Phantom Limbs

I’m looking at it now, half stuffed in a box, overflowing in its ample bulk, what seem like acres of lush, lush pile (pile like a pile carpet), ridiculously thick, ridiculously warm, ridiculously heavy, ridiculously old-fashioned, ultimately too ridiculous: my ancient llama teddy bear coat, so named because the plush cloth was made out of the same material as old teddy bears, consigned to sale, consigned to memory, while I am consigned to an inexplicable feeling of loss.

This psychic persistence of the lost, a feeling of pain and yearning to refill the modest space this coat and its fellows have released from my compulsively overstuffed closets, is inexplicable and embarrassing to admit. Other people have suffered real physical losses of real appendages. This coat, and the three others that I have gotten rid of over the past year, is not an appendage. It was a vestige, a past harbinger, a piece that at one time made memories and associations – memories of other people’s experiences – rush to my head. A vestige rather than an appendage as well because now it, and its departed fellows, had become a burden, not an extension of self. Burden: rarely worn because hard to wear physically and mentally, because putting it on reminded me of disappointments in the item or inadequacies in my life that meant I had few occasions to wear it and fewer excuses still not to jettison it.

This was the case with its three predecessors out the door. My first cashmere coat, which always pulled a little and was, I had decided, frankly just a little too yellowish. The overcoat I’d held on to since I was 15, for sentimental reasons. The hand-tailored pashmina overcoat that alterations could never quite get to fit right, and whose skinnyish lapels alone betrayed its half century of age. 

Each of them at one time had indeed felt like new avenues of self, new manifestations of my personality, fulfillments of some part of a multi-dimensional, never quite fully defined dream. In each, the rot had set in, the realization of failure. The first time I tried it on years and years ago, my teddy bear coat was wearable delight in the madly dense furry llama pile, the gigantic horn buttons and buckles that secured it, the magnificent proportions of its greatcoat-like lapels and collar that seemed like the most swaggering challenges to all the gods of winter. The last time I wore my llama teddy bear coat out of the house was to the grocery store. Contrarian and ornery though I may be, I’ve become sick of the stares, more aware of the huge weight the coat is on my closet rod, the space it crowds out as I try to winnow towards a more sane, more effective wardrobe. A wardrobe again that feels like a more real revelation of self than this painful reminder of sartorial bloat and sluggishness.

Perhaps, like a clumsy Civil War surgeon, I’ve removed too much too quickly to avoid the feeling of these sartorial phantom limbs. Because currently in the wake of culling out, a dull compulsion throbs for replacement. Replacement of the many failures with one piece that feels closer to perfection, an updated feeling of self… Already I’ve found the candidate, a belted balmacaan coat in baby llama hair, and a less yellowish tan… For shorter, less conspicuous baby llama will make all the difference, being so much softer and less spiky than grown up llama… and a belt will again be one of those coups that makes that flash of pleasure in finding some new clothing purchase new and last. Each of the four coats I’ve gotten rid of once did too, meaning different things at different times in my life. So much for the persistence of a permanent style that is revealed by an appeal to the unchanging character of the self. We evolve. I remember that every time I have to skip a British Sea Power track when I’m playing my music. The truer self we discover is only truer in that it has lost a few more of the illusions it had. It may still pick more up along the way. Hope, if not llama hair, is a helluva drug.

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