since Barbara and i were so close together in age, it was only natural that we had to share a lot of things. we shared a room for ten years, give or take. toys, school supplies and clothes. mostly clothes. mainly clothes.

growing up, my parents liked to dress us up in the same outfits. i have no idea why but it seemed to save time. probably. i hated it as a kid. my sister loved it. she was already imitating me so this was just the cherry on top. the pink skirt. the purple jacket with the black polka dots. the striped rainbow shirt and matching leggings are a few outfits that come to mind. my heart melts when i see small siblings wear the same outfit now. damn. i guess it is kind of adorable.

of course, my clothes became her clothes. hand-me-downs. which is something Barbara hated when she was a tween. i never had hand-me-downs. my brother is eight years older so that was never really an option. so, alas, i could never relate to her issues. even though, my issue was similar. i was sick of sharing my things. my room. my clothes.

maybe because she was the youngest and wanted to prove her maturity, Barbara dove into her teenage years like there was no tomorrow. it almost seemed to happen overnight. and it felt like a bomb exploded.

her long blond hair was chopped off, by her own hand, and dyed black. thick, black eyeliner. black nails. and, along with the attitude, she also started to steal my clothes. well, not steal. she borrowed them. that’s the word, right? it drove me insane. suddenly my clothes were of interest to her when, back in the day, she would want nothing to do with them. funny how things change, right?

yes. hilarious.

well, skip ahead to 2019, when i stood in her toronto apartment, in the living room where she died and stared at the totes that were filled to the brim with her clothes, with her things.

i will forever be grateful to her husband for having had the willpower, the strength to gather her things and pack them up, ever so tenderly. with loving care. i don’t know how he managed it. thanks, v!

so here i was, in the middle of everything that she left behind, and i was a mess. i didn’t know where to begin. immediately, after i opened the first lid, my eyes filled with tears, my hands began to shake. the neatly folded shirts, pants, jackets all brought back memories of where she bought them, where she wore them. here they all were, pieces of her, strewn across totes, boxes, like little coffins, each carrying a limb, a story of her.

taking a deep breath, i began to sort through everything. i guess i could try this on, i said. this will definitely not fit me, i said. this can go to charity, i said. one heap of clothes piled onto the couch, another piled on a chair. a third on top of a tote. heaps of memories. i felt like a scavenger, a thief. then i thought, i’m sure, she would want me to have this or have that. i picked out some shirts for our niece too. the one with all the bicycles. then i picked out some for me. the shirt with the fork in the lemon. the red one with virginia wolf’s face. the one with the stripes that she wore to concerts.

none of the pants fit me. i had to smile when they didn’t fit over my knees. damn you and your skinny legs. she would have laughed too.

smaller boxes waited for me too. these weren’t clothes. make-up. jewellery. perfume. i hesitated. she rarely wore perfume during her last years. preferred natural lotions, soaps. i opened a bottle of imperatrice, closed my eyes and breathed in deeply. there she was. right in front of me. her scent surrounding me like sunshine. a soft summer breeze.

the fragrant aura of Barbara all around me. she seemed so close then. so alive.

even now, in 2024 this memory fills my heart with a convoluted kind of sensation. sorrowful yet joyous. a woeful longing that can never again be fulfilled. time does not heal all wounds.

over the years i had to throw out some of the clothes that i took back then. to be honest, they had already been worn and torn, so to speak, but at the time i just couldn’t bring myself to let all of it go. to let all of her go. a few shirts remain, tucked away in my closet, too washed out to be worn in public. even the purple adidas sweatshirt with the zipper remains folded in my drawer. torn and pale now, not even fit to be worn at home. besides, it makes me sad when i wear it now. it makes me even sadder to think about getting rid of it. at least this way it’s still within reach, in the darkness of the armoire.

i wish i could think of her that way. somewhere within reach. but not in darkness. when i manage to find myself in a state of detached bliss, i like to think of her tucked away, yes, but in the bright, glorious sun of the fields of gold of the afterlife. wherever that may be.