Kevin’s not a big fan of wearing underwear. I realized this early on in our relationship, but having spent many years bra-less, I felt that passing judgment would be hypocritical.
However, when he moved to Korea to be with me, ending our long-distance-relationship era, his lack of underwear became a problem. For one thing, being the minimalist that he is, he’d only brought two pairs of jeans that were full of holes and rips, and one pair of underwear. Also, he was planning to find work teaching, and though some jobs were casual, none were casual enough for ripped jeans over an otherwise naked body. And finally, Kevin, though lean, is also tall. The Korean pants ran too tight and short for his frame, so he had nothing to purchase to make himself look decent.
And so, I began to sew. I chose the lesser-ripped pair of jeans and began patching my own old slightly darker jeans into the holes. Every few nights after work, I’d pop on a movie, grab a needle and thread, and choose a new hole to start repairing. It was tedious work, but Kevin was always pleased with the progress. He’d admire my work and say, “Thank you baby! Just five more holes to go. Can you also fix this part by my heel?”
Though I rolled my eyes at him as I did it, I liked how the jeans were turning out. I’d begun by patching his inner thigh hole, and moved on to the many holes along the rear of the jeans. “I have a bony butt!” Kevin would explain. His butt pockets each had two holes, and the corner of his wallet had often dangled out dangerously, so I patched his pockets too.
Eventually I’d gotten the danger zones all patched up, and Kevin could go free-balling without exposing himself to anyone.
“Go ahead, try them on,” I told him.
He stuck in first one leg, and then the other. As his foot slid in, his toe caught on a small hole at the knee of his jeans. As Kevin’s momentum carried his foot down, the weak and thin fabric of his jeans gave way. The sound of his jeans ripping from seam to seam across the knee was like fingernails on a chalkboard. We both froze and looked at each other. Kevin looked guilty for about a second, then he gave me a cheesy smile. “More sewing tomorrow? I love you and I love encouraging your hobbies!”
I counted my patches as I did them. When I reached 14, I finally let him wear his jeans again. He had found a job teaching elementary school students, and when he wore his jeans to work, the kids ooohed and aaahed. “Teacher, very fashion,” one boy said pointing at his patched jeans.
“My girlfriend did this,” he said, gesturing to a few holes.
The kid made a face. “Not from a store?” He asked in disgust.
Kevin stayed in Korea for nearly seven months, and then he flew home a week before I did. I’d agreed to foster a cat while I was there, and when Kevin met her, he said, “You know she’s coming home with us.” So when he left, he took our cat with him on a 17-hour journey to America.
I finished mailing boxes home the following week, then I packed up a hiking bag and went traveling for two weeks before I returned home. I traveled first through Cambodia and then went to Ho Chi Minh City.
On my last morning in Vietnam, I went downtown to buy some last minute souvenirs at the Ben Thanh Market. I walked up and down the aisles, examining the art, jewelry, lotions and food. I wandered into a shop full of purses. They all had brand-name labels but were wedged against each other on the shelves as if they were in a rummage sale.
“Miss, miss! What brand you like?” The saleswoman asked me. “You like Louis Vuitton? You like Dolce and Gabbana?”
“I don’t care about brands,” I said. “I like colorful purses.”
The woman began pulling out purse after purse, “We have many colors! What you like? This? This?” She put two purses into my hands.
“Are these real leather?” I asked.
“Yes! Real leather!”
“Oh.” I put the bags back on the shelf. “I’m a vegetarian, I don’t like real leather.”
The woman grabbed the bags again and put them back in my arms saying, “Real FAKE leather!”
I smiled and moved on. The next booth had men’s underwear and I immediately thought of Kevin. I looked at the variety of boxer briefs as the saleswoman watched me. “Can you give me a deal if I buy a few pairs for my boyfriend?” I asked.
She nodded. “What size is he?”
“Okay, so he’s large,” she replied.
Annoyed, I looked at her. How dare she judge me because I was clearly American. Not everyone from the US is fat. “No, medium,” I said again.
“This is Vietnam sizing,” she said. She turned and pointed at the nearest man. He was barely five feet tall and had a frame that matched his height. “He is a medium.”
“Oh. Okay, my boyfriend is a large.”
I bought four pairs of underwear, two fake Puma and two fake Calvin Klein. Then I left for the airport and began my trip home.
Kevin picked me up in Chicago and drove me to his dad’s house. I unpacked one bag, pulling out my souvenirs for him. “I got you this shirt in Vietnam, and this shirt in Cambodia, oh, and I got you some underwear because you need it.” I handed him gift after gift.
“Oh my God, these are never going to fit,” he said, holding up the underwear.
“These are large! You shoulda seen medium! Try them on anyway.”
He did. And I laughed. They hugged his hips tightly- too tightly. They barely covered his butt. “Well, I could wear them to a gay bar,” he said. But he pulled his jeans on anyway, giving them a try.
Later that day I went grocery shopping with his parents. When I returned, Kevin was sitting on the couch with a smug look on his face. When I sat beside him, he leaned in and whispered, “I already blew two holes into the underwear!” He sat back and nodded proudly.
I smiled and shook my head. He was not the Hulk he seemed to think he was, but simply a westerner who would never fit into Asian clothes. “Well we’ll throw them away,” I said. “I’m not mending anything else!”
*Upon reading this post and looking at the pictures, Kevin stopped and stared at the picture of his jeans, saying, “Is that really what they look like? I thought I looked cool… I just look poor.”