Blues, burgundies, blacks, greens. Assorted colors pile on floor. Next to empty card board box. Awaiting purpose.
Sit on floor surrounded by shirts. Late. When sleep could sooth. But day not over. Because sometimes life takes me back. Asks me to remember. Or grow. Or move more into the me who is now. Tonight body full of intermittent shakes. Small tremblings. Signaling stressful day. Tension reminding anatomy of former trauma. Forcing confrontation with realities. Emotions. What has happened to me, to us, since Tony died. In wounding aftermath.
So sort instead of sleep. Decide what to give away. What to keep. Think about what sons may want, be interested in, miss if gone. Suspect this division, this last ordering of Tony’s shirts, may take entire month. Shirts already gone through many times in past two years, eight months. Shirt by shirt leaving what once was our closet. Only a few remaining. My favorites. Cloth I cannot bear to part with. This night scattered on floor. Ready to be folded. Placed. Put away.
Ask many questions. Think many thoughts. “How many favorites do I need to live on well? How often will I really open this box? Sit among these shirts once again? Tears silently falling on disintegrating fibers? A dead man’s shirts are in reality dead. Not living. Just thread woven into being. A sum of things. Inanimate. Infused momentarily with characteristics of person once wearing clothing items. Temporary anthropomorphism of loved one’s stuff. Like fleeting wisps of wind on a hot summer’s night.”
Decide one box. One box of favorites to keep. That’s it. That’s all I’m willing to carry with me the rest of my life. For times of major life events. When remembering, telling the story of who we were as a family and who Tony was as a human being a ritual to live into. Not performance. But dance. His atoms still floating among us. Partnering in silent breezes.
First item in, Baja hoodie. Hands run over coarse woven thread. See scene from first night we kissed. Held each other in nervous embrace. Wondering together and as individuals what it all meant.
Fold black t-shirt with one bright pink triangle in center. With words “Silence = Death.” Remember shame world’s people placed once again on suffering’s shoulders. Remember determination and courage of ACT-UP. Remember dear ones lost to HIV/AIDS. Remember Tony as a young man wearing this t-shirt with tenacious anger.
Smooth out white tank. With The Men’s Center logo on it. Tony up late night before big run in Davenport, Iowa. Making logo of our fledgling company. Ironing on tank. Soon after we opened. Staking savings into dream. Into serving other people. Tony and nephew running race with pride and a bit of free advertisement.
A camp t-shirt. From Paul’s school trip to southern Wisconsin. Tony went as parent chaperone. Taking his responsibilities with predictable seriousness. Intensity I fell in love with. Under his supervision, first grade boy fell out of top bunk. Boy’s father of five not concerned. Tony up all night worrying.
Tye-die shirt. Hand made by Ricky on our deck when he was maybe ten. Paul helping. Another shirt with logo on it. Designed by niece Marissa. Creator of The Men’s Center logo. New logo for entrepreneurial son. Risky in sky blue against bleached white. Folded and placed next to local school district fund-raiser t-shirt. From yearly run downtown. On October Sunday morning. Tony running with our sons. But really after them as I watched.
Two t-shirts bought as presents. At birthday or father’s day. Silly shirts full of fun. Gifts I sent our sons out to buy once Ricky drove. Always coming home with loads of snack food, outrageous card, and t-shirt. Like this one displaying a beer-logo because Tony hated beer.
Place black shirt. White lettering in English and Arabic. Bought from an organization dedicated to hard conversations. For Tony, hard conversation about sexual violence and boys. Prevalence hidden. Healing lacking. Shirt shouting to the world, we will not be silent!
T-shirts, hoodie, topped with dress shirts. One, monogrammed ADR. Another, my favorite bright blue. Black linen left from our early days. All sniffed before packed away. Smelling of nothing. Not Tony. Just slight mustiness of unused clothing. In first months after Tony died repulsed by anything with his smell. Feeling guilty. Like I should sleep with his shirt. Or spend hours lying on our closet floor. Surrounded by symbols of his life, behavior, smell.
But aversion is trauma. Not grief, loss, sorrow. Trauma thieving truth in evil. Stealing necessary moments of love. Two years, eight months of inner work eradicating maliciousness in my body of this villain. Or enough to enact ancient rite of breathing in odor of loved one gone. Bury face in pile of sleeves once yours. Prints, flowers, paisley. Bright as light. Like flowers in rainforest. Reduced to fabric. No longer anything but shirts taking up space. Hanging limply. Waiting for new life. Inhale. Image your smell. Known now only in memory. Memory clear. Bright like your shirts. Rite complete. Enough to continue into next ritual.
One of putting away, making room. Signaling something. An ending. Another completion. Of this place as our home with you. Your shirts, last of things cleaned out. Like socks still in dresser’s drawer. Waiting. Not for you to come back. But for us to move into space and time without your things. Knowing this time approaches. Is even here. Not reactive time. Which somehow is more understood by others. But slow response full of methodical, unknowing, receptive knowledge, and questioning.
Ask again, “How long do we keep the stuff?”
Find no answer in word or reason. Only in action. Shirt by shirt. Some tossed. Some given away. Some saved. Until box full. Sitting Shiva on family room ping-pong table. Marked “Tony’s life in shirts,” in black marker.
Ignored for days. Until place my hands on box. Allow contents to radiate of dreams fulfilled, dreams incomplete, love lived, memories of all kinds, and something else. Not your smell, nor your smile, chuckle, silences, words. But prayer. Your prayers. For us to carry you within. Box, nice but…not necessary. A little too heavy for daily lifting. But your love, light. Dancing up and down our vagal nerves. Interacting within and with each other. Looking inward into self. Looking outward into world. Leaving box behind.
Photos courtesy of Pixabay and Priscilla du Preez. Check out her work on Unsplash.