Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Husbands, Wives, Clothes

Dear O.: I know I've been hassling you lately to get rid of some clothes and to go shopping with me. I know it's a pain, because I was not always on this side of the great divide between the keeper of old clothes and the promoter of new clothes...

I grew up hearing my mother complain regularly about the sagging necks on my father's t-shirts, the frayed edges of his beloved red sweatshirt, the poor condition of his well-aged tennis shoes. He has always disliked shopping and getting rid of old things. I shared his dislike, and always felt worried about my own well-loved shoes and t-shirts when his were criticized. Of course I assumed I would never be in the position of telling my husband, "You need new shoes, and that shirt has got to go."

Meeting O. only reinforced this expectation. When we started dating, he was better dressed than me: always in a well-ironed polo shirt and black (cargo) pants. A common outfit for me, busy Californian college student that I was, was still a t-shirt from summer Day Camp plus a pair of patched jeans.

What I didn't realize was that O. was not entirely responsible for his wardrobe. In retrospect, it is obvious that an engineering student, living at home with a mother who cares more about his appearance than he does, would not be doing his own ironing, and that if his mother likes shopping (which O.'s does), she would regularly offer him new clothes. It is obvious now that as her responsibility and opportunity to clothe O. were severed by his moving out and our marriage, O.'s wardrobe would lose its crispness. At the time, however, I was oblivious.

Thus, in the past year and a half, as holes have gaped wider and wider in each of O.'s three pairs of shoes, admitting water, mud and the occasional pebble, I was surprised to find myself saying, "Honey, how about getting a new pair of shoes?" and then, "I'd like to buy you a new pair of shoes," and finally, "You have to get new shoes!" As small holes opened at the pocket-corners of one t-shirt and then another, I found myself asking, "How attached are you to that shirt?" I was shocked to discover that it really does bother me to see two tiny circles of skin peeping through his shirt. I can't say exactly why it bothers me, but it does.

Somehow on the other side of that age-long debate between the keeper and the tosser. It's a strange place to be, but I feel all right about it.

And O., we have to go shopping again sometime. I'm sorry.

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