Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My Favorite Hoodie I Hate

New sailors have good stories. More so the old ones. I like the officers, too, once they've retired and calmed down.

I've also watched sailors have a hard time being good husbands and dads while in the Navy. I'm sure there are worse things, though. Like heroin addiction. Being in the mob. I've used the same effort in avoiding all three.

I learned this living next to a naval base in a city I loved. It was the first place I felt at home since leaving home. My roommate was a great friend, and the first willing to point out some traits of mine which needed to go. He also got me hooked on mountain biking.

He and I did a lot of volunteer work, which lead us one chilly fall Saturday to the house of a friend of a friend. A sailor.

Sailor was improving the yard of his small suburban two-story. Friend was a landscape architect and couldn't resist the blank canvas. Sailor needed a hand as he'd recently injured his back and his daughters were only five and three. That's where Roommate and I joined the fun. Roommate could dig holes with his bare hands, and I'd worked for my dad's landscaping company as a kid.

I relived my childhood a little too much. Roommate put a rake behind me, tines up, just to mess with me when I saw it. Except that I didn't. I gained empathy for that mouse-tortured cartoon cat as I took a rake handle to the nose. Roommate wet himself.

It took more than one Saturday, but Sailor and Friend and Roommate and I turned a cookie cutter yard into a modest work of art. We also turned a stranger into a good friend and his daughters into surrogate nieces. I realized we meant a lot to the Sailor family. We'd helped make a better place for Mrs. Sailor and the girls to live; no trivial comfort when Sailor was deployed for six months. Without us, Sailor wouldn't have been able to finish before leaving. Some weeks later, they asked us to drop by for lunch. They were having Christmas early before Sailor left, and there were two gift-wrapped packages waiting, one for Roommate, one for Me.

They were hoodies. Cozy comfy identical ones. Roommate threw his on like a kid at Christmas because he was and it was close enough. I still held mine and stared at the front. I couldn't get past the giant navy blue letters which spelled NAVY. This will look great inside-out, I thought. The Navy embodied the opposite of everything I wanted to do with my life. My memory flashed to other sailors' stories, the ones which weren't good. Some terrible.

“Picture time!” Roommate said. He was on the couch with the girls on his lap, Mrs. Sailor setting the flash on the camera. I shook off my hesitation, glad no one had read what was in my head, hoping Roommate's reaction drew attention from mine. I pulled the hoodie on, right side out, and helped fill a few scrapbook pages.

I moved next spring and lost contact with the Sailor family. I miss their upstate New York accents, and wonder if they ever got back there as they were hoping. I saw Roommate at his wedding. I'm glad we caught up one last time, as his funeral was only two years later.

I still dislike what it says on that hoodie. But now it represents some of my most important memories of life as a single guy. That's why it still hangs in my closet, why it still gets worn.

Isn't that the point? To move past superficial impressions or irrelevant distractions to get at real meaning? To understanding Them enough we all become Us.

Roommates, Friends, Sailors.
My hoodie's hood off to you.

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