An Unexpected Gift

Unlike Maxine Kumin and Anne Sexton, Emily and I have never been in the habit of swapping clothes. This is strange since aspects of our styles have become quite alike. Just recently, we unwittingly showed up at Maggie Gee’s book launch wearing outfits so similar that it prompted much comment.

One clothes-borrowing incident does spring to mind. We were co-writing a feature at Em’s place and, because it took far longer than expected, I ended up staying for days on end. I’d brought only one outfit, which I washed in the shower and hung out to dry overnight. It was still damp the next morning so I ended up going home in a tracksuit of Emily’s – which looked rather strange with my wedge heeled shoes.

This sort of thing would rarely happen to Em. She would have made sure to use the washing machine in good time so that her clothes would be dry for the journey home. She does her laundry on the same day each week; meticulously seams or darns anything that needs mending; hangs up all her clothes, even those waiting to be ironed.

I sometimes tease Em about her scrupulous attention to detail, but I secretly admire this quality in my friend. There is something soothing about the calm sense of order in her home, and her care extends from domestic and professional tasks to her sensitive treatment of all those she encounters.

And so, when I folded the outfit I’d chosen from Emily’s closet into a bag already overfilled with my laptop, notebook, washbag, and – I hate to admit it – pens, I immediately felt guilty. The last time I’d seen Em pack this item of clothing, she had carried it in a suit cover.

It’s the kind of top I associate with Em: loose-fitting, delicate material, subtle details, a pastel shade. I tend to wear more figure-hugging tops and bolder colours, fearing that floaty things might hide the fact I have a waist and that this palest of pinks might make me look pasty.

Emma Claire (right) with her book club friends.
Emma Claire (right) with her book club friends.

Some of you might half-recognise this top since Emily is sporting it in her author shot. I wondered whether I would become self-conscious, wearing it out and about, or feel less like myself.

After my packing mistake, I took the kind of care with Em’s top that I knew she would take herself: putting it in the wardrobe as soon as I got home, making sure there was an anti-moth cedar ring on the hanger. And this level of attention seemed to rub off onto my treatment of myself. I was less slapdash than usual getting ready on the night I wore Em’s top, even though I was just popping over to my neighbour’s for our book club.

I very quickly stopped noticing that I was wearing an outfit that didn’t belong to me. I wasn’t terrified that I would tear it or spill my wine. And I certainly didn’t become as measured as Emily when we were discussing Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing.

Rather than feeling like an imposter in Em’s outfit, the sensation was of being a slightly more careful version of me – a sensation that encapsulates, in so many ways, one of the gifts I most value in our friendship.

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