Accidents

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I had planned on writing about our trip tonight.  I had saved away things that I wanted to write about, but as it turns out, our trip home was the most eventful part of the trip.

T and I had a very late, and boozy, night last night, so we didn’t push ourselves to get going too early this morning.  In fact, we detoured to see the place where the fictional Mary Richards was to have lived during the Mary Tyler Moore Show.  I was duly impressed by the architecture as I have a strange fascination with the brutalist movement. Continue Reading »

Shun/Un-shun

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I have thought a lot about shunning recently. The definition of shunning is “to avoid deliberately; to keep away from.”  The act of shunning is common in some religions.  It’s also common among middle school girls.  Various forms of shunning are used among family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers.  For shunning to have any meaning, an emotional or social connection needs to be present.  Shunning is a form of bullying.  Shunning is also one of the most  insidious, passive-aggressive forms of abuse. Continue Reading »

What I Choose To Remember

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Recently, a fellow blogger requested access to my previous blog.  Of course, I had no qualms about allowing this person to continue to read my story.  We have walked this same path together, and she has become someone special to me.  I love and admire her strength, a strength I have often drawn on as an example for myself.  Today I finally got around to logging into the old blog.  I hadn’t read a word of that blog since May.  Many, many times, I have considered logging in and writing.  The story in that blog was a major part of my life.  It is a story without a satisfactory ending and a story with thousands of unanswered questions.  Many stones have been left unturned, many angles are left to explore.  Flipping those stones, searching for the answers, and exploring those angles could easily become an obsession.  I know that all too well.  I could spend the rest of my life seeking answers to WHY?  HOW?  WHAT HAPPENED?  I know now that I will never, ever find those answers.  Some things are inexplicable.  There are no answers to some questions.  Sometimes certain situations simply defy all logic. Continue Reading »

My Roller Coaster Life

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T and I went to Chicago last weekend for an open house/parent’s day at Andrew’s school. We both took Friday off work. I was excited because we were taking the train for this trip, and it would be T’s first time riding the train. I had hoped that he would love the experience, but he wasn’t too impressed. I suppose I understand that. He didn’t like the lack of control he felt without a car. He did like not having to pay an arm and a leg for parking, though.

We had a great time. Our visit with Andrew was really, really wonderful. After checking into our super-fabulous room, we met Andrew at a Starbucks near the “L” station by our hotel. We talked. We hung out. We went for an early dinner at one of our favorite spots and gorged on BBQ sandwiches. Then we headed over to the Hancock Center to have a drink at the Signature Room on the 95th floor. The view was spectacular, made even more fantastic with the addition of the twinkling Christmas lights. We each had a martini. The bill was over $50 for three drinks! After we left the Hancock, we shopped a little and wandered our way over to another favorite spot where we feasted on crab cakes and filet sliders. The weather cooperated, and it was wonderfully warm for December. I did stop to buy some ear muffs, though, and T and Andrew laughed when they made me talk too loud and say, “what” each time they spoke to me.

The visit, demonstrations, and tour of Andrew’s school were impressive to say the least. While the changes in our son have been evident, we began to realize that his newfound focus and drive can be credited in part to an intense curriculum. The students are immersed in their discipline from day one. I can’t begin to express how very proud I am that Andrew has taken hold of his new life in Chicago and appears to be thriving and loving every minute. Our visit was over all too soon. They were golden moments that I am certain each of us will always cherish. It’s a rare gift to be able to have such happy, fun, content moments with our grown son. As we made our way back home, both T and I were quiet. We had taken a day and night to forget about everything that weighs down our lives. Now we were speeding right back to all of the things that made things not so perfect.

It didn’t take long once we got home to lose the relaxed, peaceful feeling we had in Chicago. All of our regular weekend chores were waiting for us. The girls had stayed home by themselves, and we had allowed Em to have a couple of girlfriends spend the night. They had a fantastic time, and I’m glad….but oh, what a mess was waiting for us. They had done A LOT of cooking. The made cupcakes, pancakes, bacon and eggs. While they had “cleaned up” the kitchen, it wasn’t exactly up to Mama Martha Stewart’s standards. You could have practically skated on the bacon grease that covered the hardwood floors in front on the stove.

