Today is my husband’s one-year anniversary of his last day at work. We reminisced a bit this weekend, about what he and we felt like one year ago. Our old lives are increasingly difficult to remember in a tangible way (forgetting can be a blessing), but we were able to muster some details.
He remembered how the hot breakfast and free, fresh-squeezed orange juice used to be the highlight of his day — the absolute best thing about having to go to an office. It was true, and deeply depressing in its truthfulness, while also a sign that my husband is easily contented. The basics — a roof over his head, food on the table — count for a lot (as they should) and, after that, returns diminish.
I reminded him of what he was like at the end of the day, after a four-hour daily commute in a tech shuttle, how he was already stressed out on Sunday nights and about that time I wept in the car, begging him to quit, saying I’d rather have a husband alive than more money as a widow. And I wasn’t exaggerating: I meant it. I was worried he was going to have a heart attack and die at work, as a couple of friends had at age 38 and 39.
On Saturday, my husband abruptly got out of bed, walked into the kitchen, and walked back into our bedroom with a garbage bag while I was still sipping coffee. (We enjoy coffee in bed every morning.) He started loading up the garbage bag with all of his tech t-shirts and said “We need to make a Goodwill run today.” I asked, “Are you sure? We talked about making a weird sort of quilt out of them or something.”
He hasn’t worn any of these shirts since he left (not that he wore them then, either — they were too juvenile and embarrassing to wear in public).
We still don’t understand how the tech t-shirt and hoodie trend started, even though we both worked in tech for 20 years (and at some very big, popular companies). You’d think we’d have noticed when the first t-shirt showed up. But we didn’t.
Over time, though, I concluded that the t-shirts and hoodies were there to blunt or make up for the fact that software is so ephemeral, to provide more substantive evidence that you had once made a thing that existed, even if it no longer did. The phone you created mobile UI for might no longer be in use, a particular platform no longer popular and nearly dead, but here was a t-shirt to remind you and your progeny that you’d once made something that some people had seen, and that had mattered a little bit, to a small group of people, for a brief time.
My husband said, “I don’t want to look at these. I can’t even stand to look at them folded up in the closet. I’m not going to wear them, I’d be ashamed of that. It’s been so nice to really start to forget that place that, now, I really don’t want to be reminded.”
So we loaded up two huge garbage bags full of nothing but tech tees and hoodies, from both of our jobs, over the course of our entire 40 years combined in tech. My husband saved one hoodie he actually wears, more subtle and less offensive than most (no logo, no words). He had 45 t-shirts and four hoodies from his last job alone. Nearly all of them featured childish slogans and drawings far more suitable for a kindergarten lunch box than a grown man.
It was cathartic and a nice way to mark a one-year anniversary of freedom, though my husband hadn’t yet realized it was. He woke up and it was just time to move on, more completely.
We have a new life now, completely new identities, no longer tied to working or any company. We don’t want or need more reminders that it was ever otherwise.