08 April 2011

“Fashion Crash: When Clothes, Loss and Car Collide”

An Original Collection of Provocative and Powerful Essay's by R. B. STUART. Her Work Begins and Ends at the Crux of Truth, Sorrow and Humor----Capable of Slicing Through Your Psyche and Piercing Your Heart.

Part Twenty-Eight

Several years ago my mother suffered her second stroke, then in 2002 the 73 year-old widow had a third relapse. It rattled my existence and I began to ponder my 13 years in New York City, my childhood, and the possible loss of my mother. I reached an understanding; that in order for me to have a quality and healthy life---I'd have to rescue my mother, my own life, and leave New York. I knew I could always have NY but would never have another mother, so I'd forfeit my life in the city as I knew it, and move in with her where she spent the last thirty years of her life in New Hampshire.

In taking care of her disintegrating body I'd assist her as she made the transition to death. All the while I still bartered with God that she'd recover from this one as she did the other two. My heart and mind were split as I listened to her yearn for the days as a teenager drinking bottles of Pepsi-Cola and eating Devil Dogs through puffs of oxygen.

Reminiscing about her long swims in the cool ocean waters of Gun Rock Beach in Hull, Massachusetts. Mentally I knew she'd eventually die from refusing food, but in my heart I couldn't fathom the loss of my one and only---Mother. Yet, there was still so much I hadn't achieved in my life that I needed her to be around for. After all, I owed her the happiness of seeing me marry a wonderful man, that is after I found one, become a successful author, and buy a beach house where she would live with me while I write---a German Shepard patiently curled by my feet.

But in the six weeks that followed she died. As her life had unexpectedly ended---mine began. I bought my first car a 1992 Volvo and planned my mothers Memorial service. Within months I anticipated my move from NH where I restlessly left as a child three decades before. But during that mourning period I'd experience waves of grief along with periods of acceptance and a sense of well being. With emotions and their unpredictable manner, I felt consumed by the darkest moments. At midnight driving quietly along still country roads listening to a Dean Martin cassette, remembering the old songs that she loved. I pictured her sitting beside me in the car she’d never seen, swaying to the music and singing in unison.

That vision had put me into a tailspin of sorrow and grief. I missed her so. Riding down the blackened, barren roads howling in pain like a lone fox caught in a trap--no one to rescue her in the deep of the night out of the cold, dark woods. Suffering---the ache tightly gripped my head. The forceful well of tears burst from my heart---draining months of sorrow from my eyes. Sleep was the only remedy. It takes me back to Mum, and our family as it should be…

When I resuscitate myself from the tidal wave of pain, my memory ponders the last three years of her life….. The second stroke left her with left side paralysis and wheelchair bound, spending her final five years in a seated position. It reduced her sense of fashion and delight of shopping to elastic waist – wide legged pants sufficient for her leg brace. She wore clothes we thought would look good on her, as apposed to her choosing her own wardrobe.

The wheelchair made her extremely self-conscious producing a homebound shame that crippled her self-esteem. Her social life had diminished, her comfort came from a "pet" bowl of ice cream or chocolates. It took several years of cajoling when I'd come home for a visit just to attend family gatherings. She'd defy me and whimper with self-pity, "No one wants to see an old lady in a wheelchair." I'd reason, "No one is looking at you in your wheelchair. Do you stare and talk about people you see in a wheelchair?" “No,” she'd answer, pouting in defeat as she'd pivot from her recliner into her mobile metal chair.

Finally after four years of my drill sergeant methods to get her out of the house, she sulked when the transport service van drove us to Physical Therapy because afterwards we’d go on foot to the mall. She hadn't been in a store since the stroke, relying heavily on home health aids and family to shop.

