For most of my life I believed I was 5’11. This was a fact. I would tell everyone who asked, I’m 5’11 with pride. Not quite 6’0 but close enough. My father was a short man, standing no more than 5’6, so any extra inches I was bequeathed was not from his side of the family. My mother’s side however including my recently passed grandmother stood 6’0. Many aunts and uncles on this side linger around the 6’0 juncture and above. But I prided myself on being one of, if not the tallest in my immediate family. Five-foot-eleven inches. For a man this may rank even higher than penis size on the Manly List because it’s immediately apparent upon meeting someone. I entered high school tracking in at 5’7 and left four inches merrier. Yeah.
Recently I went to a new family doctor and received the shock of a life time. You see it had been years since I’ve gone to a family doctor and none had ever measured my height before. I was now a 44 years young, being a borderline diabetic and told I needed a prostate exam. The prostate exam is another story. After all I considered myself in great shape and only wanted to know about my blood work. When the nurse told me I was 5’10, I thought for sure she was mistaken. Check again dammit. How in the hell could this be?
Before I carry on, let me relay the tale of how I came to the magic number of 5’11 and logged it as gospel written in stone. Using a measuring tape I placed on the ground at some odd age of seventeen I concluded that was my number. That simple. After all everyone remarked how much I had sprouted up. I didn’t get a second opinion of course because the point where my hand held was five feet eleven inches. My reality. My older brother is 5’7 and my younger brother is 5’10. All was well and good in the world.
In one quick swoop, my world had changed by the decline of a single digit. One might begin to question the identity of those around them or the validity of one’s birth certificate. I jest, but only slightly. When I tell others about this changing of fact they respond with less incredulity than I imagined. To me this was a big deal. And here I thought I was one who was opened minded and at ease to throw off the heavy weight of a boxed identity. Is one inch all that important. Apparently it is. Couldn’t I swallow this little fact up and move on being the same intelligent insightful person I once was. Yea but the world looked so much different when I was five glorious eleven.
Now as I step out into the world one inch shorter, I notice the 5’10 club don’t walk as sure as their vertically inclined brethren. Their lack of eye contact on buss and trains come to mind. They guard their woman with a bit more ferocity. Fearing the taller gifted males will swipe them away. Hence the need to be more clever with wit and charm. They also are a bit more paranoid than usual. Thinking everyone of normal height wants to belittle them or cut them down to an even smaller peg.
Because of my belief and skill at moving through the tall man world I have learned many things about passing undetected. As a youth I played many basketball games and threw down with the best of them. Even dunked on a few of them. My stringent belief, no doubt saved me on many occasion. I saw the world different from how they saw it. The tall guys that is. I didn’t hold my female companion as closely as I probably should have. What was the need. No man would dare try to steal her. My height is strong and powerful. Or so I thought.
I usher all the vertically challenged individuals to throw off this damn reality and conjure up your own. Walk on tippy toe if you must but stroll like you are ten feet tall. Who’s to say it’s not their measuring tape that’s wrong and not yours. Who’s to say.
The old green Nike shirt laid inconspicuous in the drawer when I opened it. A present given to me many years ago by my former girlfriend V, on my 24th birthday. It included at the time a stuffed brown bear wearing a beige sweater inside a big clear decorated star balloon. I remember getting a kick out of the story how they got the bear inside the big fantasy like balloon. It seemed like such a perfect time. Which included conversations about how big our wedding would be and who we’d have to invite. The deep green shirt with the small black Nike embroidered trademark on the upper left side rested underneath an orange florescent t-shirt. They both caught my attention as I paused looking at them and remembering as if they somehow were talking about all things they had in common. On no particular special occasion not more than five years before, the bright orange shirt was one of two given to me by another former girlfriend. The second of the shirts, a deep brown that almost seemed green in some lights -I couldn’t recall where it was, had a small embroidery of a man playing a saxophone. The designer, a local clothing entrepreneur who’s initials penned MJ, I was sure had grown by this time. There were even more conversations on marriage and I was sure maybe so much more than before that this was the person I would walk down the isle with. After all, I was older and wiser. I was the father of two kids and felt I more than knew enough. The two kids from another relationship which involved neither of the two former lovers. Her name was J, but that’s another story. When I received the two shirts I was surprised and happy at N’s spontaneity. Although the colors weren’t what I would choose myself I was still glad and tried my best to hide my despondent opinion of her choice of colors and size. But the shirts were a small thing. Not enough to get worked up over. As a matter of fact we rarely did. It was a happy relationship despite its challenges on either side of our lives. She, trying to end a troubled secret marriage that was seeped in turmoil and me, was cutting the final ties from a corrosive situation. It seamed like the worst time for both of us but we had a special connection I felt from the moment we met. I was sure ever so sure that we were destined to be in each others lives. You couldn’t tell me otherwise. And although I entertain the attention of other females and remembered even pursued a few, things somehow slowly fell into place as if we both had planned it.
It was one of happiest times of my life. But that ended a few years later. I threw out many shirts and suits I guess to symbolize a new beginning. Cutting the cord on the past. but I kept one shirt in particular. The bright orange florescent one. I suppose as a simple reminder.
Years later I would run into another old love driving by me in a small red car. One of the biggest heart breaks of my young life. Like a lesson from the past almost and quite by chance we would have missed each other. But I’ve always believed that there are no such things as coincidences. I had sometimes wondered what happened to C. She had changed and was no longer a young girl but a mature woman. At least on the outside. Her lifestyle still reflected someone in search of love in the wrong places. I carried no remnants of her in my drawers. Well maybe a small picture. But no old shirts because C had never given me any. When we spoke again after many years it was clear to me what had happened. Because in many ways she had changed and so had I. But the connection wasn’t one tenth of what it once was. Ahh love, what were you showing me. Try as we did for a short time nothing was recaptured- if we even had desired that much. But I soon lost contact with C. And N, after we had split held onto the teddy bear given to me by V.
Years later I was given two more shirts by a brief love when I met S for the first and only time. A white v-neck semi-formal t-shirt that gripped my arms and a black abstract pattern shirt that I instantly adored. The encounter with S lasted less time than a full moon. Her intense anger was like a grenade I wasn’t willing to throw myself on. After our split and my refusal to have another go on the rollercoaster ride, she asked for the shirts back. I hadn’t worn them yet.
I kept the shirt