I’ve been reading a bit lately and in the last three pages of the book “Shanghai Baby” i came across this passage. In it the antagonist, Coco, is packing up her things and getting ready to move out from the apartment that she up until recently shared with her boyfriend, Tian Tian. Tian Tian in his last days was an impotent morphine addict and while it’s not explicitly mentioned how his death comes about, it’s pretty much assumed that he dies from an intended overdose.
Just before i left, i sorted a few things out. I touched up the manuscript and cleaned up the apartment. I planned to move back in with my parents, so i needed to give Connie the key. Tian Tian’s things were still there. I chose one of his self-portraits, a collection of Dylan Thomas poems he’d liked and a white shirt he used to wear.
The shirt still had his smell. Burying my face in it made me realize what it is to lose happiness.
Being someone who tends to attach meaning to just about anything in the search for significance, i often put myself into a character’s shoes. This time it made me think. If my boyfriend Demitri went away like that, which shirt of his would i keep with me?
Over the years, my boyfriend’s style and his appearance has seen a lot of changes, initially kick-started by him but enthusiastically curated by me until today. I dote on his aesthetic now (i mean i won’t say it’s perfect but it’s certainly an ocean’s length away from where he began). I love that he now knows the difference between shin-high white socks and ankle-length black ones and that he’s now aware that not all polo shirts are equal. I also appreciate the effort that he took to study the stark contrast between a $3 neighborhood barber cut and a professional trim by a proper hairstylist.
But then i thought deeply to myself after coming across Coco’s grief and realized that if i ever lost the love of my life, the shirt i would take with me wouldn’t be that long black one that i think he looks so effortlessly stylish in or the red and black check button-up that makes him look so sharp, or even that double-breasted cardigan that makes me swoon and go weak at the knees.
In fact, it would be his ugliest, most heinous polo shirt, the one with the wide horizontal stripes going through it, each at a more garish colour than the last, ranging from Panadol pink to tree-hugging green, the one that i always thought made him look like a food-colouring infested Raya cake.
But i would keep it with me and i’d take it to bed with me for months after and i’d hold it close to my face for the last traces of his favourite perfume while my tears poured into its threadbare seams and stitches. Because at the very core of it, the man wearing that was the one i fell in love with. I loved him so much then, even with his poop-brown boardshorts that he would wear out nonchalantly when we stumbled out for dinner after a long nap spent in each other’s embrace, or when he thought nothing of his bedhead as we sipped contentedly on bubble tea together. After all this time, he’s still the one i turn to in times of distress, the one whose breathing disappears to alarmingly shallow depths when he’s asleep, the same man whose hands i impulsively seek even in my deepest, heaviest inertia.
Even at his prime, i’ll never ever forget that that was who he was at the beginning. I can’t say if being with me has changed him for the better but i do know that the man i met five years ago is the man i would always choose to remember him by. In fact, i’d choose that kek-lapis-shirt wearing man with the unsightly sideburns over the other prince charmings anyday.