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Tori Rego

Hand-me-downs

L’Homme Assis by Amadeo Modigliani

I wore my grandpa’s flannel for weeks after he passed. I didn’t know if the fabric contained a lingering trace of his scent; we rarely got close enough for me to learn such an intimate detail as his smell. I put the sleeve to my nose anyways to breathe in what it contained: musk of closet and dust maybe. Old cotton and polyester blend.

The year he died I dreamed of having a daughter. I imagined her curly-haired and curious—all puffy cheeks and baby smells. My mother said “the wonderful thing about having a kid is knowing someone will always be yours. Like a built-in friend.” But when she hugs me now—those few times a year—she always cries.

I imagine dressing my daughter in thick knits, natural fibers, and colors to compliment the landscape of her eyes. How precious she would be—all fresh and all loved and all mine.

When I was a girl, my grandpa would buy me clothes unfit for a kid who still played imaginary games in the yard. I didn’t know what to do with such elegant gifts: cowl-neck sweaters, pencil skirts, blazers, and dresses with bows. I felt much too dirty and strange. I kept them hanging in my closet, pushed all the way to the back. When I wear something beautiful now, I think of him.

Without him, there is one less person alive who will ever think I’m special. A childish concern next to the impermeability of his absence. But I might never have a daughter. I might never have someone who is mine.

I don’t mean mine as in mine to own. I mean mine as in mine to love. Mine to hold.

I never held my grandpa’s hand. When he died, I was far away. I heard my mom’s voice from the other side of the phone, telling me “just yesterday he said, ‘you aren’t done with me yet.” He didn’t want to die. Sometimes I don’t want to live.

Not in a world where love runs through my fingers like sand. I kiss someone too fast, too small. Their lips are already gone. The memory too. I’d like to kiss and kiss and kiss. I’d like to wear something beautiful and spin, dewy-eyed and confident like the girl I never was. Feel someone’s eyes on me, proud as they say you’re mine mine mine. I want someone to be as greedy with me as I feel.

I wore a dress he would have liked to his funeral. A black dress, of course. A tasteful dress with tasteful heels. I did not feel beautiful that day. I did not feel young. I could not look at my face without wanting to cry.

My mother used to hold the bridge of her nose between her index finger and thumb. She’d say it was “too thick.” Too weird.” Not a princess’ little button nose. I pinch my nose as she did, measure my ugliness against her suffering. I wanted hair long and dark as hers. I wanted her green eyes.

Coming back from breakfast one day, the windows down as we listened to Fleetwood Mac, my Grandpa was the first to mention—“that fake laugh,” he said. “It’s just like your mother’s.” I didn’t know whether to be proud or ashamed. Maybe both. Either way, I was happy to be there, with him.

“I can’t have a daughter,” I say to my tired heart. I imagine holding such a small thing in my arms. How I would love and love and love her so hard she would never be mine.

But I would be hers. As I am his. And my mom’s. And somehow everyone’s I’ve ever loved, I’m passed along like an old sweater—stretched, moth-eaten, out of fashion, my fibers carrying an untraceable assortment of smells.

Yet if I’m a worn-out, greedy sweater, I’d still ask you to pick me up. Put me on. Make me yours and make me special, if only for a while.

About the writer:
Tori Rego is a queer writer from Charleston, South Carolina. She lives in Chicago. Her work can be found in The New River, La Piccioletta Barca, Miniskirt Magazine, and elsewhere.

Image: L’Homme Assis by Amadeo Modigliani (1884-1920). Oil on canvas. 49.6 x 29.5 inches. 1918. Public domain.

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