"It's like a divorce--without the breakup," Patricio grumbled recently as we argued again about when he would be done packing, schedule the movers, and finally make the big leap to his new life in a different city.
"No, it's not," I replied. "Don't say that." But I felt the fear and anxiety as we continued to cleave our lives in two.
After 15 years creating a life together, we were separating our stuff. My husband was figuring out how to be solo again after landing a new job in Cambridge, Mass., and I'd decided to stay with my current one in New York City. So what had been ours was suddenly his or mine. His new apartment, his books, his pots and pans. But it turns out the biggest symbol of our shared lives has been our closet.
The idea of "boyfriend jeans" is a coy marketing ploy by fashion brands to play off the idea of a woman stealing her significant other's denim drawers in a bit of sexy role play.
For gay guys with the same average build, it's more pragmatism to co-opt your lover's clothes--until you forget who wants to wear what on a certain day, or what belongs to whom. Which also means you bitch about who's going to wear what any given morning.
"I was going to wear that!" Patricio snapped one day, as I selected a fresh blue-patterned shirt on a hanger. "Wasn't that for me anyway?"
"It was," I replied. "I bought it for you, but you never wore it, and I got tired of seeing it hanging there--unused--so I figured I'd wear it."
"I want to wear it first!" he said.
"So, you literally want the shirt off my back?"
"Yes," he said. I stopped and slowly unbuttoned, wondering if this was merely a challenge, but I was willing to capitulate to his whim if it meant he'd be happy on his daily commute.
"And this?" he asked later, sighing as he rubbed a small stain on a vintage Givenchy shirt of his I'd found hidden among the hangers. "You wore it too? It's ruined!"
When I met him, Patricio lived in Clemson, South Carolina, taught architecture, and eschewed pretension. He wore the same white tee and dull green cargo pants every day until they had holes and couldn't be repaired.
"But you must get bored of wearing the same thing," I insisted.
"Nah, I went to military school. I like a uniform," he explained. "I don't want to have to think about what to wear every day. Why should it matter?"
That's when I began to unearth the reason he kept so many unused garments stored away, barely touched. Growing up poor in Puerto Rico, the youngest of three children, he'd been given hand-me-downs, his brother's or a cousin's already-worn rejects.
"The only thing I ever remember being mine as a kid was a brand-new yellow Mickey Mouse T-shirt my grandmother bought me," he explained. "It was my favorite shirt because it was mine. I wore it every day until I outgrew it. No one else would ever take my shirt from me."
As much as I admired his decision to forge his own path through the fashion jungle, I needed novelty and an assortment of color to keep me entertained. Whereas I'd mimed past boyfriends' styles over the years--borrowing tweed blazers for collegiate flair, navigating the metrosexual minefield, and genuflecting at the all-American Gap altar--I felt no impulse to glom onto Patricio's.
We'd fumbled through, but this new phase was more daunting. He was leaving me, starting a new life without me. Which socks would be Patricio's during cold Boston blizzards? What sweater was his, rather than mine? I doubt he'll build an entirely new wardrobe, since he rarely wants to go shopping. But I dithered when we began to select certain garments. Sure, take those jeans, they definitely look better on you. But did I really want to say goodbye to so much?
Although we've always prided ourselves on our independence, this conundrum seems to represent my fear that he might cultivate a life without me.
So what's the solution? We have one old Abercrombie sweatshirt that he owned when we met. A bulky, blue hooded thing with a numeral 9 in cracked red applique on the chest; it has become a comfy tradition to swap it back and forth. "Where's number nine?" he'll ask on a cold night, curled up on the sofa. Maybe we'll end up passing it between us, across those miles. A frayed sweatshirt that feels like a hug or a warm embrace.