My favorite sweatshirt is one I purchased twelve years ago at Aggie Outfitters at the mall in College Station. At the time I’d originally written this post, it was too big for me, which was one of the reasons I love it. It falls to the middle of my thigh, and the sleeves are long enough that my hands are hidden by the fabric. And it’s hooded. I can get lost in this sweatshirt.
I ain’t that scarred when I’m covered up (Beth Hart — Leave the Light on).
It’s thick, good, strong, warm cotton. Wearing it is like being wrapped up in a thick, flannel blanket.
But the best thing is the giant 12 imprinted on the front in worn white numbers, trimmed in gold. Big, bold blocks of Twelfth Man.
I wear it when my soul is at its weakest.
I was walking the streets of Cardiff at three in the morning, back to the hotel after a quest to find a debit machine so I could get the cash I needed to pay the cab fare for transit from the hotel to the airport. The hotel had an ATM in the lobby, and I’d expected to get money there, but there was some festival going on while I was in Cardiff… something comparable to Mardi Gras… and the tenants had emptied the hotel’s ATM in the night. So I set out… alone.
Like any other city, the streets of Cardiff at three a.m. look nothing like the streets at three p.m. I marveled at the city’s ability to clean up the excessive debris from a drunken night of debauchery in such a short time. If one were to be on those streets at ten a.m., all evidence of the previous night’s party would have been swept up and tossed in the garbage. But on this night, as I was walking, I think there easily might have been two hundred plastic cups broken and crushed on the concrete in front of one bar. I passed a lot of bars.
At three a.m., just like at three p.m., a lot of people are milling about, but the early morning’s crowd is dressed dramatically different than the afternoon’s, and instead of anticipating the fine time to come as the afternoon’s crowd does the early morning’s bunch are coming down from the high of having that fine time.
And there’s me, who’s been up for maybe ninety minutes, who’s exhausted from a mediocre vacation and a mild depressive episode. I was shoving my way back to the surface. At least, I was trying to do so. I’d had a good day’s rest and was bound for the airport, for family, for home, so I was a little better.
But better is a fragile thing.
There’s me in my comfort clothes, making my way through the crowds as quickly, as unobtrusively as possible. I was a little scared, so I didn’t look at anyone directly. I tried not to call too much attention to myself.
But there’s that giant, white twelve, and quite a few noticed it.
No one said anything. Not until I was a couple of blocks away from the hotel, just around the corner. And I thought Almost there, almost there. I was reveling in the knowledge that I’d made it unharmed.
Three men walk by me. After they’d passed, one of them called out, Hey, twelve! You’re not a number! You’re a female!
I’d considered saying something when I heard another say, And ugly!
Mentally everything stopped. In my head, I just stood there, frozen, shocked, humiliated, hurt and horrified that my day had begun this way. In my head, I cried. I could almost feel the breath freeze in my lungs and my heart stop, just for a second.
But outside, I appeared as though I was unfazed. There wasn’t a hitch in my step that betrayed me. Not a shift in my posture so that my shoulders seemed slumped. I kept walking.
It’s not normally a shocking sentiment. I’ve heard this more times, so many more times than I care to recall. It’s not new. It’s not something I’ve not told myself more times than I’ve heard it, in hopes that hearing it would hurt less.
It’s that I’d not heard it in a while. That I liked my face well enough when I got dressed that morning. That it’d been said by someone on the other side of the world.
It’s that the sentiment is now universal.
And the sweatshirt, the thing that once provided some small bit of solace, is now tainted by the taunts of three men I met on the streets of Cardiff at three in the morning, and every time I look at it, I’ll think of them, of that day, of that ugliness.
Originally published August thirty-first, ‘nine.