3 weeks, 1 shirt
I awoke on this particular day (always a good start) and was immediately bored with what I knew these next few weeks would bring. It would be a constant grind of university, study and university study. For you see exams were coming up soon and unfortunately there were no major parties or events to break the monotony. Over a breakfast of toast and coffee, I decided to conduct an experiment to make the weeks more interesting- three weeks, one shirt. I already knew it would be difficult. If the smell didn’t drive me mad then surely someone would take offence and possibly perpetrate acts of violence against me. But I was that uninspired about the coming weeks that I was willing to risk it.
The first decision- to actually undertake this monumental task- was not the hardest of the morning. No, that would come now- deciding which shirt to wear. It had to be stylish enough to be able to be worn to many different places, yet not too stylish to be considered one of my ‘good’ shirts. I wandered the house shirtless for two hours, pondering this question. Not a white shirt, stains would show up way too easily. Nothing with an offensive logo, for the reasons above. Finally, I reached a decision. I would wear my blue, white and green striped t-shirt that I had received for Christmas two years ago. It had faded somewhat but was still in excellent condition. I shuddered at the thought of what it would look like after three weeks of constant wear and said a silent apology to my auntie who had given me said shirt as a gift.
Before I launch wholeheartedly into the story, let me explain a few things. I am not a dirty person. Nor am I a clean person. I like to ride the happy medium between obsessive compulsive and tramp. This is not something I would do regularly (in my household, washing is done at least twice a week) nor is it something I would do again. Rather it is a social experiment undertaken to better mankind and bring about the advent of world peace. That’s right- dirty laundry for a peaceful planet. Also, I did set some ground rules for myself (as any good scientist does):
1. Only the shirt is to be worn for the entire three weeks. Other articles of clothing should (and will) be changed daily.
2. The shirt may be taken off for such reasons as: having a shower; going for a swim; sleeping; being soaked with a hose by bikini models (unfortunately not a regular occurrence and more than likely one which will not occur in the course of the three weeks).
3. The shirt is not to be cleaned in a washing machine or in any kind of washing fashion involving water, detergent and vigorous scrubbing for the entire period. Note that the shirt may be cleaned with a sponge (moderately wet), napkin, serviette, or by rolling across a lawn (dry).
4. Deodorant is allowed and daily showering is encouraged.
I retrieved the shirt from my cupboard, set up the ironing board and ironed it. Wearing a freshly ironed shirt, feeling the heat of the iron retained in the material, is one of life’s little pleasures, so I basked in its glory for a few minutes, knowing it would be quite a while before I could experience it again. It felt good to be wearing a clean shirt.
For the remainder of the day, I studied. Well, that’s half true. I also spent a lot of time procrastinating. I explored music, art, poetry and drama (OK, only music) on the Internet, and I even cleaned my house. The shirt remained clean.
Dinnertime rolled around and I decided to have spaghetti bolognaise. Probably not the smartest choice, considering the glut of sauce and cheese with which I enjoy my pasta dishes, but so what? I was hungry and really like bolognaise. The first bite tasted scrumptious and entered my mouth with not even a hint of sauce splash. I revelled in my successful degustation of that first bite and surmised that each successive mouthful would follow the first in its cleanliness. Oh, the dramatic irony! The very next bite left a smear of pasta sauce and melted cheese across my pristinely clean shirt. I tried in vain to clean the goop with a serviette but to no avail. While the stain was almost invisible to the naked eye, I was sure that it would leave a permanent reminder across my shirt front, unless I cleaned it immediately. However, I knew that this would violate Rule 3 and would thus render the experiment over. I was determined not to be defeated this easily. After dinner it was time to relax. I watched TV until I felt tired. Then, for the first time since the experiment began, I took the shirt off and went to sleep. It was going to be a long three weeks.
I awoke on Day Two and felt surprisingly good about putting the shirt on again. It was still moderately clean and felt good against my skin. No more dirt or grime had managed to infiltrate it during the night, which I took as a positive sign. After a light breakfast, I adjourned to my room for more quality study time. I won’t bore you with details, but suffice to say that it was remarkably (or not) similar to my study of the day before.