When we got home, the girls were hungry. They wanted dinner. They wondered if I was going to go to the grocery store to do the weekly shopping. “There’s nothing good in the house!” Uh, no…not that evening! There was laundry to do, cat fur to vacuum, and I was feeling guilty knowing that I wouldn’t be able to fit in a visit to my mother that weekend.

While I enjoyed having a Friday without work, I should have been in the office. It’s budget approval time, and I had two really horrible meetings to prepare for on Monday. I should have been working on Friday, but being a Mom had to come first in this instance. It is such a balancing act at times. Panic was beginning to creep in while I was attempting to do a weekend’s worth of work in one day at home.

By Sunday evening, I was not feeling well. My batteries were running low. As I pulled into the driveway way after dark from my trip to the city with a load of Christmas gifts and groceries, T informed me that he had brought home a Christmas tree. Ugh! I put away the groceries and made dinner while he put the lights on the tree and Lola bounced around excitedly asking me when I was going to get the boxes of ornaments out of the basement. UGH! All I wanted to do was sit down, but what I really needed to do was a week’s worth of ironing. Decorating a Christmas tree had not factored into my plans for the evening. I could feel myself slipping. I was near tears. I didn’t want to be grouchy. I wanted to go back to that happy, relaxed feeling I had less than 24 hours earlier.

As I ironed, a friend sent me a text asking about getting together sometime with mutual friends to have a holiday drink. These are friends from “back in the day.” We are all past PTA presidents, and spent many mornings sipping coffee while our now-grown kids played. I loved the idea of getting together again to catch up on each other’s lives. We’re all working now. The kids (almost all of them) are all grown, and we don’t get together as often as we once did. My friend sent a text. “How about Sunday, December 11?” and I lost it.

December 11. I hate that day. It is the most horrible, despicable day. December 11 is the day my daughter Grace died. December 11 is the day my dad died. Two people I loved. It was on December 11 that I held my daughter in my arms as she looked into my eyes and took her last breath. On a December 11, I wandered through the pitch dark house, room to room, flicking on lights and calling my dad’s name. On December 11, I found my father dead on the living room floor. December 11 is full of horrible moments frozen in time.

I told my friend, “I’m sorry. I can’t on December 11.” I sent no more texts. I couldn’t. How could I explain that I am crazy on that day each year? How can I explain that I live in fear of that day? On December 11, I want to gather everyone I love all in the same room. I want to make them sit within my view. I want to hold a vigil over them. I want to lock the doors and stay in the house.

That one little text, with the words “December 11” threw me for a loop, and I still haven’t been able to recover. I sat in the bathroom and cried. I couldn’t help with the Christmas tree. I sat down later that evening and talked to T about it. He knew, or at least understood, my reaction. He’s seen it for years…The December 11th Syndrome. It’s real, and it sucks.

Things have been hazy since then. The cloud of depression has descended. I tried to explain that to T, too. The clogged-up, cottony feeling of depression. I told T about times in the past when I had wished for a semi to cross the center line while I was driving. I had wished for a patch of ice to spin my car around, out of control, and throw me off the road. I explained to T about the times when the depression became almost unbearable. I told him about times when I truly had not wanted to go on, but could not figure a way out of each day…the endless string of days filled with pain. I told him that sometimes, and now was one of those times, dealing with depression is an exhausting struggle. It felt better to talk and to say it all out loud.

Through the haze of this depression, I have been functioning as well as I possibly can. I’ve been working and taking care of my responsibilities. Life goes on. People are nice, or people are rude and mean. What I am going through is unnoticed and unimportant to most people around me. Most people don’t even know. I created the budgets. I attended the meetings. I answered questions and phone calls. Like an automaton, I continue to function day after day.

Strange moments have pushed themselves forward, to the front of the haze. Last night, I fell asleep on the couch and dreamed a happy dream. I had a puppy, a bloodhound (strange!) and I was happy. Something happened, though, and woke up. I was was awake for hours alone in the middle of the night. Near dawn, I fell asleep once again. This time my dream was full of fear and sadness. I don’t remember exactly what happened in the dream, but I was surrounded by grieving people. The room was full of despair. A door opened, and in walked a dear friend. I was up and wrapped in a comforting embrace. This morning, I sent my friend a thank you text for being such a reliable, comforting part of my real life. That steady friendship had made its way into my dreams just when I needed a friend.

