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this one isn't really about clothes
it's about pain
monday felt like the worst day of my life.
a night or two after my wisdom tooth surgery, i felt like something was off about the right side of my mouth. it’s hard to know when your pain is normal or abnormal when everything just hurts and you’re losing your mind. i couldn’t sleep through the night even on meds, and was googling dry socket at 4am convinced i had it. i called the surgeon and he said it probably wasn’t because the pain would be so severe that it wouldn’t respond to meds. by monday there was a pulsing red lump on my face and i had a suspicion it was an infection. i agreed to meet the on-call surgeon to get the lump drained, knowing i would likely undergo a drainage procedure—which i was terrified of. pulling to the office there was only one other car in the parking lot so i gathered it was the surgeon’s. white tesla. carseat in the back. uc berkeley alumni plate.
the surgeon calls me in and he works quickly and confidently. the first needles were so long. i couldn’t keep track of how many injections i got, my hands were slick with sweat and i tugged on the edge of my shirt when the needles burrowed deeper into my cheek. i wondered if this was what botox felt like. i wanted to trick myself into believing this was a fun little ~lip injection appointment~, but i couldn’t stop the pangs of fear coursing through my body. the anesthesia hits and i can’t feel the pain but i hear and see the spindly rumpelstiltskin tools hovering over my mouth and extracting fluid and pus from my cheek. there’s no delicate way to say it and i don’t want to be delicate about it….it was torturous to see a pair of razor long scissors and thread disappear into your mouth and know that your cheek was being cut and a floppy tube was being inserted and sewn in. so that the remaining pus would have a way to drain out. i couldn’t decide if this medical contraption was innovative or archaic. that night i held a flashlight pointed into my mouth to locate the tube and flushed it out with a syringe while i cried. i tried to sleep but had intrusive thoughts about the premise of human centipede and my heart pounded as i tried to picture something benign to cleanse out the dark energy.
i am lucky that i haven’t experienced very much medical trauma in my life. i have had health issues but nothing this invasive and mentally destabilizing. i would say this was my first major medically traumatic experience and it truly hit me how amazing it is to live without pain. i’ll never take for granted the marvelousness of just existing and feeling comfortable. it’s hard to accept that both comfort and pain are both temporary states; we’ll always be transitioning from one to the other. i’m scared of pain.
when i felt my worst, i wasn’t interested in anything—clothes included. i gravitated towards comfortable and bland clothes. stretched out white tank tops, gifted aritzia pj pants that get super pilly, a faded tie dye clare v sweatshirt i bought during the pandemic. i found myself wishing i had more of these banal clothes. they felt safe. maybe because these are my most intimate clothes that i never share with the world. things i don’t like wearing out or posting on social media. the tragic plainness of these clothes was also what felt validating of my mental and physical state, in a way.
when i look at my closet, i notice that it’s not very flexible or adaptable to these periods of pain or illness. it’s mostly all for a “healthy, pain-free” version of myself. i mean, bubble clogs? high waisted pants? taffeta blouses? i’ll savor every opportunity i have to wear these clothes, but i’m left with a new perspective on how valuable it is to have clothes that feel cozy but not overly precious; you can get blood stains and dribble yogurt on it and you don’t care. that’s what it’s for. these clothes are not for sartorial pageantry. they see me through my worst and i will cherish them privately.