Pajamas of One’s Own, With Apologies to Virginia Woolf

I threw away my ex-husband’s pajama bottoms.

I know…why did I have them in the first place?

The night before I left Seattle, I asked if I might take them with me.  The thin cotton ones, navy, with a drawstring.  Somewhere there is a matching top.  Somewhere.

I turned my ex on to men’s pajamas years ago, as I had been turned on by the man I dated before him.  Mornings I would pad around his house in Berkeley, wearing his pjs while he made us French-press coffee.  I liked to wear his overalls too.

a room of one's ownHe often remarked that I should get my own – of both.  That year for Hanukkah, I bought him a pair of silk pajamas.  Inside the card I wrote, “A room of one’s own.  Pajamas of one’s own.  I promise I won’t touch these.”  Then I opened his gift to me – my own pair of overalls.

We laughed. A sort-of modern twist on O. Henry’s Christmas tale, The Gift of the Magi.  Except neither of us had to give something away something we loved, to give something to someone we loved.

I stopped wearing men’s pj bottoms some time ago and had taken to wearing short, boy-short underwear and a wife beater – which was fine when it was just the two of us.  But I was about to go on the road, traveling with my divorce buddy – a man – and staying with friends along the way.  And when I arrived in Chicago, I would be living with a male friend of mine, temporarily.

Modesty, not something I usually subscribe to, grabbed hold of me, and I asked my ex if I could take his bottoms.

He looked at me sorts of sideways and said yes.

gift of the magiI have slept in them every night since.  Loosely tied and rolled down twice at the waist so I don’t trip on them.  They remind me of the pants my friend Tim’s roommate wore when he returned from Thailand, when he cranked the heat to 80 degrees and blasted the soundtrack to The King and I nonstop.

My mom attempted to buy me a new pair when I visited her in Tennessee in the spring.  We picked some up at Target, just bottoms, but I didn’t like how they fit.  Too much bunchy elastic at the waist.  So she returned them for me.  But we agreed I had to stop sleeping in my ex’s.  My best girlfriend Julie and I had the same conversation when I stayed with her this summer.

I’m sure I would have had this conversation many times over if I had shared this with anyone else.  But I didn’t.  I was too ashamed.  I knew it was kind of odd.  Palpably and painfully so, pulling them on after sleeping with someone else.

Ten days ago, I threw them out.  Crumpled them into the kitchen garbage bin, covering them with food scraps so I couldn’t pull them back out – fearful of a George Castanza-éclair-at-the-top-of-the-trash lapse.

A few days later I began sleeping for the first time in more than a year and a half.  Really sleeping.  Through the night, uninterrupted, for more than six hours.  Waking up with the alarm, and longing for more.

Not long after I found myself crush-less, and for the first time in my life, not looking to conjure up a love interest.

I told a friend of mine I didn’t want to talk about the boy I slept with – the one with whom I pulled on the pajamas in question.  The one who isn’t the one, but still takes up some residency in my head and in my heart from time to time.  I told her that talking about him wasn’t helpful.  In fact, it was painful.   So I’d rather not do it.

And then I said no to being fixed up with a man who was recently divorced.  I believe my exact words were, “Are you out of your mind?”  I know the desperate crazy that is his life right now and I don’t want to be a part of it.

My words surprised me.  But they felt like ridiculously good, albeit not-so-sexy, self-care too.  Like sleeping.  Like throwing away pajamas that belonged to my ex-husband.

I’ve returned to sleeping in the short, boy-shorts, but am on the lookout for a new pair of loose, drawstring bottoms.  The kind that feel lived in, or have the potential to, and that are not flannel.  Pajamas devoid of history.  Pajamas of one’s own.

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Artist Date 29: Undressed

undressed
Degas’ “Woman at her Toilette”

I don’t recall ever having erotic musings at a museum.  Until today.

But I also don’t recall seeing a posting at the entry of an exhibit, a warning that explicit content lay ahead, possibly unsuitable for children.

But there it was.  And there I was in front of Felicien Rops’ “For You, General.”  A mild flush on my face –  Artist’s Date 29.

