They were green, a kind of olive-khaki. Cotton, or at least some cotton. They had snaps. To put it mildly, I didn’t like them.
As a child, I often wore hand-me-downs. Some from my sister, which was problematic only in that we often got the same articles of clothing, in the same colors even, to dissuade fighting. This meant that I wore mine until it wore out, or I outgrew it, then hers. The same outfit for years. Until our teenage years, when I not-so-secretly coveted certain garments until she tired of them and discarded them into my possession.
The rest came from the children of my parents’ friends, a few years older and with vast, varied wardrobes.
I don’t say that I wore hand-me-downs simply to mark my family’s wealth or lack, or to elicit sympathy, or to conjure a mental picture of me in somewhat tattered, slightly stained, always ill-fitting garments. Hand-me-downs were, with the exception of that occasional multiple-year span problem, a big deal. They would come in big plastic garbage bags, or my parents stored them in big plastic garbage bags, and we would have elaborate try-on sessions that lasted for what was probably hours, but that seemed to stretch out all day. I never had a sense that I shouldn’t want to wear hand-me-downs, that there was anything unpleasant about it, negative, that I should reject it. Instead, these were exciting opportunities, indulgent perhaps, when my mother, my sister, and I would sort the clothes into piles based on what would fit whom, and then my mother would rule as my sister and I tried on the clothes. If something was especially good, we might even go downstairs and show my father, who typically kept his distance during one of these marathons.
I don’t know their provenance, but those green pants, I wouldn’t wear them. I wouldn’t even try them on. In an act of will, I repelled them with all the force of electromagnetism my body could conjure. I don’t know why I chose them as the victim of my stubborn streak then, why I hated—hated—them to the point that I wouldn’t even concede to try them on. I could have, and then been rid of them by saying they didn’t feel right, or that they were itchy. Instead, I stood firm.
I can picture, actually see myself and feel the bodily memory: standing in the closet of my childhood bedroom, looking at them hanging in the section where the pants hung. The green pants.
What possessed me to try those pants on. What inexplicable dynamic of physics changed the flow of my electrons from repulsion to attraction to make me put each foot into a leg of those pants and try them on. What mystery of the universe made them, what force brought them into my life.
They were, bar-none, the softest, most delicious pair of pants a lower half could ever hope for.
That the pants became my favorite article of clothing is an understatement. If I was awake, if I was not naked, if it was not nighttime or early morning when pajamas were the thing to wear, if they were not in the hamper or washing machine or dryer, I was probably wearing my green pants. And why not—they were this great olive-khaki color. They had snaps. At my knees, they could bend. At my hips, they could hug. They wrapped me in the luxurious amenities of cotton or cotton-blend fabric. From the waist to the ankle. An example of irony, or better, a prototype of serendipity.
But the pants and I were not long for each other—quite literally. I began to outgrow the pants, having wasted months resisting them. Friction wore away their promise of a lifetime together. That narrow spectrum of time I wore them, though, was only their initiation into a permanent place in my history.
Hand-me-downs continue, even this far into adulthood, only now they’re not one-directional. My sister and I bemoan offering my mother tee-shirts when she is still wearing them years later, and I occasionally find myself asking her if those sweatpants were mine in freshman year of high school. My sister and I pass back and forth clothing depending on who wears what size when, and I still love the thrill of trying on vast piles of clothing that she has determined no longer fit her or her lifestyle or her closet. Occasionally, there’s something she thinks looks good on me that I just don’t like, and she’ll ask, green pants? Or she’ll admonish, green pants!
Green pants has become part of my family’s vernacular. Its application is far-reaching, beyond mere sartorial refusal. Haven’t taken to a particular television series? Don’t like mustard? Green pants! It’s our way of saying out loud, you should, at the same time as, sotto voce, you might as well, because I know you’ll eventually, and of course, thought with the intent of broadcasting it telepathically, you don’t know it yet, but I know you’ll regret not having done so sooner. Saying green pants is a challenge, an assertion of confidence, and a bragging certainty that borders on I told you so but that leaves open the door for you to get in before regret. Because when I couldn’t wear my green pants anymore, I learned my lesson, that being obstinate can lead to regret, loss, and ill-fitting pants.
If only I had saved those pants, made shorts out of them, cut the crotch and made a skirt, divided them into squares to use as hankies, wove belts from their shredded length, spun a web from individual green-pants fibers. If only I had thought to photograph them, to capture and memorialize my still-growing body enshrouded in the wonderment of green pants, to save that last wearing from oblivion like the fluttering of the last flame. Their shadow, their call, lives on in the mouths of those who condense the story to its moral simply by speaking its title as the most succinct cautionary advisement.