My recollection, though hazy, is that my sister took it off her warm body and because I was too weak to lift my arms, put it on my shivering body, at my hospital bed. I treasure it particularly because it came to me at a time of great turmoil in my life and she was one of the few constants. While I was dying, she took care of me. And then she died.
My dad insists angrily that she gave him the shirt and he took it off and put it on me, but the rest of the details are the same. I don't talk to him about how I recall it because he doesn't have much and to discount what he thinks he gave me when he's still putting a roof over my head while I go through this hell (Churchill said, 'Keep going.') and I'm not one to tend to bite hands that feed me although I confess to a nip here and there when someone is spiteful or cranky and take it out on me because I'm in the general vicinity.
Either way, someone who loved me very much gave me the shirt and put it on me.
Also, I remember barely being able to walk, but home from the hospital and going to the wound care center at least twice a week and I was losing weight so fast and in so much pain that it was basically the only article of clothing that was so big it didn't rub me anywhere and it's made of the thickest, heaviest weight cotton and it's got a giant hood and kangaroo pouch and is a pullover, so no zippers to irritate my injuries.
It was then that people began referring to me in it as a bell, because it was past my knees and I wore black leggings that could easily be pulled up and down as medical personnel worked quickly to assess, measure, clean, cut, cauterize, disinfect, medicate, pack and bandage the holes in my body being ravaged by uncontrollable MRSA, racing quickly like a NASCAR pit-team before the Fentanyl stopped its magical painless wonderland.
They would see me walking slowly, using the handrail in the hall or sometimes a wheelchair when I couldn't make it and was loopy from the meds or just too weak. I wouldn't let my family see me because my dad was almost seventy and crying, 'My poor little girl' and at that point had already lost my mother and soon, suddenly, my sister.
I would beg my ex-husband to stay the night with me. The anxiety was overwhelming and often, he did but he was exhausted and had to work or lose his job. Sometimes he had to say no to me and I would cry so hard I'd get sicker. Years later he told me he'd wanted to kill himself. It was too much. He was right. It was.
Then the visits to the center became less common and my visiting nurse along with Spouse took care of me at home. I wasn't very functional but stubborn insomuch as I refused a potty chair and no matter how stoned I was from a cocktail of very powerful opiates and muscle relaxants, I made it to the bathroom, even if I had to crawl. Sometimes, though, I didn't make it in time, but mostly I did. There's nothing beautiful about illness. My hair had fallen out. My teeth were damaged from vomiting, and the few times I'd look in the mirror, I saw a monster.
Still, every time I went out, I wore the shirt, a bright red Dickies hoodie, the logo emblazoned across the chest. Sometimes I only made it as far as the front door because of a long bout of agoraphobia. I would stand in the doorway, holding the doorknob, dressed and ready to go, in fact, having made meticulous plans and looking forward to them but break out into a sweat and vertigo.
I'd cry and be disgusted and disappointed with myself that I couldn't leave, although the door was wide open and it only took a step over the threshold to be outside in the beauty of the day and my whole body would shake in terror. Often, I wouldn't make it. Sometimes I would. And over time, the 'would' became more common and my desire to be part of the world again overcame the fear.
Right now I'm lying in bed, under the covers, with only the light from the laptop. It's been a horrible day and more discouraging than words can convey. Tomorrow I will try again. But right now, I'm in my red hoodie with my red eyes and wet face in the dark. When I was little, it was a book and flashlight, but time and technology waits for no one.
Half of my bed is covered in piles and piles of books and clothing. I like to lay on my side and pretend I'm a little spoon and the pile is really someone warm and loving next to me. A little bag from the pharmacy slips down the pile and a Twix candybar slips out onto my keyboard. I hadn't bought a Twix in years and it was purely an impulsive buy as I hadn't eaten at all today, in my race to accomplish what I could as time and energy would allow. I took the arrival of the Twix as an omen. I take omens seriously especially since I have some prophetic dreams. We should not ignore them. I should eat this Twix. So I will.
