Brow Beat

Wearing the Button-Down Shirt of the Boy You Once Loved

The button-down shirt.

Photo by Ally Lindsay

All week on Brow Beat, we’re presenting tales of special pieces of clothing as told by their wearers, excerpted from Worn Stories by Emily Spivack, out now from Princeton Architectural Press.

Twelve years ago I was working as a stage manager at a theater company in Vermont for the summer. I was the worst stage manager of all time.

Around this time, I figured out that I could fall in love with people and that I could be in love. I was already in love with one person, and I started falling in love with lots of people. I felt very guilty about it, but it also felt like an appropriate response to figuring out you can be in love. I was in love with love. In high school I would have these horrible crushes on people, but they were never reciprocated, or the people were gay. Then, in college, I had the experience of looking into someone’s eyes and saying, “I love you,” and he said, “I love you” back.

I had this crush, or love, for this actor at the theater in Vermont. His name was David, and I thought he was so beautiful. He had this very soft button-down shirt. When I hugged him, and I would always invent reasons to do so, I would touch his shirt. It was very chaste, and nothing ever happened. I was in love with him, but he was 26 years old, and I was 18, and when you’re 18, 26 seems really old.

David left that summer before I did. We took him to the bus station, and I cried because I was 18 and dramatic. I watched him go, and I felt bereft. My friends and I returned to the falling-apart cabin in the woods that had been our home that summer. I went to the room where I had a bunk bed. Hanging on my bunk was that button-down shirt, his shirt! Tucked inside the shirt pocket was a note. He told me I was beautiful and a creature of light.

Doesn’t it just kill you? Can you imagine an 18-year-old girl coming back from the bus station to her room and seeing that the guy she loved had left his shirt for her? He knew. He just knew it, and it was beautiful.

I always write in the shirt because it makes me feel like I have a secret. When you write, it’s good to have a secret because in a way you do. You have to nurture the secret until other people know about it. Maybe wearing this shirt connects me with a part of my younger self that was incredibly emotional and vivid, and those feelings, combined with that sense of having a secret, is how I like to feel when I write.

Excerpted from Worn Stories by Emily Spivack, out now from Princeton Architectural Press.

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