The special closet 

Finding myself in a tangerine swing coat

For months now, Grant has been buying women's clothes, which by itself isn't anything new, but these women's clothes don't fit him. "Bitch," he said to me over the phone yesterday, "I just found the goddamnest, most gorgeous cocktail suit in '50s bubblegum blue ...

"Bubblegum blue?" I asked.

"Believe me," he said, "when you see this blue suit, you will want to chew it. It's that fabulous."

I saw it, and he's right, it's that fabulous. "But it doesn't fit you," I pointed out.

"Whoreslutbitch," he said, exasperated, "I know that, do you not see me putting it into the special closet?"

That's right, Grant has a special closet. He's been keeping all the women's clothes that don't fit him in an entirely different closet from his own, one way down the hall. In addition to the cocktail suit, he has a tangerine swing coat, some sweater sets, two A-line shifts, a white patent-leather belt and panty hose.

I used to live in the Telephone Factory as well, in an apartment with the same floor plan just two doors down from where Grant lives now, and I also used that closet for crap I was clinging to for odd reasons. Some of it didn't even belong to me, like the chipped plaster panther that my sister had unwisely given me for safe keeping 11 years ago. Evidently my mother had bought it for her in Tijuana, world central for crap-ass plaster products. Why my sister thought it would be safer with me is a mystery, as it was chip free when she handed it over. I also had a kitchen clock that once belonged to my grandmother. Besides a hand-knitted pin-cushion, that clock is the only heirloom I have.

"It doesn't even work," Grant said back then. He was always coming over to tell me I had to edit my possessions. "Divest yourself!" he'd holler. It could be heard echoing through the hallways. But I could not divest myself. I lugged that stuff through three addresses after that, and I still have it, though I seriously resent that panther. Now here's Grant with the same closet full of crap that's of no possible use to him, and I have to laugh. What is that in there? Is that a goddamn pillbox hat?

"Divest yourself!" I holler at Grant. He's chasing me now because I've discovered that all that stuff in his special closet fits me fine, and I refuse to take off the tangerine swing coat. "GodDAMN it, give that back, that is the one thing that fits me like a glove!" he shrieks.

Like hell it fits him. He was prancing around in it earlier, and his shoulders were about to bust through the back seam. "It's mine now and you know it," I taunt, and I can see he does know it. "Bitch," is all he says, but he's smiling as he shakes his head. The coat has three-quarter length sleeves with cuffs that turn up at the ends, and when I put it on, I just want to curl up in it, it's that wonderful.

In fact, everything in Grant's special closet is wonderful. The bubble-gum blue cocktail suit is a little tight in the hips, but hell, I could lose some more weight. It's been a while since I cared what I looked like, what with the kid and the bad divorce and the way I'd completely divested myself of any confidence regarding my ability to judge character. I was happy with my solitude, happy wearing the T-shirts and cargo pants and whatever else that stuck to me from the floor when I got up in the morning. I'd wad my hair on the top of my head like wet hay and hit the road. Nobody took notice of me, or at least I hoped they didn't.

But Grant must have. When I met him eight years ago I was living in that same building, and I used to wear white high-heeled sandals and a sundress you could fit into an envelope. Sometimes I'd take my tennis racket and whack balls against the brick wall of the Turner building next door. Once Grant walked over and leaned against the wall I was whacking, and I remember thinking he had a lot of confidence in me, because one wrong shot and he'd lose an eye, I swear. But he leaned there and talked to me anyway, and I didn't hit him.

Back then Grant was heavy, bald and clad in overalls, but that is not the most surprising part. The most surprising part is this: He was not gay. He was stuffed way back in the closet, on the tail end of his second marriage, and after 10 careers, three kids and seven redecorated living rooms, Grant had not yet found himself. For some reason our friendship emerged as part of the path that helped him get there.

Since then, my own path has taken some surprising forks. Motherhood, for one, was a complete bolt from the blue. Then there was the simmering mess that made up my unhappy marriage, and through it all I worried I'd lose my friends, because people fall from you when you change, they drift away like dead leaves. But I did not lose my friends. What I had lost was myself -- that is until Grant opened his special closet, and there I was again.


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