Sixteen Months In Sweaters
Gray Knit Cardigan: You got this sweater a few years ago off the sale rack at Urban Outfitters. The buttons were missing, but it was cheap and works well as a light jacket. Two summers ago, before your senior year of college, you got a fellowship to do research abroad in Bristol. The summer nights are cold in England, so you wear this sweater often. The weather reminds you of the Northeast, so you don’t mind.
The distance is hard for you and your girlfriend, and the two of you fight nearly every week until you break up over Skype while you’re visiting a friend in Paris. You’re wearing this sweater. The next day you drink most of a bottle of wine by lunch and spend the afternoon wandering around the Louvre. It doesn’t occur to you yet that you might have a problem.
Red Cashmere Pullover: This was a gift from your father. As a teenager, you mostly wore tight and brightly colored American Eagle hoodies that matched your skinny jeans and long hair. But you’re a senior in college, now—an adult, practically, with short hair and everything. You wear this sweater with a blue collared shirt and maybe a blazer, too, for when you want to look like your parents make more money than they do. It’s warm and has a v-neck, which you like. Your brother borrows it for a class dinner, and you forget about it for a few months.
Navy Blue and Maroon Cardigan: You ordered this sweater online. It’s a little big, and the sleeves are too loose to roll up. You decide to return it, but you never do. Maybe you were distracted by writing your senior thesis. Maybe it was the Vodka Redbulls you drank to take the edge off writing. Either way, you’re glad you kept it because you’re dressing up a lot lately and the shawl collar looks great under a jacket. You wear it when you crash the annual formal of one of your college’s secret societies. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about this party a few times, so even though you hadn’t heard of it you figure it must be important.
You leave with an underclassman you’d made out with fall semester but didn’t ever text because you had just broken up with your girlfriend of a year-and-a-half and you were awkward and emotionally unavailable. The two of you climb out the window of your room and onto the roof of your building, where you drink wine and talk about your research and concerts she’s been to and her thoughts on literature. She spends the night. The next morning you talk for a few hours, and you’re amazed by how easy it is to just spend time with her. Even though you’re graduating in a few weeks, you hope to see her again. You date until mid-August, when you’ll move to North Carolina to start your job.
Off-White Cable Knit Sweater: It’s the night before commencement and your family is visiting. You have a solid buzz because your family stresses you out and you still have to pack four years of your life into boxes, which terrifies you. At a campus store that sells packing supplies, you notice a vintage looking cable-knit sweater with a big, navy-colored felt “Y” on the front. You imagine football captains in the fifties wore this kind of sweater and you decide that you need one. It costs too much but fuck it—you’re about to be a Yale graduate. The next day you go home and wear it for the next week because fuck it—you’re a Yale graduate.
You’re wearing this sweater when you hear that one of your classmates died in a car accident. You had never talked much, but you were in a play with her your freshman year and admired her a lot. She had a musical going up in the Fringe Festival in a few months and she would have started a job at the New Yorker in June. She was one of the most talented writers you knew, and she died senselessly, randomly, and less than a week after graduating.
She was an atheist, like you, and you have an existential crisis. This lasts a few days. In the photo of her that circulates online, she is wearing this vintage Yale sweater under a yellow jacket, and you remember that you owned the same canvas bag that she did. You laughed together when you realized that both of you had gotten it by searching “canvas bag” on Amazon and buying the cheapest one. She was everything you loved about your school and you start to wear something else.
Vintage Red and Pink V-Neck: You spend nearly every weekend of the summer with your girlfriend—is she your girlfriend? You never really talk about it, and you don’t see the point, with your move as an expiration date. You still can’t help but notice, though, that you’ve cared about some girlfriends a lot less than you care about her.
You’re staying in New Haven and she’s staying in the city. During one of your visits, the two of you decide to go to a clearance sale at a clothing store that’s moving to somewhere else in Brooklyn. She gets a onesie that you like but don’t understand, and you buy some clothes you’re afraid you aren’t cool enough to wear. This sweater included.
In the fall when you take your I.D. photo for your new job, you’re wearing this sweater and smiling. The card looks faded, like it was made in the nineties, but the words “Cognitive Neuroscience” printed under your name make you feel legitimate. You notice that your sweater isn’t quite centered in the photo but you don’t mind. Later that day the girl who works in the lab next to yours sells you a mattress—you spent the last two nights in your unfurnished apartment sleeping next to your new dog on a beanbag chair. You’re tired and stressed and living from day-to-day, and it’s not for a few more months that your apartment and life start to fill in. You start to listen to music that you liked in 2008, and it takes about a week to get used to the bus system.
Light Blue Heather Cardigan: You don’t remember where you got this sweater, but you like it a lot. You still wear it, even though some of the buttons get chewed up by the pit bull you adopted the day before you moved down to Durham. Your friend found him starving in Puerto Rico but couldn’t keep him. You realize that getting a dog right before you moved and started a new job was an objectively terrible decision, but you look at the photos your friend took when they found him—hunched over, ribs and spine showing, skinny legs and a hollow chest—and you’re happy you have him.
You spent a lot of time talking with the girl you saw over the summer, but not so much after a few months have passed. Last minute, you decide to travel up north to celebrate the book your friend just published and you make plans to see her.
You wear this sweater when you visit.
After lunch with your father and brother and a short but eventful stop at the house of a friend you used to casually sleep with, you text the girl you used to see. You talk for about an hour before she has to leave for a concert and you start to remember what it’s like to have feelings for someone. You weren’t planning on anything happening, but as you say goodbye your eyes meet for a second too long. You kiss right there in the middle of the sidewalk, and the world rushes around you like a scene from some movie. You feel lightheaded, and you grin like an idiot as you walk to your friend’s place to drink before dinner. You spend the night in her apartment.
After you leave the next morning she finds out who else you visited and what happened between you, and hurting her feels worse than anything you’ve felt in a while. You hate that you made her just another hookup while passing through town. You hate that your first reaction was to blame the other girl and not yourself. You hate that you didn’t want to admit that you have some fucked-up and selfish attitudes about sex and relationships. Over the next few days you drink too much.
Gray Knit Cardigan: You got this sweater a few years ago off of the sale rack at Urban Outfitters. It’s your last night in the Northeast, and you’re wearing this sweater to the premier of your late classmate’s musical at the Fringe Festival. It’s another cold summer night, and you’re with the girl you care about, whatever she is. The musical is about youth and aimlessness, and it speaks to you in a really millennial kind of way, which you like. As you walk out of the theater and down First Avenue to the subway station, your eyes stay fixed ahead of you, with your jaw clenched tight and your arm around this girl who you’d later wish you treated better. The two of you don’t talk much until you make it back to her apartment, where you lie down on her bed and cry for a lot of reasons. You’re tired, and there’s a train that you have to catch the next morning.
A | A | A
If you’ve been looking for a chance to say something then this very well could be it.
I wish to God I’d had a list like this when I was 23.
Answer phones better than anyone else has answered phones before. Relay messages so brilliant, they bring people to tears. Turn the coffee run into the choreography of Swan Lake. Become best friends with every intern and every underling and every taxi driver you encounter.
I remember taking the pen and notebook from that woman outside the courtroom, flipping to a clean page in the book, and writing, JESSICA IS SAD in big, bold, uncoordinated letters. “My sister is going to be a good writer someday! Look at how nice her lines are!”