Lunch passed uneventfully (that is to say that the shirt did not receive any sort of airborne food particles).
More study followed lunch, which was followed by dinner. Then more TV watching, and again the shirt left my body for another night’s sleep.
DAYS THREE TO FIVE
See Day Two.
DAYS SIX TO SEVEN
The weekend had arrived but unlike many of my friends, I didn’t spend it at the beach or the movies. Rather, I spent it cooped inside with a less than fresh shirt and my studies. At least I had the Internet, TV, books and a large collection of movies to keep me entertained during my frequent study breaks.
On Sunday after dinner I treated myself to some chocolate to celebrate the end of the first week of the experiment. Some chocolate flakes broke off, subsequently melted from my body heat and ingrained themselves in the fabric of the shirt. Another day, another unsightly stain. I went to bed damning my infernal chocolate lust.
By this stage of the experiment, the shirt developed an interesting odour. Not interesting as in people stop, sniff the air and say, “What the hell is that smell?’, but more interesting as in a cocktail of cigarettes, sweat and Rexona deodorant. It was not offensive as yet, at least not to my nose. I was still quite comfortable wearing it in public and that is what I did on this day. I needed to purchase a few things so I made my way to the shops. I purchased my groceries like a triumphant general parading through his home town. “Ha!” I thought, “These people have no idea that I’ve been wearing this shirt for eight days straight!” I gleefully treated myself to an ice cream but my joy soon turned to despair as it melted, dripping its creaminess down the front of my shirt. Fortunately, as with the bolognaise sauce, this wiped off fairly easily, but I knew that with thirteen days left of the experiment, it would not be long before this creamy residue caused me problems.
Unperturbed, I returned home for more study. Once again the rest of the day passed uneventfully until I took the shirt off to return to blissful sleep.
Today was the first day that I felt disturbed putting on the shirt. Why was I doing this? Was it to explore some primeval, cave man–esque side of myself? Or simply to wreak (reek?) some sort of vengeance on a society which forces exams on its fledging members in some sort of sick and twisted initiation ceremony? I certainly wasn’t doing it for the girls. Nevertheless, I put the shirt on, had breakfast and got down to my studies.
Thankfully, this day passed without any spillage whatsoever and I went to bed rejoicing over that fact.
DAYS TEN TO THIRTEEN
See Day Two but with more stains and odour.
By Day Fourteen I was seriously having second thoughts. I did not know whether I could last another day in the shirt, let alone another week. By now the stains from the bolognaise, chocolate and ice cream had hardened, formed a crust and regained some of their previously invisible colour, making the shirt front resemble some sort of grotesque Jackson Pollock artwork. I was starting to feel nauseous thinking about donning the shirt in the morning and only my twisted drive to complete the experiment kept me going. Despite the nausea I donned the shirt and resumed my studies.
By now I was afraid to leave the house for anything, as I knew the sight and smell of the shirt would cause people to panic. A friend, whom I had informed of the experiment, came to do my grocery shopping but did not set foot inside the house. Instead I passed him money and a list through the door. When he returned, he rang the doorbell. I answered it but he was nowhere to be seen. At least my groceries were sitting on the front porch.
At lunch, mayonnaise from my sandwich joined the stains already present on the shirt. It was joined at dinner by a noodle and Worcestershire sauce, used on my steak. By this stage, I no longer tried to eat neatly, not caring whether more condiments and foodstuffs accompanied their allies on the battlefield that my shirt was becoming. In fact I decided that by the end of the experiment the whole range of flavours from sweet to savoury would no doubt be represented in cotton. Tomorrow would be chilli.
Sleep did not come easily.
The nausea greeted me once more as I rose from my slumber. I could no longer eat breakfast, as I did not want regurgitated food and bile to join the collection already on my shirt.
The day passed as many others had in the past two weeks- study, lunch, study, dinner, with breaks in between to break the monotony.
