Today’s post is the most difficult piece I have written in a long time. Only my mother and grandmother’s eulogies exceed the pain it causes me to type these words, and so when I uttered the already over-utilized phrase “heavy heart,” know I meant it with the sincerity it deserves. After eight years in Burlington, A Sophisticated Pair will be closing on September 17th and hopefully finding an alternate location later this year. My neighbor at Feel Good Yoga wants to expand her business into our suite now that my lease has ended, and while I have asked to have until the end of the month, we may not be able to stay that long. For the sake of clarity, I divided this post into two sections. The upper portion contains the details of how we plan to wrap up business at our physical location while the lower portion provides a more emotional background of the events leading to this devastating announcement.
- Starting today, all in-stock inventory is on sale by as much as 50%. Stop by the shop for the full details.
- All prepaid orders will be honored. Everyone should receive a phone call by Thursday evening with updates. We are discussing offering people with unpaid orders the option to prepay and have those included.
- We will be reopening our online shop by tomorrow. Please be advised, we will be changing the return address to a temporary PO box, which will be included on all receipts.
- We will open Tuesday, September 10th through Monday, September 16th from 10:30a.m. to 6:30p.m.
- Our website will remain active as our goal is to locate a new space and reopen by the end of the year.
- If you have not already done so, sign up for our newsletter or follow us on Facebook to continue receiving updates.
- Shipping costs will be assessed on a per order basis.
- Reward points and “In with the Swim” contributions will be honored.
- All sales in-store will be final.
- All emails will be answered by September 20th after which point, I will be taking a two week hiatus.
The Odyssey According to Erica
[TW: Depression, Anxiety, Trauma. It’s also long but there is no way to adequately summarize it here.]
A friend told me one of these days I should write a memoir because my life was like the Odyssey. Every time I make progress, some new crazy twist sends me spiraling backwards. While the English minor in me finds this amusing, the broken person who feels personally cursed by the gods has had enough. In the last five years, I caught mono and nearly ruptured my spleen, developed an auto-immune condition which went undiagnosed and mishandled to the point of plunging me into chronic illness, survived a home invasion where I nearly watched my brother bleed to death on my carpet because he was brutally attacked by a man wielding a machete (yes, I am serious), lost my house because banks did not want to offer refinancing to a small business owner, endured threats to my business and my person for not supporting the racist and homophobic policies of this president, pissed off a brown recluse spider who bit me on my ass, contracted e-coli which led to a serious staph infection, and had my identity stolen. Then last year, my dad and business partner, Jason, went in for a routine physical, and fortunately, his doctors detected very early onset testicular cancer, requiring surgeries, scans, and multiple procedures for the better part of last year.
Healthcare is a big topic right now, and I can tell y’all: Our system is broken. Between my bout with e-coli and his cancer issues, we nearly went personally bankrupt with medical bills, and during that time, we faced an impossible choice: pay rent and eat or pay vendors. Eventually, as bill upon bill arrived, we weren’t even making ends meet anymore, and long time readers may remember in September of last year, I posted about how I was considering closing but ultimately hoped to recover the disaster that was 2018. 2019 just had to be better, right? Wishful thinking indeed.
The beautiful home I rented near the shop was sold to a local retirement community along with several other lots to enable them to create a medical park for the residents. In addition to paying medical debt and trying to revitalize a business I loved (to say nothing of the student loans in deferment), I now needed to relocate because demolition was scheduled for mid-May.
To be honest, I did not expect the challenges I would face in securing a pet-friendly home nearby and should have prioritized it more in February. There were places which were not exactly what I hoped for but which I could have made work. I wrongly thought I should not be too quick to settle but soon discovered the rental market is exceptionally punitive to people with pets, particularly if you happen to have three of them. Of course, I also want to add the rental market in the triad just plain ole sucks too.
In my quest for affordable, pet-friendly housing in the surrounding 25 miles of Burlington, I have encountered houses with urine coated walls, with black mold brazenly adorning the bathroom tile, with dead cockroaches littered about the kitchen, and with raccoons living in the laundry room. My personal favorite was a place we not-so-affectionately called “The Murder House” which was located at the end of a lonely street next to an abandoned house covered in refuse with subfloor rot causing the entire home to lean at an angle. Inside was disgustingly filthy, and the current tenants had the largest damn pit bull I have ever seen who aggressively ripped at his metal cage to attack me. I have never been afraid of a dog in my life until that one.
