You've Got the Right Stuff

“It’s not yours!  Why would I take your shirt?!”  I hollered on the verge of tears.

“Well then, where’s mine, huh?”  Doria, my neighbor, crossed her arms and leaned her round, cherry-toned face into mine so I could see the flecks of dirt on her eyelashes.  She smelled like the tangy Fruit Stripes gum she was chomping on like a press crushing a boulder.

“I don’t know!  All I know is my mom bought me this shirt yesterday.”  I tugged on the hem of my new white New Kids on the Block t-shirt, as if I could prove there were no Doria-skin-flakes on it.

We stood in my driveway, the sun peeking up behind the mini-forest of Silver Maples across the street.  In the summer, she and I would get up with the sun and pretend to be pioneer-era school teachers, pregnant women, explorers, famous rock goddesses, high school / college kids – whatever.  Just as long as we weren’t the chubby little girls reflected in the mirrors.  We battled each other in Mortal Combat on Nintendo, played The Game of Life in her living room, and did identical cannon balls off the high dive when we played Copy Cat at the pool. There was hardly a day we didn’t go to the park, go swinging, walk around the neighborhood – we were inseparable.

At least for the moment.

School was about to start again.  I would be in 4th grade at Florence Elementary.  Doria was leaving Florence and starting 6th grade at King Science Center.  A new school for her meant new clothes.  Her dad took her shopping where she purchased a second skin – a New Kids on the Block t-shirt.  The first time she wore it, I was mesmerized by the neon pink, green, blue, yellow, and orange.  I fell in love with Joe’s baby face, Jordan’s curls and Donny’s bad boy attitude. (Danny and Jon were there too, but nobody cared too much about them.)  I had to have this shirt.

Sure, I had the cassettes, the video tapes, the dolls, the bed sheets, the posters, the hats, the oversized buttons, the trading cards, the curtains, the comic books, the suckers, the lunch box – not to mention every single episode of the Saturday morning cartoon on video.  But the shirt was different.  When I wore the shirt, people would know that I was a New Kids on the Block fan.  When I was 7 years old, that’s the only identity that I cared about having.

I begged, pleaded, and threw a tantrum until my mom finally relented.  She came home from shopping and tossed the shirt in my lap as I sat cross-legged on the couch watching Alf.

“Don’t ruin this,” she sternly said, although a ghost of a smile lingered.  I was beyond excited.  This was the holy grail of band t-shirts.  My first thought as I held it open above my lap was of Doria.   We would be t-shirt twins!  I think I was more excited by the idea of having something in common with Doria than the actual shirt.

Excitedly, I put it on the next morning to show her.  But one look at me, and Doria flipped.  I wasn’t her best friend, I was a laundry machine – a t-shirt thief.

“Doria, I cross my hope and swear to die!  This is mine!”

“Then why is it so big on you?  I remember the way you were looking at me the first time I wore it.  Stop lying!  You just have to be exactly like me!  But instead of buying the same swimsuit or bike as me, you just steal my shirt!”  She threw her hands up like all the pieces were fitting into place, like was a detective and finally solved her case.  “You stuffed it into your pool bag while I was taking my shower, didn’t you?!  Of course!  Exactly something a fourth-grader would do.”  The cutting remark was a little over my head at the time.

“No!  I didn’t!  Did you look in the basement?  Or in Katrina’s room?”  I suggested, the climbing sun putting a sinister looking shadow across Doria’s face.

“I don’t need to look anywhere else.”  She lowered the tone of her voice to a low growl.  “You’re wearing it now.”  The dagger of her eyes practically ripped the shirt from my sausage arms.  “I remember folding it the other day and putting in my drawer so it would be clean for Monday.  But I had a dream last night about marrying Joe, so I changed my mind about wearing it.  When I opened my drawer this morning, it was gone!”

“Doria, please.  Ask my mom.  This is mine!”

Doria grabbed my wrist and pulled me toward her side door.  “Well let’s take a look at the scene of the crime, okay?  That means we’ll go to my room,” she explained as if I didn’t understand.

Being five inches shorter than her, I followed along at a trot, jumping over the cat toys, board games, and clothes that were scattered in the living room.  Her sister’s bedroom door was closed, the New Kids on the Block smiling at us from shiny Teen Bop and Teen Beat pages.

“You’re sure Katrina didn’t take it?” I asked again.

“Yeah.”  Her reply was blunt and more of a noise than a word.  She threw her door open; we stood in the middle of a tornado of clothes, paper, and blankets.  She pulled her top drawer open and stared at me with triumph.  “I know I put it here.  But it’s not there.  So where is my shirt, huh?”

