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The Red Underwear

by Holden Russell

It was New Year’s Eve 2018, the moon a gibbous in the sky, and the air was warm. The breeze brought in the winter cold that was missing, while the trees stood dead, motionless in the wind. My throat burned from the smoke of a half lit cigar, the all too familiar taste of tobacco pierced my freshly chapped lower lip. The house steamed from the heat of a burning wood stove fire, and NBC echoed the sounds of new beginnings. I sat on the hand rail surrounding my porch, staring at the moon, and contemplating the previous year. What started with a return from Oklahoma, and a new start, ended with a divorce, minor depression, and the absence of hope in two ways. The cigar was left over from graduation, a time when friends gathered to celebrate a year of hard work, and the separation of a group as close as brothers. But that day the taste was black coal, as if the fire cut deeper than the skin, and nested in the pit of my soul. That was the first year I was alone on New Years, the first year without a kiss, and the first time the moons light would fade, and the new year would start in a bed cold and empty. 


The night folded under the stars, hours passed with each second, and with each glass of white wine. Before I could breathe, midnight was a clocks strike away, and in a way I wished the hour hand would freeze, and I would remain  still under the moon. Within the darkness of night, and the screams of middle aged men and women celebrating another year gone, headlights broke the silence around me. In the distance the silhouette of a red Jeep entered my driveway, and my parents, a drink past tipsy walk up the stairs to my porch. I quickly stomped out the cigar tainting my breath, not soon enough to escape the unfamiliar glare of distaste from my mom. Her eyes were fierce, but her voice was soft as she ignored my smoking and invited herself inside. I joined my parents in the hallway of my house, and acted as if I was fine, my eyes immediately lying. 




The more I think about that night the more I remember.  I remember my parents arriving, and I remember throwing up the cigar and wine in the front yard of my house. I remember sweating under the stars, and the feeling of death overtaking my body. And finally I remember wishing I was somewhere else, and in a body I didn’t hate. All the rest was a blur. All except one small detail, the red underwear. Every year my mom gives my brothers and I a pair of red underwear. It is tradition that at Midnight, give or take an hour, you have to put on a new pair of red underwear and with each leg you make a wish. Tradition says if you do this, the wish will come true in the following year. Obviously one would just wish for money or property, but the wish has to be genuine, or at least that’s what the folklore says. 


Every year I make a wish, and honestly I can’t remember if any of those wishes came true, and over time I lost faith in this tradition. I am what modern society would call a religious person. I pray before I go to sleep, I thank God when appropriate, and I believe in “The Plan”. This imaginary thing that we trust in, we say God has a plan, and we let the universe take over. New Years Eve 2018 I gave up on that plan. Sitting in the warm winter air, under the moon, I gave up on a lot of things, but the most important was God’s plan for me. I told myself happiness didn’t exist, and all I could remember was that every prayer I had that year didn’t come true. I prayed everyday since my wife left for her to come home. I prayed everyday for her to love me. I prayed everyday for me not to go to Oklahoma, but with no prevail all of those prayers did not come true. I was in a bad place. I asked myself why? Why try? Why ask God for any more help when you know you are going to just be disappointed.


That New Year’s Eve 2018 when my mom came over, walking through the smoke of disappointment, she handed me a brand new pair of red underwear. She looked me in the eyes and said, “Don’t forget to make your wish this year. Whatever you need, you will get. God has a plan.” She gave me a hug, and then they left. The clock was pushing 12:30 and the red underwear laid useless in my hands. I was sick, and my shoulders were bruised from the weight of a struggling year. I didn’t want the underwear, I could barley look at them. It made me so angry, but for some reason I did it. I walked to my room, I removed my pants and underwear, and I did it. Per tradition I put my left leg in, and then followed with the right. I pulled them up and wished for the first thing that came to my mind. I wished for Love, but not any love. I closed my eyes and I asked God for a person to love again, and for that person that I love, to love me equal in return. 


The desperation I felt was so strong that night, how selfish to ask for love, but it was what I wanted. After almost a year of struggle and heart break, I wanted to know I could love again. I remember the feeling, of emptiness, of betrayal. The idea of love was absent, and all I felt was indifference. I had no idea what love felt like, not anymore. I wanted to feel love, I wanted to get rid of the emptiness and know that every second I breathe, there is another person breathing, hoping my breathes don’t stop. That was my wish, and with it I ended 2018 hopeful for a new beginning. 




To this day, 2018 remains the year of change. The year that taught me heartbreak, and sent me to the bottom of the Marietta Trench, and left me there struggling to swim up without drowning. I made a wish, but I had little faith in the idea of it coming true. I dated, or tried to date. Each person no different than the last, equaling uninterested and unattracted to me or my beliefs. It wasn’t until May 8th, the grey sky a blanket to rain, and the breeze of an early spring heat that I met her, the girl of my dreams. I met her online using the dating app Hinge, which I was quick to realize was the only way to date in your late 20s. 


At first sight she was very beautiful, her eyes as green as the sea, and her smile shined through the dreariness of the cloudy day. She shook my hand, and in the moment it felt a bit strange, but every moment after that built on the over arching uniqueness that was her personality.  Though the date went well, it wasn’t until that Friday, walking back from Circuit Arcade Bar that my life truly changed. Her hand interlocked with mine, we walked through the street lights of Scott’s Addition, the scent of beer and fried chicken bouncing on our breaths. We stopped beneath a light on the corner of Mactavish and Moore, the moon creeping through a tree, and the sound of groups and couples surrounded us on the public street. She turned to me, her eyes lit up excited, and we kissed. Though the minutes moved like seconds, time evaporated into the sky. The stars formed a backdrop, and I became lost in the green of her eyes. It was in this moment I felt almost free, as if life was easy and everything I had done up to that point was justified. 


There was a myth my brother told me once, about the time he met his wife. He said it was in the moment they kissed that he knew he would marry her. He knew from that day, and he never second guessed it. It was in this moment that I felt love again. Five months from new years and over a year since my separation, this was the moment.


I think about that night a lot, now sitting in the barracks room at BLC, three days from graduation, and six days from my 27th birthday.  I stopped believing in God’s plan on New Year’s Eve 2018. I stopped thinking I’d love again, and forgot to have faith. Today I remembered his plan, and I remembered why I trusted him all these years. Every prayer I made and every underwear wish I had, led up to the happiness I feel today. I never thought I’d love again, and I never thought Id feel these feelings for another human being. I swore love was dead, and I gave up on the idea of finding it. I realized God’s plan, and all the inconsistencies and pain that come with it. Sometimes trust is all you need, trust in yourself, and trust in the idea that sometimes if your wish is genuine, and your underwear is red, then finding happiness is possible. 

About the Author

Holden Russell was born September 27th, 1992, in Water Town, NY. Growing up with a military parent forced him to adjust to new cultures and new environments. After living in over five different places, two of which where out of the country, his parents settled down in Richmond, VA. Holden Russell attended Virginia Commonwealth University, receiving a Bachelors in Science in Creative Advertising and a Minor in Creative Writing. Russell currently serves his country in the VA Army National Guard, while working full time as a Production Artist for Custom Ink, and attends Southern New Hampshire University online to receive a Masters Degree in Creative Writing with a concentration in Poetry.

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