Trey's Days No. 5
Orange Sweater Vest
I was sure we had nothing in common. He was tall and lanky, I not so tall and not lanky at all. He was black. I'm white. He had a decided limp from a gun shot injury in a ghetto shoot out. I was spared. He grew up in the federal housing project in Little Rock, I in a middle class neighborhood in Memphis. He calls the “Dunbar” home. I don't. He wore an orange sweater vest. I wouldn't.
He began to tell his story. He talked about how he had low self esteem. Thinking back to when it began, this self doubt, self loathing, he recalled a day he “crapped his pants at school.”
“I was sick and I crapped my pants. It was sticky and it stank and all the boys were laughing. Flies were swarming around me. Ever since that day every time somebody snickers or whispers I know they're talking about me.”
I was stunned as I listened. I hadn't thought about it in years. I had been wearing a red Christmas vest. It was the day we got our picture taken with Santa. My mother and grandmother were picking me up from school to go to Goldsmith's basement where Santa waited in the “Enchanted Forest.”. Somehow or another it came over me suddenly like a wave of nausea. Before I knew it it was too late. My utter humiliation exploded around me in a cloud of fragrant nature. It was psychic devastation, complete defeat at the hands of my own bodily functions. It was too late. There I was sitting at my desk at school and it was too late. I like my friend in the orange sweater vest sitting there in my red Christmas vest faced as he had done everyone's worst fear.
Walking to the car I felt the dread of humiliation that only bodily functions can arouse. Made pristine at the hands of doting mother and grandmothers, taught to be fastidious by a band of neat-nicks I walked to the car like I was walking to my death. As I climbed into the back seat, my grandmother beside my mother in the front, I carried this cloud of fragrant humiliation with me. The first sound out of my mother's mouth was a sad sigh, followed by “well, lets get you home and get you cleaned up.” Granny said nothing. My utter humiliation was complete. How would I ever live this down? What's a man to say when it is so obvious that even at the ripe old age of six he still needs a diaper. Crushed, I began the process we all must learn at some point, the process of constructive forgetting.
And it was completely forgotten, stored away in the file of scars that are too painful to see, the scars we all store in a secret place hidden even from ourselves, hidden so well that only one who shares them can bring them out. But out is was now. The tall lanky black man in the orange sweater vest, the man from the projects, a man from Dunbar had found my secret shame. He was telling me that was the source of his low self esteem. Oh my God! Seen against my will and surprised at the unexpected suddenness of that total exposure, one of my deepest and oldest wounds lay open in the healing air. This lanky limping dude knew me better than I knew myself. And he was brave enough to tell our story. And it was our story!
His power began to spill over and I started lapping it up. He just told a whole room full of people in the middle of a luncheon my darkest secret, a secret I had kept all these years even from myself. The psychic power of ancient humiliation began to ebb away. That hard kernel of disgust, of self loathing and doubt stored in the darkest recesses of unconscious memory started to soften in the warm light of this courage. Emanating from the orange sweater vest where that lion heart lay open and alive was the stuff of life itself. Seen and heard the self loathing exposed gets loved into life.
So sure we had nothing in common I was prepared to listen charitably, courteously. Now knowing he knew my shame I could take heart. We had everything in common. His shame was my shame. His healing could be my healing, his courage my aspiration. So there it is, the deepest darkest hidden shame buried forever uncovered by the man in the orange sweater vest. I love you brother, and I am forever in your debt.