“I don’t know!” I yelled exasperated.  “Do you want this one then?”  I pulled it over my head in one fluid motion and threw it at her feet.  I stood in my swimsuit (luckily I had worn it) and felt the cold tears pierce my eyes.  “If I’m going to lose my best friend over a stupid t-shirt then it’s not worth it!”  Embarrassed and hurt, I dashed out of her house, tripping over my feet and skinned my knee on the sun-dried cement.

I sat back and cradled my knee in the crook of my arm, bawling.  I didn’t understand why Doria immediately thought I was the one who had stolen her shirt.  Katrina was the one who was always “borrowing” Doria’s stuff.  Her friend would stay over and take tapes and magazines every time!  I had never once taken anything from her since I had known her, so she had no reason to suspect me.

Behind me, I faintly heard the sound of tearing paper.  I turned, snot dripping from my nose, and saw Doria pulling the backing off of a hot pink Band-Aid.

“Here,” she quietly said, placing it over my bloody knee.

I sniffled and turned away from her, running my finger back and forth over the smooth bandage.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” she resigned, sitting down on the concrete lip that separated the Jacoberger’s property from ours.  She sheepishly pulled at the grass.

“Why?”  was all I could mumble.  She had the shirt hanging from her shoulder, which she balled up and threw in my lap.

“Well, I guess you’re so much younger than me, and you have the exact same shirt right down to the extra drop of pink paint on the shoulder.  I don’t know.  I’m going to be in the 6th grade this year, and you’re just a 4st grader!  I sometimes think you’re too young to be my friend.”  She sighed and shrugged her shoulders.

“You’re not that much older, Doria!”  The words hit me right when I said them, though.  She actually was a lot older.  She knew division, how to spell four syllable , and read 200 paged novels.  I was struggling to multiply by two, practically failing spelling, and just beginning to read chapter books.

We sat in silence.  I twisted the shirt in my hands, she played with some pebbles by her fingers.

“I like being friends with you, Megan.  I mean, we have lotsa fun.  But how can I trust you now?”

I opened my mouth to answer, but stopped as a grey truck pulled into Doria’s driveway, her older sister, Katrina, in the truck bed.

“Hey, Diarrhea.  What are you guys doing?”  she said, walking up to us.  Doria gasped.

“MY SHIRT!”  she screamed.  She bolted up and ran over to her sister, tackling her to the ground.  “Where did you get that?!”

“Get off me, butthead!”  She rolled her rabid sister off of her and scrambled to her feet.  “I told you yesterday before I left for Stacy’s slumber party that I was borrowing your New Kids on the Block shirt.  Remember?  You told me it was in your top drawer.”

Doria’s started to protest, but then shrunk back.  “Oh yeah.”

“Dork,” Katrina dismissively said, rolling her eyes as she walked back into the house.

She slowly turned toward me, her eyes wide and pleading.  “Oops.  I forgot about Katrina.”  She tried to chuckle, but I think the matter-of-fact look that was raising my eyebrows shattered her pride.  “I’m sorry, Megan.  I guess you were telling the truth.  Are you mad at me?”

“I don’t know.  No.  I’m just a little sad.”  We twisted our ankles and looked at the ground for a few minutes feeling awkward and unaware of what to do next.  Maybe it was just me, but I think the ground may have stretched a few miles right then.  I never noticed the distance from her yard to my driveway before.

“DORIA!  LACEY’S ON THE PHONE!” Katrina yelled out the front door.

Doria glanced at me and turned to the side to dash toward her sister.  “Swimming later?”

“Okay,” I answered with a weak smile.  She waved and ran into her house.

That wasn’t the last time I saw Doria, but it was the beginning of the end of our close friendship.  As soon as school started, she spent more time doing homework, going to skating parties, and talking on the phone.  She still played with me every once in a while, but it wasn’t quite the same.  I felt like she was humoring me until I was old enough to have a life of my own.

Eventually, I started hanging out with my own friends, and Doria became simply a thousand memories from my youth.  We smile at one another whenever our paths cross in front of our houses now days, a wink toward the two chubby girls who used jars of fireflies as lamps when we camped in her tool shed.

As for the New Kids on the Block shirt, I crumpled it in a ball that day and tossed it in my drawer.  It somhow found its way to a Good Will donation bag when I was a little older.  In high school, I was thrift store shopping with my girlfriends, and I came upon a faded and torn New Kids on the Block t-shirt for $.99.  As I put it back on the rack, I couldn’t help but wonder.