“I like your shirt. You always have the coolest ones.”
The friend who had said that spoke from the edge of a larger gathering in the corner of a bar, but they were all paying attention. Most of them nodded in agreement; none sneered or otherwise openly disputed it.
The shirt(s) in question hadn’t been anything special. Quirky designs, frequently relating to a movie or game or genre of music. Images that were humorous without being a hacky punchline. Purchased from the corners of the internet where the wearers, people like me, hoped that interesting and cool people bought shirts. (But not because those other people were interesting and cool. If you catch my distinction.)
Five years later, I ran into that friend, randomly, at a coffee shop — in the same line for unnecessary drinks. We caught up, it had been too long, where you living now, and all that. After he left and I waited for my order, I realized I had just a plain black t shirt on. Boring and standard. Had it been a let down? Did it seem like I changed, when the stuffed dresser drawers back in my apartment assured me I had not?
Only then did I realize that maybe, just perhaps, the original comment had not been a sincere compliment. That it was an open jab, with the group’s silent affirmation being against me and not for. I spent the afternoon staring at a blank page and turning this over in my mind, pulling out as high a resolution memory of the moment as I could. In the end, nothing convinced me that my friend had meant any malice. Nothing conclusive, anyway. Once evening came, I focused on my current amazement at my past willingness to take the compliment without question. I longed for the time when I was that open to people saying something positive about me. I longed for when I assumed my friends thought I might be cool.