After her PT I wheeled her 5'10 frame down the hill. Because of her pride she never attached the foot rests, it would only amplify her disability to herself and the world, so her long basketball legs were stretched out before her, her metal knee brace peeking out from under her left pant leg. We rolled along the emergency lane of the bypass, trudging up another hill when it began to sprinkle. She laughed and held her face up to the sky as the raindrops kissed her cheeks. It had been so long since she was out in the rain---like the tin man her caution gave way to ecstasy---filled with glee she shouted repeatedly, "Honey, what an ad-vent--cha!"

I tugged, pushed and pulled her around every bend until Kmart was only a roll away. Out of breath, her legs in cramps, both of us damp from the rain, the automatic doors opened and I let go of the wheelchair. Her feet clad in brown orthopedic Frankenstein shoes dropped to the floor and with her heels pulled herself over to the first rack of clothes she could find. The drunken excitement shown over her face. Childlike awe glazed over her protruding hazel eyes as she marveled and caressed each fabric like it was a babies head. She'd gasp in adoration as each rack of clothes were better than the last. A simple pop into a department store for me---was a life changing event for her. After that landmark day her desire for life began to blossom again.

But as she became psychically disjointed by the silver metal frame with hoola-hoop sized black rubber wheels that flanked her, I eventually felt socially crippled by the car that had been bought to give me freedom. Even though after her death I moved back to the Empire State and lived closer to the beach, the three-ton metal box with four rubber wheels would begin to erode my self-esteem.

It began to cloak my public self, as if putting on an overcoat. I’d adorn my chariot and duck in and out of stores, shielding my lack of make-up behind Armani sunglasses. The rear view mirror the size of a blackboard eraser would reflect the only portion of my body I didn’t mind looking at; my eyes. My lips no longer kissed by a coat of Chanel Star Red lipstick.

When living in NYC walking along the city streets is like strutting on the catwalk of life. Paved with cement sidewalks that glisten like diamonds---you’re on display for the world to see. Your gait, your posture, how you feel about yourself is neatly packaged by your Manalo shoes, Hermes red Birkin bag, 4-ply Burberry cashmere sweater and Chanel scarf---all strategically placed---dripping from your neck, shoulders and arm.

The absence of being on street-display, saddled with using the car to hide…a whiplash of weight gain emerged. While I forfeited walking---the lack of caring for myself trailed behind. Gaining seven pounds a year over the last six years (although not in that order), the newly packed 40 pounds of girth cushioned the blow of feeling unattractive, and the thicker the insulation---the more secluded I became. The outside world mirrored a shame and inadequacy that cloaked me like new lingerie. My stunted sexuality protected by the metal four-door box in which my social persona lives. No longer do I stand erect along the city streets, but seated in a guarded wheeled cage that effectively protects my pride…while I ride.

When you abandon city living---you’re no longer center stage of the style capital---instead your artillery of fashion accessories become abandoned in a darkened closet. The garments are symbolic of the passage of time when they lived amongst the yellow taxi cabs, salty steam of manhole covers, clap of pigeons, hot dog carts and cat calls that make NYC. Like a ghost I’m haunted by a walk in Central Park, my collection of silk scarves rattle the closet doors to be taken out for a wisp of city air. The boxes of Gucci loafers edge themselves further out on the shelves….craving the pavement underfoot. The arm of my Ellen Tracy raincoat longs to drape my shoulders, as my Louis Vuitton tote reaches out to hold my hand.

I push back my thoughts of fashion as it’s been replaced by country roads, farmland, vineyards and an automobile---which I have adorned as my armor for the last six years, shielding me away from society. Hiding within the metal comfort of 250 horsepower it replaces the pulse of the city streets, sweeping away the stimulation and culture. Eventually separating me from the world….as I’m no longer bejeweled by my clothes, but a car.

While the echo from the city wafts through my senses once again, she begins to tip the scales, like a magnet she draws me away from the seclusion, and reawakens the desire of a women to beatify oneself---through fashion---and accessories are but a drive away…

Copyright 2008, R. B. STUART. All rights reserved. No Reproduction of this Blog in any form.

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