Houses which were somewhat decent albeit at the upper end of my price range preferred to rent to people without pets. According to a customer, the Piedmont Triad region exploded with growth, and the rental home market has not completely caught up. Competition for places around here is like some kind of blood sport where only the fastest and those with the fittest renter profile survive. If you don’t have alerts set on your phone and take first available appointments regardless of what that does to your schedule, you will miss out. I can’t tell you how many times we were slated to see a property on a Sunday only for another prospective person to snap it up by Friday. Eventually, we decided that being the first people to view the property was paramount, even at the expense of the shop. The alternative, we reasoned, was living in my aunt’s den.
In early May, we found a place we thought we could call home. It was out toward Greensboro and had a large fenced-in backyard, but the previous occupants had mobility issues so the house was dirty and the yard overgrown. However, the rent was good, and considering what some of the other properties looked like (or how selective they were with pet owners), we reasoned it was manageable if not ideal. Desperation, folks, means buying Odoban and bleach in bulk. The largest downside was the tenants were still in the process of moving, and it seemed like the timing on them finally getting out of the place and us needing to move in was going to overlap.
Fortunately, we have a very large shed, and during the course of packing, we had purged about 50% of our possessions anyway. It wasn’t ideal, but my aunt and uncle graciously allowed us to move that shed to their property. In the middle of a heat wave in May where temperatures were hovering around 100 degrees, we moved out of the one house and hoped, desperately, that we would not need to move into the shed because the other tenants would have vacated.
We are never that lucky. The day we transferred the items from moving truck to the shed was a record high, and the internal temperature of the metal oven called a U-Haul was over 130. “Miserable” just doesn’t quite capture it. The landlord for the new property informed us it may be another week or two before the tenants could get fully out due to those aforementioned mobility problems, which was not ideal but doable. In the meantime, we brought in futon mattresses to set up a makeshift living space in my aunt’s den and waited. He ghosted us. I have no idea what happened, but our texts and calls went unanswered. We officially entered the “Oh fuck” stage.
My dad dislikes to classify us as “homeless,” because in his mind, we still have a roof over our heads and food in our bellies, but we are effectively without housing of our own and now are inconveniencing family. As of writing, we still have not found housing accommodations. Furthermore, when I packed my belongings and the shed, I assumed we would be staying at my aunt’s for no more than two weeks. I did not pack all of my toiletries, the supplements I need for my auto-immune condition, my head scarves, any shoes beyond my sneakers, my moving boots, and my half-dead sandals, or any pants apart from pajamas and the pair I use for moving. I am also without sweaters, coats, boots, camisoles, half of my bras and underwear, and my body jewelry–a problem which cropped up when I somehow lost my nose ring the day we moved and had to wear an earring in it until I could buy a temporary replacement.To top it all off, my aunt and uncle’s AC is running sluggishly, so as I type this, it is 81 degrees inside the house. I am constantly sweating, so my hair is useless, my makeup melts off, and even my skin care products are pointless.
Eventually, no amount of optimism and plucky can-do attitude will buoy you in an ocean of uncertainty and despair. At some point, you sink. You succumb. You drown.
I, dear friends, am drowning.
This experience has shown me deeply ambivalent sides about how we view “our stuff.” On the positive end of the spectrum, I realized you don’t need as much as you think. My generation, the much maligned Millennials, seem to gravitate more toward downsizing, which I embraced whole-heartedly not only as I purged prior to moving but also now after living out of a suitcase for three months.
My mom and grandmother died within four months of each other, which destroyed my entire world. I was too raw with grief and too pressed for time to devote the energy needed to parse through and properly accept the ending of a life. I clung stubbornly to everything because with each item I donated or threw away, I felt as though I lost a piece of them. Eventually, there would be nothing left. These myriad of things were important to them in their own way, and picking apart which of those objects had value was a betrayal.
After ten years, I was in an emotionally more secure place and had processed much of my grief. Holding onto belongings does not reflect our relationship to our loved ones or devalue what their contributions. Factor in my mom and grandma were borderline hoarders, compulsively saving gifts of glass serving bowls (all eighteen of them), tupperware from the 70s, inauguration packets for Lyndon B. Johnson, and every gift or note we ever gave them, and you have a recipe for a sheer bulk of stuff. Purging allowed me to take comfort in the simplicity of understanding life is more than just accumulating. How much did I really truly need anyway?