And the strangeness continues.

This afternoon, I received a text from another friend. “Sorry I won’t be able to meet for dinner. Problems at work. Had to fly to CA.” I had no idea that I had even made dinner plans. So I rescheduled a dinner that I apparently would have missed.

Tonight, when all I wanted and needed was to completely relax and regenerate at the end of a bad day, I received a phone call from the hospital. My mom had fallen, and they thought her leg was broken. There was no need for me to come right away. Mom was being taken in for an x-rays, and I wouldn’t even be able to see her. They told me to wait for a call. I didn’t change my clothes. I didn’t throw on my comfy yoga pants and giant sweatshirt. I stayed in my office clothes in anticipation of a trip to the hospital. I waited. I did laundry. I vacuumed. I helped Lola with her homework. I made dinner. I carried my phone around waiting and waiting. Thankfully, my mom called at 8:30. Her leg isn’t broken. She can’t walk, though, and has been admitted to the hospital. No, there was no need come to the hospital tonight, but I need to go first thing in the morning. Arrangements will need to be made. The hospital will only keep her overnight. The assisted living facility won’t allow her back if she isn’t able to walk. It’s up to me, once again, to figure out where my mother will be going. Again. Again, and by myself. I have meetings scheduled for the morning. How am I supposed to fit this in, too?

After talking to my mother on the phone for a while, I felt reassured that she would be OK for the evening. I hung up and headed into the living room to let T know what was going on. There he sat on the couch with a 12-gauge shotgun on his lap. A man with a gun. It was shocking, and instinctively, I took a step back. It was my dad’s gun. We had brought it to our house, because it didn’t seem safe to leave guns in a vacant house. Of course, the gun wasn’t loaded. T doesn’t even like guns. He wants them out of the house, and was looking online for a fair selling price. Still…it’s a strange thing to walk into the living room and see your husband sitting there with a gun across his lap.

All evening, I thought of the Serenity Prayer. “God grant me the serenity…” Tonight I was praying, not for serenity, but a break from what seems like an endless series of crises. In closing this post, I ask you all to please be kind. None of us can know the internal struggles of those around us. A kind word, a smile, an act of friendship just might make someone’s day a little better at a time when they need it the most.

The Perspective of Memory

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I have to reiterate how very much I hate the month of November.  The time change has made it even more dark and depressing.  It’s cold and damp.  The fields, whose beauty I have admired all spring, summer, and fall are now bare.  The land looks harsh and unforgiving.  The world seems tired and used up.  I hate November.

As I drove to work the other morning, I thought about Grace.  All of these years later, I still feel her presence in my life.  I imagine what she would look like at this age (or any other age over the years.)  I imagine her much like Emily, and it makes me miss her even more.  I picture her making a life of her own, much like Luke and Andrew are doing now.   I wonder where she would be or what she would have become.  While those thoughts make me sad, they don’t overwhelm me.  After this many years, those thoughts bring a sense of melancholy.

I realized that Grace  would now be the same age I was when she was born.  The thought was stunning.  I was just a child when she was born.  The idea of any of my children having to face such a challenge, such a loss, at the tender age of 23 made me shudder.  They don’t seem ready for marriage or parenting, let alone being faced with the loss of a child.  My own 23-year-old is just now taking those first steps into adulthood.  He is energized and excited as he embarks on following his dream, experiencing new things, learning new things, meeting people, living alone for the first time.

The difference in my life with T and the lives of our own children are stunning.  We were 20 and 22 when we got married.  From that moment forward, there was no further guidance or support from our parents.  I don’t mean that they didn’t care about us, but that was it.  Their job was done.  There was no checking on us or offers of assistance.  We made our own decisions, good or bad.  We struggled financially.  We worked.  We attended school.  We paid our own way, often scraping the bottom of the barrel.  By the time T and I were expecting our first child three years later, both of our fathers were deeply into their alcoholism.

I remembered the 17 days of Grace’s life.  Our parents did nothing to make that time easier for us.  In fact, their problems  added to our stress.  Both of our fathers were often drunk on their visits to the hospital, and it hurt to see that during such a terrible time.  Classic enablers, our mothers turned a blind eye to their husbands’ behavior.  Confrontation was useless.  It only made matters worse.

