I was going through some of the bags of old clothes that have accumulated in my closet the other day, and was astonished at the number of nightgowns that I have. And then it struck me: I have an astonishing number of nightgowns, yet I have never bought a nightgown in my life. I sleep in the buff (in part because I’m a restless sleeper, and would be strangled by a nightgown if I were actually foolhardy enough to put one on). It was at this point that I realized: not only have I never bought a nightgown – but all the nightgowns I own were given to me by the mothers of the lovers and husbands I’ve had over the years.

That seems weird. Why do all the mothers of the men I am intimate with feel compelled to buy me nightgowns? Is it some weird repressed sexual competition instinct – i.e., the mother knows I’m screwing her son, and she wants me either to cover up and stop it, or at least be decent about it?

Or on the other hand is it a kind of tender impulse? I have always had very warm relations with the mothers of my lovers. And when I mentioned the Mystery of the Nightgowns to my current husband, he pointed out that his mother had never given any of his other girlfriends a nightgown. He thought, coming from his mother, that it was a kind of message, meant to communicate to him: “she’s a keeper!” and to me: “snuggle in and get comfy.”

I don’t know. The Mystery of the Nightgowns still seems mysterious to me. Why does anyone want to get involved in how you go to bed at night, unless, you know, they’re really going to be involved with how you go to bed at night?

And so I continue to ponder the mystery. The nightgowns haven’t yet been relegated to the Salvation Army bag, because at this point I’m not sure: maybe they’re a blessing of some sort. And since they don’t take up much room, and might represent an odd current of kindness that for some time went unnoticed in my life, I think for now I’ll keep them.

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