This vest has traveled with me for about 20 years, making its way through each move, quietly accepting a hanger in each new closet. I’m looking at it now and noticing the bright orange lining against the drab, green exterior, the soft pockets of down, the splatters of paint from some forgotten project. But mostly I’m noticing neural pathways. My own, that is. One pathway starts with this vest and travels all the way back to Alexis. We lived together all four years in college, a small liberal arts school with anything but small ideas about itself. It was tucked away in the old, rolling hills of New England. There was a single main street, and cows not far beyond that. Spring came late, the skies heavy and low until early June when the lilacs finally burst forth, perfuming the air as we trudged through exams. Alexis came from DC, bringing with her a quick tongue and a marvelous sense of style. She had a down vest. She’d button it up to the top, knotting a scarf around her neck. I badly wanted to achieve the same easy look, and a few months into the wicked cold, I ordered my own. Was the vest a failure? It was boxy at the shoulders, and made me look a little wide at the waist. It was warm, sure, but my arms stuck out like neglected children, the wind cutting through my sweaters.
Was the friendship a failure? This particular neural pathway goes from the vest to Alexis to one of the final talks we had senior spring in which she told me I was insensitive. This is what I remember? Really? What about the years of laughter, the Sunday brunches where we concocted homemade rice crispy treats, the endless games of Hearts, the moments of really understanding each other? The mind might not like being observed, but it’s a must. I looked good in the vest. My friendship with Alexis was, for the most part, loving and fun and bright. It’s time to redirect this neural pathway, one that slides down into a pile of psycho-emotional sludge called “There’s something wrong with me.” This is why I’m giving away the vest. (OK, I also live in Atlanta where, if I wore the vest, people would suspect I was a wrestler trying to make weight). Farewell tired old thoughts about myself! There aren’t many lilacs around here, but the gardenias are out, the blueberries are ripe and the first sweet peaches have arrived at the farmer’s market.