The Wrong Shirt

January, 2018:

It’s early, but it’s one of the first days of the year that spring is in the air. It smells different. It’s such a good smell, I decide to jog. I’m not very good at jogging. I get out of breath easily and then I get grumpy. But maybe today, the sun and that smell in the air will be enough to get me a few blocks.

I keep the Mabel Coffee t-shirt I’ve been wearing all day, but dare to put on running shorts. I drive to Green Lake, because I know that the path around it is flat and pretty. I park and hop out of the car. Maybe I can do one mile. I think from here to the Bathhouse Theatre is over one mile, so if I make it almost there and back, then that’s very good. 

The first few minutes only require downhill running, which I find easy and fun. But once it flattens out, I get nervous and self-conscious. I hope no one has seen where I started. Maybe if I take slower breaths, try to match them to my pace. Maybe if I slow my pace. But I feel the burn already in my legs—so embarrassingly quickly—and it’s with relief I stop at a red light. How do people run miles at a time?

You are across the street, hands on your hips, also wearing shorts and panting, except you look exhilarated. We must think the same thing about the spring-ish air. You are wearing a Harvard t-shirt. A lot of people wear Harvard t-shirts, more than went to Harvard, surely. I bet that gets on actual Harvard students’ nerves. But if you went to Harvard, then I could tell you I went to Vassar, which isn’t Harvard but to those in the know, is still a significant name drop. It’s the school Anthony Bourdain dropped out of, I tell people around here.

You have your eyes on the blue sky, but then your gaze lowers and we make eye contact. Because I’m tired, I don’t have the energy to look elsewhere, but that’s good, because you smile at me. I return a tight-lipped grin: if you’re smiling at someone behind me it’ll go undetected. 

The light changes and I force myself into what I hope is an agile jog and we run toward each other, in the middle of the street by Green Lake in the winter. 

“How’s it going,” you say with another big grin, and I smile with my teeth and say, “Good!” in a loud exhale. Then you run past and up the hill.

I run a few dozen paces more in case you are looking back at me, but after stealing a glance I see you are gone, so I slow to a walk. 

I’m disappointed in you, but maybe I’m to blame. Maybe I should have pretended I was going to run the same way as you. Maybe I should be a better runner. Maybe this shirt makes me look bad. All the people say that little things like a shirt don’t matter, but what if today was the one day it did? What if I had put in some effort? What if I had worn a Harvard shirt? Should my legs be tanner? And my hair: sure, no one cares about my hair that much, but if I’d put a little more effort into it today, would that have made a difference to you? Would my head look less bulbous? A lot of books and movies have people falling for each other over one crucial detail: their shoes, their braids, their dewy skin, their insouciantly groomed eyebrows. Maybe that’s bogus too, but I noticed you because of your grin and your Harvard t-shirt. Therefore, something about me wasn’t compelling enough for you to stop me in the street and demand a proper response to “how’s it going,” so it was my fault.

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