“Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect.” Luna Lovegood, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
My grey Star Wars sweatshirt lay unassumingly on top of my boyfriend’s bed, wrinkled and unremarkable. And yet, the sight of it caused me to stop and marvel as one would at a religious miracle. I hadn’t laid eyes on that sweatshirt since B.C.–Before COVID–seemingly a lifetime ago. Somehow, it got sucked into the void under his bed alongside stray socks and dust, where it remained for over a year. In the simple act of disappearing and reappearing, this $25 dollar novelty item from Target had become an artifact, a visitor from the Before Times, imbued with the power of memory.
I thought the garment was lost, a casualty of the pandemic, two moves, and a job change. In fact, when I first noticed it missing I assumed I’d left it at the office sometime in March 2020 before COVID hit. I often left things at my desk in those days, comfortable in the knowledge that I’d return the next day to claim my sweater (or Tupperware or umbrella). Little did I know.
When I left my job in November, I finally went back to the office to clean out my desk. Reentering the space felt like returning to a long-forgotten world where coworkers easily shared gossip and germs, working elbow to elbow in a confined space. Jackets slung nonchalantly on the back of chairs reflected the casual attitude with which many of us initially approached the Great Pause. Though I found a few treasures among the detritus in and around my desk, there was no Star Wars sweatshirt. I subsequently forgot all about it, banishing it to the realm of lost things whose fates are forever unknown.
It reappeared on a cold, grey day in February, a few weeks shy of my two-year anniversary in New York City and the one-year anniversary of the pandemic. Some say a year isn’t very long in the grand scheme of things. But 2020 was. The last time I saw that sweater, Ruth Bader Ginsberg was still alive. Chadwick Boseman was still alive. George Floyd was still alive. Donald Trump was still president, and COVID was a vaguely worrisome headline. The terms insurrection, sedition, herd immunity, frontline worker, and quarantine weren’t part of our daily vocabularies. I thought I’d be attending three weddings over the summer, hanging out with my baby nephew, spending a few final days with my grandmother who’d just entered hospice care, commuting to work, going on dates with my boyfriend. In short, I was just like everyone else at the beginning of 2020: unaware and unprepared for what was about to happen. Little did we know.
The innocence of that sweatshirt as it lay atop the bed bowled me over. I don’t know how it ended up there in the first place. I can’t remember if I took it off in the heat of passion, after spilling wine on it, or because I got too warm snuggled up under the covers watching TV. Had I stopped by on my way back from some SoHo bar where I’d gossiped with work friends and complained about the loud music and expensive, lackluster cocktails? Was I just off the phone with my dad, planning a surprise visit home for my mom’s birthday? Had I come from seeing a movie in theaters, a formerly beloved ritual? It’s impossible to remember. What I do know is that after a year of having so much taken away from me, the people I love, and pretty much everyone else, my sweatshirt was the first thing the universe had given back.
The day I rediscovered it was a darkly ordinary day, a day epitomizing the creeping spiritual drain of an endless pandemic winter. Hours of Zoom calls, inscrutable client emails, watching snow fall from grey skies, missing my family and friends, bored beyond belief with routines and daily frustrations. A day like so many others. We’ve all become so accustomed to stress, poor mental health, grief, loss, and exhaustion. Anything surprising, anything even slightly unexpected these days seems magical, imbued with a life force that we barely recognize.
We’re going to start getting more of our lives back now as vaccines gradually roll out, our country returns to some semblance of the democracy we imagined it to be, and the weather turns warm. Slowly, tentatively, squinting at the light, we’ll start to venture out of our homes and sip drinks on patios, reunite with our loved ones, joke awkwardly about our discomfort with in-person meetings and pandemic weight gain. We’ll meet babies born months earlier, celebrate missed birthdays, mourn lost friends and family members. We’ll pick up some of the pieces of our shattered plans and dreams and remain desperately grateful for life’s small pleasures, knowing how tenuous it all is and always was, and how easily it might be taken away again.
But I think it will be much longer before we as a collective and as individuals process what was truly lost, and just how much has changed. I’ll never be the person I was the last time I wore that grey Star Wars sweatshirt. There are so many things I will never again take for granted. This wasn’t a lost year, a mere blip on our collective radar. It was a profound reimagining of what it means to be human, to live in proximity to and apart from our communities, a year of learning the difference between wants and needs, between merely surviving and actually living. A year of profound, improbable joy and profound, incomprehensible sorrow.
My hope is that instead of donning our old lives like a familiar, cozy sweater, we instead see our continued existence for what it truly is: an absolute, fragile, and astonishing miracle.
2 thoughts on “The Time Traveling Sweatshirt: A Pandemic Carol”
Such a lovely and powerful piece of writing. Captures so much that s real. Thank you. Tom
This is so beautiful—you know you are a wonderful writer but what you are capturing deepens and grows and you are revealing who you are and how you understand yourself. This captures so much of what is lost and found, three-dimensional and ephemeral, how memory resides in objects, this time of loss where so much will not be simply found again in the form in which we knew and loved it. You weave these all together in unexpected and moving ways. I love this and love you. Thank you for sharing it with me and others on IG.
Michele Bograd, Ph.D. 781-643-5451 http://www.michelebogradphd.com
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