The allure of broken things

shoes

When I say I love broken things, what I mean to say is I love to know broken things are worthy of affection. And as much as I’ll mourn the first dent, scratch, crack, tear, loose thread, it reassures me that in imperfection, beauty lives. I’m uncomfortable with shiny and new; I don’t know myself that way, and the discordance feels irreverent to my own beginnings.

The year was 1995 or thereabouts, and the pants were denim, straight, wide legs, with a rainbow ribbon stitched down the side. They weren’t on sale, which for us meant they might as well not be for sale. Our family didn’t buy regular price, because regular price meant marked-up and marked-up meant a better deal next week, next month, next season, as soon as the item in question was out of style, maybe, or I no longer wanted it. I wanted those pants so badly, I can still see them in my mind’s eye, can still see my mother shaking her head as she led toward the sales rack, where shopping felt like a treasure hunt and we were pirates combing for elusive orange tags that meant, “This one is cheap enough for you.”

We weren’t poor in the sense that we went without. Our parents provided us with everything we needed, with a healthy respect for what we had. My brother and I knew our old toys went to kids who needed them more, that sharing clothes with our friends was not just thrift but responsibility. That nothing needed to be new to be nice. New was for school shoes at the start of each year, a special trip rife with ceremony. The first scuffs on those new shoes each September felt like a little death. Hand-me-down things weren’t just free of charge, but guiltless too.

Mom taught us that the overflowing cardboard boxes her friends dropped off were not just clothes their children had loved, they were garments with history, that came with memories, was better than store-bought for it. In our circles, it was a privilege to see my old favorite T-shirt on one of my friend’s younger siblings.

“I used to love that shirt!” we’d greet each other, sharing kid stories of where and who we’d been while wearing it. Clothing connected us, and we never thought about the money our parents were saving, or if we did, took it as a matter of course that we’d share what we had, the better to save for what we needed. We cherished our annual new shoes, but even more, we coddled them, because we were used to things that looked “loved-in,” things that hung on our bodies more comfortably because they’d lived on others before.

“You can go to a real store,” my fiancé said, when I mentioned I wanted to find time to swing by my favorite thrift store for a new pair of jeans. We can afford it, in the sense that our bank accounts privilege me a choice from the racks where all the clothes are sorted according to style instead of discount percentage. But there are different ways of affording things.

I prefer fabrics with history, that run between my fingers whispering stories. Secondhand clothes come already imperfect; the responsibility for keeping them nice is lower. In a sense, they’re already ruined and ready for me to nurture them back to a new kind of life, to imbue with my own scents and loose threads.

Some days, I feel more secure leaving my engagement ring at home, with its impossibly delicate band and filigree so fine, it feels like silvered glass. I move nervously through the world wearing the weight of something worth more than anything I’ve ever seen, both physically and symbolically. A small part of me breathed a sigh of relief when the tiny band bent slightly. Imperfect, it feels more like it belongs to me.

Maybe I’m attracted to things I can’t ruin because I’m insecure about my own imperfections, or because my flawed soul is comforted knowing broken things can also be beautiful. Maybe I see something of myself in objects that show love, that wear their vulnerability on the outside where it can be touched. I want to wear my own that way, to allow my softness to show through my shield. To know that a pulled thread here, a scratch there, a scar, is not proof that I’m used, damaged, but strong enough to see battle and emerge, still shining.

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