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by Melissa Ingoldsby 7 months ago in Family · updated 5 months ago

Of Sweater Vests and talking to strangers

Why do I feel like talking to this stranger is more meaningful, more important, more beautiful... than anything or anyone I have ever encountered in my life?

It all happened two weeks ago, on a light spring Sunday in late April. I had taken a walk to clear my head. I was feeling out of sorts in the form of being very tired and I wanted to go out to force my mind to sort of---clear out the cobwebs. Self-perpetuated or imagined, or real----I had to clear them out somehow.

I was picturing my girlfriend the night before getting ready for our dinner date.

The dinner date that went to hell... and if my life was a show consisting of thirty-minute episodes, last night's would be entitled:

The Dinner Date Inside of Hell(that also never happened)

The audience would like it more than the critics.

You might laugh at this, thinking I am a bit histrionic for saying so---for placing my mundane and boorish moments on a higher platform, or on a screen for everyone to judge as if I am so important, but I can't emphasize this enough---

It was Hell.

Kizzy, my girlfriend, had put on this sweater vest her grandmother had passed on to her.

Yes, I know.

That sort of Wasp-y, golf elite type of wear, the kind of stuff that made up the 70's. But, this piece of oldies garb actually meant a lot to me.

Only she didn't know this about me.

Not because I was hiding it---no. I was not a shy person. However, Kizzy and I, for some odd reason, felt alienated from one another.

"Christopher, you need to take out the trash," Kizzie says from the open bathroom. I see her placing the light pink lipstick on her lips with surgeon-like precision.

"Baby, we don't have time for that. We have reservations at six thirty."

Kizzie sighed. "I asked you over an hour ago." She comes out combing her beautiful black hair.

"I know, I know. But we gotta go." I got my wallet and put on my tie.

"I will do it."

She walked off, and I saw her stance was a bit peeved off, so I sighed and said, "No, I will."

She grabbed the garbage bag in the kitchen and gives me a disapproving look. As things turned for the worse, we actually had an immature bout of tug of war with the garbage bag.

And yes, the bag broke. I opted for cheap bags.

I also opted to let the garbage fall on me instead of her(I could not let her sweater vest get dirty); Kizzie only had this to say:

"You are the epitome of laziness and procrastination," She says lowly as she brushed off her pants. "I am leaving to dinner. Alone."

I felt an instant wave of intense panic set in my bones, and I said with a barely coherent stutter, "D-don't go. Please... plea-please Kizzie..."

As the door slammed shut, I realized that the relationships you had with people determined how similar situations panned out. I tried to think of something, anything to stop my panic attack.

I imagined: If this exact situation had played out with my best friend Clarissa, we would've laughed it out, playfully joking with one another---or if it had been my older brother Fred, we might've wrestled and thrown a punch or two at each other without actually trying to really hurt one another----and if it had been any other person, maybe, just maybe, we would have gone out to our dinner date anyway.

But, that wasn't my reality.

I feel asleep on the couch, and I didn't hear Kizzie come home.

When I woke up, I made a quick cup of espresso with cream, and drank it hurriedly. I looked in our room, and she was not there. I didn't call her, but I did text her.

Kizzie, we need to talk.

I put my phone on silent, and got ready to go out for a walk. Walks always helped me clear my head.

I thought about Kizzie in that sweater vest. I thought about how good she looked in it. I admired how she could take any fashion that was outdated and make it her own, and make it look modern somehow. She was taller than me--her towering at a six foot two, and me just at five foot nine.

I kept thinking about her in that sweater vest.

It broke my heart. It literally tore me apart.

But, I hid from the feeling for so long, I only made myself want to see it again---to pretend that it didn't effect me.

My friends all said her height would wreck the dynamics of the relationship---eventually. I didn't believe them; I believed they were jealous.

She was a beautiful woman, like a taller version of gorgeous actor Laura Harrier, and I counted myself lucky to have her in my life.

I considered myself to be gangly, weird and nerdy my whole life. Basically a real life Phillip Fry from Futurama---red hair and all. The only difference was I didn't drink and I was not a jealous type---oh, and I had glasses. Big nerdy ones.

