Some of my favorite possessions are things that I’ve stolen. I’m not talking about deliberately taking someone else’s stuff, I’m talking about theft by osmosis, the slow process of borrowing something and hanging onto it until it eventually becomes yours. That’s how I came to be the proud owner of my most beloved flannel shirt, a pair of tattered sweatpants that say CREW across the butt, and a beautiful armchair (long story).
But the best thing I ever borrowed, I gave back. It was a Muggsy Bogues No. 1 Charlotte Hornets jersey from the 1990s, and letting it out of my sight haunts me to this day.
I wore this magical shirt for a theme party in college. I hate theme parties. Putting together a costume isn’t fun, it’s just One More Thing To Do, and I subscribe to the school of Doing As Few Things As Possible. But the annual Jersey Party at school was a theme I could get behind, because all I had to do was (you guessed it!) wear a jersey. Sports! Laziness! The dream!
My sophomore year, a friend — I can’t remember who — let me wear their Bogues jersey. The joy I derived from having my name splashed across my chest while also paying homage to the shortest player in the history of the NBA was both silly and profound. I made a big deal about it all night as my friends and I danced, played dumb drinking games, and raided the cabinets of whoever’s grungy house it was for Cheetos.
As much fun as I had that night, I completely forgot about it and that jersey until last year. I was procrastinating writing a blog about the Warriors and the Cavaliers before their Christmas Day game, and found myself scrolling through old, cringe-worthy pictures on Facebook. If you went to college in the early days of Facebook before kids got smart about what they put online, you know the kind of photos I mean. They’re the ones we’d post on the internet without thinking about the fact that we’d have to get real jobs someday, and maybe hard evidence that we once sat in empty pizza boxes with shoes on our hands, drunk, wasn’t, like, the smartest move.
But bad Facebook photos are visual train wrecks, and I couldn’t look away. I clicked through until I came across 13 different pictures of me from that party, sweaty from dancing, pointing to the white block letters that spelled out my name.
As I scrolled through the album taken on a Nikon CoolPix, I realized that jersey party was one of the best times I had in my four years at college. Nothing staggeringly great happened; it was the kind of party you forget about, as I had. But the photos brought the memories of that run-of-the-mill shindig — one so normal it slipped through the cracks — rushing back. I could smell the stale beer and feel the thumping bass. I remembered how happy I was.
I was so happy — that specific, reckless happiness that comes from being young and not knowing enough to realize how much you still don’t know. The vague idea that your story is just beginning. That tingling contentment that feels like the montage accompanying the opening credits of a ’90s movie. Or a particularly banging Song of the Summer. Or the moment your leg grazes your crush’s leg underneath a table.
I left Facebook and started messing around at the Hornets online store. I designed a custom jersey that said Wilder above the number 69 on the back and texted a picture to my mom. I asked if she’d get it for me for Chanukah. “Are you sure you need that, Charlotte?” she responded.
Will someone buy me this pic.twitter.com/fDbMrfjjU0— Charlotte Wilder (@TheWilderThings) February 19, 2017
In the months since, I’ve run countless web searches for Bogues jerseys and vintage Hornets Starter jackets. I’ve found a few that I’ve come close to buying. I got so obsessive about it that I even once skipped work because a stranger on Twitter told me he saw a Charlotte jacket at a thrift store in Williamsburg. I trudged over there on a Wednesday in the middle of the afternoon. By the time I got there, it was gone.
I was relieved.
I know that the whole point of looking for something is to find it. But even when I come across what could be a purchasable piece of Charlotte merch, I can’t buy it. I always find a reason it’s not right. The color scheme might not be exactly what I want. Perhaps the price is slightly too high. It’s never a Bogues.
The truth is, though, that I like the hunt. I wish I’d “forgotten” to give that original jersey back, or that I could remember who I borrowed it from and could try to sweet talk them into giving it to me. But I didn’t, and I don’t, and I can’t. I do know that the first one came into my life so organically that it almost feels like cheating to buy one like it for myself.
Much of trying to be a successful person is reaching for things. Trying to clear the next professional hurdle, make more money, find that perfect person to love. It’s a respite to have something material and completely inconsequential that I can search for, while knowing that if I don’t ever get it, it won’t matter at all.
I also like knowing that every time I look for this jersey, I could find it. It’s my white whale, that Muggsy Bogues No. 1. And every time I don’t find it, I get to keep looking, which reminds me of that night spent dancing in the wood-paneled room of a dingy college house. Whenever I wander into a thrift store or go on eBay, I feel my 19-year-old sense of endless, confident possibility. I think of all the people — many of whom I don’t talk to anymore — who mattered so much to me 10 years ago. I remember that sometimes the mundane is the most precious.
So maybe there’s a jersey somewhere out there with my name on it. Maybe it’s hanging in a vintage store, or stuffed in the back of a stranger’s drawer. Maybe I’ll find it someday. Maybe I won’t.