"You can tell a lot about a person from his underwear." –– Rachel Bilson
When a lifelong friend of mine died, his mother thought to give me some of what she called his “good” clothes. When I resisted her offer, she protested, saying that it was ridiculous to let them go to waste since they were practically brand new and Brandon and I were about the same size. The idea still didn’t sit well with me. It seemed kind of creepy, but I realized it was a gesture of kindness on her part, because I’d been a close pal of her son since we’d both been in elementary school.
A week after Brandon’s funeral, Mrs. Gibson called and told me to come by her house because she had a large box of his things that she was sure I could use. I told her I’d be by when I could, but I planned to avoid doing so for as long as possible, hoping she would lose track and forget about it. It wasn’t until my girlfriend, Hannah, got on my case that I made plans to pick up the stuff.
“Okay, but I’m going to give it to Goodwill as soon as I can,” I grumbled.
“That’s fine with me, because I sure don’t want you walking around with Brandon’s clothes on. Yuk! That would be just too spooky.”
The next day I went to Mrs. Gilson’s house, and she seemed thrilled to see me, although it was evident that she’d been crying.
“It was very hard going through Brandon’s stuff. Everything I touched brought back memories, but I’m really glad you want some of his clothes. He liked expensive shirts, and he had some real nice slacks, too. There’s a bunch of other things in the box I thought you could use. Now, please don’t be a stranger, Mitch. Just seeing you makes it seem like he’s still with us.”
I promised her I would visit when I could and returned home with the heavy carton of unwanted items. My plan was to take it to the local Goodwill drop box on my way to work after the weekend.
“Let’s see what’s in there,” said Hannah.
“Just curious,” she replied, heading out to my car where I’d left the box.
“Let the guy rest. He wouldn’t want us going through his clothes. Would you want people going through your personal things after you died?” I asked.
By the time I reached Hannah, she had already opened my car’s hatchback door and the lid to the box.
“Oh, look,” she said, as I approached her. “Undies.”
“Wha . . .?”
“Tighty whities? That surprises me. I took Brandon to be more the boxer type.”
“Mrs. Gibson gave me his underwear?”
“I think they’ve been worn. Although they’re perfectly clean. No stains or anything. She ironed them, too.”
“That’s gross. His used underwear? Jesus! Why would she give them to me?”
“She’s in mourning and not thinking right. Don’t get so upset, hon.”
“Brandon’s got to be turning over in his grave. That’s it. Close the box. I’m taking it to the Goodwill drop box right now.”
“There’s a bunch of his used T’s in here, too,” said Hannah, digging deeper into the carton.
“Enough already! Just close the box, and let me take it, okay?”
“Oh, my God!”
“Look at this.”
Just as Hannah lifted an object from the depths of the box, I saw a bright flash and felt excruciating pain in the side of my head. Then everything went dark. I’m told it was three days later that I regained consciousness in the hospital. Apparently, Mrs. Gibson had packed her son’s target practice pistol in with his clothes, and it went off accidentally when Hannah was about to show it to me.
The police investigated the incident but concluded that it was just one of those bizarre near tragedies where no one was really to blame. Of course, Hannah felt horrible, as did Mrs. Gibson, who visited me daily until I was discharged from the hospital.
When I asked her why she put Brandon’s gun in the box, she said she didn’t want it around her house and thought I’d like it because she recalled us loving to play with our toy guns when we were kids.
Though I never did ask Mrs. Gibson why she gave me her son’s slightly used underwear, it was apparent to me that Brandon was dead set against my wearing them.
Michael C. Keith is the author/coauthor of 30 book volumes and dozens of articles on the subject of radio and broadcast studies. In addition to his non-fiction books, Keith has published a dozen creative works, including an acclaimed memoir––The Next Better Place––a young adult novel––Life is Falling Sideways––and 10 short story collections––most recently Bits, Specs, Crumbs, Flecks. His 11th story collection, Slow Transit, is forthcoming in 2016. His fiction has been nominated for several awards, among them the Pen/O.Henry Award and the Pushcart Prize. www.michaelckeith.com
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