I returned to the Art Institute of Chicago for “Undressed: The Fashion of Privacy,” an adjunct exhibit to the newly opened “Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity,” which I saw last week – Artist Date 28.

I liked the name.  It reminded me of my strong belief in really good underwear – or none at all, which my friend Clover reminded me of when she was visiting last week.  She came out of the bathroom smiling.

“Right…really good underwear,” she said, referring to the lacy bits drying over the shower rod and towel bars.  We giggled knowingly.

There is very little underwear in “Undressed” – but a lot of vulnerable nakedness.

Sketches and paintings in all array of medium.  Women bathing.  Dressing.  Masturbating.  Breast feeding.

Mothers.  Prostitutes.  Children.  Defined spines.  Soft lines and folds of skin.

They remind me of something Geneen Roth wrote in her book When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair or 50 Ways to Feel Gorgeous and Happy (When You Feel Anything But).  Suggestion 25: Stare at Normal Women’s Bodies (Normal Does Not Include Models, Actresses, and Elite Athletes).

I’ve done this at women’s spas.  Sitting in the dry sauna, noticing dimpled thighs and buttocks.  Six-pack abs and round bellies – some large and pendulous, obscuring any hint of pubic hair.  Breast implants perched nearly at shoulder height.  Mastectomies.  Single and double, with and without reconstruction.

Pierced nipples.  Pierced navels.   C-section scars.  My own scars.  Two faded purple lines running vertically from my areolas to the folds under my breasts.

Sometimes I forget what real bodies look like.  How they move in the world.  I am reminded.

Degas’ “The Tub.”  A bronze sculpture of a woman submerged in water, her leg outstretched, washing her foot.

Klimt’s “Seated Woman from The Front with Hat, Face Hooded.”  Wispy lines of pastel pencil.  Her legs are spread and her hands are between them.  A large hat lazily tilted over her face.

debauchery-second-floor-1896_jpg!Blog

Lautrec’s ”Woman in Bed – Waking.”  She is turned toward me, one sleepy eye just opening.  Sexy.  Soft.  So different from his prostitute in “Debauchery” –a hazy, colored drawing of a woman being groped from behind.  His hands over her breasts.  Her arm extended, a martini-shaped glass dangling from her hand.

There are men too.

Delacroix’s “Standing Academic Male Nude.”  Chiseled.  Holding a stick, he appears to be rapping it onto his flat hand –a threatening gesture.  As if preparing to punish some innocent, or not so innocent.

As if HE is the general Rops’ alludes to in “For You, General” – an old woman holding a younger one over her knee, her buttocks exposed, an offering.  The girl’s bunched up skirt covers her face.  The old woman is smiling.

boys bathing

Munch’s “Boys Bathing 1896.”  Like tadpoles.  “Boys Bathing 1899.”  Like many letter X’s, like many little frogs.  “Men Bathing.”  Like figures from a Hatch Show Print poster –iconic wood-block images made in Nashville, announcing the Grand Ole Opry and Johnny Cash.

There are children.  Rafaelli’s “Germaine At Her Toilette.”  A young girl in a white dressing gown, her black tights wrinkled and baggy at the knees.  Even religious icons.  Munch’s “Madonna,” like an album cover or t-shirt from a 70’s rock band.  Bands of colors tracing her image.  And who is the small character in the bottom left corner, seemingly questioning all of this?

Edvard_Munch_-_Madonna_-_Google_Art_Project_(495100)I notice the few pieces by women. Just  a few — always.  Suzanne Valadon sketches.  Mary Cassatt paintings.  Her style is bright.  Animated.

I peer deeply into black and white woodcuts.  I love their simplicity, their precision.  And yet, I am not quite sure what I see.

I come close and step away and come close again.  It reminds me of the drawings on the back page of children’s magazines.  The ones that ask “Do you see the old woman or the young woman?”  Where once you see one, it is impossible to see the other.

It is the same with Vuillard’s “The Birth of Annette.”  Finally, after many minutes, I see the baby’s head.

Perhaps that is the point.  The experience of “Undressed,” of being undressed, is so intimate, so private.  I am an invited voyeur.  It is not mine to fully know.