There are many bad memories related to our parents from those 17 days, but that’s not what this post is about.  It was in  remembering those terrible days and our parents’ dysfunction that made me see something else entirely.  I was 23 years old back then.  Now things are flip-flopped.  I’m no longer the child.  I am the parent of a 23-year-old, and I was suddenly, profoundly aware of the difference between my relationship with my children and the relationship I had with my own parents at 23.

I called T as I was driving, because I wanted to share these thoughts with him.  I said, “Do you realize that Grace would now be the same age I was when I had her?”  He said, “Wow.  I guess I hadn’t realized that.”  We talked for a while and I asked him if he remembered how our parents had behaved back then.  “Oh, yeah….of course.”  We talked for a while about particular incidents.  We marveled that we were able to get through that hellish time and keep moving forward with our lives.  Looking back from the perspective of time, distance, and as parents now, it is stunning to see the drastic differences in our style of parenting compared to our own parents’.

While I am using our oldest son as an example in this blog post, certainly the same principles could apply to each of our children.  Andrew may be an adult, but we still support him emotionally as parents.  This past year has been a challenge for him.  He was struggling to find his way.  He lost his long-time girlfriend.  His grandpa died.  He didn’t know where he was headed or what he wanted to do with his life.  Many times, there were conflicts.  We saw him struggling, and we intervened even as he attempted to push us away.  We offered him support and encouragement as he worked to find his path in life.  We spent HOURS discussing options with him.  Truly, it has NOT been a good year.

As T and I talked yesterday, we compared this past year and our son’s difficulty to the challenges he and I faced at the same age.  They were completely different issues, but there was one similarity.  Young adults are still on shaky legs when it comes to facing the big things life can dish out.  T and I faced our challenges without the wisdom, advice, and support of our parents.  They were so mired in their own dysfunction.  Our problems were a burden to them.  It is stunning to look back on that time from the perspective of a parent and realize such a thing.

This is not about anger at our parents during that long ago time.  This is about something much more significant.  Years later, these memories and thoughts have allowed me to be so thankful for the wonderful relationships we have with our own children.  Through the pain and the loss, lessons were learned.

T and I discussed our experiences this past year with Andrew.  It’s amazing to see how far he has come.  The unhappy, struggling, and confused young man from last year has embarked on a new life.  His excitement and energy have returned.  Could he have done this without our support?  Maybe, maybe not, but I like to think that we tipped the scales in his favor.

Last night Andrew called T to tell him that he had just finished writing a 10-page analytical paper.  I came in the room just as they were ending their call.  I sat down, and T told me about their conversation.  I was so proud.  I was happy to see T’s pride in our son, and happy that Andrew is taking things so seriously.  (He had skipped free tickets  to a private movie premiere to stay home and write.)

After T updated me on their conversation, I called Andrew.  “I am so proud of you!” I said.  I was beaming, and I could feel his happiness as he began to tell me about the assignment.  When he was done talking, I reminded him once again of how proud I am of him.  Oh, how I wanted to remind him of the mixed-up young man he was a year ago.  I wanted to tell him that I was proud of how far he had come, but I didn’t.  Those bad times will remain in the past unless he brings them up.  My job is not to remind him of his failures, stumbles, or faults.  My job is to be there if is falls.  My job is to congratulate him on his successes.  My job is to love him and to be proud.

Mixed Emotions

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I haven’t written in this blog for about a week.  I’ve been writing, but just not here.  As summer ends and cooler weather settles in, I find myself recalling many moments from my past.  I have been concentrating on remembering and gauging my progress from season to season.  I suppose you could call it a “self-inventory.”  Am I better off this year than I was last year?  Am I happier?  What lies ahead?  What do I keep?  What do I throw away?  What do I change?  What are my goals?  What am I striving to achieve?  Where do I want to be in my life next year at this time?

These past two years have not been happy.  Yet in the midst of all of the sadness, moments of joy continue to shine brightly enough to make their way through the murk and lighten my life.  Life has a way of doing that.  There is so much beauty and joy to be had in this life and in this world.  It’s contagious.  It’s almost impossible to ignore.

