Shedding Lives

Preparing to move. Sorting through things is an archaeology of transition.

I move in with my fiancée in a few days and, naturally, I need to shed as much stuff as I can manage. I don’t own much, but my time in my house share has allowed for a stratification of goods: most recent on top, layering down to the time I first moved in. A lot of memories are buried under the clutter.

Scarves and cardigans first, perched on a box for the hoover I bought (the house one never worked properly) that never quite made it to the tip. It became shelving space for treasures: scarves from Pakistan and Afghanistan my mum bought and gave to me — she was afraid she would ruin them, so she never wore them — when I was over for dad’s funeral. Daily usage kept them to the top of the pile, apart from a Kashmir made in Kashmir, which was semi reverently folded near the bottom.

"MY CAREER WAS THE ONE THING THAT SURVIVED MY TRANSITION, BUT IT QUICKLY WAS TOO MUCH FOR ME."

Under that, some cardigans I wore when I worked at the school a year ago. I never wear them now; they were too official. They were put in the ‘get rid’ pile. My career was the one thing that survived my transition, but it quickly was too much for me. My mental health deteriorated to the point where I couldn’t handle the stress of the job day to day.

Moving on to the wardrobe. It was layered right to left as the left side was the furthest from the bed. On the far right, I uncovered several dresses that I love but I’ll never fit into again: my breast forms were much bigger than my breasts are now. Classic mistake. I smiled to myself as I gave them one last fuss before putting them in the get rid pile. The next layer were more conservative ‘teacher’ clothes. Two dresses, one bright orange and blue, another purple and black paisley, I saved for scrap — you never know when you will want nice fabric to patch things — the rest went.

I wore dresses almost exclusively to start. Finding bottoms that fit was a nightmare and a dress looked formal enough to work in, yet nice enough to dress up for a night out. It spared me the trouble of trying to match separates, an art I’m comfortable with now but it took some time to learn. Besides, dresses are one of the things we’re not allowed to wear when perceived as male. It was liberating to wear them, to start. Now they’re another option in life. As it should be.

One or two tops went into the get rid pile, mid layer, selected early in the process of learning to match separates. A few things, summer things, were left for later judgement. It’s not the hottest part of the year yet; I might want them.

Photo: Shanna CamilleriUnsplash

The shelf above the wardrobe is a no-woman’s-land of tat. But buried under the bedding, you find old gaming books. Still a hobby of mine: Exalted, Shadowrun, Dungeons & Dragons (various editions). Human Occupied Landfill. They will be given a more prominent space in the new flat. Also my dad’s last book, shamefully buried. I still can’t bring myself to read it. Two books of poetry. The first, my dad gave me; part of the last Christmas gift before he died. The second written by my younger brother. Some Neil Gaiman anthologies nestled between a Star Wars card game and a copy of The Cursed Child, borrowed from a friend, forgotten. I send her a text asking how I should return it. An iron, still essentially new. I don’t have an ironing board.

Earlier that day, I text my ex’s ex sister-in-law (it’s a story) with my new address. She asked me for it. She reminded me she has a box of things in her loft that I’d forgotten about. She saw how I was living and was horrified all that time ago — a mere two years, but it feels longer — and offered to take some things to help me make space on my bed, then half covered in leavings from my ex. She never let me return to the property to sort through and claim my things. Instead, she took all of the things that she didn’t specifically identify as hers and dumped them at my place of work. Later, she dumped more at my flat. We stopped speaking shortly after.

My life continues to change, but there are still more layers. Their contents are being methodically pulled up, examined, and kept or discarded. The layers didn’t happen because I was shedding bits of life deliberately. They formed as I meandered my way along the causeway of transition, depression and anxiety. Some of the deepest layers are being brought to the top, others won’t make it to the new flat. Not everything from my life with my ex is going, as the narrative assumes. Much of what survived the purge of homelessness is worthwhile and remaining part of my life.

"I’M NOT A DIFFERENT PERSON. I’M CHANGING, JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE."

I’m not a different person. I’m changing, just like everyone else. I’m not unique for going through a life change in my late thirties, but the volume of things that changed in the past two years is daunting. Still. I’m here. I keep facing forward as I sift through the flotsam of my past. The question we all ask, whether or not we’re aware, is, ‘What will I take with me?’

So far, I’m taking most of my things with me. The clothes that don’t fit are going, just as they did when I came out. They never fit properly in the first place. That aspect of my old life is gone, and the clothes were symbolic of a final shedding. This move is different. I’m shedding reminders of a part of my life, but it’s not a purge. There is less violence in this: a falling away rather than a tearing off. I suppose the next question one might ask in the face of great change is, ‘What would I have back?’ In my case, nothing. I have what I want to take with me.

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