As soon as I got out of the shower I saw him, staring defiantly back at me. It was just the two of us, face-to-face, and I could finally end this thing if I wanted to. A dumpster was a fitting resting place for this homewrecker, maybe too good. How long had it been going on, I wondered. Ten years, at least. Ten years of sleeping with my wife And this from an old friend, who literally had been hanging around my house for a quarter century.
I am speaking of course of my worn out lumberjack shirt – my wife’s favorite sleepwear — hanging on the bathrobe hook.
You might wonder how a man can be brought so low, made to feel primal rage over a plaid sleepshirt. It’s a fair question. All I can say is I didn’t always hate the shirt. or years it had a distinguished service record. Frequent wear in my twenties, slightly more sporadic in my thirties and then in my forties, summoned from the closet only for home improvement projects, which is to say never. So not a bad run, all things considered. But sometime during this transition my wife discovered its soft contours and warm embrace, and started wearing it to bed. Regularly wearing it to bed. That’s when the shirt was dead to me.
Like an elderly person at a rave, I was completely disoriented. No answers, only questions. What had I done or refrained from doing as a husband that had brought me to this sad state of affairs? Is this happening elsewhere in the continental 48? (It’s not worth debating in Alaska, where it might be a cold weather necessity, or Hawaii, where if it’s happening, brother, I don’t know what to tell you.)
Maybe she did it because we don’t have a lock on our bedroom door. I have absolutely no idea why a house outside Amsterdam would be designed this way, but ours is. This means that my daughter can read Bridge to Terabithia in peace in her bedroom, but the missus and I have to keep our heads on a swivel in our own. I know what you are thinking: just put a lock on your door. Slow down there, Bob Vila. Not everybody was as rapt with attention during wood-shop as you were. I for one was more concerned with staying on the good side of those toughs who had removed and weaponized the dowels from the paper towel dispensers.
And had I always shot straight with her? Sure, I’d feigned interest in things like The Joy Luck Club when we were dating. But two things must be said. First, yes, I was pretending – faking is such an ugly word — but pretending to be the guy I knew she wanted me to be, and that must count for something. Second, I died a little as a man that night, minute by two hours and twenty minutes.
No, to assign blame fairly here we must go all the way back to the time of purchase. Did I buy the shirt because I could skin a buck or gut a fish? Good heavens, no. But that doesn’t mean I assumed this particular risk. It was the 1990s, after all. Grunge gods like Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain defined cool, and lumberjack shirts were dispensed like Kleenex to young men.
Who was I to question the fashion gods? And for the record I did consider the risks when buying the shirt, even the infinitesimally small ones. I might be expected to have views on the sovereignty of Quebec. People would always ask to borrow the chainsaw they assumed I had. That kind of thing. But I never considered the risk that the shirt would be counted among my wife’s unmentionables.
Over time I realized that assigning blame was a fool’s errand. It wasn’t going to change things. This meant I had two choices. I could cut to the heart of the matter, or I could learn to live with the Paul Bunyan hemlines. I tried to live with it. After all, maybe I was looking at it all wrong. Perhaps this was her way of saying her love was so strong that she always wanted my scent close to her body. Recall the woman in the 1980s Brut cologne commercial, who after smelling her mate’s scent could not resist putting on his shirt, tie and hat. I considered the possibility for a moment. But the only time I could recall my scent in absentia prompting a call at the office was once when she threatened to send my running shoes on a Viking funeral if I ever left them by the bed again. Definitely not a Brut cologne situation.
Bottom line is I woke up one day and decided that I couldn’t, nay, shouldn’t live with it any longer. History tells us that “peace for our time” never works. Plus my frustration was spilling over into waking hours. I no longer enjoyed watching the Edmonton Oilers play hockey, and my dislike of Brawny paper products bordered on the irrational. I was at a crossroads and a serious choice had to be made. I knew it was time to get to the heart of the matter. And so one night, I looked my wife squarely in the eye and told her that she had to choose: me, or my lumberjack.
The pillows aren’t great, but I’ve really come to like the mattress in the guest room.