This is part nine of an 11-part series of blog excerpts written by Bea V. Larsen, JD, Center for Resolution of Disputes. These eleven blogs also appeared in Care Management Journals, Volume 15, Number 1, 2014. Full sample downloads of this journal are available here.
I delight in my Sunday morning ritual. I forego the usual exercise routine and return to bed with coffee and The New York Times. But last week, as I hefted the paper onto my lap, I felt a gentle giving way of the fabric at the elbow of my pajamas. It wasn’t because this iconic newspaper was so weighty but because my sleepwear used to belong to my husband, Len.
I alternate between wearing the light blue and the maroon and have a clear memory of buying them. We were together at a department store. Although still robust in many ways, Len’s legs were no longer taking commands from his Parkinson’s compromised brain and he rode in a wheel chair, his overall health in steady decline. Our eyes were wide open, but somehow purchasing new clothing was a way of challenging the fate we silently anticipated, choosing not to speak the words. Instead we sustained each other with every touch and embraced normalcy, pretending there was no end in sight. Why not?
Within weeks after Len’s death, I packed up almost all of his clothing and took the collection to Goodwill, keeping only some favorite shirts, the pajamas, and a down filled winter coat.
Although the coat swallows me up, it envelops me with warmth and delights me as no woman’s coat ever has, because of its myriad hidden and external pockets in which life’s essentials can be carried. The zippers on the coat have not yet failed.
Several shirts I’ve kept have leather elbow patches I attached a long time ago, and on some the cuffs have begun to fray.
But the pajamas, worn nightly, may be on their way out. I will not give them up easily, for with all of this borrowed clothing, I’ve become something of a cross-dresser, cloaking myself with fond memories of the intimacies we shared.
As I write about wearing Len’s clothes, I consider why it is women can wear men’s clothing without comment or scorn, no raised eyebrows, while men donning women’s clothing would immediately raise questions about their sexual identity.
In my long ago high school days, it was the fashion for girls to wear outsized men’s sport coats paired with pleated plaid skirts, bobby socks, and saddle shoes. And in 1950s romantic movies, which were rife with innuendo, risqué, or adventurous females wandered yawning and barefoot from the gentleman’s bedroom attired in his shirt and apparently little else.
Was a statement being made, as World War II ended and women had little choice but to relinquish the important roles they’d filled on the home front, replacing men who had marched away? Rosie the riveter wore slacks to work. Did teenage girls put on the power clothes of men a full two decades before Betty Freidan picked up her pen and the second wave of the woman’s movement was launched?
Once women began to enter the market place in large numbers, did they take a step up by trading shapely frills for the cover of severely tailored suits, a visible claim to the authority and power previously ceded to men? Do men take a step down when they soften their appearance in any way?
Having “arrived,” the feminine figure is again on display, occasionally even a hint of décolletage in the boardroom and the courtroom. But for me in 2009, it’s quite simple. No political statement. Just sweet moments of remembering his presence.