thrift store finds: when you are looking for more than just clothes

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
Kurt Vonnegut

I could feel myself start to annoy my best friend.

“They have everything. So many clothes and books. The room in the back has records, you should check it out. Upstairs there is a room dedicated to all vintage clothes…”

My sentences all ran together because I wanted her to know this was my place.

But then even I started getting annoyed with myself for repeating the same story over and over again. “I used to volunteer here, when I lived in the city. It was far from my apartment so I…”

It would be the first time I visited the store since I moved away in 2014. And while I do love thrift stores, I was having a hard time wondering why I was so excited to visit this particular place again.

It had been so long since I left Philly, or so it seemed. I guess in the grand scheme of life, a year and a half isn’t that long, but my life is a tenfold different now. The scared person I was at 23 seems lightyears away. Maybe the main difference is now I have money in my bank account (ahem, not a lot). But at that point in my life, overdraft letters showed up at my house through every crack, window, wall – not unlike Harry Potter’s Hogwarts acceptance letters. Intangibly (and perhaps more importantly, at least in my book), I am no longer as god-awfully lonely as I was then.

To be quite honest, when I left, my time in Philadelphia was a chapter I wanted to close. I loved the people I met and the places I got to experience. I loved having my own apartment I could decorate any way I wanted. But my life and mental wellbeing could use some help. On its best days, Philly was an adventure and taught me how to live on my own and survive. On its worst days, I would pinpoint it on the map as the city where I went through the worst depression of my life.

But here in the present, Philadelphia was my city again, just for today. I visited all my favorite places in the thrift shop starting with the room with the mugs, cups, and plates. It was in this very room that I scrounged around, looking for matching sets of dishes and cutlery. After finding the perfect un-matching but charmingly rustic set, I would go home and soak them in bleach for hours. At the time, it was the only thing I could afford, but in my eyes, it was still as special as any expensive set I could find.

Next, I visited the dollar room where I used to look for clothes to refashion with my sewing machine on boring Saturdays in my apartment. Then I (somewhat shamefully and somewhat proudly) visited the Self Help section of the book room where I had found books upon books that were there to help me get over my ex-boyfriend or give suggestions on how to cope with my anxiety. And I did the work, too, because at that time, I had all the time in the world to dedicate to my own sanity. I’m proud of that today.

Being a volunteer there gave me three-hour chunks of time where I wouldn’t be lonely, but instead could hang out with the cool people who worked there. I often would look around the room and realize that these people would never know how much the simple task of returning clothes to their proper place in the store was saving my life. I remember once they told me I was one of the few volunteers that actually did work. It wasn’t work to me, though. It was kind of the only thing I had at the time. I would look at the clock knowing I would be parking for three hours in a two-hour spot, but yet, I never did get a ticket. Maybe god just knew that place is what I needed.

It was funny being back. When I touched the clothes, I remembered what it felt like to find an over-sized sweater that I hoped would keep me warm in my always-cold apartment. I missed the girl I was back then, looking wishfully at any cute guy who entered the store, hoping that maybe we’d fall in love over worn out smelly shoes. And how at the end of the night when it was time to pack up the store, I’d hoped that one of the cool volunteers would invite me to go out with them for drinks. They never did, but that was probably because they were as broke as I was.

I get so nostalgic when I visit places from my past not because I miss the place itself so much, but because I miss who I was at the time. So lost and confused and broke. But living in my own apartment in a big city nonetheless. Picking out a basket from the thrift store to hold my dishrags in the kitchen, finding old picture frames to hold the images of people I missed most from home, and buying old rustic coffee mugs that would keep me warm on Saturdays when I was so lonely I could burst.

That was my life then, and strangely, sometimes I miss it.

rosy noses

“Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

First things first, although I would love to be the most honest person in the world, I’m not. But I chose this quote because I believe all great novels have an element of human honesty that we all want to achieve but can’t. Even if you hate Holden Caulfield, you have to admit the guy was true to himself. How interesting would Catcher in the Rye be if Caulfield just put on a smile and waltzed through life, anyway? I dare say not very.

Take me for example. From the outside, you’d expect roses to start blooming from my nose at any given second because my demeanor is cheerful. I remember saying to a coworker once, “I love sunny days!” He just grumbled, “I know. You have a sunny disposition.” The thing is, with all the time I spend with myself and my thoughts, I’m not sure sunny is the right world. I’ve always been mostly cheerful, mostly happy, mostly put together. My hair is messy, but just a little bit. My make-up is smeared, but just a little bit. These are not signs of mental chaos, just sloppiness. I’m a girl who cares enough to put make-up on, but doesn’t care enough to make sure not to smear it. Well, hey, I have more important things to do!

