Livermore Cowboys. Seniors. Class of '97.
The shirt was originally Jonathan's, of course. In 1997, I was finishing up a year of homeschooling as an eighth grader in Newark. I was still in braces. I was a brand new Christian. I played basketball with the boys in my youth group three times a week and had never been kissed. My crush on Tom Cruise was still new. I had no idea that my parents were within a year of picking up and moving our family to Livermore, California, a city I'd never even heard of.
Anyway, one of the many senior year festivities is buying the senior class shirt. Jon did. And six years later, his LHS Class of 2001 girlfriend found the Class of 1997 t-shirt in a drawer and annexed it immediately. It's got that super soft feeling of cotton that's been washed ten thousand times. Ten thousand tumbles in a dryer. Ten thousand fragrant dryer sheets.
This shirt reminds me of several past favorites. My dad had a Murderer's Row shirt which I adored, stealing it whenever I could for sleeping purposes. It was an XL; the short sleeves still reached past my elbows. But I liked the history of it, the team photo of 1927 Yankees in their pinstripes and high, dark socks. The faces of the players in the long, solemn rows had been washed blurry over the years, but it didn't matter. I knew Babe Ruth's face and number (he was 3, just like me), and I mentally substituted Lou Gehrig's actual countenance for the devastatingly handsome features of Gary Cooper anyway. Pride of the Yankees remains to be one of my favorite films.
I've always been a t-shirt and jeans kind of girl. My entire freshman year of high school was spent in such attire, topped off by a big, bouncing ponytail of nearly black hair. The truth is, I had no idea what to do with myself when I wasn't on a court, volleyball or basketball. At practice, all the girls were in shorts and tees. It leveled us. We were measured by skill and stamina. Out in the world, though, society snorted at my extremely casual approach to wardrobe.
But I was practically oblivious to that at the time. When the Newark Memorial High School Varsity Women's Basketball team made it to the North Coast Section championships in 1998, I was pulled up from the JV team to go on the road with them. It was a huge honor for a freshman. The juniors and seniors on varsity took me under their wings like the plain, t-shirted duckling I was. On bus rides, they taught me how to French braid hair, how to wear my warms ups so that I looked like an athlete with skillz rather than a newbie who felt compelled to keep her shirt tucked in. The t-shirt we received for participation in NCS that year was and is a treasure to me.
Later that year, one of those girls, the loveliest and liveliest among them, died in a car accident. Ann. She was a senior, and everyone knew and cherished her. Her funeral was the first I'd ever been to. I went with the girls from the basketball team and wore a dress I borrowed from a teammate. She was buried in her basketball jersey, something I hadn't been prepared for as I approached the casket. I fell into the arms of one of the coaches. Afterwards, I sat on the counter in the kitchen and talked to my parents about death and Heaven and why I didn't think I'd ever be the same.
I kept the dress I borrowed to wear to Ann's memorial service the next week, held after school in the giant auditorium. It was the one day all year that I "did" my hair... meaning that I blew it dry and left it in a thick, chestnut cloud around my tear-streaked face. I also wore dangly, gold, dreamcatcher earrings. Very un-Audrey. They were more delicate than I hoped I'd ever be then, so light I couldn't feel them... I kept reaching up to make sure I hadn't lost one. Coincidentally, our swim team picture was taken that day. I'm dead center in that photo, and my face is oddly serene. My world was reeling. I had a boyfriend. I knew how to French braid hair. I was preparing to spend all summer in the pool playing water polo and working on my freestyle stroke. The girl I considered to be my hero was dead. You can't imagine how good it felt to get home and slip back into a t-shirt.
These are the things I'm thinking as I prepare to get some sleep tonight. I am soothed by the soft caress of my t-shirt and touched by the memories it evokes in me.