Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Shirt Off My Back

It was a great shirt. It was blue and green plaid flannel. It was one of those items in my wardrobe that appeared as Fall made its inexorably slow turn into Winter. It was long sleeved and button up. It met my fashion requirements of being wash and wear. And now it's all washed and worn out.
I was suddenly thrust into a wave of mourning. I felt the loss of all those favorite shirts. The ones that fit so well. The ones that never did. I had a sweatshirt given to me when I was just a lad. It came from a cousin who attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I don't know if he ever wore it. It was small when it came to me, and I proceeded to wear it for years after that, until the sleeves only came down to my forearms and the collar began to chafe. My mother finally persuaded me to let that powder blue monstrosity go. It was time.
As an adult, the job of informing me when the shirts I wear have outlived their freshness factor. She will tell anyone who will listen the tale of my running shirts, one of which is a T-shirt I rescued from a dumpster behind the University of Colorado fieldhouse. It was a souvenir. That was closing in on forty years ago. Now it is a relic. It is also the secret shame for my wife. Even though I only wear it one day a week, and it's usually covered by another layer, each time I pull that rag over my head, I know she dies a little inside. Someday I know that I will go to the drawer to find the shirt that was once black and I will find nothing in its place. I imagine that it will have collapsed in on itself like a dying star. Or my wife will have finally exacted her revenge for all those years of suffering in relative silence.
Generally, she is more vocal in her approval or disapproval of what I am wearing when I leave the house. Often it is in the harsh morning light that she sees the threadbare or the irrevocably stained tatters that I choose to don on my way to another day of teaching. Over the years she has grown much more kind and deferential, coming a long way from, "You're going out like that?" to something more neutral and affirming like, "Do you think it's time you thought about..."
This time it was all me. I noticed the way the collar had worn through to white as I glanced in the mirror after I had brushed my teeth. It was time to retire the old green and blue. When I announced this decision, after wearing it to work that day and making it home alive, I got a surprised reaction from my wife. She sensed my attachment, and then went one further: she offered to adopt it for herself. There may be another life left in that old rag still. We'll see if we can find any trace of it after it goes through the laundry one last time.

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