Right now, when almost everyone I love is either dead or out of reach, possessions have become more important. Lots of them don’t ‘spark joy’; the clothes don’t fit, the jewellery isn’t very me. I have too many clothes, too many things, it is greedy in exactly the way women aren’t supposed to be.
When she died, my sister left a lot of stuff behind. She moved around a lot, and so didn't have many possessions, but she had a lot of clothes. Our time spent together was always intense – a few days in London, a few days at our family home, a few in Paris, New York – wherever she was living at the time. So, when we were together, we were intensely so. We slept in each other’s beds, I wore her clothes, we held hands. Life together was suitcases overflowing with clothes, shoes, products. Some of which always got left behind, either 'borrowed' or donated to me with her usual generosity.
For many years, her clothes marked my life – the amazing designer pieces she bought for me or gave me, the dresses she wore, the photographs of shoots she did. As a model and actor, her life revolved around facades, constructing an image, deconstructing it. Putting makeup on for work, taking it off for home. Painting her nails incessantly.
Most of her things came to my flat when she died. I had two enormous suitcases, a holdall and various smaller bags. I had her dresses, her favourite leather trousers, her most intimate possessions – her hairbrush, her knickers, her moisturiser. I spent a long time searching for her in them.
"almost every day something I wear is something that belongs to her."
These things still sit in my wardrobe. I wear the things that fit me, I wear the things that remind me of her. I sleep in her t-shirts often, and almost every day something I wear is something that belongs to her. I have a few boxes of things I don’t wear – some things I don’t even like. I mean, a spearmint green leather jacket?
But, boxed up, even now they still hold her scent, once contained her living body. Everywhere, there are spaces where she used to be, but even these are becoming fewer. I live somewhere she’s never been to, and soon I will have to change the mattress that she and I slept on, that I now share most nights with her nephew who arrived into the world nearly ten years after she died. I still can’t quite believe they will never meet.
Artwork by Lucy Rekert
Recently, I opened my wardrobe and looked at the things I keep. I thought I should get rid of this stuff. I should clear out the tiny size 8 trousers that I will never fit into and the nail varnish that I can't bear to use, and is probably cracked and gloopy anyway. I should stop hoarding these things like they mean something important. Because they are just things, they are just possessions, and they are things most people give away when they move on from death. Does keeping hold mean that I haven't? I feel like Miss Havisham in Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations, who just need to let go.
But I can’t. These are the things that still connect me to her, and the things that formed the most important part of our relationship. I remember what we were doing when she wore that t-shirt, when she bought those boots when she gave me that sweater. When you don't live in the same country, gifts are important. Jewellery is important. The smell of someone on your clothes is important. Sometimes even the image of her face I have in my mind – a face that I used to know better than anyone’s - becomes a little bit fuzzy. I have to concentrate to remember the detail of her hands. But I can pick up her biker boots, put them on and feel like she’s with me, and most importantly of all, see her clearly for a moment.
"I have to concentrate to remember the detail of her hands. But I can pick up her biker boots, put them on and feel like she’s with me, and most importantly of all, see her clearly for a moment."
My family is fractured, my sister and mother gone, and my dad out of reach for the moment just a few streets away. After Lucy died I was marooned on grief’s island, isolated from others in that most lonely of places. Her suicide added another layer of division from others, the usual fear of saying the wrong thing turned up several notches higher and people vibrating around me, nervous and hesitant.
I felt more separated from others than I do now in lockdown. Here, I am not so rubbed raw, and I can hold her for a second, rubbing my thumb against her worn old band t-shirt. Her things are the only physical reminders I have left. So I keep them, I hoard them jealously. I can’t bear to lose them too.
Written by Katie Gordon