Despite my prediction of the day before, chilli did not join the flavour party. Again sleep did not come easily.
THE NIGHT BETWEEN DAYS FIFTEEN AND SIXTEEN
I awoke in the dark to a strange sound. Disoriented, I reached for the light. Movement at the shirt. My mind, not fully functional, struggled to explain the reason. Had my experiment somehow animated the shirt causing it to move on its own? Was the shirt angry at me for forcing it to endure such unspeakable torment? But my mind was playing tricks on me. Upon closer inspection, the sound had come from mice, attracted by the aroma of cotton and food. They were trying to eat through the shirt! I arose and scared them away with loud noises and heavy foot stamps. I resolved that I would hang the shirt on a string to prevent their access to the ghastly thing. Once I had strung the string and hung the shirt on it, I went back to sleep, dreaming about my victory over the nocturnal enemy.
Strangely there was no feeling of nausea as I woke up. Instead, a primal longing to don the shirt had replaced it. Perhaps, the fumes emanating from the shirt had addled my brain. Or perhaps last night’s victory had brought out a sense of friendship with the shirt, and therefore I no longer reviled it. Whatever the reason, I felt relieved when I was once again in its cotton arms.
I had breakfast for the first time in three days and thoroughly enjoyed it. Eggs, bacon and coffee all found their way onto my shirt but this time it felt more like a victory than a defeat. By now the stains covered three-quarters of the shirt in a variety of colours. I managed to concentrate on my studies better than I had at any time for months! My brain (by now I was sure that I was crazed) told me that the shirt was the cause of my almost super-human focus and diligence in my work. I studied through lunch, grabbed a sandwich for dinner and energetically studied long into the night. Once again, I hung the shirt on the string before retiring to bed.
DAYS SEVENTEEN TO NINETEEN
The euphoria (and mania) of the previous day remained and my studies progressed at an alarming rate. My mind retained knowledge so well that after one reading I was able to recall over eighty percent of the information. I was amazed. By now, I had convinced myself that the shirt was grateful for my assistance with the mice and was rewarding my vigour in defending it.
No more foodstuffs joined their companions on the shirt during these three days but by now it did not matter. The shirt front was stiff with the remnants of the previous leavings, standing at attention in front of my chest and stomach. I fell asleep on the nineteenth day, content with the amount of the study that I had accomplished and safe in the knowledge that the shirt was in the room, watching over me.
I bounded from bed with a grin on my face, ready to face the day, with my now old friend, the shirt. I had, by now, become immune to the smell and hardly noticed the stains liberally coating the front. No sooner had I pulled it over my head, than the nausea struck again, worse than before. I doubled over with cramps and ran to the bathroom. Let me tell you, running while hunched over is not easy nor is it pleasant. After emptying my stomach, I felt too sick to move, so I lay again on my bed, in pain and alone. I knew that my friends would not come to comfort me in my torment, as they had been disgusted at the very notion of my experiment. The cramps stayed with me throughout the day and I accomplished no studious activity at all. At some point in the day I began to feel a new pain. Tiny pin-pricks of pain shot through every part of my body. I opened my eyes and saw thousands of ants crawling over my body, biting my flesh. The shirt must have attracted them. The shirt, whom I had trusted, had turned on me. Betrayer! I fed you while you clothed me! I tried to brush them off but they were too many and my pain was too great.
For ten agonising hours I lay there, or was it twelve? I lost track of time. All I know is that it was dark by the time I stirred. By this time the pain in my stomach was like a thousand needles of fire piercing my flesh. The ants remained but by now were but a mere annoyance compared to the pain of the sickness. I struggled to my feet and collapsed to my knees. I crawled to the bathroom and got into the shower, only just managing to remove the shirt from my back. The water soothed my skin, which was covered in thousands upon thousands of red spots from the ant bites. From a distance my normal skin colour was barely visible. I left the shirt crumpled on the floor of the bathroom and stumbled to bed, exhausted.
