Unpacking a Drawer

Unpacking is meant to refill drawers, but what if the drawer is already full? While visiting my family for Passover, my sister-in-law provided me with an array of clothes I could choose for my own before they were no longer owned (by her anyway). I sifted through the donation bag and in contrast to what I usually receive from her, selected more practical items than elegant ones. I packed them into my suitcase. Yet, upon arrival I realized the drawer they were destined for was already full. This reality begged a conversation between A conversation old/new and new/old.

The question for this last drawer, or myself, was, ‘what was it full of?’


In the drawer, there was unpacking to be done. It was the last drawer to unpack. For the pajama sets and long sleeve shirts I chose from my sister-in-law to fit, I would have to unpack the final drawer. Once again, in a small but insistent way, this family visit was pressing me to examine my choices, especially those for myself.


“I know,” I replied. “Without opening I can see which tightly packed items rarely used were the culprits.” In the heat of a summer afternoon, I set out to purge the winter items.


Each year I worked in Guatemala; I had returned for Christmas vacation. Each year for Christmas, my dad gave me a new pair of fleece pajamas. In WI, they had been too new to unpack and in Guatemala, they were too warm. When I had attempted to wear them upon my return seven years ago, they were too inclined to attract dog hair. They were in a place but had never found a place. Still, it hadn’t mattered because I hadn’t needed the space. I had not decided what clothing items, I would in fact use.


Fold. Unfold. Stare. Roll.

Pick. Rub. Smooth. Examine.


I had been wrong. Making space was about the pajamas, and it wasn’t. Yes, per usual putting that history into perspective would provide some wiggle room, but not enough, not really. There was the football sweatshirt I used often and the Polar Plunge sweatshirt I never wore. Monopoly themed pajamas, too hot for summer nights and winter leggings I probably wore too many Sundays. I loved them all in some way; all were a certain piece of me, and yet, I hadn’t even remembered they were there. This task was not as straightforward as erasing one melancholy memory.


What was the solution to unpacking this drawer? Instead of doing what I always did, attempting to fit the present in without addressing they ‘why’ of the past, I decided to work backwards. This meant make space for the present first. If I put the new items, I was sure I wanted to use in this moment, it was the past that would have to take up less space.


I tossed the never worn swag shirts into the laundry. To be cleaned and be donated.

I wound up the too stretched out and full of holes to fit into my wastepaper basket. Then, I slid summer into one end of the drawer and winter into the other. The middle met the practical layering items, on atop the other. Loungewear suitable for the public finally joined their companions in the bottom drawer.


On the same trip, my sister-in-law had once again raised the reality of the unacknowledged impact and remnants of our mother stripped away from us in childhood. These items’ claim to the back corner of the drawer proved her right. I stared longingly at my mother’s green button up nightgown and deep blue college sweatshirt. Where was their place? Hanging in the closet? Given away? How much space did I, could I, should I use to accommodate the shattered pieces of my mother? I hadn’t been ready for the question, but maybe now I was a little more aware.


Fold. Unfold. Stare. Roll.

Pick. Rub. Smooth. Examine.


I maneuvered the lumpy, almost balls of cloth that once belonged to my mother into space in the middle of the drawer. I had to guide the drawer a bit for the swollen wood to close completely. Still, the work came more easily this time. Each time I opened the drawer, I would close it with greater understanding of the difficulty, until I was ready to completely unpack everything.

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