I’m sure I’m not the only one, but it seems that way too often I experience mixed emotions.  Some things are really good in my life, while other things really kind of suck.  There doesn’t ever seem to be a happy medium.  Maybe it’s because I am in the middle of so many other lives.  I have four kids who rely on me.  I am responsible for my mother.  Then there is work.  I manage volunteers.  I have to deal with committees and a board.  I am the person responsible for getting the volunteers excited, thanking them, guiding them in the right direction.  I feel like so much of my time is spent being ON.  Performing.  After certain committee meetings, it takes me literally hours to unwind.  That was the case last night.  I had a board meeting, and it had gone wonderfully well.  I was dead-on.  I was well-prepared, and the initiatives I introduced were well-received.  My adrenaline was flowing.  It was great, but I was revved up for hours even after I went home.  I couldn’t stop.  I burned off my excess energy by cleaning like a madwoman.  I vacuumed three flights of stairs.  I made dinner.  I ironed.  Yet, I was still full of energy.  I told T that it felt like I had testosterone flowing through my veins, and he better watch out or I would kick his ass.  Of course, I am exhausted today.

Obviously, I love my job.  It’s been one of the greatest surprises and greatest joys of my life.  I certainly didn’t set out to do what I do.  A decade ago, I didn’t even know such things existed.  If I had heard myself speaking as I do now on a daily basis, it would have seemed like a foreign language created from acronyms.  While I love what I do, I seem to be lacking balance.  One look at my calendar, and it’s obvious that there will be no let up in my schedule until the holidays.

As well-prepared as I was for the meeting yesterday, I was not prepared for receiving a phone call as I was walking down the hall, arms full and coffee in hand, to the meeting room.  It was a number that I didn’t recognize, so I answered the call.  “Pam, this is the Kidney Center.  Your mom is fine, but we need you to pick up a kit for a test we would like to perform on your mother’s stools.”  (Yuck!)  It was 4:00 p.m.  I asked when they needed me to pick this test kit up.  “Now.”  I told them that I was just about to walk into a meeting and asked if I could call back around 5:30.  “We won’t be here then.  We close at 5:00.”  My gosh!  Pretty decent of them to call me at work and expect me to drive over there, at least a 20 minute drive, within the next hour.  I asked them if this was an emergency or could it wait until the morning.  Yes, it could wait.

Today I called the Kidney Center while I was driving to work.  Their answering machine informed me that their hours were 9:00-2:30 today.  Just great.  I was tied up in meetings until 4:00.  I had hoped to leave at that time and take care of whatever it was that I needed to do.  I still really had no idea other than that they wanted to test my mother’s stools.  Truthfully, I feel that it is more a matter of racking up as many charges as possible on their well-insured patient’s account.  I called and left a message, but my call was never returned.  It is these little out of the blue things that drive me nuts.  Just when I think I have a handle on all of my responsibilities, something else always surfaces.

As I drove home from work, I looked out across the fields.  They are all bare now, and they’ll look like this for many months.  Another season has passed.  Have I used this season well?  I don’t think so.  I seem too often to be stuck in a place of sadness and loss.  As much as I try to recognize the beauty and joy around me, I am pulled back into remembering.

When I walked into the house, Emily was waiting for me in the kitchen.  She had been working on a Senior Memory Book writing assignment for school, and she wanted me to proofread what she had written.  She was on her way out the door, but wanted me make sure to talk to me before she left.  Ugh….  I was tired, and I had just gotten home.  I had to make dinner, do laundry, help Lola with her homework, now this.  I told Em that I would be happy to help her out, and she was gone.

Here is a portion of what she wrote.  The subject was “What person has had the most significant influence in your life?”

My mom is my best friend. I would not be the person I am today if it weren’t for her guidance along the way.  She holds me up, and I hold her up.  Thinking about my life without her isn’t even feasible to me.  If I have a problem that I need help dealing with, she’s there no matter what.  Even though it seems like she has a million things on her plate at one time, she would drop it all to help me.  She helps me deal with my mistakes, whether it’s by telling me that she once made the same mistake, or just sitting there talking it out with me.  When she is going through a hard time and is in pain, I feel it along side her.  She and I are exactly alike in just about every way that I can think of.  She looks like me, talks like me, walks like me, thinks like me, and makes the same mistakes as me.  We even have the same favorite foods.  I can open my mouth and say one word, and I’ll have my mom rolling on the floor laughing.  Sometimes we get into fights that last a while, but we get over it and finally end up laughing.  I love my mom more than anyone on the planet, and I will never let our relationship fail.