DAY TWENTY ONE- THE FINAL DAY
After a restless nights sleep, I awoke, shivering. My mind, again playing tricks on me, saw every piece of clothing as the shirt, laughing at my pain and weakness. For the second time during the experiment, I considered giving up, but it was the last day, I was so close. My skin was still red raw from the ant attack. As soon as I saw the shirt, my stomach turned. Again, it was moving. But this time it was towards me. “It’s coming for me, to finish me off!” I thought. But then I saw the mouse head poke out of one of the sleeves. But even after I scared the mice away, the shirt still appeared to move. Frightened, I backed into a corner, where I stayed for a good twenty minutes. Finally convinced that the shirt was not going to harm me, I decided to take the final step in this experiment and wear the shirt for the last time. Touching it brought fresh waves of nausea racking my insides and caused horror to scream through my brain but despite this I put it on.
The shirt shuddered against my skin. Was this real or had I imagined it? It shuddered again. For the second time that morning, I considered calling the experiment off. I was deathly afraid of what this shirt would do to me. Every crease became a distorted face, mocking me, laughing at me. I considered calling for help but who would understand? “The shirt is trying to kill me” I would say, and they would laugh in my face.
Suddenly I felt pain around my neck. The shirt collar was constricting, cutting off my air. I could feel the entire shirt squeezing, pressing harder and harder against me. I choked for breath but with each choking breath the creased faces of the shirt squeezed harder, chanting “Tighter! Tighter!” I didn’t know what to do. I felt myself slip into a dark abyss.
When I awoke, I could breathe again. How much time had passed? I checked my watch- 2 hours. I no longer felt the unclean touch of the rancid cloth. I looked down at myself- the shirt was gone. But where? Had it had enough of its torturous game? I searched the house but failed to find a trace of it. I was too petrified to study. The shirt could come back at any time. I decided to find a weapon to defend myself, should it return to haunt me once more. After grabbing a pair of scissors and a lighter (suitable weapons for the cloth monster), I retired to a corner where I sat, waited and watched, shirtless.
After two hours it began to get dark. I knew that I had an exam the next day, and so decided to get some rest. After showering, I crawled into bed and finally dropped off into a restless sleep. I dreamt of the shirt, one hundred feet tall, stains smeared across its gross visage, chasing me mocking me. The faces taunted me, saying that there was no escape, that I was already ensnared in its hellish web.
DAY TWENTY TWO- EXAM DAY
I awoke, still recoiling from the nightmares which had plagued me. The ant bites had faded somewhat but were still clearly visible on my skin. My neck was still swollen from the constriction of the vile beast. Putting on a fresh shirt brought back the familiar feelings of panic but the fabric felt clean against my skin. I left the house and made my way to university.
Entering the exam room, I felt a pain inside my stomach but I put this out of my mind as pre-exam nerves. I hadn’t studied much in the last week and I knew the exam would be tough. But again and again throughout the first part of the exam, I felt the same pain and thought I could hear the mocking voices of the shirt saying “I’ve got you, you’re mine now!” Suddenly I felt the pain again, but harder, sharper than before. It felt like something moving inside me. Moving towards my airway. I suddenly realised- the shirt hadn’t been trying to kill me back at my house. It was constricting itself to enter me, to enter my mind and take control. I cried out for help but no-one understood what I was trying to say. As they were dragging me away, I felt the shirt rip control of my mind away from me.
I am it now.
The preceding story is a fictionalised account of the bizarre experiment undertaken by George Kietrich, a student of Sydney University between March 1996 and June 2000. During the June exam period he was forcibly removed from his first exam, Physics, after removing his shirt and screaming about a shirt trying to control him. While being ejected from the exam, he fought off three security officers and two other students, tearing their shirts in the process. He was committed to the maximum security ward of Rozelle Hospital, where he committed suicide in 2002. After the exam incident, he never again donned another shirt.
This story was compiled using notes taken by Mr Kietrich during this three week period and interviews with his friend who visited with him during this time (including once when Mr Kietrich did not come to the door) and hospital orderlies who cared for him of the remainder of his life. Many thanks to those who assisted in this compilation.