By Jon Tyson on Unsplash

I also was very observant. I liked to notice everything.

As I walking, I noticed a couple holding hands across from each other at a table outside. It looked like a fancy brunch place with fire pits near the tables.

The body language was, at first glance, affectionate, but the way each of them was looking at each other was very contrasting.

The man looked at her like she was his meal. He was ravenous.

Her body language was slightly off. She seemed purposefully held back, a little closed off, and her expression was only of a mild interest, with a bit of coyness mixed in.

Then, they leaned in closer to kiss.

That is when it happened.

I saw someone.

Someone with blue hair---like in that graphic novel: Blue Is The Warmest Color---and I was lost in their eyes.

Big brown eyes.

I don't know why, but it felt like that scene in West Side Story.

And I heard music---I swear. I did. It was floating above us and was some kind of ethereal, brilliant unearthly representation of music I had never heard before in my life. Nor did I again.

I think that happens only once in your life, when you meet your true love.

"Hey, I am so sorry to bother you," the blue-haired angel crooned to me, smiling softly, "But you looked so drawn to that couple over there, and you looked so sad, and I just wanted to say I hope you have a better day."

I smiled back, but felt self-conscious, not immediately responding(I was blushing). The crazy thing about that was that I never felt self-conscious.

"Uh, I... I was taking a quick stroll," I said quietly, hating the way it sounded meek.

They licked their lips---I could not quite tell if this person was a woman or a man. But, it didn't matter. They looked beautiful to me, either way.

Their wavy blue hair spilled out below their ears, and I looked at their pale, milky neck.

I was smitten.

"Are you sad?"

I was astonished by how direct they were, and by the look on my face, the stranger could tell.

"Oh, gee, let us go back a bit---if that's okay," They extended their hand. "My name is Shiloh Addison. What's yours?"

We shook hands, and I laughed a bit in relief. "Christopher," I said. I decided to try and knock myself out of my love stricken stupor. "And, you are okay. If more people were like you and cared, then maybe we wouldn't have as many problems in the world. We all have to roam the earth and be the kind of role we are expected to play---and sometimes, its hard to keep up the act."

Shiloh looked at me bemused. "Act? Like in a play? I never saw life like that. But, I think for some people they are expected to be that way, I suppose. I think that... people should be able to act organically to how they feel as long as they aren't hurting anyone. Emotions and feelings shouldn't be bottled up."

I frowned, and Shiloh's eyes narrowed at me---but in a kind, non-provoking fashion.

"What were you thinking when I said that?" Shiloh asked. "You looked like you went somewhere else for a minute."

I clinked my teeth together nervously. "Are you a therapist, or something? You really observe everything."

Shiloh laughed. "Oh... no. No, I'm not. I just... I really love to have deeper connections with the people I talk to. I don't like superficial talk."

"That is refreshing. But also... scary."

Shiloh laughed again. "I am not scary, I promise."

Why do I feel like talking to this stranger is more meaningful, more important, more beautiful... than anything or anyone I have ever encountered in my life?

As I thought this, I realized something else---I needed to break up with Kizzie. Six months of nothing with someone I tried so hard to build a life with---and it amounted to something that felt sad and lonely.

Then Shiloh did this beautiful thing.

They placed a bit of stray curls from their face around their ear, and then bit their lip oh so slightly---- looking at me again with those big brown oval eyes.

"You know, Christopher, I notice you like to observe everything too."

I smiled wryly. "I guess."

"You wanna tell me why you are sad? If not, that's okay."

I looked away for a moment, then at the ground, then at the sky. I sighed deeply.

"You are only talking to a stranger, and that means it's not as scary, right?" Shiloh said with a mystical tone, and I chuckled. "It is not like telling your mom, or your dad. Right?

I nodded.

Just then, Shiloh took my hand and whispered in my ear, "Let's run off to that park, and you can tell me why you are really sad."

I felt it was strangely whimsical and a little childish, but I agreed.

"Okay, Shiloh."

We both ran---down the steep sidewalk, up a hill---across the street, and I felt like was flying. I felt free.

We walked to the entrance of the park and stopped holding hands. My heart was pounding.

We sat down near a pear tree, and I took in a deep breath. It had blossoms ready to bloom—-spring had come.