Still, there is a comfort inherent in our stuff: looking through photo albums when nostalgia strikes, selecting a favorite book from the shelf to read again, or even admiring a piece of art which speaks to you. We derive a sense of identity from the possessions we collect, and having your own private space where you exercise complete autonomy over how those things are arranged and who has access to them and to you is an essential part of our well-being. When all of that control is stripped from us because of displacement, our entire world descends into chaos, and a sense of being permanently off balance pervades every moment. I can only imagine how much more devastating it feels if you lose your home and have no family or friends who can help. To those who sleep in their cars, motels, shelters, or worst of all, the streets, I admire your strength and recognize that. I understand only a small piece of what it is to be uprooted and how much your sense of identity can be destroyed.
In the midst of this struggle, the store has been abandoned so much that I can barely stand inside it without an encompassing sense of dread. Without income, I couldn’t place orders and failed to deliver in the time frame I quoted. I felt trapped because I couldn’t find the words to express how much was happening and why I wasn’t there as much. Truthfully, I failed the store, and I have failed all of you. A few weeks ago, a customer wrote a negative review, and I broke. I broke in a way I haven’t felt since I awoke to find my mom had passed. I broke in the kind of empty, hollow way where the shell of who you were is there but inside is only darkness. We earned that review just as we earned every positive review, and the knowledge of that crushed me.
Some days this summer, I have not moved from my mattress on the floor. I would lie there with all the lights off and the curtains tucked into the windows so that not even sunlight could touch me, wondering if life offered anything more than suffering. When people asked how I was doing, I felt pressured to either lie and present a false sense of optimism or to be honest and then guiltily spread my negativity. Depression is cruel and isolating. It manipulates you into believing you are worthless. Your friends don’t really care. You brought this on yourself. If you only tried harder. If only you were smarter. If only you were more capable. If only you never got sick. It’s always your fault, and you are always wrong.
When news came down about hot yoga wanting the space, I wanted to cry, but I had donned this emotional armour and a quiet calmness took over me. Thankfully and without any knowledge of what happened, my support system randomly reached out to me, and within two days, several friends were calling or messaging me because of how quiet I was. I wasn’t alone after all. I have always been the person who takes care of others and allowing people to take care of me is something I struggle to accept, but this time, I did. I vented and checked my guilt at the door, and I found myself mentally rebuilding. I felt myself feeling hope again.
A customer is actually the one who planted the idea of taking a month off to sort through things, including my mental health, and the more my dad and I discussed it, the more we identified this as an opportunity and a blessing. Over the next week, we will be selling inventory and moving fixtures to storage while revamping the online shop. I will be contacting vendors to ensure we can keep our accounts open as well as to ensure we do not encroach on another shop’s territory should we relocate outside of Burlington.
My personal identity, for better or worse, became entwined with that of the shop, making it all the more devastating when our robust success felt progressively more like abject failure. Establishing a certain distance will allow me to process my feelings fully without being stretched thin between worrying about housing and the business. I can cry and rage and laugh and plan. I can spend a day with friends or scout new locations. Most importantly, I can determine how I feel about my life and the shop’s place within it.
I cannot promise we will reopen in Burlington because change may be what we need most. I do promise, however, to keep everyone up-to-date. I love this store as if it were a living being, and I want so badly to reinvigorate it so that it reflects the place I know and have always known it can be, but I need time for me right now.
Regardless of what the future holds, I want to say that this has been, even for all the trouble, the most rewarding experience of my entire life. I have met customers who became friends who became more like family. I have worked with multiple charities across the state to improve the lives of people impacted by homelessness, domestic abuse, substance abuse, and natural disasters. I have been an advocate for all my customers. I have promoted acceptance, loving yourself as you are, and the need to be more tolerant of others. I have met some incredible people in the industry who helped me grow not only as a bra fitter and entrepreneur but as a better human being. None of this would have been possible without the shop, and I thank each and every one of you who has been supporting us and continues to support us, even after we fell down this past year. We see you, we value you, and we love you.