“Do you know anything about this?”
My husband stands at the top of our circular staircase holding a blue t-shirt. A souvenir from a trip to Alaska, it features a dogsled team and ‘Iditarod’ in bold white letters. Or it used to. Now there’s a rip straight down the middle, a dog sled driver on one side of the divide, his dozen-strong dog team on the other.
I stare at it for a moment.
“No,” I say.
“Huh,” he replies. “I guess it was one of the kids then.” He holds up the shirt and looks at it, pulls the two torn sides together, trying to make the picture whole. “The thing I don’t understand is why it wasn’t balled up in the corner, or thrown in the garbage.”
“Good question,” I say.
“It was neatly folded on my shelf.”
“Of course, it was.” I say. I let a moment pass, looking at the left side of the shirt. ‘Alas’, it reads.
“I wouldn’t make a gesture like that and want it to go unnoticed.”
“Oh, so it was you,” he says.
I look at him.
“As if there was ever any doubt?”
He smiles and shakes his head. I walk into the kitchen to make coffee and he comes down the stairs and follows me. I grab two coffee mugs and flip up the lid of the coffee-maker.
“I suppose I can use it as a rag,” he says good-naturedly, dropping the shirt on the counter.
“Or, you could wear it like a cape”, I say, flipping the switch to start the java flowing.
“Too bad it’s not red or I could use if for a protest flag on the sailboat.”
I cross the kitchen and run my fingers over the shirt, its cotton worn soft by many trips through the washer. “I don’t remember what prompted that,” I say. One of the unexpected blessings of being forty-five is that your memory sometimes fails, taking a lot of unpleasantness with it.
What I do recall is how easily it ripped in my hands, the way it flew apart, satisfying in the way it is when you pull a dandelion and the whole root comes out, unexpectedly, with one sharp yank. I can conger the feeling of frustration that would have preceded the tearing, too, the frustration so massive that I would be stomping around in circles, like a tiger in a cage, unable to escape the torrent of feelings: shame, rage, impotence. I would have grasped the shirt at the collar, one sharp twisting of the hands, then A sick feeling of déjà vu.– riiiiip – I was left holding it. I would have felt better for a minute – a sweet rush of relief. Then I probably felt like an idiot and, not knowing what else to do, folded it neatly and put it back on the shelf.
I feel like an idiot now but I don’t mind. There’s relief in humility, too.
“I am perfect,” he says, puffing his chest, “and you are lucky to have me.” He’s teasing, but he’s got a point.
“You are perfect,” I say. “And I am lucky to have you.”
The perfect wedding vow, I think. Those ten little words.
By the way,” he says, “You spilled coffee on your sweater.” He points to a spot on my chest
I look down at it.
“Of course, I did.”
(Author’s Note: This is an excerpt from a longer piece, “Souvenirs of Marriage”)