After the weekend, now that my super-sexy male guest has gone home, I stand before my t-shirt shelf determined to make a difference this time. The twenty-year-old t-shirts with holes in the pits have to go. I was lucky enough not to be caught wearing one of these by my super-sexy guest—I’d made a separate pile of t-shirts labeled “okay for the weekend with Super-Sexy”. No, what SS caught me in was a fifteen-year-old sweatshirt that had been given to me by my murderous boyfriend of ’98.
“No one can see your beautiful shape in that baggy thing,” SS had said.
“I don’t want my beautiful shape to always be seen,” I said back.
But old t-shirts with claw marks over the shoulders—from every cat I’ve ever walked the floor with at night—don’t need to be so handy when I have piles of other t-shirts that are newer with no holes. If I can’t bear to throw my old ones out—which I can’t now, I’ve decided, because it would take too long to figure out which were the keepers, and why all the rest deserved the trash—I need to at least put them into a new pile, separate from my good ones.
I stand there unfolding and shaking out Bruce Springsteen, Mickey Mouse, Minnesota—all holey and baggy and soft—and think about all the people through my life who have commented on my personal presentation choices. One who sticks out is Pigeon Man, another murderer I dated in the 90’s. We were in his truck, on the way to dinner, and I mentioned I’d gone shopping that day. I’d bought some new clothes.
“Well, didja wear ‘em?” said Pigeon Man, who could plainly see that the answer was “no”. “Why not!?” he demanded.
“Because I like what I have on,” I remember saying. I was wearing this long sleeveless silk vest that I wore all the time, with a cinched tie in back. I wore it like I would a very short dress, with black tights underneath and high strappy heels. I puzzled for a long time after that, wondering why Pigeon Man would care more about my clothes than I did.
I continue to separate and fold, t-shirts just for me, and t-shirts suitable for the outside world. I still have a lot that came from my ex-husband’s brother’s store in San Francisco; that was twelve years ago, and these shirts have stood up well, I have to give them that. It's not the t-shirts’ fault that my ex-husband was a freak. They go in my “for the outside world” pile.
In general, but more specifically since Christmas, and most acutely right now as I stand in my closet going through my clothes after my weekend with Super-Sexy, who I might never want to see again and who might never want to see me, I am wondering again what keeps people together. My mom got the flu when I was home for Christmas, and the first sign that something was wrong was that she didn’t emerge from her bedroom. My father and I sat at the kitchen table for a long time drinking coffee and visiting before he finally looked at the clocked and said, “Where’s your mother?”
“Still in bed, I guess,” I said.
My father gazed at me, his jaw set, all business. “In the fifty five or so years that I have been married to your mother, I have never, ever, seen her get up this late.”
He was slightly more at peace when he knew it was just the flu and nothing worse, but still, after a couple of hours, he became agitated again. “I’m going down the hall to see your mother!” he said, as if he suddenly realized he could. He was gone for so long that I went to look for him too, as I had gone to peek in on my mother earlier. There he was, sitting on the edge of her bed, his walker off to the side. My mom was curled up under the covers, a small shape under her chenille bedspread. I wasn’t there to eavesdrop, but I could hear them murmuring back and forth, my dad leaning towards my mom, his arm around the curve of her hip.
I keep folding my shirts the way my mother taught me, smoothing and stacking them, piles for me and the piles that will make me presentable to the world. My parents’ kind of love, the kind they have now, has nothing to do with t-shirt or sweatshirt approval—even though these issues remain on the table—but everything to do with time. I always wanted to be married for 50 years, and so far I've only managed two.
I better hurry up.