much I starved myself, which I wore to a Lupus event in Manhattan, which was attended by a big group of suburban moms, all of us still young and gorgeous, our children still healthy and our husbands still loyal, none of us divorced (yet), none of us at the point (yet) where we had real reason to worry about our lives or our children. I was sitting between Jenna and Tiffany. Tiffany and her husband Albert had invited us over for brunch the weekend before, remember? I admired her kitchen and didn’t believe her when she said she hadn’t hired a decorator. The backsplash was too ornate. Two months later, we learned that Tiffany was having an affair with Jenna’s husband. It came out at my 40th birthday party. We had all gone to see “Night, Mother.” Tiffany killed herself by lying down in front of a train at the station near our house. She had been renting a house on a busy road near ours. I still turn away from that house, the one with the red door.
Here is what I kept:
1972: My mother’s long, silk, peach-and-white striped scarf. Fraying white fringe on both ends. I used to wrap it around my breasts and stare in the mirror. I wanted to be like Marilyn Monroe, who held a sheer scarf in front of her chest, and gazed dreamingly and cunningly at the camera.
1993: The white chiffon and satin, knee-length lingerie I wore on our wedding night.
1993: The peach colored lingerie set Rona gave me for my wedding shower, ankle length, cut on the bias, silk, sexy, a long hug of a lacy nightgown and matching bolero jacket, purchased for who knows how much from a thrift shop in southern New Jersey. It was that glorious combination of glamorous and useless. It never left my closet. But how I loved Rona for giving it to me. Sassy, blonde, loving, relentless, inquisitive, addicted to tanning salons, sharp-tongued and reassuringly in love with her husband Jay. Rona was the kind of mother and writer and wife I wanted to be. She has dementia now. This is for her.
Laura Zinn Fromm is a journalist, editor, and the author of Sweet Survival: Tales of Cooking & Coping, published by Greenpoint Press. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University. She teaches fiction and creative non-fiction workshops through Sweet Lab Writing Workshops in New York City. A former reporter and editor at Bloomberg Business Week magazine, she is a winner of the Clarion Award and the Newspaper Guild’s Page One Award for Labor Reporting. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Business Week and elsewhere.