A striped blue sweater.
That was Ben’s first memory of Anna.
A striped blue sweater, alternating between dark and light shades, with a turquoise collar. It was a couple of sizes too big for her, making her look like a little girl in her sister’s old hand-me-downs. But Anna loved it.
All these years later, the colors had faded. The fabric, which Ben remembered as soft and fuzzy, was rough in his hands. He worried it might crumble if he held it too long, but he couldn’t put it down. Not just yet. It was the only connection he had left to her.
Ben and Anna had met in college. He was a freshman with dreams of becoming an English teacher and she was a junior with a passion for chemistry. Their classes were on opposite ends of the campus and they didn’t have any friends in common. The one place where their paths did cross was the library. It was there that he had seen the girl in the blue striped sweater hurrying off, her library card still sitting on the checkout desk. He returned the card and she thanked him. That one exchange turned into a conversation. That one conversation turned into several, and before they knew it, they were going out for dinner.
Ben remembered that night well, including the stunning purple dress Anna had worn. She had torn one of the shoulder straps a couple of years ago, but she still kept the dress around. It was somewhere near the bottom of the pile, still as vibrant as the first time she’d worn it.
Many more dinners followed, along with other outings. The picnic where she’d worn the polka dot dress, the beach trip with the yellow sarong and blue swimsuit, the graduation dinner with the gray gown. Ben picked up each in turn, feeling the fabric knot itself around his fingers, twist around his limbs. He fought the encroaching numbness in his extremities and picked up the box. Inside was Anna’s wedding dress.
They were married on a crisp autumn day, when the leaves were turning but the air was still warm. Anna looked resplendent, shimmering in the late afternoon sun. Ben could still feel the warmth on the dress. He half expected to find his hand circling Anna’s waist, for her to turn and smile at him as he whispered his love to her. Instead, the dress wrapped around him, squeezing his ribcage.
Two years later, Anna gave birth to a son. Daniel was so beautiful, swaddled in a blanket the color of the summer sky. As Daniel grew, there were birthday parties, school functions and family vacations. Gray streaks crept their way through Anna’s hair, but her clothes were as vivid as ever.
Ben remembered the indigo shirt Anna was wearing, in stark contrast to her silver mane, when she collapsed. From that point, she was reduced to lifeless hospital gowns until the end. Dark blue veins climbed along Ben’s neck, bleeding out of the shirt in his hands.
It had been six months since Anna’s passing. Everyone urged him to move on with his life, to keep Anna alive as a memory rather than dying alongside her. Finally, after many discussions with Daniel, Ben decided he was ready. He put all of Anna’s clothes out in the living room, to be donated or sold off. But each article of clothing was a memory, and memories weren’t so easy to erase. Ben was struggling to breathe as the clothes tightened their grip on him; his lungs were collapsing. The sleeves of Anna’s sweater wrapped themselves tightly around his face, and Ben closed his eyes.
Daniel’s voice floated through the hallway.
“Dad? Are you there?”
He walked into the living room and looked around.
There was no response, but he noticed someone sitting in the armchair facing the window.
“Oh, Dad, there you are! I’ve been looking for – ”
Daniel stopped as he reached the chair. His father wasn’t sitting in it. There was just a pile of his mother’s clothes, stacked all the way up to the headrest.