Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My Favorite Sweater

I have this old hooded sweatshirt that is my standby, take everywhere, wear too often sweater. I've had it since '94 or '95. It's not particularly comfortable or well fitting. It has an annoying hole in the middle of the forearm that I got very shortly after getting it while running my arm along a chain link pen my dad kept turkeys, chickens, geese and other hobby animals in. I have many other, much softer and warmer sweatshirts and hoodies. Yet if I'm only packing one sweater for a trip, it's that one. If it's clean, I wear it. If it's not clean, I sometimes wear it anyway. I don't even know if I actually, truly like it. I just wear it.

By the time I was in the 8th grade, my parents had been divorced for a year or so. There was textbook divorce drama and some maybe not so text book. One of the textbook being that both of my parents tried to pass the buck to the other at every opportunity. Maybe not so textbook was the degree to which they did this. The early years after the divorce were the most acute.

One of my electives that year was Drama. I'm sure at that point in my life I thought this class of great import in my pursuit of an acting career that I was certain wasn't "just a phase". I don't remember the particulars of the assignment but it was a group performance assignment. I was paired with two other girls in the class and we were going to lip sink to a Green Day song - When I Come Around, I believe was the one. It was an obvious choice as it was blasted from a local rock station at least every 15 minutes throughout the day back then. I was to be the "drummer". With all of my insecurities in junior high, my rhythm wasn't one of them - which, arguably, should have been added to the long list. Wardrobe, however, was.

Between my mom's lack of fashion sense, budget constraints, and general disregard for what I looked like, my dad's lack of... most everything, and my new step dad's disastrous "cowgirl meets fat cat lady birthday outfit" he got me the year prior, I was a fashion crisis waiting to happen. I had still yet to recover from the day that my mom talked me into wearing those high wasted, darted, baggy yet somehow tight, forest green, denim pants with a buckskin suede vest atop a button up, paisley ridden, long sleeve, collared, also denim, coordinating top. It wasn't a flashy, trendy, or even ironic cowgirl outfit. It was like what that girl's fat, gay, slightly autistic sister would wear. Looking cool was this elusive, unknown to me. I wasn't after, nor did I have any idea on how to achieve, the cool-kid outfit of the year that would soon trend to all the middle schools in Ada County and possibly trickle out to Eastern Idaho as well. I simply didn't want to spend the day at school wishing I would implode, my outfit combust, and the memory of me and the day wiped from the entire student body's minds... again. I just couldn't afford another disaster like the "Jesse James/Martha Stewart/old mothball smelling lady from up the road" ensemble.

It was decided that we would all wear jeans and a maroon top - because Green Day always color coordinated when they performed... This was before the days of the internet and kids actually knowing what most music celebrities looked like unless your parents were cool and rich enough to have MTV. So as 3, thirteen something year old girls, it would have completely baffled us to learn that the members of Green Day didn't match attire when they rocked out. The "costume" decision was meant to keep it super simple and did, right?... Wrong. I didn't have anything maroon. So this meant I had to buy something - a specific thing at a specific time. This more than likely ruled out any clearance bin items, one of a kind super sales, or Savers' "Ooo, this looks like new!" finds that seemed to be adhered to almost religiously when shopping for my clothes, to fit the bill. This also meant that I would have to get one of my parents to spend money on something they didn't see the need for and within a short time constraint. Neither would be easy. As terrible as pulling teeth from a great white, I had no other option in my mind than to make one of them come through for me here. Others, perhaps, would have been able to pull it off without something maroon - be cool and confident with whatever they happened to put on that day and make it work. I was neither of these things, not by a long shot, and the few months of drama class I had had leading up to that point weren't enough to fake it.

So I set off to get a maroon top. I started with the mother figure. I lived with her and was a little less doomed in her hands... most of the time. As it turns out, the father figure was late again on child support, so buying me a shirt "was the least he could do"... Now I was faced with reaching out to the irritable, impossibly cheap, bitter guy that I had been avoiding, just so he can buy me something. And, of course, I wouldn't be able to escape "what exactly does your mother do with all the money I give her since she can't even buy you clothes?" being brought up at least once.

Every time I recall the evening, the sky is dark, gray, and looming; it's unsettling and cold. For all I know, it was a perfect Boise dusk with a wonderful summer sunset, but it wouldn't have made a difference. Walking across that long, quiet parking lot with him wrought dread. Neither of us wanted to be there and I could almost taste the tension.

Once inside the store I could immediately feel his agitation rising. I, being a reasonable kid and truly wanting to please, set my sights as low as possible. After ruling out 95% of the store's offerings within minutes, I set my mind on a generic, blank, Discus brand hoodie... in maroon. It was about as close to a PE uniform sweatshirt as you could get in a department store. Before I even officially announced my decision, I could see the wrinkles of disagreement and contention beginning to form on his nose and brow. And so it began.
Like being queued from back stage by my acting coach, I began my monolog. My audience received it with grunts, groans, and sighs of dismissal and distain, mostly, but then spoke, "You'll never wear it. I'm not spending $X [well under $20] on something you'll only wear once."

"No!" I promised, "I'll wear it all the time! I LOVE it!!"

And there it was. I don't know if it's my sincere adoration of truth and honesty and somehow by saying those words it became so, or the fact that I have never worked so hard for a fucking $15 something sweatshirt, or possibly some deeper, more dysfunctional reason - to make my father a liar and spite him, or even deeper and more dysfunctional - to make him proud of me, but at that time, the very moment those words passed my tongue, without me even realizing it, that sweatshirt became my favorite article of clothing that would span decades with me.

I would wear it every time I would see him for quite some time. I don't think he noticed or remembered it. Even so, I felt it important to hide the fact that it caught on his fence and tore just weeks after he bought it for me. Somewhere between then and now it became a part of me, almost. It's "my maroon hoodie", and there's only one. It's always first to be warn out of the wash, always hangs closest to the closet door in comparison to the other sweaters, always in my suitcase when I go places... I just don't know if it's all because I really do love it ...or something else.