There were two of them.
Large white baseball style T's with bright orange raglan sleeves and the trademark orange W emblazoned across the breast. They were given away as part of a grand opening ceremony for another Whataburger. While they were most frequently worn by Daddy whenever he did any kind of sweaty man work around the house, they were communal property. They performed double duty as nightgowns for me and play shirts for my brothers. They sheltered Mama from the sun when she was outside with the horses. And when one of them was falling apart, it served as rags to clean the crystal. It was Shel Silverstein's giving tree in T-shirt form.
I'd taken one of them to college with me, wearing it as my dad did and then some. It was my armor when I had a bad breakup and needed stability. It was my uniform when I was ill and needed comfort. It was a reminder that I was loved, a physical representation of Daddy's hugs when I was little and thought he was Superman. I would swaddle myself in it, stroking the soft folds between my fingers, the adult version of sucking my thumb. It was instantly subduing and calmed me from within. Nothing could touch me in that shirt.
I wish I had one of them now. In what started out as a decent day quickly turned sour when Michael called with the news that he'd be job searching again. His store was closing, another victim to the economy and changing technology. It seemed like it was only yesterday that we'd finally found calm waters and now we were being tossed around in the storm one more time. I wanted to run from the world's troubles and hide from all our hardships. I wanted to wrap my body in thin, faded orange cotton and curl up someplace cool and dark until the unfairness of life abated.
But the shirts are lost and gone forever. I know, because I've looked for mine every time I clean out my closets. Somewhere in the course of moving from apartment to apartment in the ten years since I left home, it quietly disappeared without so much as a backward glance. I still hold out hope that I'll find it tucked away in a box somewhere, still soft and streaked with ancient grease stains, pocked with tiny holes where the cotton wore too thin. Occasionally I am treated to a tangible memory of the shirt when I pick up a cashmere sweater or silk blouse. It was nothing but simple cotton, but years of wear and love elevated it to the same tactile sensation as those elegant, costly fibers. I've searched my parents' house for its twin, hoping I might find it folded away in a closet or stashed in the bottom of the rag bag in the mudroom, but alas, it too passed from this plane of existence a long time ago.
As I contemplate the day's events and struggle to keep calm and carry on, I think about that old Whataburger shirt. I might not be able to wrap myself up in it anymore, but remembering the shirt is balm for my soul. Its memory serves as a gentle reminder that we'll get past this bump in the road too, just like we have everything else.
Life will go on, with or without a T-shirt.
This post was written as part of the The Red Dress Club. This week's prompt was to write a piece (600 word limit) about finding a forgotten item of clothing in the back of a drawer or closet, letting readers know how the item was found, what it is, and why it's so meaningful to you or your character.