I have this shirt that I love. It’s a gray Happy Bunny shirt with four bunnies that say “Eenie Meenie Hiney Moe” – cute but just a tiny bit rude, a fact that I love. I have had it for probably four or five years now, and because of that, it is one of the most comfortable shirts I own. It’s also falling apart and just kind of hangs off of me. Unfortunately, this describes a lot of my clothes, especially my t-shirts, a combination of how old my clothes are, how harsh hand washing is on clothing, and how much weight I’ve lost during my Peace Corps service. I just have a problem with getting rid of clothes, especially if they are still performing their basic function – namely, protecting me from the elements and keeping me from running around the world naked. But, let’s be honest, it was time for this shirt, and a lot of my clothes for that matter, to retire. I just needed a hand to help with the process, I didn’t think I could do it on my own.
Call in the reinforcements! Erin agreed to come hang out with me this weekend (my last in Chernivtsi) to help me wage war on my wardrobe. She also threw together a going away lunch for me with some of my lovely friends: Kristin, Dan, and Sarah.
So we got up this morning, and after breakfast, she was like, “All right, Michelle, let’s get down to it! Throw all your shirts on the ground and let’s take care of this!” I started pulling stuff out of my wardrobe, laying them out, when I got to that bunny shirt. Well… She’ll never notice if I don’t add it to the pile. I just love it so much! I glanced her way, and while she wasn’t paying attention, I pushed the gray shirt to the back, hidden behind a pink blouse that I would be allowed to keep. After a couple more shirts joined the pile on the floor, she stood over it with a critical eye. There was a long pause.
“Where is it?”
I was the picture of innocence. “Where’s what?”
“These are not all of your shirts. Where’s the bunny shirt?”
“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Seriously, she gave me a Look just like my mother used to give me when I wore my old favorite purple sweater, the one that was unraveling and had more holes than you could count, the one that I “lost” at the Hawaiian airport that I am still convinced to this day Mom helped me “lose”. It made me burst out laughing. I pulled the shirt out of the closet and clung it too my chest. “But I love it!”
“Nope, nuh-uh, eenie-meenie-miney-toe has got to go!” she chastised. With some difficulty (it wasn’t that bad! it still kept me from running around naked!), into the garbage bag the shirt went.
Not long after we were gathering our stuff together to meet everyone for lunch, but we were too loaded down to grab the trash bags to take to the dumpster. I teased her saying she better not leave that shirt with me or it might find its way out of the trash and back into my suitcase. Half-teasing, half-exacerbated, she said if she saw a picture on Facebook of me wearing that shirt in America, she would fly back home and burn it. Needless to say, that shirt has stayed in the trash.
We met everyone at the Chinese restaurant, and Erin started telling them about cleaning out my closet, specifically the story of the bunny shirt. I grinned as she started to tell it, until she said, “You know what shirt I mean – the bunny shirt.” They all nodded together. Oh, yes, they said – the bunny shirt. They all knew it. “What?!” I exclaimed, laughing. “How could you possibly know what shirt she’s talking about?!” They all gave me a Look that reminded me of my mother, the one that says clearly and plainly: are you kidding me? They all had a memory of me wearing this silly t-shirt: the day I spoke to group 42 at their Arrival Retreat, traveling around Crimea, hanging out in the city. We all started cracking up. Oh, yes, the time for that shirt to retire was way past overdue.
Behind the laughter, though, there was something more. There were all those memories, all those times we were together. There was friendship. There was caring. And there was sadness. It’s not completely analogous, not a perfect allegory (I hope I mean more than a shirt and I’m not going into the trash!), but just like the bunny shirt, it was time for me to go. And it was hard for them, for me, for all of us, to let go.
I’m still not good at saying goodbyes, when it was time to part I just wanted to cling a little longer – “But I love them!” But that’s just the way it works in Peace Corps, it’s a cyclical process. When a new group comes, an old group leaves, and my time has come. I am so lucky to have had such wonderful friends, though. Not only the ones who have already gone and the ones who are leaving with me, but the ones that I’m leaving behind. They have made my Peace Corps service so special, have made it so rewarding, and it was because of them that I was able to make it through. With all the laughter, all the jokes, all the travel, all the joy – they made the short (way too damn short) time we had together incredible. I love them all so much, I pray we will stay in touch, and I will never, ever forget them.