I was honored.  I was happy, yet sad, all at the same time.  She does know me.  She knows how she has propped me up these past years.  Yes, she has been my best friend.  She has held my hand, laughed with me, and understood those moments when all I have needed was to have her quietly by my side.  I am so proud of the loyal, compassionate young woman she has become.  I am so very thankful that she feels that I have been there for her and that I will always be there for her.  Even while I am proud of her, I am ashamed that she has not had a better, happier, more perfect mother.

That is life, though, isn’t it?   While we strive or wish for a “perfect,” happy existence, that isn’t the real world.  Life is full of challenges and disappointments.  As hard as we try, sometimes things just don’t go our way.  I am sad that my sweet daughter has had to learn those lessons already at her tender age.  Sad, yes, but proud that she has continued to love through the pain of loss and  mistakes and has learned that laughter often follows tears.

 

 

Triggers

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I live in a house that is over 100 years old.  Closet space apparently wasn’t a top priority in the olden days.  Although, from what I understand, the room that is my bedroom was once the maid’s quarters.  Kind of fitting, I think!  😉  My closet is very small.  T doesn’t even get to use it at all.  He keeps his clothes in another, far-off location.

Tonight I was in the midst of my bi-annual, change of season, clothes swap.  Out with the light summer clothes, and in with the warmer fall and winter wardrobe.  I actually enjoy this.  I sort through everything.  I bag up what I won’t wear again.  T knows a family who is always happy to take our  cast-offs.  Other items are greeted like an old friend.  I love to dig out my ratty gray sweaters each fall.  I love to wear the ugly, old gray sweaters on the weekends, and I have an impressive collection.

This year, I came across something that made me suck in my breath and rock back on my heals.  I was bending over a box, and I had to sit down on the floor.  It was my yellow skirt.  I once loved that skirt.  I purchased it online at J Crew.  It’s soft corduroy, a lovely goldenrod color, and it looks great with my tall black boots.  As much as I loved that skirt, my hand recoiled when I grabbed it out of the box.  I dropped it like it was a white-hot flame.  I almost shoved it into the give-away bag to get it out of my sight.  I haven’t worn it in almost a year.  I can remember every single, excruciating moment of that day, the day I last wore that skirt.  I remember my nervousness, nervousness turned to fear.  I remember the pacing for what seemed like hours.  I remember the phone call I eventually got the nerve up to make.  I remember the disbelief.  I remember the betrayal.  Yes, but all of that is another story.

Tonight, I sat looking at the skirt and remembering.  I held it close to me, and I was grateful that it was tonight and not that night almost a year ago.  Tonight I was safe.  The boys are happily away at school.  The girls, T and I had just finished dinner along with happy conversation.  The girls were doing homework.  T was watching football.  I was cleaning.  Most importantly, I was feeling  calm and content.  At least I had been in those moments before discovering the skirt.

As I held the yellow skirt, I thought of the other things that I hang onto that remind me of other life traumas.  I have the green Peridot earrings that I wore the day baby Adam lost his life.  They are his birthstone, and I had bought them to welcome my new baby.   Sometimes I pick them up, and I remember.  I have the dangly amber earrings that I was wearing on the day of Andrew’s accident.  I put them on each year on that date, April 21.  I wear them as a talisman and a symbol of the victory we had over tragedy.  There are many more things, other things that I have kept for years, all of them with personal meaning.  None of them represent lies and betrayal, though.  Some of these other things represent loss, yes, but they also represent love and great meaning in my life.  I held the skirt, and wondered what to do.  It’s just a skirt, and I like it.  I put it on a hanger and smoothed it out.  I’m keeping it.  It can’t hurt me now, and it represents nothing worth keeping in my life.  It’s just a skirt.

There will be other things in my life that, in the future,  will suddenly, irrevocably become triggers of memory and deep emotion.  I wonder what they will be?