I had to get some stuff out of a box on the top shelf of my closet the other day and accidentally knocked over another box. It damn near hit me on its way to the floor, and when it popped open two things fell out: a pair of t-shirts. T-shirts that are well past their shelf-life. Their designs are either faded or completely gone. They are threadbare and worn, and I can see my hand through the fabric when I hold it up inside the shirt. I’ve hung on to them for purely sentimental reasons. Though from two different eras of my youth, both of them were incredibly important to me in their day.
The first shirt, my John Lennon shirt, was purchased for me by the girl I dated my senior year of high school. She was the one who really pushed my limits creatively and expanded my horizons musically. It was a tragic and doomed relationship from the start, I suppose (as is most everything rooted in adolescence). She was a year older than me and had attended a different high school, but we met at work and it grew from there. The summer after my senior year, she moved to San Francisco to be with her old boyfriend, and I moved into a dorm on the campus of Bowling Green State University with my buddy John. The shirt I wore thin, yet saved, celebrated the release of Imagine. The front image of the shirt is mostly gone, but there are hints of color that was the logo from the John Lennon biopic. The back is completely empty now, with just the ghosts of what was the lengthy movie description: “Discover John…the angry youth, the musician, the radical, the husband, the father, the lover, the idealist…through his own words and personal collection of film and music.” My love for this radical artist mixed with young love for a girl has proved to be a potent combination… one that has me holding on to a t-shirt-turned-rag 21 years later.
While I can pinpoint a specific era that the Imagine shirt was purchased and received, I can tell you the exact place, day, and year I purchased the other shirt. I became a fan of Anne Rice's work after discovering it in high school. A few years later, I was living in Central Florida, where my life was in a bit of upheaval. I was working the graveyard shift at a Disney resort, which allowed me to do some daytime events when the opportunity presented itself. This was the case on November 22, 1993, when White’s of Lake Buena Vista hosted Anne Rice on her book signing tour for Lasher. I stood in line and had my copy of the book signed, along with one of the little postcards she had. I also bought a t-shirt that day… with the cover of the new book on the front and the date and bookstore name in small print under it. I wore the shirt relentlessly (yes, relentlessly), and it was strangely important to me. It was a link between my former life in Ohio, the relative innocence of high school and my punk phase that I associate with discovering Rice’s books, and my reeling then-present life that was slightly off the rails. Seventeen years ago, the t-shirt somehow helped ground me.
(Side note: The Anne Rice book stop in Central Florida was a part of a larger, nationwide tour. I know this because my dear college friend Jen saw her at a Columbus, Ohio, book signing and sent me the postcard Rice had signed for her as a makeshift Christmas card that same year. Which I have also saved for all these years and knew right where to look to find it.)
This inexplicable link to the past, in the form of t-shirts I’ll never wear again, makes no sense to me. But in the end, I still couldn’t bring myself to ditch them. I put the two t-shirts back in the same box they fell from, and put that box back on the top shelf of my closet to be rediscovered at some future date, when I least expect it.