I’ve a drawer full of shirts given to me by men I used to know, some of them dead, one of them as silent as if he were. All of them advertise bands, most of which I have never seen, except for the last one, a soft grey, with sleeves I rolled and wore with jeans, until that man too was gone and I put the shirt away for good.
I think of those shirts around the curves the car hugs tonight without a thought, the miles I drive on instinct alone, some kind of muscle memory moving in the hands. There are stretches of road that disappear without thought, snow in fields, a play of shadows and light on trees at dusk, colors moving across the sky as the sun sets. The fading pink, the fading blue, that sliver of sunlight, the faint swirl of snow as it is picked up by wind and gusts across a road—all of these, these small things of beauty, are better gifts than the shirts, the sunsets I had watched with them, better gifts than the shirts, the way they had laughed, the way they had said my name, better gifts than the shirts.
I’ve a drawer full of men’s shirts, and they are the only thing of a man’s in the house because there has been no man here since that last one, the one who, one winter morning, gave me back the key he had borrowed and hugged me good-bye. I wanted to tell him to keep it. I wanted to say the door would always be open. No man here since that last one, not the one with his dog and his whiskey, not the blue-eyed one with the quiet voice. Just a drawer full of shirts.
And I don’t know what to make anyway of the last two men who tried to dress me in something of their own, except to say that their shirts have been more permanent than they were, except to say that shirts don’t keep the shape of what I remember holding, except to say that shirts are poor substitutes for people you have loved.
Except to say that maybe I keep the shirts because I couldn’t keep them.