I have this one shirt.
I’ll never forget the day I bought it. It was perfect. I was single, newly graduated, and working my first nursing job.
I was making more money than I ever had before, and in that grace period, before the loans payments started, it was feeling cush. Cue throwing money into the air (and hastily catching it-waste not).
I went to Anthropologie- the epitome of early 20’s high rolling.
I tried on a few things, but then I tried on the shirt. Flowy, but showed off my waist. Casual but classy. A neckline that doesn’t appear to be anything special but for some reason made my collarbones the star of the show.
It was $60. And I still bought it.
I have spent more than $60 on clothes before, but never a shirt.
In my family, we held onto clothes until even a homeless/clothesless person would have turned it away. You know, those clothes that your oldest sister got from Goodwill 7 years ago and then passed it down the line until it got to you, the youngest, and by the time you’re done with it you are so nostalgic you want to turn it into a t-shirt quilt (hello early 2000’s), but it probably won’t survive the sewing machine? No? Just me? Ok.
I took it home and I wore the crap out of that shirt. I think the confidence it gave me is the single-handed reason Eric married me. That and my Buffalo Chicken Wing Dip.
That shirt made me feel alive, it made me feel unstoppable. It made me feel like I could walk into a room and make anything happen.
I went into my closet the other day, running my fingers over my clothes one by one, trying to decide what to wear. Too short, too small, makes my arms look weird. Too young for me, too likely to be itchy come noon.
There aren’t many magical shirts in my life anymore.
I was going through old pictures recently, of the same twenty, flirty and thriving time in my life.
“This was my best me,” I said jokingly to Eric. But maybe he saw my eyes linger on my toned legs, maybe he just felt the pause as the hidden sadness behind my voice crept through, because he kissed me gently on the cheek and said, “I think this is your best you.”
Shirts stained with dinner preparations, hair that hasn’t been down and straightened in weeks. Eyes droopy with tiredness that all the makeup in the world couldn’t hide.
There was a time when I could sleep when I wanted, eat in peace, and get up and go at the drop of a hat.
But you know what the funny thing is about a lack of trial? There’s a lack of a true self.
This past year has been the hardest one yet.
The deep, hidden cavern of flaws and sensitivities, struggles and weaknesses, has been unleashed. I’ve had to fight to find myself amidst taking on the incredibly blessed and loaded job of a person who raises a human.
I look back at the unbudgeted, untethered woman of 23 who thought that rocking the perfect shirt and living on her own meant that she had learned everything she needed to be a put together adult.
I see her, untested and untried. Unaware and naive. And I love her for that, because she’s not ready for it yet.
Back and forth, back and forth, I run my fingers over my shirts, left to right, then right to left. I pause over a bright mustard shirt that I only wore a few times post-partum, that, although a bigger size than what I wanted, made me feel pretty again. And over here, the green shirt I wore on a date-night with Eric in too tight jeans, but I didn’t care because we laughed our heads off at Outback Steakhouse over the terrible steak. And here, the flannel I wore every day for 2 months straight after I had Seb because it was perfect to nurse in.
And lastly, the shirt. If you look closely it has an oil stain right on the bottom, from a cooking fiasco. And right in the middle, a little coffee stain from Sebastian-the-grabber-of-coffee. Also, Eric, who for the life of him cannot tell the difference between a “delicate” and “regular” piece of clothing has put it in the dryer, so it’s a little shorter than it once was. But I slip it on, feeling the familiar fabric laying softly against my skin.
I look in the mirror.
I look at myself and I see the proof that my body groaningly stretched to grow a baby. I see someone who won’t give up on herself even when she fails over and over. I see confidence that has nothing to do with appearances.
The shirt is the same. The woman is not.