This is me, getting shirty…

My shirt shrunk.

Not in and of itself a big deal I grant you, but as metaphor that neatly contrasts how things were with how they are now, it works. I wish it didn’t, but wishing it weren’t so won’t change it any.

The shirt in question was a cotton seersucker shirt, and as such it didn’t doesn’t require
ironing.

Which is just as well.

When I was old enough to realise that no matter how clean your clothes were, if they were nothing more creases arranged into shapes that rembled clothes, then you looked like a tramp with low self-esteem issues, I’ve always ironed my own shirts. In this endeavor my Mum was a great help – I was child after all and knew nothing of gender stereotyping. Despite being clothes conscious herself, this fastidiousness didn’t apply to anyone else clothes. So, more out of necessity than choice I learnt to iron. Not that my Mum didn’t iron anything, but more that there was in her an inbuilt boredom with anything domestic. Which meant that the closer one’s clothes were to the top of the ironing pile, the more care she took. Which meant therefore that the lower down the pile they were, the less attention they got. Bizarrely, no-one else in my family seemed to think this was odd and, much more importantly , that something needed to be done to rectify the situation.

So I learnt to iron. Not jeans – that’s just wrong! One things jeans should never have is a crease – it screams out ‘Way too much time on my hands.’ And underpants – as if as you’re going to be undressing to do the dance with two backs and your partner suddenly runs out of the room shrieking ‘You depraved monster, you don’t iron your pants!’ Nor did I iron the lazy man way, whereby one only irons the parts of the shirt that are on view – so on a hot day, when you see a man still with his jacket on, odds are he’s done some lazy man ironing.

And I never saw ironing as a chore – it was a way, literally of ironing out the creases, of neatening things, of restoring some order in the world. So much so that some time ago, a housemate whom I didn’t much like was preparing for a job interview the next day. Seeing her door open, I asked how she was doing, more out of politeness than of any genuine interest. A conversation then ensued, during which I commented about the shirt she had hanging on a hanger. Was she about to iron it, I enquired? Sadly, and it must be said, not my surprise, she said no, that she’d already ironed it. My dislike of a badly ironed shirt was far greater than my dislike of her, so I insisted that I ironed the shirt, suggesting to her that one doesn’t get a second chance to make a first impression. I write this not as a boast, rather as a lament.

Because thanks to the nature of my brain injury – my lack of fine motor skills and balance problems – it means I can’t do my own ironing anymore. And because of my brain injury, I’ve lost all but two of my friends, which means I rarely have an occasion to go to where I need to look smart. “What’s that you say? Looking smart to maintain your own personal values? To retain your sense of self? Cop on to yourself and get some shape, even if your shirts don’t!
And you can forget any ideas you might’ve had about hand- washing shirts. You are aware that care workers are paid by the hour, aren’t you? A washing machine will do the job just fine. Yes it’s regrettable if shirts shrink because the care workers just bundled all the clothes in without first checking the washing instructions. Yes, you’ve told us that the clothes they shrunk predated the brain injury and therefore you attached an importance to them far beyond their material value, but they’ve said sorry and what else can they do?

The situation gets distinctly Quentin Crisp when it comes to domestic matters. Quentin Crisp said, just to remind you, as regards cleaning that after the first inch you don’t notice the dust. Again whilst my support workers were meant to help facilitate my day-to-day activities, the theory doesn’t translate into practical application. You might’ve been hitherto unaware that you were house-proud, even going so far as to use your food cupboard as a storage area for your shoes. So much so, that a plumber the instant he entered the bedroom in your old house was given to exclaim, “This room smells of trainers and laziness!” However it was only when you were rendered physically incapable of housework that you realized how house-proud you are. (When I write physically incapable, I mean of course doing it to a standard the me before the accident would have done it. Having written that I’m well aware that someone who used their food cupboard as a shoe rack is not best placed to pontificate about standards. Therefore, I’ll amend that doing it to a standard I’d like to imagine myself having done it, without the tiresome necessity of actually ever having done so.)

Perhaps it’s because I spend so much time in the house, and so consequently have more time to notice the dust and the cobwebs that it irks me so. I’m aware of the dichotomy inherent in the fact that precisely because I’ve so little going on in my existence, my brain compensates accordingly by dwelling on things that achieve an importance out of all relation to their actual importance.

But be that as it may, my shirt has shrunk.