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Clean Livin'

“Aw, Sweetie, you’ve got a stain on your beautiful new sweatshirt!”

Joanie made a sad face as she pointed to my mid-section, where the brown spot in question resided.

“Ugh,” I replied. “Now I have to change it. I’ll be right back.”

Her statement was facetious, and if you’d have been there it would have been obvious to you, as the grey Wisconsin hoodie in question – which earlier in the day had sustained, unbeknownst to me, a direct hit from spilled coffee – sported torn sleeves and a blown out neckline: by definition, an all-time favorite that I would tell you is just hitting its stride, having recently reached its true “broken-in” potential.

We were alone, sitting on the deck, listening to music and playing Yahtzee, enjoying an evening of doing nothing special, which made it even more special. We were winding down after a good, busy day, enjoying each other’s company, with no commitments and no one to see, entertain or impress.

But before I went inside to find another, equally faded and sufficiently “aged” sweatshirt as a replacement, I revealed something to Joanie, just as she was about to respond, addressing the unasked question she’d already teed up in her mind.

“Did you know that any time I get a stain on my clothes, I have to change that piece of clothing right away, no matter where I am, regardless of the time of day, even if I’m alone?”

I’m not exactly sure I can define her response, but it’s probably like the one you have on your face – or in your mind – right now. And I understand that expression because you’re right, why would someone have to change a piece of stained clothing in a situation like that, with no one else around and no place to go?

Here’s the answer: You probably don’t … But I do.

And I can’t explain the why of it because there is no “why,” not a good one anyway. OK, I retract that statement because I’m sure there is a why, just like there’s a why behind my dreams, my body language in certain situations, and the feeling I get in my mid-section (that point where the rib cage spreads, coincidentally marked by the coffee stain on my sweatshirt) when I’m feeling anxious.

But I don’t care about the why, not right now. I’m more amazed that after all this time, all the years we’ve spent together, learning about one another, growing accustomed to (if not sometimes irritated by) one another’s quirks, habits and compulsions, that I had something new to bring to the table, new information to share with Joanie about myself, the person with whom I’ve shared more time and experiences than anyone in my life.

What’s even more amazing about this new information that is I SPILL ON MY CLOTHING ALL THE TIME, so surely this quirk, this stupid compulsion I have, would have come up in conversation or caught her attention at some point, since I’m constantly running to change my clothes for no apparent reason (yet one that’s so obvious to me) throughout the day.

But it never did. Not when we were dating. Not in the early years of our marriage. Not during the years when our kids – as infants and toddlers – did their part to contribute to the cause, spilling baby food, fruit drinks, paint and other less favorable substances on my clothes.

No, it didn’t come up until we were empty-nesters, playing Yahtzee alone on our deck on a spring evening, when finally, after all the years and all my spills, she innocently joked about a small coffee stain and how it threatened to ruin a sweathshirt that, for all intents and purposes, had reached “ruined” status months -- or maybe years – prior.

No, I don’t want to know why I have this compulsion, for many of the same reasons I normally don’t want someone to analyze my dreams, classify or evaluate my body language or figure out why that knot forms in my sternum when I’m anxious.

Much like those things, I’ll live with – and embrace to a certain degree – my urge to immediately change a shirt or hoodie when ketchup appears or a few drips of coffee land in a place where they shouldn’t.

Because that, along with my dreams, my body language, those times of anxiety, and all the years – the great, fun, fantastic years – I’ve spent with Joanie and our kids have made me the person I am.

And while I’m unsure if I’ll ever become the person I want to be (or even the person they want me to be); that is, whether I’ll ever reach my proper level of “broken in,” I’m not going to let a little spilled coffee keep me from trying. And for me, that means wiping the slate clean, if not with a new hoodie, at least a clean one that will set me back on the right path.

Anyway, if you share my compulsion to strip off a piece of stained clothing as soon as it happens, I feel your pain. But I also know – as you probably do – that there’s something that feels great about stripping off that dirty shell and replacing it with something clean … a fresh start.

There’s a message somewhere in all this. Maybe it obtuse or vague or even insignificant, but it’s there, so I’m not going to try and figure out the “why” of it. I’ll just celebrate it for what it is and how I can use it to become a better – albeit terminally stained – person.

I hope you have a great day, one free of spills and stains. But if you do spill, might I suggest always having a “backup shirt” with you just in case?

© 2023 David R. Haznaw

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