As the sun begins to set, my gathered friends quiet themselves into a somber silence, their drinks hanging at their sides. Most of them are thinking of what to say, or waiting to see who would speak first. Still, it creates this kind of illusion of solemnness that belies what is actually just an awkward moment. It's beautiful in the most hilarious way possible.
There should probably be a bit of a back-story to this; I just need to figure out where to begin, exactly, and there's no way it will be a short story and make the kind of sense I want it to, so the beginning is key. I suppose I had dated Denise for about 3 years before I asked her to move in with me. This was abnormal for me - I was much more the type to rush headlong into a serious relationship only to find out that I had, let's say, erred in my assumption about its potential for longevity. I guess it's fair to say that it wasn't that I knew Denise was exactly what I was looking for in a girl, rather it was that I had a vast wealth of experience with what I very much did not want, and Denise did not embody any of those traits. It wasn't until a couple months later that I realized something odd was taking place. We didn't fight, not drag-out screaming matches anyway, and not passive aggressive cattiness that some couples adopt when they're not comfortable with drag-out screaming matches. Our disagreements involved what the best superpower to have would be, and what the victor of fights involving randomly paired dinosaurs would be. We challenged each other intellectually without exhausting each other emotionally, and that had never happened to me before.
The love came later. People will argue until they're blue in the face about whether or not love at first sight exists. I myself am a firm believer in it, and would say that before I met Denise I had probably experienced the phenomena at least twice. The thing about love is that it's remarkably easy to fall in love with someone entirely wrong for you. In fact, I would say that it's much easier than falling in love with someone with whom you can actually forge a strong relationship, but this could be colored by my own experiences. What I'm getting at is that there are people out there that feel hard and fast. Their feelings come out of the gate like a thoroughbred, and they race right into your heart, and they make you wonder how you could have gone without that feeling. It's not til later that you realize that their feelings are equally intense about most everything. It's not that the love you experienced isn't real, or that they don't love you just as much, it's just that they hate anchovies with the same intensity, or their parents, or the way that you didn't call back right away.
With Denise I always felt comfortable, and that I was having a good time, but that quickness of intensity never showed up. We dated. We conversed. We flirted. We took our time, and I'm not saying that's the right way to go, but after a number of failed attempts it was really nice to just naturally ease into something that didn't involve me getting ahead of myself. She was probably the first person I dated where I never questioned if I was making a mistake, and yet it took 3 years for the rent at my damn apartment to get to the point where I couldn't stay in my convenient, magical one bedroom anymore, and a plan of cohabitation was hatched.
Everyone tells you that things change when you move in with your significant other and that's true, because why wouldn't they change and if you weren't looking for something to change then why would you bother moving in, really? Anyway, yeah, things change. There were more soaps in the bathroom than I knew existed, for one, and I couldn't really stay up until five in the morning playing video games anymore. She liked the sink to be empty by the end of the night so I took up cooking to make sure she was responsible for washing them. I'd still walk around in my underwear, and occasionally so did she. I think that's what made our compromises so great. She helped me grow up a little, and I got her to be a little bit more immature when it didn't matter. Still, even maturity of the highest order could not have prepared me for one compromise.
I'll preface this by stating, firmly, that I'm not a hoarder. I'm no pack rat. When something has ceased being useful or stops functioning properly it is extricated from my life. There's never been a lot of room for storage anywhere I have lived, so it's just the way I have been over the years. That said, there are items in this world that, and I firmly believe this, have this sort of symbiotic aura imbued in them, and when they come into someone's possession they just radiate sentimentality.
There was this pair of jeans that I had since 1996. Seriously. They didn't even fit me back then since I was about a foot shorter than I am now. Still, they had been with me through middle school, high school, college, and life. They had taken me to see Daft Punk in a California desert. They had stood with me on a bar I built for my house in college belting out some early '90s jam at the top of my lungs to a bunch of drunk 20-year-olds. They were with me when I got fired from my first job, and when I got drunk off of bourbon at my favorite bar that night and got locked in when I passed out in a booth at the back. They were faded, ripped all the right places, and later many of the wrong ones, so much so that I couldn't really comfortably wear them out in public anymore. Denise liked it at first when I would wear them around the house on Saturdays; I would wear them while I cleaned the apartment, but after awhile she would say with increasing frequency that I really needed to get rid of them.
It took a lot of convincing. Allegedly I went through all seven stages of grief trying to keep them, but then she said something to me which led me to that seventh step of acceptance. She explained that I couldn't really wear them outside anymore, and that they had become clean the apartment jeans, and that was a cruel mockery of what they used to be. I've had friends suggest to me that this was a clever tactic on her part; a cunning use of words to placate and manipulate me to giving up my favorite jeans. I didn't see that at all. I saw someone who truly understood what it took for me to care about something inanimate like I did, and someone who truly understood me at my most sentimental. I know she wanted them gone, but I also know that she really loved me, and by extension loved those jeans. It was what I needed at the time, but I did have one small caveat, which she happily agreed to.
So, here we are, drinks in hand, somberly, slightly buzzed with a campfire burning in the middle. A few of my best friends appear sad, and at least one of them isn't entirely faking it. They talk in whispers, carefully glancing at me, some not sure whether to laugh or offer sincere condolences. It's kind of exactly the mood I was going for when I finally break the silence. "They have carried me as far as they could, and have stood strong against the tides of my life, embracing me in both good times and bad. Now that their strength has failed and their frayed body lies at my feet, we must not weep in sorrow, but revel in the spirit they embodied. Today we send them off as the warriors that they truly were, as is the custom of all true denim. Rejoice with me in the passing of these jeans from this world, until the day I don them again in the halls of Valhalla."
The jeans sit in a cardboard boat lined with kindling I spent the weekend decorating like a viking longship. The torch is lit from the bonfire, and everyone in attendance takes turns passing it until it reaches Denise's hands, who then bestows it to me with the gravitas of a queen. Kneeling I light the boat aflame and push it out into the lake. My friends stand behind me on shore to watch, many of them holding their beers aloft in some kind of salute. Denise puts her arm in mine and leans her head against my shoulder as the burning boat drifts over the placid waters. I actually feel a chill stir in me, but it's replaced by the warmth that comes when you do something ridiculous with your friends.
I haven't really been cleaning the house as much since we decided to give my jeans a viking funeral. I really hope Denise hasn't found the ring I hid behind the nightstand.