To All the Cardigans I’ve Loved Before

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I spotted it in a cluster of bright patterns on the Ross clearance rack. I was drawn to the scattering of white stars along the sleeve; it poked out from the sea of other polyester items, pastel blue and simple. Understated and plush to the touch.

In all honesty, it was not intentional that the star-covered Ross cardigan would become my signature closet staple. In the coming years, I’d dawn it like my uniform every time I returned from class. It waited for me loyally at my desk every day, warmed me through the winter, comforted me through bad housemate situations, and gave me a sense of security. I was like a cartoon character, wearing the same raggedy thing every day. The amount of paint rubbed into the fabric over the years was probably enough for a whole piece.

It suited me well, but now I find it no longer does. I hid in that cardigan all too often, and the people I’ve encountered in college hardly have known of a Miriam without it. I don’t really want that anymore. It might seem strange that I’m being this critical and sentimental about a five-dollar cardigan, but to me, it was a stepping stone and not my skin however attached it may have seemed.

I love that cardigan still. When my dad flew up with me to help me move into my dorm, we realized I had no bedsheets or jackets for the Minnesota winter, so we rushed to Ross before they closed. Under the shutter of fluorescent lights, I saw it and felt, out of practicality, that it was the only thing remotely my style and thus worth the money. My dad was very concerned, although he was trying to hide it, about me being taken care of. I’m his first child and the first to go to college (and soon complete it!) and so I associate the cardigan in some ways with that night and the type of conflict a father might feel. His buying me that cardigan strengthened the association between comfort and home it had for me. I suppose you could probably imagine it as a child and their blanket in a way.

We’ve been through a lot together. It was essential to bring to Japan, I wore it nearly every day and people in the dorm instantly recognized me from its stars in the corner of their eyes. It’s strange to me, I am quiet and more introverted so no interactions on my floor were incredibly significant per se aside from friendly small talk, but when my floormates saw my cardigan in the give-away box, within the hour I was met with several questions from multiple people. One person asked, “Why did you throw out your iconic cardigan?”. I think “iconic” is a funny word, it gives it so much importance. My friends who frequented my home in Minnesota often always remarked the same, “iconic”. It made me comprehend that in many ways, the perception of who I am to others is synonymous with the cardigan. When my friends come over and I’m not wearing it, they ask where it is, and when I put it in the dorm donation box, a kind floormate asks me if it was really okay if she gives it a new home.

It is interesting to me how important my cardigan seems to others whereas in my mind it served a very particular purpose which is now done with. It makes me question how much perception and our understanding of others is based on these types of small things; everyone imagines that I love that cardigan more than I do. I do love it, but I am okay with letting it go too. I think it is possible to love and appreciate older versions of yourself without holding onto them forever, without letting the feelings of who you were override the potential of who you are becoming. When I looked at my cardigan for the last time, I was simply thankful. Thankful for my dad’s love that prompted him to purchase it, thankful for the comfort and strength it gave me, thankful that it and everything it signified followed me here. It is not the first time I’ve said goodbye to a cardigan I loved, and it certainly won’t be the last. I don’t want to hold on forever, and if my star cardigan can give its new owner warmth, then I think that is beautiful perhaps an even better story. It can become something new just as it has given me the strength to do the same.

When things no longer serve us, I think it is only right to let them go. The same goes for places or people or anything really. For the good of every party involved, it is okay to shed your old skin. Don’t let the fear of people not recognizing you without it or being more perplexed than you are about the change stop you from making it. Change is the most essential part of living, the balance between understanding what should stay and what could be transformed.

If you haven’t already surmised, the cardigan situation may not have necessarily been indicative of others’ perception of me, but it did make me reflect on it which is why I see it was a type of metaphor, maybe, for the process of self-presentation to others versus who we are. What I’ve presented on my outside is all people sometimes get to know, but now that my inside has changed, I want to honor who I am becoming and make space for her without the expectation of fitting into the skin everyone associates me with.

My time in Japan has offered me the opportunity to reflect critically on myself. What aspects of myself am I proud of, what is no longer compatible with who I am? Who do I want to be? I expected my answers to change, but I suppose I just wasn’t expecting this much! I’ve been thinking about giving that cardigan away for a while, but only now did I have the strength to live without its comfort. As I am changing, my relationships have changed. That cardigan has gotten so wrapped up in other parts of my life and versions of myself who imagined different and more limiting things about her future, it is no longer a simple reminder of my dad’s love for me. I’d much rather be present and call him when I think of him and live my life more actively. I’ve been collecting all these little reminders but missing the moments as they’ve come to me.

This semester and experience were always meant to be finite, and I struggled between the comforts of the past and the uncertainty of the present moment and subsequent futures. At times I wished it would last longer and other times I was frustrated with how slow I was at adapting. I think the conflict was between my fears of isolation and my deeper and truer desire to explore and live adventurously. I suppose this is the consequence of being a homebody who loves to learn about the world and no longer finds reading as my sole solution to my curiosities. Living in Japan prompted me to ask questions and engage with people with my limited, but I would find more than sufficient, tool belt.

I think being in Hirakata gave me the rare opportunity to embrace the present, not fear the future, and make peace with the past. For every era of star-covered cardigans, there are numerous more to follow in new skins and expressions of who I am. I imagine there are future versions of myself learning this lesson over again with age and all the complexity that time provides. What I can say for the present moment is that what is important in my life and vital to my being certainly has become more precise.

Goodbye to my pretty cardigan and thank you. I hope you’ll be loved well.

* photo from 2022 in the “iconic” cardigan haha