Friday, September 16, 2011

Shirt Happens

My mother sent me a text a few days after the start of the school year and it was one of those texts where I could hear the laughter in the few words on the little screen. She sent it because she'd just seen the first day of school picture I'd posted on Facebook, the one with my kids standing in front of the porch steps, still sleepy, dressed for school and with backpack, lunchbox and hoodie.

It was the hoodie that did it for her. It was the start of the school year, August, and the temperature that morning must have already been in the 80s. Yet here was my teenage son wearing a hoodie for his walk to school.

When I was his age, we called them jackets, and I guarantee I would have had one on, too. I complained about C wearing his without even realizing I was looking at my own 13-year-old self. And this is what set my mother off. And then it set me off, laughing along with her text because it had come full circle.

I don't know what it is, this need to cover up. For me back in 1983, it might have been an uneasiness with my changing, gangling body; a lack of self-confidence and self-esteem. None of this was new to me, nor is it new with C, it's all part of being an awkward adolescent.

I don't wear the hoodie/jacket all the time now. But now I have a shirt. It's different shades of brown, a couple of pockets, and worn thin at one elbow. I call it my writing shirt because it helps me write. Not really, of course, but that's what I tell myself. There are no characters in the pockets, no plot line up a sleeve. Trust me, I've looked. It's just something comfortable I like to put on that gives me the sense that I'm about to do something, it's like Superman's cape or the prologue to any great story.

I'm not even sure where I got the shirt. I think it was a gift long ago in the age of grunge from my sister-in-law. It rarely leaves the house, worn and unsightly as it is, and is almost never worn in the summer months. But this time of year, when the temperature dips into the 50s, it comes back out and I ease into it the way I might ease into that great story. Hopefully.

I've been told by the women in this house that this shirt is what not to wear. Its very existence has been threatened. These are people who would seek to expose Superman's secret identity, to erase that prologue. I don't need the shirt to write any more than I need pencils or a thesaurus. It's simply another tool in my arsenal, a cloak to drape over my awkwardness at putting my thoughts and feelings on paper for the world to see.

These are moments like adolescence all over again, and I say use everything you've got to help you feel comfortable with it.