Over the last couple of summers, I've worn a pair of Cory's shoes down to almost nothing. Her favorite hoodie is my wrapping of choice in the sub-artic climate of my local Starbucks- whether I'm working on homework,writing on this blog, or making art, I am nearly always covered in her My Chemical Romance concert hoodie, no matter the season. But that is pretty much all I have worn except for a couple pairs of shoes she'd left downstairs and her precious pearls that they took off her neck at the funeral to hand me.
I've thought about going upstairs a dozen times for a sweater or a dress, but just couldn't do it. Why not, you ask? Why keep all that stuff if you're not going to use it?
It's kinda like this: when I think about Cory's room being maintained intact exactly the way it was the day she died, it provides me one small space in this world where she still is, other than that pretty, but wretched, plot in Bedford Cemetery, where her beautiful monument stands that I never in a million years wanted to design, sketching it out with shaking hands and a heaving chest, the tears falling all over my paper.
Do you see the difference? One place gives me pictures in my head of her walking and talking, putting laundry away with music blaring and her cat at her feet. The other quickly takes me back to howling at the sky on the eleventh of July as her casket waited to be lowered into the ground.
It makes a certain amount of logical sense that I want her room kept intact until you add in the fact that I can't bear to go in her room. I spend almost no time in there at all. It kills me to have so many memory triggers all rounded up in one place. And it still, ever so faintly, smells like her.
I remember the day after she died, I drove myself to Summit Pointe like a mad woman, desperate to see Dr. Z, desperate for him to tell me this wan't true or that something could be done. After he had sat with me for longer than he really had to- the dear, sweet man that he was- he handed me off to a therapist until my sister and mom could get there to pick me up. It was determined I was not safe to be driving.
While waiting, this lady suggested that I get into Cory's bed and sleep that night. I looked at her like she had quite lost her mind. She explained that the smell of her and being surrounded by her things might bring me comfort. I was openly horrified. Disturb her bed, that she had left carefully made? Be around all of her things, but not have her? Expect to see her around every corner only to have the image of her lying on the road pop up instead. No, thank you, lady. Go peddle that shady advice somewhere else.
So it's pretty much like this: It brings me immeasurable comfort knowing her room is there, maintained as it was, even if I can't bear to go in.
Now comes the part about her clothes. Lately, I've been in this awful dilemma where I sort of want some of her things to wear, but I am scared to death of disturbing the careful time capsule of her bedroom.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know it's stupid. I know I'm being a big ass baby. But that's the way I feel.
So then I started thinking, some minor changes have already occurred. I brought her dolls down from the trunk at the bottom of her bed and put them on the shelves that line my studio. All of her paintings that we've had framed rest against the walls of her room waiting patiently for the next time I go to speak at a college class about grief or mental illness. They weren't there before. And wouldn't she be delighted?
Why does it seem so different to paw through her drawers or rifle through her closet? I don't know, but it just does. I've been terrified that if I start moving stuff around, her space will be less hers, she will be less here. I sometimes still question that she's dead. And then on the other hand, the less people talk about her, the more that people move on with their own lives, I feel like I need tangible proof that she was here and that I haven't made up this wondrous creature in my head. She was here. See, look at all the things she touched! This was her space.
I talked to a few trusted friends who all said, go up there, get her stuff, and feel close to your girl. She'd want you to. These responses were perfectly logical. But grief isn't logical. Only another Momma who'd lost their child would recognize my madness. So I got ahold of another parent I knew who has lost a child and asked her. She said she wasn't able to fit into her daughter's clothes, but if she could, she'd wear everything. Okay, then. Here I go.
I called out to Jake seconds after reading my friend's response. I explained the mission to him. Yes, he was willing to help me, but it kills him to go in Cory's room, too, he said. We approached the doorway with this thought on repeat in my mind I'm a big brave dog...I'm a big brave dog...I'm a big brave dog. I reached for Jake's hand and he clasped mine tightly. For a fifteen year old boy who burns with embarrassment if I touch him in anyway in public or even talk to loud, he is unspeakably mature in other situations. Hand in hand, we started up the stairs, the smell of her already all around us. Closet first.
Jake stood there, talking about school, talking about a movie we'd recently seen, talking about the pets, anything to keep me from breaking down on the spot. Could he be more sweet? No, he could not. Pushing each item past on the rack, I could see her in it and my heart just recoiled as if struck. I finally chose a dress, laid it reverently on the rail over her staircase and we moved together, hand in hand further into her room. There it was...her bed, carefully made, her dresser with trinkets laid out, books on her nightstand...
How has this happened? She can't be dead.
I stopped looking around because I was feeling the urge to bail and instead approached her dresser. She had made labels for everything and with a smile, I opened the one that said "Good sweaters". I pulled one out and brought it to my nose. Jake kept up a steady banter beside me and his voice got farther away as her faded scent filled my nose. Before I lost it completely, I grabbed up another and decided to retreat.
What did I take?
One sweater is a pinkish purple soft cable knit she'd gotten on a trip with church friends to the outlet malls. She had money to spend and all decisions were her own. If I remember correctly, she'd been so anxious about her purchases, she had bought this, returned it, and re-bought it before the day was over. At any rate, she had dubbed it her absolute favorite. When she wore it with her Christmas pearls, her whole face glowed pink and lovely. I have a picture of her wearing it.
The other sweater is a soft taupe V-neck that is super long. She wore it with some raspberry colored corduroy leggings when leggings had first arrived on the scene and she looked so cute I couldn't stand it. I have a picture of her wearing this too on Christmas Day (her last Christmas Day) with her fox purse held up under her chin and her eyes joyful.
The dress is a navy blue flowered maxi dress from the first summer maxi dresses had come back in style. I had asked her to borrow once and she had gently said no, invoking our previously agreed upon rule. If one has a clothing item that makes them feel especially beautiful, one is able to deny loaning rights to the Mommy or the Cory, so as not to lose that any faction of that feeling by seeing it look beautiful on someone else. Sadly, I do not have a picture of her wearing this one, but I can remember it pretty well. Her posture was straighter. Her gait a bit more grown up. Yes, this dress had made her feel beautiful.
I took them downstairs, smelled them forcefully one last time like snorting something illegal, and reluctantly put them in the washer on gentle cycle. I went back to my bedroom and sat there, the hot tears running down my cheeks. I hope I did the right thing. I hope I didn't screw it up. Again.
I'm not sure how it will feel to wear these. I hope I feel her wrapped snugly around me. One thing I know from the shoes, is that if anyone says they like them, I will have a chance to say her name and that is worth more than I could ever explain.