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We keep my mother’s life in the basement. She never throws anything away, so her life just gathers and collects in piles. There must be more than ten racks of clothing down there. Costumes, hats, dresses, gloves, pantsuits, masks, shoes, forgotten stained glass projects, paintings, paperwork, art books and art supplies all share the same space in the large unfinished room underneath my house. There are even several plaster sculptures of my mother’s face and figure, which my father cast during their art student days. A few years ago my mother and I tried to give the multitudes of memories some sort of structure, but since then chaos has regained control. As I’ve grown up, I’ve explored different regions of her beautiful life that we keep in storage, but have yet to sort through it all. Whenever I think I’ve read all the stories, I uncover a new chapter hiding underneath the Christmas ornaments or behind the camping equipment. My eagerness to adopt every outfit I find is ever contradicted by my desire to never reach the back of the closet. Every year I inherit an irreplaceable hand-me-down as I grow into that stage of my mother’s life whence the piece originated. At times I nearly perfectly portray the image of my mother thirty-nine years previous. While young girls all over the world dread the day they realize they have become their mother, I find myself unabashedly strutting around in my emulation of this very inevitability.
Yet while I remain entranced by exploration of my mother through her belongings, I too experience the matrophobia that so many other daughters do. For it must be known my mother and I are not the same person. Ironically, it is our differences that allow me to comfortably walk in her shoes. I think like my father, which unfortunately, especially since their separation, has quite too often led to heavy argument with the woman whose clothes I adore. We fight, and I wonder if she is the same person whom I study in the basement. I look through the old photo albums, which lie across from the family tree information and behind the clothing racks, and I see a funky, attractive girl who is too smart for her own good. She is my ideal. Instead, the lady who wakes me up for school every day in a fluster and a nightgown seems to be in a state of perpetual lateness; not for any present time appointment, because she arrives everywhere hours in advance, but as though she overslept for some crucial appointment in life and is now trapped in that hurried state. Nevertheless, every time I unearth a remnant of that life in the basement, I get to see a glimpse of the woman I seek. She sees me in her dresses and I see her. The remembrance of the past has in this moment brought her respite, if only for a few seconds. For this reason, I continue to navigate the disorder in my basement. Where my mother has preserved her previous selves in fragments on shelves and racks, the true thrill of the basement experience is in witnessing her rediscovery so that I may preserve my creator and in turn, myself.