Among my notably paint-spattered articles of clothing, the white undershirt with the brown paint is probably the least evocative. My army pants are smeared with all the colors of our current apartment; the red streak on my one pair of shorts matches the wall in the hallway. In a closet full of sentimental clothing (My lucky bra from the SATs, the jeans I was wearing the first time I kissed a boy, the remnants of the Indian print blouse I medtatively shredded into pieces while tripping on mushrooms, the thermal sweatshirts my parents were wearing in the fall of 1970), the white undershirt lies forgotten in the pile of old clothes I mean to use for rags, evoking nothing so much as a time when I believed it was extremely fashion-forward to wear a white v-neck men’s undershirt and $15 secondhand Levi’s bought on a thrilling trip via the Long Island Rail Road to Antique Boutique. (The irony of scoffing at this outfit is not lost on me, as I sit here typing in a white tank-top men’s undershirt and a pair of $125 not-secondhand-but-distressed-enough-to-appear-that-way Seven jeans. Plus ca change…)

I wore the white v-neck undershirt sometime last week and washed it earlier today, and as I sat folding it on my bed, enjoying the mindless task of pulling pieces of cloth from the pile of laundry, enjoying the illusion that I can impose order upon chaos, I suddenly remembered where the brown paint came from. It’s the same brown paint spattered in smaller quantity on the cuff of those very $15 secondhand Levi’s. I saw the brown paint flying from the brush, the late-afternoon late-summer sun glistening on the surface of the paint in the can, smelled the cabins, musty and sweaty and male, smelled the paint, sticky and sharp, smelled the trees, sweet and heavy and still in the slow motion of August. The paint was flying from the brush in some kind of aggressive jest, it flew from the brush onto my t-shirt and jeans and tonight as I folded the t-shirt and smoothed the brown paint, now melded to the cotton so thoroughly that it no longer forms a stiff patch on the fabric, I felt the indignant thrill of that flirtatious gesture, the twitch of what I now recognize as sex in all its forms and intimations, as vividly as if it were now and not a decade ago.

I had been walking around the camp in the long hours of early summer evening, probably hoping to see some boy I liked especially (there was always some boy I liked especially), and I had come upon him painting, not the boy I liked especially, but some other boy, who I remember as impossibly old to me then but who was probably younger than I am now, and I had slumped into an Adirondack chair nearby, I can feel it’s harsh angle on the hollow of my lower back right now, and pulled my knees up to my chest and we had started talking to one another, while he repainted the outside of the brown cabin a slightly darker shade of brown. I didn’t know him very well and we hadn’t talked a whole lot before that, but for some reason on this late afternoon we had a long talk, and I can now see the dried-out leaves caught in the spaces in the cinderblocks that held up the cabin he was painting, and maybe he wasn’t wearing a shirt, as boys who paint in summer often don’t, and maybe as I felt the harsh angle of the Adirondack chair on the hollow of my own lower back I could see the sweat collecting in the hollow of his, darkening the waistband of his pants as he crouched to dip the brush in the paint and turned to me to say something that caused me to unfold myself from the Adirondack chair and say something that caused him to flick his paintbrush at me, maybe not hitting me at first which caused me to yelp or shriek or simply say “hey!” and him to do it again, splattering my shirt with paint, and the two of us to lunge at each other in mock aggression, and him to chase me with the paintbrush, and I don’t remember if he chased me around for a while, as people sometimes did, threatening to spray other people (usually girls) with hoses or overturn water pitchers on their heads, or slosh them with buckets full of slip, or imprint them with fingers full of silkscreen ink (it was an art camp), I don’t remember if he chased me far enough to get me winded, or if it ended with one of those immature wrestling matches or an inadvertent injury (in another such hormonal fight I had thrown a piece of carrot cake from the bedtime snack table with such accuracy that the boy suffered cream-cheese frosting in the inner ear), or if I escaped, breathless and giddy. I don’t remember what we talked about, or even who exactly he was, I remember only the paint flying from the brush and the sense of crazed alertness, the addictive realization that there was some way to feel more alive than you normally did, some peculiar alchemy that could cause you to feel like you were going to jump out of your skin or take flight or spectacularly evaporate, and it had to do with a quickening of breath and a widening of eyes and a boy with no shirt and sweat collecting in the hollow of his lower back threatening you with a paintbrush.

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