His Sweater

November 8, 2009
By Elizabeth Albert BRONZE, Chappaqua, New York
Elizabeth Albert BRONZE, Chappaqua, New York
3 articles 0 photos 0 comments

I inhabited a stark cube, a prison of my own creation. Everything had straight edges and crisp folds. Not even a small smudge dared to appear in my bubble of control. The striped walls screamed of a penitentiary’s. Failure was unacceptable and was stared down with a structured schedule and a perfect report card. It was all pre-destined, pre-determined, cut out by a cookie-cutter I had long ago chosen for myself. But the cookie-cutter felt old, so familiar that it had rusted, becoming a stranger. I didn’t want to be the gingerbread-man anymore.

Escape came in the form of an old bureau. He was long gone. His rebellion had always disgusted me. The tattered shirts from the Salvation Army, the blasting Bob Marley, the odor of Marijuana, it had all seemed so vile, so wrong. As I came across the old chest in the attic, I tried to picture him. He was probably sitting somewhere in Africa with a guitar on his knee, a bottle of beer at his feet, and a little boy tugging at his long pony tail, begging him to play. His tee-shirt was green and tattered; his jeans housed a gaping hole at the knee. And all the while, as the sun beat down on his shoulders, he would smile. Nothing mattered to him except the moment; it had always been that way.

I wouldn’t have found it, if it had not been sticking out from the corner of the bottom drawer, a raggedy swatch of red and orange, peering up at me. I walked robotically towards it determined to throw away the old rag. As I reached into the drawer and pulled it out, the lumpy sweater unfurled itself, revealing its thick rainbow stripes. Before I could stop myself I had the woolen garment on. It swallowed me up, enveloping me in a madness of multicolor. I breathed in the smell of illegal substances, odors that had stained the wool forever. I was washed over by his wild side. In a mad rush, it all came back: the broken curfews, the idealism, and the hatred of materialistic society, all of those “mixed-up priorities.” I felt a sense of relief, a want for change and for rebellion. His were mine. I was him.

The keys to his car were right there, on top of the dresser, glinting at me. His rickety old Subaru, plastered with bumper-stickers was so dented that it was reminiscent of Swiss-cheese. I had scoffed at it, refused to ride in it, and turned my nose at the dirty vehicle of rebellion. But suddenly I needed to drive it, to feel the deep thrust of the accelerator, to cruise over the hilly streets onto dirt roads in a car that screamed, “I don’t care!”

I drove with my shoes and socks off, like he did. Barefoot, I was connected to the car; I felt the acceleration, the gas, the gears, and the metal. Slowly, I eased into the gas until I was flying. Coiffed lawns, dream-houses, playgrounds: they all flew by. The insanity of western society, the unfairness, and the wealth it all blurred at my windows.

Leaning into the gas, I pushed the speed-limit flying by at twenty over. The sun had set and the stars were rising with the moon. I opened all the windows and felt the nighttime air whipping my long hair. College applications and homework had gotten out of the car at the Shell Station 127 miles back. Bob Marley and his words of wisdom kept me company as I headed north. There was no destination, no itinerary, simply the thought of the moment, of freedom, of escape.

I had always scoffed at the big lumpy sweater. “Gay-pride?” I had sneered at my brother when I first saw him wearing it. I was pained that I could have ever been so closed-minded, so affected. I felt cold. My hands grew clammy. I didn’t want the magic of the sweater to wear off. Its rainbow spoke of freedom, of an uninhibited vivacious spirit, one that didn’t respect the laws of the color-wheel, one that embraced shades that dared to clash.

I turned off the highway onto a long road. The smell of manure hit my nostrils. Excrement had never smelled so beautiful. I rode the bumps of the crude dirt road. At an unenclosed field I drove quietly off the road, into a sea of tall grass. The gas tank began to flash empty. Turning off the car, I smiled.

The roof of the old station wagon called to me, begging me to join it, to look at the man on the moon, to try to fathom the heavens, to make up my own constellations. Later, as I lay upon the dented metal, I hugged myself, hugged the sweater that I would have previously called ridiculous, hugged the world. I lived in the moment, beyond the conformity, the straight-lines, and the alphabetized book shelves. I lived in the magic of the sweater, in the essence of my beloved brother.

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