Wonton won't leave the room if I won't leave the room, except to potty when she needs to. She won't eat or drink when I'm depressed and I have to force myself to get out of bed and sit by her china saucer and water bowl so she knows it's okay to eat. I have no child; She's my child. When she's done she looks up expectantly and licks her lips. It's time to go back. I make a quick trip to the bathroom. She sits outside the door. If I spend too much time in there, she lets me know she's waiting with delicate and barely discernible squeaking and squawking.
I return to my room in the dark. My father calls out to me to please eat something but I can't. I lay in bed and I hear a little bell tinkle and feel her scaling Mt. Books About Zen and Many Marble Composition Pads as she makes her way toward me. It offends her delicate sensibilities to walk on my bare legs so she works her way around my personal K2 until she steps onto my rolled up sleeve and kneads my forearm. She licks my bare wrist and begins to purr a melody. I know in my heart of hearts that it's not just for her. She's trying to heal me too.
She's, as my gran describes, a 'one-person-cat'. This dismays gran because she frequently tries to buy her love and Wonton can't be bought. She may eat the delicate morsels of fresh tilapia, but then she winds her way back to my bedroom or, if I'm not home, sits by the door and waits for me.
One would not think she's an affectionate cat. That's because she only showers me with affection when we're alone. In public (ie, the living room), she'll lay nearby or on the back of the couch or chair I'm on, within paw's reach. She searches my face. My father says she's probably hungry. We've been through this before. She's not. She likes the little snackie rituals we have, but she's worried about me. And so am I.
I have big problems. More people have bigger problems. I don't feel I have the right to complain. The problems grow bigger. They can't be ignored. I feel like I'm going to be covered by a landslide. I've been working so hard to work on everything and still they get worse and seemingly beyond my reach. I wrap my arms around myself and feel the red hoodie and the love that it was given in.
Things I have done while wearing this shirt:
Left my husband.
Sat outside with my baby brother in the woods and watched a bear walk up to us from behind him.
Pumped gas into my car for the first time ever.
Had a pic taken of me with my remaining sibling where he has his arm around me.
Argued with an ex-boyfriend over how he thinks it does 'nothing for me' which is code for, 'I can't see your body' and I laughed while he denied it.
Was told that my brother Donny had died.
Was told that my sister Lisa had died.
Held my cat Mr Peaches in my arms and wailed when he came to me to tell me he was going to die and then the following day, wore it again, as he died.
Had an epic meltdown after leaving the ex, that made my doctor confront me with the choice of either hospitalization or to see a therapist now. I chose the latter. Best thing ever.
Joined a gym.
Gave myself a probable concussion in the same gym.
Detoxed myself from narcotics.
Lost 430 lbs. over five years.
Was surrounded by a gang of wild turkeys. I fended them off by laughing at them.
Slept for three days straight, got up, put on a pair of jeans and went on errands without even brushing my hair.
Returned emails and texts to people who care about me.
Carried it back and forth to Kitty's house for weekend retreats.
Learned how to use jumper cables in 15 degree weather.
Sat on the deck in the near dark, not wanting to go inside and saw a solitary deer peep out at me from behind a tree.
Played Angry Birds and threw my laptop across the room in rage and frustration.
Had my heart break into a million pieces by a man from another country.
Got over him.
Threw up a hundred times.
Sat on the edge of the bed and sobbed to my ex boyfriend that I had no hope and listened to him tell me not to worry, stop worrying, I'm stronger than anyone he knows and it would get better and someone would come along and adore me.
Ran outside and got a hot cocoa delivery from the same guy. Who hates the shirt.
Told my therapist that I asked God to forgive me on the way over in case I purposefully drove over the guardrail.
Decided not to refill my Xanax prescription.
Made appointments and plans to continue rebuilding my life.
Ate a Twix.
Thanked my cat and God. In that order.
I slept in this shirt. It's faded from washing, but it's magic to me and I won't stop wearing it even when it's threadbare because it's full of love and hope and the past and my future. It smells like me. It smells like my dreams too. It reminds me of everything I've done since I first wore it and of the few material things left in my life, it's a simple pleasure, a priceless treasure.