Ratty Old T-shirt

I’ve got a t-shirt that’s 18 years old.

I haven’t worn it often, because there’s a part of my brain that tells me I need to preserve it. To save it. That its life is finite, and every time I put it on, it’s that much closer to being gone forever. I’m quite sure it’s because that time in my life has faded into distorted memories, and the shirt is one of the few tangible things left of an entirely different me.

If the shirt goes… so do some of those memories.

This makes it hard for me, because I’m a bit of a pack rat when it comes to emotionally tied physical objects. I can pull a piece of writing out of my files that is 30 years old, and even though I’ve long since copied it into digital format, I can’t bring myself to throw away the original, yellowed, dot-matrix printed piece of paper. And that’s just something I picked up to read every now and then.  When faced with an article of clothing that I wore countless times and lived through numerous experiences in, it becomes even harder to separate myself from it.

Interestingly, the shirt is very closely tied with my writing.

You see, there is a website, formerly fray.org, and now fray.com, which is comprised of creative, non-fiction, personal stories.  Each story would have its narrative, and would be followed by a related question for the reader to respond to via the guestbook.  Originally, these stories were submitted by various authors, and the website creator would craft individual and unique web pages to present each story.  Several of the results were noted as being some of the most originally designed pages on the internet at the time – the internet still being somewhat adolescent. That was what led me to the site in the first place, fancying myself a bit of a web designer.

As I delved into the stories I became inspired.  So I wrote one.  And I submitted it.  And it was rejected.  Yeah, I was a little bitter, but it made sense.  I exceeded the maximum word limit, and I refused to edit it down, so of course the rejection was well grounded.  Well, that, and I’m sure he just thought it didn’t fit.  But I was still so enthralled with the site that when a friend of mine (who was also a big fan) bought himself a Fray t-shirt, he got me one as well.

Which I wore a lot.  And then not so much.  Followed by almost never.

Finally, I realized that a choice needs to be made. Continue to let it stay tucked away on my shelf, raising bittersweet memories each time my fingers brush it while sifting for a shirt to wear, or to continue to enjoy it until it becomes too threadbare.  And while I was contemplating that decision it occurred to me that I needed to write about it, to try and convey what I felt were the complexities of my emotional attachment to a piece of cloth.

Which is what leads me to the real point of this story.  You see, I promptly forgot about the shirt altogether.

The next day I carried on, business as usual, with no recollection at all about my desire to write or express my feelings about something which, the night before, had seemed so important.  It wasn’t until days later that I remembered it, in fact.  When I did, it was a bit staggering.  That I could place such importance on not just an object, but a concept, and in less than 12 hours forget about it completely.  I was, it seemed, proving my own fear of how easily my memories could be forgotten, by forgetting about the very thing that was my strongest cognitive link to them in the first place.

Then I took a step back.  I remembered what my goal had been – to write.  Which brings it full circle.

It isn’t about the shirt, it’s about the memories themselves.  The shirt is just the vessel, which is why I still cling to it.  But my decision to write about it was the real key, because I always go back, eventually, to re-read my past.  I don’t do it often, not nearly as often as seeing an old shirt stacked in a closet, which is a good thing, because then I’m not constantly being transported to the past.  It’s exhausting, the constant back and forth, and detracts from the present when visited too often.

I love to write.  Non-fiction best of all.  I used to believe that only fiction would let me be truly creative, but a professor of mine set me straight when she said, even creative non-fiction is still fiction.  Once an event is in the past it becomes a memory, and memory is subject to interpretation, which in some way, is always going to be fictitious. That’s when, I feel, I truly began to write.  I write to capture those memories trapped within a shirt, a pair of shoes, a piece of paper.  Not all of the memories, but enough of them. Those that are keys to unlock other memories.  And so on.

As for the shirt,  It doesn’t belong on the shelf.  It’s purpose is to be worn.  When it can no longer be worn in public, it can be worn around the house.  It can be worn until it quite literally falls apart.  If it collects more memories along the way, all the better.  It’s just that much more to write about.

And now, as I began doing in my blogs so long ago, inspired by numerous Fray stories, I end with a question.  What do you do to preserve the memories you are afraid to forget?

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