Favorite Sweatshirt

I spend so many years of my life cold, and I wonder...have you ever? Have you ever been to the place where you are cold enough to give up? I have been there...am there. I dwell at the instant before the overwhelming shiver. Anticipating shivering for 12 years is, needless to say, exhausting. Going to work, driving the kids, hanging out with the 'friends'...and always with a pasted smile, tense shoulders, ribbon-shredded muscles, marbles clogging my veins...trying to keep from shivering. No wonder my neck hurts.

With a closet full of sweaters and sweatshirts, pullovers and cardigans and hoodies, you'd think I could get warm. But every time I go to the closet, they whore themselves to get to me. Stripes and solids, cottons and wools all joyously dance before me in a rhythmic Martha Stewart orgasm, each one shouting "yes! yes! yes!" as I look through the crowd. Tentatively I pick one only to find that at the end of the day it has been nothing to me, I am still so cold. Each day I shrug the disappointed sweater back on the shelf or toss it in the brown paper grocery bag so I can bring it to the Mission the next time we drive by. Late at night I sit alone in the dark with a beer and order a new one from the J. Crew catalog.

Many days I skip the sweater rigmarole altogether. The results are about the same, only less hassle. How much disappointment do you think I can take? But the anticipation of the shiver grows. It becomes an obsession, and I am afraid of it.

There had been a sweatshirt once, long ago. That was a different life, certainly. A better life? I can't really say. I remember it longingly; I tremble at the way it made me feel. I smile when I think of the good times we had at the Calder, the tire swing, the library, the Cottage Bar. I find a photo of us together. That sweatshirt...on the day of the photo and many others...was soft and warm and strong. And it breathed tawny mustard yellow breaths. But it is lost now; I left it behind when I chose the boy. Little did I know it would hollow me; leaving stalactites dripping in an unplatted cavern.

All night long, every night, I remain at the foot of a glacier. All day I continue on with my void life hating what I've become, smiling and waving and stopping to chat with imbeciles at the grocery. Until finally I decide that I have to know. Is my sweatshirt really gone for good? Is there nothing that can take its place? I need to end the suspense. It is time to move on. I have to know, or it will kill me.

So I trace my steps. That's what I've heard you should do when you lose something, you know. Trace your steps. It works well for fucking car keys anyway. I sit at the computer, head in my hands, watching through my eyelids in horror as a frantic backward video of my life plays on the desk before me. The imposters mock me, leer at me, trying to convince me they can be my favorites. Just before the scene turns nightmare, what with all the dressing rooms and fluorescent lighting and suggestions by gum-chewing salespeople who don't know, I spy something. There --what is that? When and where is it?

Yes, there it is. Trapped patient and silent in a worn out, brown metal industrial uberdresser, musty upper corner room, Union Street. 1991. The year I turned my back on my slightly worn, oversized shield of warmth. The year I went to be with a boy. Tears slip through closed eyes and drip on keyboard, letter c.

I had tried calling my sweatshirt back then. We talked, awkwardly, no hard feelings. Things happen. Who knew so many things would change. And even though I had a lovely warmth from a boy, the shiver crept up on me, though I didn't feel it for a long time. And when I finally allowed myself to anticipate the shiver it was too late. I didn't know how to find the warmth I needed. It was gone. One never quite recovers from the mourning of a best sweatshirt.

So there it sits, and I am helpless to do anything but watch. Relief trickles through me, then overwhelming sadness, remembering. Just as I am about to walk away from that tiny room laid out so tidily on my desk, the mustard yellow sweatshirt trapped and patient, beckons. "Try me," it suggests, whispering through forgiving double-stitched seams. My heart in my throat, I look at the boy, the one I went to be with, and he nods.

Tentatively I reach for it, pick up the wrinkled mass and hold its shoulders, turn it, gaze at it. Its former name has faded from the label, a new one in its place. My fingers melt into the softness. The light plays on it tender, silly and a little serious, and it looks good to me. It doesn't shout like the others in the closet. I bring it close to me, bury my face in its chest. It smells just exactly right--like hearts. And it sounds familiar, like wavy beach grass.

For many weeks I carry it with me. In my briefcase, suitcase, over my aching shoulders and tied around my waist, until slowly it becomes a part of me.

In time, I try it on. Gingerly, so not to injure it or myself, I slip it over my head, straighten the sleeves, adjust the collar. It feels like home. Shoulders relax, shredded ribbons melt, and tension eases. And then...and then. I let it come. First the sigh, and then a final quiet shiver.

About the author:

Lisa McMann sells houses to make money and to meet strange people she can later write about. She's been published recently in The Dead Mule and is forthcoming in insolent rudder. She sends much love to her favorite sweatshirt, Superman.