I’ve worn this sweatshirt almost every day since I shivered next to my mother’s hospital bed nearly six years ago.
After she’d gotten sick, I had imagined myself in my mother’s room with Dr. McDreamy or McSteamy tenderly touching my arm as he explained how her last days would progress. I would look lovely in my grief in a simple sundress, my hair pulled back and skin glowing. My mother would be lying serenely and pain free in the room that we would have decorated with tokens from home—a favorite comforter, family photos, flickering candles. She would hold my hand with one of hers and my sister’s with the other, telling us how proud she was of us, how much she loved us, and how she’d always be with us. And that she was at peace.
That’s how it was supposed to be. That’s not how it was.
My hair was dirty when I got the call to come to the hospital. I was wearing a sundress, but an ill-fitting one. Her room was harsh with florescent lights and smelled of the sweet, acrid hospital disinfectant. My mother’s serenity was hard to detect behind the tangle of tubes and wires. She looked at me and scratched at her oxygen mask to remove it. In a hoarse voice she whispered, “You’re here, too? I know what that means.” I waited for more, for her to tell me that I was a welcome sight, not a mere harbinger of her death. All she was able to manage, though, was a call for morphine before it did its job and she was lost in her final slumber.
As the night wore on, I shivered uncontrollably under the air conditioner. A parade of doctors passed in and out. The one I’d named McIHateYou looked at me for a long time before he turned to the machine monitoring her vitals and switched it off. There was no need for it anymore. He left and came back with his Harvard Medical School sweatshirt.
I put the sweatshirt on, grateful for its warmth, but I still hated him. I would hate him until he turned the machine back on, turned my mother back on. As morning arrived, my mother left us. We numbly signed paperwork, gathered her few possessions, and went home.
The next few days were a whirlwind. The flurry of well-intentioned loved ones left little time for reflection. When the house quieted at night, I would find myself reaching for the sweatshirt, cuddling inside the soft, slightly itchy fabric. Though I told myself I would return it to McIHateYou one day, I didn’t wash it until it could practically stand on its own. Eventually I stopped thinking of it as his.
Since that day, I’ve put on the sweatshirt whenever I’m home alone. I curl on the couch with tea or, more often, wine. After romantic evenings, when I should be slipping into something lacy, I reach for my sweatshirt. On mornings when I throw it on to run out for coffee, I sometimes catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I look less like a coed in her boyfriend’s sweater, as I imagine myself, and more like a homeless woman in cast-offs. The stains are deeply set, the cuffs are frayed, but I can’t imagine replacing this sweatshirt.
My mother would have hated it. Most people hate it. I love it.
Excerpted from Worn Stories by Emily Spivack, published by Princeton Architectural Press.