Alright, I’ll back up out of fear I’m not making sense. I mean, I will if I can. It’s just a tad bit difficult for me to “back up” because how would I know how far to go? It’s not like there was ever a beginning or an end. Life is just a stream of intertwined stories and tales and it’s not neat. It’s not whiskey on the rocks. It’s more like a long island iced tea – a whole laundry list of strong liquors that come together to make an amazing tasting drink or a shitty tasting drink, depending on who makes it. Isn’t that a lot like life? You have all these thoughts and feelings, and depending on who you are, you can make them taste good or make them taste awful. Ah, the power of optimism.

There are no rules; one story doesn’t have to end before another one starts. A person doesn’t become depressed and then get over it and start a new story. No, rather, you get depressed and while that’s happening, while you are working on not falling apart, picking yourself back up, etc., you still have to attend weddings and try to figure out if you want to fall in love with the guy you’re dating and make sure you can pay your bills. So, while you’re busy telling your sad sob story to anyone that will listen, twenty other stories begin and you don’t really have time to sit down and write it all out.

Okay, hold on, let me start here…

Am I happy?

If you are anything like me and 99.9% of the people I know in this world, that is the million dollar question. That is the help-me-figure-this-out-before-I-self-destruct question. I would argue that a single question like that can lead you to so many places – the hospital, rehab, imaginary places fueled by chemical substances, the debt collection agency, and the casino.

And you’ll never get your answer, trust me.

Am I happy?

Okay, I’ll answer in the best way I know how. Yes and no. I was happy last night when I ate wings. I was unhappy a half hour ago when my stomach protested my choice (TMI? Sorry.) I was happy when I met the last person I really, truly liked. I was unhappy when I found out he didn’t feel the same. I will be happy in two weeks when my sister gets married. I will be unhappy in a month when I realize I’m still not even close to figuring my life out.

Hey, remember a few paragraphs ago when I said people think roses are going to grow out of my nose or some dumb shit like that? I say that because I’m really fucking good at smiling. And laughing. And making fun of myself and making fun of everyone else. I’m not saying I’m acting, because I’m not. I really enjoy all of those things and I enjoy the company of people and even my worst days turn happy when I hang out with my friends.

I hate being alone, though, and that’s where the trouble starts. Because I am 25 and single and I’m alone a lot. On average, I spend an hour and a half in my car each day. If songs are about three minutes long, that’s 30 songs. Or, that’s an episode and a half of Ira Glass’s voice if you are a podcast nerd like I am. All the time I spend with myself, driving to work and then to class and then home again, there’s always a nagging question in the back of my mind – what am I doing all of this for?

Don’t get me wrong, those songs help, especially with the thinking. And even Ira Glass’s interpretation of what makes the American society tick helps divert my thoughts. I understand why people say characters from books become their best friends. One of my favorite authors, John Green, made this observation when he said, “Books are the ultimate Dumpees: put them down and they’ll wait for you forever; pay attention to them and they always love you back.”

I have to beg you not to take this as I’m in trouble or anything. I haven’t been lonely for a long time and I don’t think I will be forever. Plus, like I said, I’m happy some of the time; I would even argue most of the time. I can’t possibly believe that no one else feels this way, either. Otherwise, why would we have movies and songs and books that give us all the feelings?

Still, how do I outwardly say this is how I feel when I know it makes me look too sensitive and too needy and too emotional? Because, yes – I am sensitive and emotional, and even needy, too, I guess. However, I’m also great at listening and I like to laugh and I’m spontaneous and adventurous and fun. I’m strong as shit. Oh, and I can make a great fucking playlist.

I guess I should also say that I hate when people think they need to save me. It’s annoying. I mean, I know there are fucked up parts of me and I’m actually okay with it. If I didn’t have those parts of myself, I wouldn’t be so interested in people like J.D. Salinger and Kurt Cobain and Alexander Supertramp. My favorite books wouldn’t be The Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Without those things, who would I be? I’m not sure. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, if I’d have to sacrifice the feelings I get from reading those books and relating to those fellow fucked up humans just to be happy all the time, I wouldn’t do it. I’d keep my unhappiness and my deviant thoughts and enjoy understanding the minds of the crazy people. The crazy people are my friends. They understand.

I can’t really give you a synopsis of what this blog will be about. I write poetry and I write essays. I have good days and bad just like the rest of the universe. I am scared shitless. I am very much Sandra Bullock’s character at the end of The Proposal when she whispers to Ryan Reynolds, “I’m scared.” I’m scared of the things I feel and the way I interpret the world and most of all, I’m scared if you are reading this you won’t understand.

Still, I’ve had several people ask me when I’m going to start this blog – I got rid of my previous one because it felt like a chapter of my life I needed to close.  But if my words are even slightly in demand, maybe I’m doing something right. Maybe you don’t all understand and that’s okay, too. But one of the best things I have in this life is words. So good, bad, ugly – I guess I’ll work on sharing them with you.

-m. noelle