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Faded and Frayed
The first time I saw him was from the corner of my eye. He was sitting to the side wearing a worn and frayed Red Sox hat, his faded flannel shirt rolled up over his forearms. He fiddled with a stray piece of thread from his sleeve, twisting it mindlessly through his fingers. There was no reason I should notice him. He was just like everybody else. Painfully normal.
The second time I saw him his hair was grown out. I couldn’t help but notice the careless way he let his curls occasionally brush in front of his face, his hat doing little to contain them. This time he was walking downtown. His shoe was untied. I don’t think he realized.
Four months passed before our paths crossed again. The third time I saw him, it took me a moment to recognize him. The curls were still there, though they had been trimmed since I last saw him. He was wearing a sweatshirt. It had that old hand-me-down feel to it; as though he wasn’t the first owner to be comforted by its grey, terrycloth embrace. He stood in the doorway a moment, pausing as he put on his hood, and pulled the drawstrings until it cocooned around his head, the bill of his navy hat still barely peeking through. Then he walked out into the rain.
I watched until he disappeared.
The last time I saw him his face was red. He was in a one sided screaming match with an older man, the two standing on the crumbling front steps of a house. He listened just as I did; seemed to be just as much of an outsider in the argument as I was. He stood there taking in the fierce yelling. Not wincing. Standing his ground. Patiently waiting for his turn.
I heard him speak for the first and last time. I was too far away to distinguish his words.
Before I knew it, with a toss of his faithful hat in the dust, he was gone. He jumped into his beaten pick-up and left. The slam of the car door resounded in my ears. That echo was my comfort, my dismay. I held onto that echo.
The dust settled. The man kicked the door open and disappeared inside.
I stood a moment and thought of every instance I had seen him, each more insignificant than the rest. Yet I savored each of those moments, trying to recall every last detail. The stray curls. The anxious foot tapping. The hat.
I carefully made my way to the spot where his truck had once occupied. In the gravel lay his hat. The same faded, frayed Boston cap I always saw him in.
I don’t know why I took it with me. I cradled it in my arms. I fiddled with the frayed edges. I ran my fingers over every last inch, noticing places where the navy material was almost completely worn away.
It was a fitted hat. I placed it on my own head and it flopped in front of my eyes. Too big. I took it off.
I looked on the inside, hoping for a name. Nothing.
I wore that hat from time to time. On days when I had to guard my face from the burning sun. To protect myself from a rainstorm. When I needed a shield from the stinging wind. Other than that it sat in my closet, placed carefully on a shelf or hung lazily on a peg.
I didn’t think much of how the hat had come into my possession. It was just a series of unconnected, unimportant events. I tried not to think about it. Because then I’d remember that first time I saw him. And I’d have to ask myself why I noticed him.
It was a Thursday. I was stopping by the local bookstore, hoping to find something decent to fill my free time over the weekend. I was browsing through the mystery section looking for a story. Something different. I was so sick of reading the same book over and over again. The butler was the murderer. She faked her own death. He had a twin.
Nothing was grabbing my interest. I started to leave, accepting that fact that I wouldn’t find anything. As I weaved my way through rows of shelves of books, my breath caught in my throat. In a chair placed near the fantasy section was a boy. He sat with his flannel shirt rolled up over his forearms. His untied, frayed shoelace bounced in every direction as his foot tapped mindlessly on the carpeted floor. Reckless curls scattered his forehead. His face was blocked by a faded blue hat, his head bent over a book.
I thought of every instance I had seen him, each more insignificant than the rest. Stuck in my mind were the stray curls. The anxious foot tapping. The hat.
He looked up, but the faces didn’t match. I shook my head and made my way out of the store.
No one else would have taken a second look at that boy. He was completely normal; emitting averageness.
But I’m plagued by the ordinary. Plagued by the could’ves and the should’ves and the would’ves.
Could’ve said hi.
Should’ve introduced myself.
Would’ve learned his name.
Could’ve taken a risk.
Should’ve spoken up.
Would’ve had no regrets.
But I didn’t.
His hat. That was all I had.