I wore the same black sweatshirt every day for a year. I found it hanging behind the door to the garage, on the coat rack with all of my parents’ old castoffs. It must have followed us from house to house, always ending up on some coat rack behind one door or another. I think my dad used to wear it to mow the lawn when we were younger. I can picture him in the sweatshirt, wheeling the mower into the yard on a misty Sunday morning as my mom backed the car down the driveway to take us to church.
Sweatshirts like these were popular when I was in middle school. They slouched over the angular shoulders of skinny skater kids, emblazoned with the Volcom or Spitfire logos. A black hooded sweatshirt was casual yet rebellious; the garment of a laid-back punk. Real punk was dead, but now it was possible to buck the system in comfort and warmth, without all of the inconvenient studs and spikes.
Like most of my clothing, this sweatshirt was an approximation of cool — my best attempt at dressing like the popular kids. It was the right idea, just a shade off in execution. Instead of a skateboard logo, this sweatshirt had white embroidered Olympics rings on the right breast, with “USA” stitched above. The back, where the largest logos usually were, was empty.
It was my own cloak of invisibility. Inside its shapeless sleeves I hid my pale, skinny arms, and my pudgy waistline was obscured by the flowing black cotton and a loose-fitting t-shirt. And best of all, it went with everything. During my 8th grade year, I wore it every day, without exception. When I took it off, my upper body looked strange, as if it belonged to someone else. It became such a part of me that I barely recognized my own reflection without it.
I wore the sweatshirt the day we moved from our house on Anacortes into the townhouse on Union. We traded a four-bedroom house with a basement, two-car garage and a backyard for a townhouse that shared a parking lot with a meth lab, and another apartment (my dad’s) that we would only see on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and every other weekend.
That morning, as I arranged the pieces of my old life into my new bedroom, trying to reconcile their familiarity with the lavender walls and mothball musk, I realized I couldn’t breathe. Pinpricks of sweat stung my arms beneath the sweatshirt, but I kept it on, wrapping it tighter around myself. I felt tears running hot trails down my cheeks and I couldn’t understand why. Everything was fine. Everything was absolutely fine. The problem was me. I was weak. I was breaking. I was acting like a little kid. I writhed at the feeling of my own skin, hating how my arms felt inside the sweater. Hating the feel of the cotton pills against my damp flesh.
I sobbed in front of my half-filled bookshelf as a beam of sunlight streamed through my new bedroom window. In its glow, strings of dust hung in the air like stars.
Photo by Nathan O'Nions