Way back when, I can remember The Old Man wearing a gray sweatshirt when he felt a cold coming on. The Old Man was rarely sick, but when he was, The Old Man would get it, he would get it bad. He would throw on his old gray sweatshirt and a pair of sweatpants. More important was the shirt. The sweatshirt was old with holes in it. The fabric was worn and the neck was frayed. Mom wanted to get rid of the shirt but The Old Man wouldn’t let her.
This was The Old Man’s sick shirt. It was comfortable for him. And when the fever set in and when the congestion took over, the shivers, the aches and pains, The Old Man would throw on his sick shirt, reeking from Vicks ointment, and then climb into bed.
Mom would complain about The Old Man’s sick shirt. She hated it to be honest. But The Old Man kept the tattered gray sweatshirt. It was a shirt The Old Man had for a long, long time.
“It fits good,” he would say.
“And it’s comfortable,” explained The Old Man.
Mom would move the shirt around, hoping it would be lost somewhere, but The Old Man would always find it. Eventually, Mom gave in and placed the beat up sweatshirt in a drawer. After all, The Old Man rarely wore the sick shirt. He only wore this once or maybe twice a year.
I explain this to you for a reason. I explain this because more than a decade ago on the first of a June morning, I moved from a large home where my ex-wife and child remained. I moved from a home with a decent sized property, a large in-ground pool, two car garage, two cars, money in the bank, and finances or bills was the least of my concern. I went from this to an upstairs two-bedroom apartment in a small private house. It was a painful time for less than obvious reasons. I was neither sad nor torn about my divorce. No, it was clear that we did not like each other; however, I was now a divorced dad. No money in the bank, my car was traded in for a less than desirable model, and with barely any furniture, and only the original towels I had when I met my ex-wife, which she kept by the way, in case of my return to poverty, — I was in pain because I felt as if I was a failure. I was emotionally and financially bankrupt. I was alone with much of my family too distant from me to speak with. My friends were mostly married and their wives would caution them to stay away from me due to their own in-house problems. In fact, I was told by one friend, “We had an argument last night and she brought your name up. She was like what are you gonna do, move out and go live with Benny?”
“I love ya,” he said.
“But I can’t listen to my wife complain about you.”
Why I mention The Old Man and his sick shirt will become clear in a moment. And no, I didn’t put on a sick shirt or anything like that to heal me from divorce. However, when I moved and secured an apartment, I moved to a place where things made sense. I moved back to my hometown. I figured this would ease my transition. I knew the streets and I knew where everything was. I knew the town and the town knew me.
I had moved away long before my return, but nevertheless, my town and the memories allowed me to comfortably slip in. And I wore this comfort. I wore this like The Old Man wore his old beaten gray sweatshirt. I was aching at heart and uncomfortable. There is no aspirin or Vicks for something like this. But like The Old Man, I needed to find something comfortable to help ease me through the symptoms.
On my first day in the apartment, I drove past my old home on Merrick Avenue. I stopped by Prospect Park and walked over to one of the concrete benches next to the tennis courts near the bicycle racks. I drove past McVey and remembered the time I climbed on the roof but I drank too much to climb down. In fact, I still can’t recall how I climbed down. All I remember is lying on my back with the gray rooftop beneath me. It was wintertime and the sky was crisp and clear. The stars were bright as ever and the wind was cold, but the gin was warm and there was something about this time which sticks out in my memory.
I drove around and passed the corners where I’d cause trouble with friends. I passed the pizzerias and delis where I’d find myself often being removed from or tossed from is more accurate. I knew these streets very well and they kept my secrets as safe as a bank. This town knew how I felt and it welcomed me home. But more, I moved back to my small town of East Meadow and I was able to sweat out a cure.
Unfortunately, life is not a pain-free process. Sadly, life happens to each and every one of us. Best advice is to find something warm like an old memory that brings a smile. And if this doesn’t work, try putting on some comfy sweatpants and find an old shirt that makes you feel better and don’t ever let anyone throw it away.
You know, after The Old Man passed, I’m sure Mom was happy she never threw away The Old Man’s sick shirt. I remember she would wear it sometimes. My guess is she wore it when she needed to feel better. Well, this is precisely why I moved back to where I grew up. But since then, I have grown, regrouped, remarried and reorganized my life. I moved away from East Meadow a few years back after my decade of return. I live next to a mountain now. I love my home and I love my quiet distance from the population and city life. But I will always be a prince of my old kingdom and as long as I understand this; I know I’ll always have a home.
Mom passed away June 10, 2015. I’m not sure what happened to that shirt but wherever Mom is, I’m sure she’s with The Old Man and there is no more need for a sick shirt. But there is always a need for comfort, which is why I write to you . . .for comfort.