Shiloh started, "When I was three, I broke my jaw bone climbing this pear tree. My mother let me do anything. I climbed it, thinking I was Scout---from To Kill a Mockingbird. My favorite book." Shiloh sighed.

"Do you still climb trees?" I asked, almost somehow already knowing the answer.

"Why? Wanna see me climb it?" Shiloh said happily, patting the tree sturdily.

"No!" I said with a soft laugh. "But, maybe someday. I never was good at stuff like that. I didn't climb anything ever as a child."

Shiloh laid down on the grass. "You could do it, I believe in you."

"You hardly know me, though."

Shiloh sat up a little and we looked at each other directly. "But, I do. I must... otherwise why did I stop to talk to you today? There is a reason for it."

I wasn't a very spiritual person, but this made sense to me. I nodded, laying down next to them.

After a few minutes of silence----I felt that I enjoyed having that break of nothing to say or do. It felt like I didn't have to do anything to impress anyone, and for once, it felt like I could be myself.

I started to speak about something I hadn't spoken about to anyone---ever----since I was eight years old.

"My sister....Sarah....she had this tea party set she had gotten when she was five," I said quietly. I heard a bit of rustling, and Shiloh turned around to see me more up close. I could tell they were listening. "She was the youngest. It was her, and me and my older brother."

"Hard for her. Being around boys all the time," Shiloh commented softly.

"Yeah. She had always begged me to play tea party with her. I always said no. But... one day," I stopped talking, and felt a pain--like a sharp knife in my throat.

"Go on....Christopher, it's okay. Let it out."

It all felt in slow motion, but also something that was so fast---that day with my sister. My sister was had come to me---her two blonde pigtails sticking out, her big pink tutu that didn't match, her little ballet shoes, and-----

Her favorite sweater vest.

A bright pink one---the one she wore until it got worn out and almost had a tiny hole in it. The one that she hated to get dirty. The one she loved.

I described it all to Shiloh.

Her twinkling, innocent laugh, her loud, bossy voice----the way she hugged you so tightly.


And---the day she went out for a bike ride.

"What happened?" Shiloh asked carefully.

"We got into a fight. I told her I would never go to a dumb tea party with her. That it was too girly. So, she packed her backpack with her tea set and went out on her bike. And... she got hit by a car. She died instantly."

As I was saying it---it felt like I had been stabbed in the gut, but then an overwhelming peace came over me after I was done. Talking about it was cathartic but also terrifying at the same time---I had zero experience doing this.

"My girlfriend wore a sweater vest last night for our date, which we didn't even do together---and right after we had a fight... I had that same feeling, a gut-wrenching, frantic feeling---as she left. I pictured her as my sister in that sweater vest. I wanted her to stay, because I was afraid of what would happen to her. But my family was the kind that never spoke about feelings. What happened to Sarah was something we never mentioned, almost like it was poison. So... I tried to deny it again last night. I loved my sister so much. I even loved that tired old sweater vest she wore all the time... and when my girlfriend wore something that reminded me so much of Sarah... I freaked out. We fought over who would take out the garbage, and the bag broke. I made sure the garbage got on me instead of her. I just..." I put my hand over my face, laughing nervously, "I felt like I was losing it."

Shiloh waited for a moment and then said, "You weren't losing anything. You were finally confronting your misplaced and repressed grief---the fear and sadness you felt for that impactful---that," Shiloh looked thoughtful and then said, "Sudden tragedy that took the life of your sister. How you felt last night was you finally coming to terms with her death. And that, Christopher, is empowering."

I felt naked then, but seen.

No bullshit apologies, no condolences that sounded like a greeting card-- just relief from having my pain truly acknowledged.

We both gazed at each other, and this stranger I had barely known for an hour----I just knew this was my true soul mate, and as we leaned in close, my heart fluttered.

I closed the gap---and kissed them.

It was something out of the most amazing dream. Out of every meet-cute, perfect first kiss scene in every romantic movie ever made----this topped it, I swear.

As we embraced, I thought one thing:

I hope sweater vests come back.


Melissa Ingoldsby

I write short stories and poetry. I hope you find yourself in between the spaces of my words.

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