I had a date, which was a rare thing, not that I constantly lacked for companionship, but the dating phase of my relationships was either short lived or skipped entirely at this point in time--maybe half my life ago. I lived in an insular, smallish city and was a student in college on the day in question. I think it was spring and there was definitely a bounce in my gait. But before I began galumphing down the sidewalk to meet at the Indian restaurant, before I left my house, I did something relatively stupid. An act of stupidity akin to flavoring your iced tea with dish detergent that claims "real lemon" as an ingredient. The kind of thing one does that makes your mother remind you how medicated she was when you were gestating.
With the variables I've given you, the time and place, it should not be a surprise that when I gave all my dirty clothes the sniff test to find something to wear on my date, nothing passed. I picked the best of all the bad choices for pants and opted to wear my favorite shirt despite that it was the smelliest. It was a thick blue cotton short sleeve with a black stripe or two, akin to the shirt Linus wore from the Charlie Brown comics. And it reeked like rotten death.
Since I was a dog owner with rugs to clean, I had in my supplies, a box of of rug deodorizer designed for houses with pets. It was strong stuff. You sprinkled it on, let it sit awhile, then vacuumed it up. It left the rugs smelling like a more virulent chemical honeysuckle. I applied some to my shirt, and yes, vacuumed it. The foul stank was mostly confused by the powdered deodorizer, and I bounded out the door feeling relatively fresh and excited about the possibilities, and that I'd somehow cheated the reality of decay. That some things need washing, or burying.
I walked down the sidewalk in the still sunny early evening. Crossed the highway, then walked under the overpass, towards the stretch of restaurants closest to campus. I was eager, smiling, feeling positive in my favorite shirt, maybe this time things would work with her, maybe I'd be better somehow, and in turn, everything else would improve, I'd go to all my classes, take myself more seriously, try harder, live better, accomplish something, maybe save money somehow and travel in the summer like a lot of kids did. Yes. Yes, sir, indeed. The restaurant was in sight. She was inside, maybe. This was when the burning started. It was a sensation much like the kiss of flame, and also simultaneously being eaten from the inside by hyper red ants.
My date was about to start and I'd perhaps poisoned myself and would be going into shock any second. Luckily, it stopped when I ripped the shirt off. More lucky, I had one friend who lived near the restaurant. I ran to his house holding the shirt like a cape just in case my date or anyone saw me, the hypnotic suggestion would be yes, of course I had a shirt on. I banged on my friend's door, panicked. No answer. I tried the door. It was open. I bounded up the stairs, threw my shirt in his pile of laundry and grabbed the first one of his I found. It was a long sleeved black crew neck. It fit perfectly. Odd, since he and I were completely different sizes. I left a note, laughing at my mixed fortune, and what an idiot I was.
My date liked the shirt. I liked it. A few others mentioned they liked it. Long after, the friend I took it from saw me wearing it and said he liked it. I reminded him it had been his--he didn't recognize it--he said keep it--we laughed about it, I told him his life seemed so perfect compared to mine, it was as if I'd borrowed more than his shirt. I wore it until it was faded and torn, until it fell off me.