This Old Sweatshirt
My Y2K & Summer is Calling
“Why are you keeping this sweatshirt? It’s so worn,” asked my girlfriend Lilly holding up my old black sweatshirt.
I stopped what I was doing and crossed the room and said, “That’s my lucky shirt.” I took the shirt from her and said, “I’ll wash it, thanks.”
Lilly smiled and shrugged, “Men are so weird.”
I returned to my desk and held my sweatshirt.
I was lying in bed with my girlfriend, Farrah. She was lying on her back engrossed in some magazine filled with Christmas things. I found my way under the covers and kissed her stomach trying to pique her interest. As I was moving south, I heard her question, “Why don’t we have a fireplace?”
“Because we’re poor,” I answered.
“We’re not poor. That’s just your excuse not to get a new apartment,” Farrah answered laughing.
As I debated going further south, I said, “Look, we’re not as poor as we were when we met, but we’re not rich enough to be arbitrarily burning things for ambience.”
“The tree sucks,” she responded.
“I know,” I answered, thinking of the little artificial Christmas tree sitting in the corner of the living room.
She continued talking about lights, decorations, and other Christmas elements as I played with the band of her underwear. I was living with Farrah for about three years and we had gone from teetering on the edge of poverty to being able to pay our bills on time. We even had some money to save. I received two promotions during the last few years and Farrah had finished her school and was working as a radiology technician. We were DINKs Double Income No Kids and were living good.
I said, “You know, maybe it is time for a change. What do you think about a new apartment?”
She sat up in bed stating sarcastically, “No shit…really?”
“Yeah, what do you think?” I asked with my head resting in her lap under the covers.
“It’s about damn time,” she laughed pulling the covers over her head.
Like everything with Farrah, things proceeded quickly. The next day we went to look at apartments. I was sitting in my jeep warming it up when she came running out of the apartment and climbed in. I could just tell she was scheming and plotting. She smiled at me with a sly look from beneath her knitted hat. She opened a folder containing rental information and began thumbing through the contents saying, “So, I have some ideas for places we should look…”
We walked through the empty apartment and Farrah said, “Isn’t it great! There’s a den we can use as an office…we have a washer and dryer in the unit…look there’s a fireplace and look at all the light from the sliding glass doors and windows. How about the cathedral ceilings…if you don’t like it we can go look at other places — personally I think this is awesome.”
She stood staring at me with her crafty expression. I liked the apartment a lot. I asked looking around, “So, how long have you been eyeballing this place?”
Farrah responded, “Well, you know…I’ve seen it on my way to work. Seemed pretty nice. I may have looked at the apartment once or twice out of curiosity.”
At that moment, the rental office agent entered the apartment. She said, “Hey Farrah, I see you brought him with you this time. Are you guys ready to rent a unit?”
I laughed to Farrah, “Do I have any control over my life?”
She shook her head no, smiling, “Not really.”
We signed the lease and managed to get moved five days before Christmas. I took some vacation time and used a truck from work to get the move done. While I transported items to the new place, I stopped at a jewelry store. Farrah and I agreed to exchange inexpensive gifts, but I was determined to ask her to marry me. I found a beautiful ring and bought it. I had to have it resized for her tiny fingers, but I could pick it up by Christmas Eve. As I drove the truck back to the new apartment, I imagined different scenarios, presenting the ring to Farrah.
As I parked the truck, I realized that Farrah had somehow instilled the Christmas spirit in me. I got caught up in the feeling as we worked to get our home decorated and comfortable. I entered the apartment with the last box as Farrah whirled around entertaining imaginary guests, “Would you like some more wine? Might I entice you with some cheesecake?”
I laughed, watching her playing in our new home. She danced in front of the living room fireplace to the New Radicals singing from the stereo, Someday We’ll Know. She swayed to the music while the heat of the winter fire guarded her. She laughed noticing my amusement with her. She ran over and hugged me saying, “Now, this is a cool apartment. Don’t you love it? I wish my mom could see the place, and…”
I heard Farrah but was remembering Persephone in the meadow at Eleusis. She was gathering flowers with Phaeno, Electra, and Styx as Mother Demeter burned life across the whole of the earth. I thought I heard a voice say, “Summer is ending and the Host of Many is coming.”
