I recently got out of an intense relationship. One of those whirlwind, sweep-you-off-your-feet, what-the-hell-just-happened-that-was-insane type of relationships. You know what I’m talking about. Where suddenly your world is their world and their world is your world and maybe there is no other world but our world and wait, hold on, what?? This isn’t the right time for the two of us??? But I was just—and you were just—and we just met two months ago but I feel like I’ve known you forever and now it’s over. You know, like that.
I remember a conversation I had a few years ago with a different ex before we’d officially become a couple. He told me he hated getting into relationships because he dreaded that sensation after breaking up of having the world as you know it ripped away from you. For weeks or months or years you spend every day with this person, and then suddenly, they’re just gone. It’s like a death. Of them, of you, of “us.” I nodded. I knew what he was talking about. It was hard to let go. Maybe that’s why I’d been holding on to so many T-shirts and sweatshirts for all of these years.
* * * * *
I stole my first one in high school from my best friend Alex Frost. It was thin, grey, worn, with three navy stripes on each arm. Ralph Lauren Polo Sport- a label I would never associate with him. Not that I would ever associate any label with Alex. He’s never been the guy who cared about names, unless it was Cronenberg, Palahniuk, Fincher, Anderson.* But this was his favorite hoodie, and I stole it. And his was just the beginning.
I suppose if I’m really analyzing it, I can go even further back, and start with my dad’s pocket T-shirts. His multi-colored Hanes were my signature style in my Holy Cross days. Most of the Catholic school year, we sported crisp white button downs and navy blue slacks, but on those rare “free dress days” like Valentine’s or St. Patrick’s, you could find me swimming in a red or green cotton T, proudly rocking a pocket over my underdeveloped chest.
Technically though, my dad’s shirts get placed in the “borrowed” category. I wore them, mom washed them, and then they ended back up in dad’s dresser. While Alex’s hoodie may have begun as “borrowed,” it eventually turned into “stolen,” because I had no intention of ever giving it back. I just loved it too much. Not because it flattered my figure (quite the opposite) or provided exceptional warmth or comfort (see above description: thin, worn), but because it reminded me of him in such an intimate way. Like sharing a toothbrush or a burned Dashboard Confessional CD. I mean, I was inside his favorite hoodie. That’s major.
After Alex, I started collecting clothing items from other people I was close to- mostly boyfriends, but also a couple of girl friends. There was the Nike zip-up from Dan, the tear-away Adidas pants from Zack, the AEPi sweatshirt from Mike, the Kix t-shirt from Greg, the cashmere sweater from Ben, the cashmere pants from Justin, the grey sweatpants from Hannah. They were like my Dexter slides – little tokens I’d taken to remind me of my past relationships. I knew I should return them to their rightful owners, but they felt so good every time I slipped them on. They made me feel… less alone. And so I’ve kept them. All of them.
* * * * *
This time I have a zip-up and a pair of Ray-Bans. Both are too large, although I really like rocking the Ray-Bans, even if they’re scuffed and slide down my nose. They make me think of him and his laugh. I miss him in those moments. But in a pleasant way. Not a lonely way.
We texted briefly a couple of weeks ago. It was cordial, even sweet. I asked him if he could find my favorite pair of jeans. I’d left them in his hamper. He said he’d looked for them. I told him we could do an exchange. After all, I still had his stuff, too. And I wanted to return it. If only to prove to myself that I’m fine the way I am. Which I am. Single, but not alone. And even if the world we had created no longer exists, it doesn’t mean that I don’t still hold a part of it. Because I do. But it’s not in a sweatshirt or a scarf or a pair of boxers. It’s in my heart, where it rightfully belongs.
P.S. Alex, I still have that hoodie if you want it back. I know it’s been 13 years, but better late than never, right? Love you!!
*P.T. and Wes