The White Shirt

I was barely a teenager. Because my brushes with women in a romantic sense up to this point were few and far between, I tended to fixate on the few experiences that I had, and from that fixation were born neuroses, of a sort. For example, the first makeout session I had was with a girl named C. I don’t remember what type of pants I was wearing, but I remember clearly that I was wearing a white shirt. The reason I remember the white shirt so vividly is because after that night with C, after the hours of (fairly) innocent teenage necking, upon returning home I hung that shirt up in the back of my closet and I refused to wash it. The shirt smelled like her, see: a wondrous sensual combination of her hair product and her mature smelling perfume. But it was something more as well: the shirt was a window to that experience, and not just a window, but a kind of totem of that experience as well, a souvenir from that night. Looking at the shirt brought back a glorious mix of fear and arousal and also, yes, longing for that night, that night when a person treated me like I was the only person in the world, and was content to spend hours in my arms, staring up into my eyes.

Notice the emphasis: my, my, my. For a teenager whose self esteem was always hanging in tatters, this was a vital and life-saving repair of that tattered self-esteem. And so the shirt hung in the back of that closet for years, and every time I was feeling unloved, or unworthy, I would slide open my closet door and walk in to my closet, spreading my hands open and parting the clothes like a curtain, stepping further back into my own personal Narnia, and I would take the shirt in my hand and inhale deeply, taking in the smells; and the calming, affirming effect was immediate and powerful.

Over time, the smells started to fade. As things do. As a result, I had less and less inclination to visit. The power of the shirt retired to that place back there, beyond those series of hills and valleys, to sit and commiserate with Puff the Magic Dragon, whose own little Jackie Paper had stopped coming to visit long ago.

But I can still close my eyes to this day and see it hanging there in the back of my closet. I can see the subtle stain on the right shoulder where something reddish pink must have brushed it; maybe her foundation had rubbed off when she nestled closer against me after a gust of wine collided with the window of her bedroom, rattling the frame with the sounds of a beggar shaking his almost empty coin cup. Maybe it was from the fruit punch we had drank earlier that night, because earlier that night we were still children. I don’t know, you know?

I don’t know.

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