The daydream faded and I kissed her forehead and said, “This place is great. Maybe we should have a housewarming party…”
Over the next few days, boxes were unpacked, and our sad small artificial Christmas tree was replaced with a large nice artificial tree. New decorations were purchased, and Christmas cards filled the fireplace mantle. Farrah hauled home new furnishings from Pier One and Bed Bath and Beyond. Wine racks and book shelves began filling the counters and corners. We worked hard and the apartment was perfect and ready for Christmas.
Three days before Christmas we sat in front of the fire with the Christmas tree glowing in the corner. The embers of the fire released their ghosts which danced on the glass decorations and filled the walls with their shadows. Sugar Ray sang from the stereo Someday as we drank wine and vodka. I kissed her and thought of our future. If her ring had been ready, I would have asked her to marry me that night. I wished that it had been, as her blonde hair fell around her perfect face as she smiled in that way that made me melt inside.
That was the last night Farrah and I were together. Two days before Christmas, Farrah was headed to her work to pick up her paycheck. The roads were icy and did not seem so bad, but they were. A car slid in her lane, and when she veered out of the way, her car slid into a telephone pole. A senseless, pointless, accident.
I got the call in the afternoon from the police. By the time I made it to the hospital, she was gone. If you’ve ever had that experience of saying goodbye to someone in a hospital, then you know that goodbye is just the beginning. She lay in the bed, damaged in a way that I could never have imagined and refuse to describe. I kissed her goodbye hoping that she might sit up and point at me laughing, as if playing a terrible joke. But she didn’t, and her silent broken form haunted me.
The days crawled along, with a funeral and phone calls from friends. People sent sympathies etched in cards. Days turned into weeks with Y2K passing, but the world had already ended. Months went by, and I went to work and came home. Spring eventually came and brought with it a new life.
I awoke lying in front of the fireplace. The embers had died down, perhaps for the first time since Christmas. I saw the lights of the Christmas tree reflecting on the empty bottle of vodka that rested near my head. I sat up and saw the Christmas cards lining the mantle above. I looked to the Christmas tree. The present Farrah bought me rested where she had placed it.
I felt sick and not from the alcohol. I choked and shuddered, my insides shaking. I laid back down on the floor as anguish consumed me. My eyes burned as tears welled and drained. I cried, “It doesn’t matter.”
It didn’t matter how many fires I lit or how long I let that tree decorate the apartment. It didn’t matter how many nights I sat by the fire, Farrah was never coming home. Never.
I stood and went to the Christmas tree and grabbed the present that she left me. I sat on the sofa and flipped back the homemade tag she had cut from wrapping paper. It read, “Merry Xmas, Vince. Love Farrah.” I carefully opened the present keeping the paper intact. I parted the white tissue paper and lifted a black sweatshirt out of the box. I held it and cried for what seemed like forever.
I donned the sweatshirt and began the task of taking down the tree and packing up the Christmas decorations. I closed the cards on the mantle and slowly Christmas began to disappear into boxes. I was finally able to go to the jeweler and cancel the ring I never had a chance to pick up. As I drove home, I grasped the fabric of the sweatshirt seeking her presence.
Our summer had ended, and the long winter had just begun. All things eventually change. New apartments and new lovers would bloom like Christmas Roses. Furniture would move, wear out, or break. The boxes marked Farrah would eventually move deep into the bedroom closet. Everything changed but never the sweatshirt.
I still have it. I wear it at home when I am writing. It is the oldest piece of clothing I own, almost twenty years. It has kept me warm throughout the long winter. I don’t tell anyone why I wear this old tattered sweatshirt. I don’t tell anyone because that sweatshirt belongs to me and Farrah. I don’t tell anyone, but when I wear it, Farrah is with me. Sometimes we’re laughing, sometimes we’re talking, but often I just hold her waiting for summer.
For Farrah Piazzo 1973–1999
You’re always with me.
Vincent V. Triola 2019