I own a few shirts of my father. Some were hand-me-downs, some were intentionally kept and tossed my way, and some were stolen.
One of my favorite shirts is one that I never can remember him actually wearing. I can’t know quite remember how I came by it – maybe I found in the back of the closet as a rummaged around in early high school, maybe my Mom pawned it off on me to clear space. Either way, as I pounced and slipped it on, hopping around giddily in front of my Dad, he just scrunched his face and said, “Oh, that one.”
It’s like gauze, soft with age, striped in pastels, and has a collar and a pocket. Everything a girl, in my mind, needs. It’s perfect for hot summer days, enough to wear with a tank top, but enough to afford me a flowing shield against the contours of my body. I have dozens of pictures of myself wearing it through the years.
[In fact, for all you stalkers out there, one in my flickr stream!]
I was dealing with my car last Thursday, feeling a bit worn, wishing all day that I could have a few minutes to speak to my Dad. The day heated up enough that a third trip back to the school via bike could warrant the use of my favorite shirt and a tank top. I rode and I felt the breeze and it was good.
Later that night class, I lifted one shoulder strap off one shoulder to drop my backpack off the other, when I heard a clear RIIIPPP. The shirt had worn through, tearing away like a tissue at the seam on the shoulder. When I saw my skin and the wisps of thread, I sighed and went on a hunt for a safety pin. I walked to the restroom and as I washed my hands, I just felt this sense of failure. I couldn’t keep things my Dad entrusted to me safe, I thought. I had worn the shirt early to be sort of a mantle and it failed. I failed it.
I saw my skin underneath.
I felt this shudder in my stomach and I thought that this, this tear, it was supposed to be something of a sign. It laid down swiftly in my mind that the mantle that my Dad gave me isn’t something that is in cloth, but in the fabric of who I am and what I’m composed of.
He wrote me a card about two years ago, when his feet were already facing the descent, which was probably the most intimate that I ever had in writing from him. He never trained for it, but he did manage to turn a phrase every now and then. It was a bit of a usual card in that he wrote that he was proud of me. Then, as if he both got lost in thought and yet very purposely wrote in his usual block script, he wrote what touched me most. He wrote that above all, I was to remember that before anything else, to remember that him and I were cut of the same cloth.