You'd think I wouldn't get cold in California. After all, I grew up in the mountains of New Mexico, where one had to sleep with a fire in the fireplace, a couple of down comforters on the bed, and a kerosene heater in the bedroom to make it through the night.
But I've lived now in California for one year longer than I lived in New Mexico, and my blood has thinned. I suffer the mild winters here, with the constant chilly downpours, because this damp, cold time is what makes it so worth it in the spring and summer.
I don't have to like it, though.
I always get in this mood around this time of year ... kinda cranky, kinda fidgety. Each morning, I flip through the clothes hanging in my closet, my choice of top for the day steadily moving to the right, where the warmer clothes are. And for the past few years during this autumnal ritual, I've had to flip past it. It always pisses me off, to have to do that, because it reminds me of the bad aspects of one of the most amazing relationships I've ever had with another person.
It is an ugly, baby-cack brown, 100% polyester, tacky, silly jacket, circa 1975 or thereabouts. It's tacky. It's too small, it's not mine, and I get pissed every time I see it. It reminds me of the thing I lost, the thing it presumes to replace.
It is not my comfy, lovely pearl gray cable-knit sweater, with the big wooden buttons up the front, and the deep pockets on each side. He took that, because he loved to wear it. Just like he took some other things from me ... one time even stole my Playstation and hocked it because he didn't have the balls to ask me for some money. He seemed to always be taking things from me without asking and no matter how angry I got at him for doing it, he wouldn't desist in his petty thievery. I finally told him to get the hell out of my life if he had so little respect for me and the relationship I presumed we'd built on for several years.
Shortly after I took him back into my life (I couldn't ever keep him out of it for very long), it somehow appeared in my closet, and then he was gone. For good.
So now for the last couple of years, I've angrily faced it, angry because I always want my sweater when it starts to cool down, angry because I know he's probably lost it by now, angry because I miss him and love him, both terribly, still. Yet for as angry as it makes me, I've never found it necessary to throw it out or donate it to Goodwill or burn it or do anything else but keep it hanging there, on the right side of my closet.
Tonight, as I was looking for a sweatshirt, I touched it and instead of the usual, faint, comfortable flash of anger, I instead recalled a memory, almost lost and scabbed over with a lot of bitterness.
It was the first time I'd seen him in that sweater, when we were just friends and I'd let him borrow it for a walk down to the park one fall evening. I had forgotten my smokes, and so went back home, while he continued on. When I caught up to him at the park, he didn't notice me at first and he was ... thinking he was all alone ... he was enveloping himself in my sweater.
As I said, it was early on in our relationship, and as charmed and smitten with him as I was, he was still just a boy, and there was no way I could have ever mentioned it to him without dreadful embarrassment on both sides of the equation. So I promptly forgot the incident until tonight.
Now I know why he loved that sweater so much. He loved it because he could wrap himself up into something that was mine, that had my essence, the smell of my smokes and the smell of my cologne, deeply ingrained into the warp and woof of it. He loved that sweater for all the same reasons I loved it. But there was no way on earth he could have asked me for it, not without giving away some aspect of himself to me. Not without telling me something he wasn't ready to tell me yet.
Later on, when we'd grown together, become comfortable together, I got angry with him and threw him out for the first time. He never expected me to react like that, and it frightened him. That's when he took my sweater. He was afraid I wouldn't give him anything else, ever again, so he took it. He didn't yet understand that I'd never be able to stop giving to him.
And at the end of our relationship, when all was said and done, it is what he left behind for me. A silent, pointed, and poignant message to me. Apology. Contrition. Gift.
Inhaling deeply, I smell, faintly, him.
And it is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.