Flannel Shirt

My daughter has forgotten her school ID, so I drive back to the school to drop it off at the front desk. As I drive, I think that my life consists of driving in a big circle from home to high school to middle school and back home. I circumambulate like a pilgrim in a labyrinth.

I offer the lanyard apologetically to the school secretary, who already has a small pile of them in front of her. “This weather makes people sleepy and forgetful,” I say. She agrees.

The door is heavy and resistant when I leave. It’s drizzling and cool outside, clouds hanging low and weary. From inside the car, I hear the muffled sound of the marching band at practice coming from the football field. My tires make a spattering sound on the pavement.

I am driving down Fourth Street, and my heart aches. It aches and pulls all the time, but most of the time I keep ice on it. The ice numbs the ache and I’m able to think about something other than the pain. Different behaviors act like ice for me. Staying busy acts like ice. Caring for children acts like ice. Sometimes television or reading a book, ice cream or a glass of sauvignon blanc act like ice.

I give the ache a sidelong glance, hoping that giving it a quick, squinty look is safe, and I won’t suddenly be overwhelmed with the enormity of this wound. It’s not safe to look at it at all, though. The second I look, I see him: My husband. I see him in the faded, plaid flannel shirt he’s worn in dream after dream lately. Soft from a hundred washes, the shirt is a warm hug on a cold morning. I can see him wearing that shirt in the kitchen, cuffs rolled back, pouring himself a cup of coffee, turning to give me a smile as I frown my way to the teapot. He was the morning person, I the night, and for 30 years that man smiled at me every morning.

I miss you, Sweetie.

In depth psychology we pay attention to images. “Stick with the image,” we tell those deciphering their dreams and daydreams, or amplifying poems and literary passages. Artists, musicians, and writers stick with images, too, because the soul speaks in images more often than anything. Words can be so limiting. The flannel shirts I’ve seen on my husband and on working men in my dreams are speaking. I see the flannel shirt. I can feel its fabric in my hands, and I’m driving down the street in the rain and suddenly I’m crying. I can’t stop the tears.

I love you, Sweetie.

My husband was tall and had a great shape to him. He had muscular arms, broad shoulders, and developed muscles in his hands because of the work he did—the carpentry, using the tin snips, the hammer, the screw gun. Even as a business owner he wouldn’t stop stepping in to lift the hammer, snap a line, tie off a wire, tighten a screw. I know it irritated the crew when their boss came around and put a tool belt on, but he loved to work with his hands as well as his head. Later, his diagnosis with a disease that would take both abilities from him was an ill-fated ruin, an abuse. Every time I think of it, my heart breaks.

Where are you?

I laid my cheek against the water-colored hues of that flannel shirt a million times during our marriage. That flannel shirt is such an icon of manliness, earthy comfort, the Land Run heritage of this red earth that made my husband who he was. In that shirt were love, safety, and comfort; friendship, sharing, and mutuality. Acceptance and understanding were its weft and warp. I called that shirt Lover, Husband, Grandmother, Father. I could fly into those arms all the time, any time—run there, crawl there, dance into them; lie with him, against him, under him, over him, ask him to cover me, sit in his lap, swat him on the butt as he passed by, pull at his belt buckle provocatively. A thousand, million times in our marriage, that flannel shirt was home.

You were my best friend.

I’m driving down Fourth Street, crying. Even now, one of those shirts hangs inside my closet on a hook on the door. It still smells faintly of my husband—sawdust, cigar smoke, horse, machine oil, him. How lucky I was to have the man who filled that shirt, to love and be loved by and make love with him. How fortunate we were to make a home.

That flannel shirt saved my life, redeemed me from the pit, died on the cross for me, birthed me, suckled me at the breast. Every day, I wait to see that shirt coming on the horizon. Every day I pray to that shirt, save me.

14 responses

  1. Yep, sometimes it’s like reading a calculus textbook and sometimes it’s Charlotte’s Web…what I think of today as I think of fall and dreary skies and flannel shirts and state fairs and spiders floating through the air on silvery threads.

  2. This was a warm and homespun flannel post, my dear friend. Sometimes your writing is distant as if you are merely an observer of your life. This one…you led us into your private room…like sitting in front of that roaring fire in the fireplace curled up in a chair reading a good book!

    • Yes, sometimes I write to satisfy my head or to lead us down a path from head to heart (slow going in under 1000 words per post!), and sometimes for the heart. This one is definitely for the fireplace. :o)

  3. ““Stick with the image,” we tell those deciphering their dreams and daydreams, or amplifying poems and literary passages. Artists, musicians, and writers stick with images, too, because the soul speaks in images more often than anything.”

    So true.

  4. Oh Eve, I cried as I read this. You were blessed with a wonderful husband who left too soon. It’s bittersweet this love. I don’t miss my ex-husband at all, which is in itself sad. But you had something wonderful and now it’s gone. I want to say it will stop hurting so much eventually, but what do I know? To have such a love and then to have it taken away is too much to bear at times. I both envy your relationship and am thankful I never had it.

    Take care woman. Sending many hugs and prayers your way.

    • It *is* bittersweet, Deb. I’m glad I had him and our marriage, but it’s the combination of those that make me feel I’m irreparably damaged now. I know, though, that this will pass and I’ll see that I am actually changed forever, and that change will bring goodness and life, and also have the bitter, dark side. So “bittersweet” is a very good word for me today. Thanks, friend.

  5. all that rain…..melted ice that are your tears caught with warm and adoring flannel

    ..know that you are amazing….know it through the ice…know it through the rain…….my prayer is you know it…i wish you always know it.. even when you don’t feel it…

  6. Dear Eve,

    Your words are pouring out of you often these days; and they are powerful.

    As you compose and write to us, I hope you would print an extra copy, punch three holes in it then take a small piece of that wonderful, sexy, amazing shirt full of husband and dreams and life and use it as part of a cover for a soul binder. In this sacred manuscript feelings will be safe and fertile until and when they might find a place in the world for others who need to feel they their life and yours meet in this Valley of Tears.

    Peace and compassion sister Eve,
    MJ

    • MJ, what a lovely idea. I have a sacred manuscript now, have been writing away at it off and on for 18 months now. But to bind it with the flannel shirt (metaphorically, I mean) is beautiful. This makes me smile. You’re such a poet, I’m glad we’ve met.

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