April 25, 2011

From a Closet of Grief

by Nicole Steinberg

A friend writes: If I didn't already know where you live I would totally believe that you live in a dressing room.

I carry a vivid memory of my mother in a dingy plastic chair, stretching fabric taut around my rounded torso with her own plump fingers, trying to coax a small brass button into its intended hole. I recall her frustrated sigh of failure, the look in her eyes that said: I don't want this for you.

The last time I saw her, I preened in my new size six pants, over twenty pounds lighter than I'd been just a few months earlier. I showed off the skinny fit, the zippers that rose from the hems. She nodded and looked off toward the wall. It was then that I remembered we were in a hospital.

Another friend says: You have a clothes problem.

When you're thin, fashion is an easy vice. Everything fits. There are no what ifs and oh wells, no sizing up. No buying men's jeans and passing it off as a style choice, no hiding in oversized Tommy Hilfiger sweaters and pleather coats. No notebooks full of angry poems about your plight, that old department store fear. If you want something and it suits you, you can have it. You should have it.

My mother is gone now and I shop. I shop, constantly. There's a rush to it, a satisfaction that curls over you when something looks good on your body. When something makes your body look better. My foyer is littered with bags, clothes piled on the floor that won't fit in my meager closet space.

My only clothes problem—as I see it—is that I’ll never have enough.

The angry poems have already been penned. Fashion is easy. Grief is transmutable. I peel off a layer, pull another one on. Everyone indulges me. Everything is engineered.

Late at night, I stand inside my closet, as full as my mother's, where I used to hide until she came home. I shut my eyes and slip between sleeves.

Bio: Nicole Steinberg is the editor of Forgotten Borough: Writers Come to Terms with Queens (SUNY Press, February 2011). Her chapbook Birds of Tokyo is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press, and her poetry has appeared in numerous publications. She is the founder and curator of Earshot, a Brooklyn-based reading series dedicated to emerging writers, and an editor-at-large for LIT magazine. She hails from Queens, NY and currently lives in Philadelphia.

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