Saturday, February 6, 2016

An Act of Betrayal

There’s something sad about discarding old clothes.  Sad and just a little heartbreaking.

You buy a new shirt, for example.  You see it on the rack in the store or in the display case and it catches your eye.  The colour is nice.  It’s the right size.  You weigh the price against its attractiveness and decide, perhaps on a whim, to take it home.  Maybe.  First you try it on.  It fits perfectly.  It feels good.  It looks good on you.  It’s as though fate brought you to that store, at that moment, before anyone else could see it first and snatch it from your grasp.  At the register you hand the clerk your credit card and in seconds ownership has passed from the retailer to you.  There’s still the formality of washing it, to get the starchy stiffness out, but there’s no mistaking the shirt is yours.  It hangs in your closet, waiting for the moment you first wear it in public (not counting the minute or two in which you sized it up while looking at yourself in the three sided mirror just outside the dressing room).

You wear the shirt for special occasions.  Maybe to a wedding.  Or a date on which you want to impress a woman (or man) and so pick this, your newest possession, to highlight not only your desirability but also your taste.  Over time, the specialness decreases and it becomes a work shirt.  Something that will look nice but is mainly functional.  Before long it becomes an everyday piece of clothing, put on for no reason other than you need to be covered.

And then you find yourself in a store.  It could be the very same store.  In any case you’re perusing the shirts and there, just there, you see a shirt.  It’s attractive.  A different colour but that’s to be expected.  Tastes change.  Fashion changes.  It’s your size.  You try it on.  It fits perfectly.  The price is right.  A new shirt would be good.  The cashier takes your card and in a matter of seconds ownership passes to you.  A quick wash.  An empty hanger is no longer empty.  Just as you’re putting your newest possession in its rightful place you see the old shirt.  The one you bought … how long ago?  Seems like forever.  Hanging next to the new one it looks tired.  Limp.  Frayed.  A quick mental calculation and you decide you’ll probably never wear it again.

It’s just a shirt.  It has no mental capacity.  It’s incapable of emotion of any kind and yet when you take it off the hanger you gently fold it so as not to hurt the feelings it doesn’t have.  In one final act you place it in the pile to be taken to Goodwill where, you tell yourself, someone else will be able to make good use of it.  But is that what you’re really thinking or is there something else?  Aren’t you just a little nagged by a sense of betrayal?  Betrayal of something that didn’t ask for any loyalty but earned it anyway?  Unconsciously, on your part, there was a sense of fealty.  There was a pact.  One sided, perhaps, but still.  You took it home.  You cared for it.  You made sure it looked as good as possible and hung it with care in a place of honour.  And it?  All it did was make sure you were covered when you needed to be and in the most comfortable and attractive way possible.  But where is it now?  After holding up it’s unasked for end of the bargain but doing so without complaint where has it ended up?  In a heap with other discarded clothes and objects all once purchased with the same sense of joy and appreciation until …

Relegated to an anonymous pile to be taken to an anonymous place several rungs of style below where you found it, to be picked at by strange hands and sold for a pittance to do service for who knows who.  Maybe not even to perform its intended function.  It might become a lowly rag to wipe spills from a garage floor.  It might become part of a costume in a school play.  Maybe, just maybe, it will be used as a prop.  Not even a shirt but an object to be torn, shredded, destroyed in a playful game between lovers and then, finally, left in a rubbish bin to be ultimately destroyed.

Is betrayal too strong a word?  Consider this.  There’s a new shirt in your closet.  You think it looks good on you.  You think it makes you look attractive.  But one day you’ll be in a store and you’ll see a shirt on a rack or in a display case.  It will catch your eye.  You’ll like the way it fits.  It will have a good price.  When you take it home something, most likely, will have to be discarded to make room for it in your closet.  Will it be the shirt you just bought that itself displaced the one now lying helplessly in the bin you’ve yet to take away?