It was once a song that Barbara Streisand sang, about a girl named Rose who wore second hand clothes. My mother must have really liked the song, because when she opened up a little junk/antique store, she named it Second Hand Rose. She played that stupid song in the store constantly, so the cute factor wore off soon enough. She had big plastic bins with loose stamps, stacks of odd colored tableware, Carnival glass in every color, some furniture and records, and a popcorn machine like the kind you see at the circus.

My mother also wore rosewater as perfume, the way old ladies generally do, so that now when I smell it, I think of her. She took me to Catholic church thrift stores as a child to buy clothes. There was also another store that sold brand name clothes that were clearanced out. Even now, when I visit my parents, they still have a lot of the clothes they bought when I was a teenager. They’re pilled and worn of their color, but since my parents kept their shape more or less, so have their clothes. My mother always loved gaudy jewelry and shirts pasted up with rhinestones, which is just as tacky then as it is now, so really there’s no need for her to change.

It is hard for me, at times, to remember where and from whom I acquired most of my clothes, since to this day they are about 85% second hand. The clothes I always remember are the ones I bought new, since it’s so rare. My friend Mike, for example, when I was showing him some skirts I bought this weekend, reminded me that it was since the summer that I had bought new clothes. And it is no surprise that all the clothes I buy new are the only ones that really fit as they should. Everything else is just a uniform, clothes because I need to be kept warm and layered from the elements, clothes that take up two closets because I want to believe that I am in some way normal, but I’m not, and not because of where I choose to shop.

I have a hard time throwing clothes away or even giving them away, meaning to be recycled at another thrift store. I like giving them away to people, but most people I know are the ones who gave them to me in the first place. I am always thinking that some stained up t shirt that I used to dye my hair in and wear when I was sick with stains of Vick’s Vap-O-Rub is still something I need to have around. They are also like a history to me, especially when given to me as some half-hearted extension of love, like the shirts my ex gave me of his that I liked or another guy who bought ones for me that he knew I would like, ones that I asked for. I have all these thin jackets and dress skirts and lumpy, misshapen sweaters that look, as they should, like they don’t belong to me, and yet I cannot easily toss them. They are, for a sick minimalist as I have been proclaimed to be, my Achilles heel.

I don’t know what comes into my mother’s head when she buys clothes for me now, because I’ve never liked anything she ever picked out for me. She’s wised up in the latter years and resorted to socks and underwear, the skeleton of bad gifts boys would get for Christmas. But, to her defense, it is hard to remember the size, shape, and style of a figure that is so many miles away and seldom comes home to visit.

In the rare times I buy new clothes from a store, I feel the need to look as nice as I can when I go in there, just like when I buy shoes I make sure my socks are clean and my feet aren’t going to stink up the place. I feel so dirty going into a mall, so completely out of place, like everyone is going to tell just by looking me over that owning new things is something unfamiliar to me. That fear must be, at its heart, the cause for so much concern about clothes and name brands and what all when you’re a teen. I felt that as a teen. I wanted to, in some ways, look like everyone else, and my parents dealt with that as best they could, in bargain bins and after holidays sales. And I deal with it now, in spaces, as best as I can. I appreciate things I buy that much more, and again it reminds me that I simply do not have to be like everyone else. They made a song for Second Hand Rose. What will they do for me?

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