1st Prize Winner
From the department store counter, a light grey, short-sleeved T-shirt with wide neck, curved hemline, and the perfect navy-blue graphic: Chocolate Understands, spoke to me. An irresistible, immediate purchase at Old Navy followed. Even long after my youth would diminish, I knew this one would remain timeless.
I wore it often and everywhere - on walks, shopping, at the gym. Sometimes I forgot I was wearing it, until smiles on peoples’ faces often accompanied positive comments like, “You bet!” “Love your T,” and similar friendly remarks. I quit saying “thanks” and simply offered thumbs up. My pleasure was their happy space.
In the early spring of my twenty-something, the unexpected happened. A voice shouted out from behind me, “Hey, T! What does chocolate understand?”
I stopped in my tracks. Never was I challenged so boldly to answer for my fashion choices. Game on, I thought turning around. A guy standing with hands on hips, wisp of black hair drooping across his forehead, a side head glance and crooked grin asked again, “So, tell me.”
I teased. “Hi! My name is Ali, and I’m a chocoholic. It understands that you will get my first and last darkest triple chocolate hot fudge sundae that money can buy.”
“Okay, Ali-T,” he quipped, “Jake is happy to be your addiction supplier. Zephyr Café should have your fix.”
By the end of that summer, we were married. It wasn’t hard choosing the wedding cake. Through the years, the T-shirt intervened in good times and bad. I still wore it often then, but only as a nightshirt. After heated arguments as couples will have, I hung it over his favorite lounge, or left it near the coffee maker. Once, I sent it by messenger to his office. He always returned it along with a pint of the darkest triple-fudge chocolate ice cream for sharing in ‘peace-meal’. As our time together mellowed into a comfortable aging relationship, the ‘T’ no longer played its vital role and simply disappeared. Or so I thought.
Fast forward, we celebrated our fiftieth anniversary with family. He passed away at the start of the following year. I finally brought myself around to bagging up his clothes in early fall of the same year. There it was at the bottom of one of his bureau drawers, faded and threadbare but the graphic still legible: Chocolate Understands. When I lifted it up, a small envelope was pinned to its bottom. The note inside choked me up with tears and the $7.99 made me snort snot in chuckles.
To My Dearest Chocoholic Ali-T from Your Lifelong Supplier Jake,
If you are reading this, I hope you didn’t wait too long for inflation and me to get you the ‘last darkest triple chocolate hot fudge sundae that money can buy’. That always was the understanding.
I unfolded a lawn chair at the grave side, hung my favorite T-shirt over his headstone, opened the Oberweis sundae takeout, and declared aloud, “It’s not that Chocolate Understands, but Love.”