This ritual, for me, used to entail careful cutting, excising the horizontal line over knee and navel, the compass’s V over the right breast, the square’s L over the left, four white rounds of cloth with their holy symbols I’d hold between tweezers and carefully burn over the sink, rinsing down cinders and wiping away scorch marks on porcelain.
Their sacred bits stripped, I ripped the remaining cloth to rags, perfect for soaking up lemon oil polish on the piano and bookshelves.
V — — L
I remember putting them on the first time—I was 21, prepping for a mission to Montreal. All missionaries go through the temple before they’re sent to distant lands, armored, so to speak, in garments. In a dressing room of the Logan Temple, after the washing and anointing ordinance, I pulled on the bottoms, slipped the top over my head. I chose dry silk fabric, felt its soft caress beneath my dress on chest and legs. I loved its cool, soft touch, like a slip sewn into my clothes, whisper on skin. It felt secret and sexy, yet virtuous, good. I embraced my newly bizarre faith, what I’d seen in the temple wholly alien. The clothes, the prayers, the hand gestures. Tokens and signs and shields. Garments were easy compared to the rest. The rest clung like sunburn.
V — — L
I remember removing them off for the last time. I’d taken a sabbatical from church attendance, and the months stretched, unraveling any desire I had to return.
Why am I still wearing these? I asked myself.
A 12 years’ habit, I answered.
I didn’t have any other underwear, had to go to the store—What is my size?—to buy a package—Should I choose white? Bikini cut or briefs? What fabric do I like? Spandex? Cotton? After an hour of painful deliberation, a package in pastels—not white, but not a loud red or black or striped. No lace or frills. Cotton Hanes for Her. Size 7, I guessed, not bikini cut or square, but not spinsterly, either. So many, too many choices emanating from one.
V — — L
For months, I felt naked under my clothes, wore a tank top under my blouse, leggings beneath my jeans. When I’d forget to don a camisole, I felt exposed, cold, too much air on my midriff instead of a garment top’s insulating hug. I realized some of my shirts were semi-transparent, which hadn’t mattered with garments. They’d lent a layer of substance to any shirt. Rather than downsizing my wardrobe, I bought undershirts in every conceivable color.
V — — L
I remember the stories I heard in church—bullets deflected, burns absorbed—by the power of garments worn by faithful members. But for me, faithless, they’ve lost all magic. The care, ritual, mysticism, respect I’ve shed. I empty the bin beside my bed, bag the dry silk, maternity tops, cotton bottoms cleaned and packed here four years ago in case . . .
They smell of must. I slip them in a plastic garbage sack like the carcasses of doves, all feather and rot, bodies devoid of spark. I toss them in the dumpster’s dark.
Dayna Patterson was raised in northern Utah, fed by the faith of her ancestors, who emigrated from Manchester, England, in 1855 to be part of the Mormon exodus to the West. She is Editor-in-Chief of Psaltery & Lyre, Poetry Editor for Exponent II Magazine, and a Consulting Editor for Bellingham Review. daynapatterson.com