This is my hat.
Or more accurately, one of my hats, the latest in a long procession of otherwise unremarkable baseball caps that I wore every single day between the ages of 4 to 21, each one wearing out after years of overuse until it became discolored and deformed. My favorite perched on my head through all of elementary school and featured the Warner Bros.’s Tasmanian Devil. Once, in an amusement park halfway between New York and Canada, it flew off my head during a kiddy roller coaster ride. I immediately burst into tears and refused to stop until the ride was shut down and my hat retrieved.
We were inseparable.
I don’t remember how the compulsion began. I’m sure I was too young to make a conscious decision; I only know that a baseball cap features in all of my earliest memories, a recollection borne out by years of photographic evidence. Apart from an awkward set of family photos taken in high school, weddings, funerals, and other events where I was forced to disrobe lest I offend the unmoving monolith of social decorum, there isn’t a single photograph of me in existence without my hat.
I imagine it was a psychological issue. I had always been shy and uneasy about my physical appearance – I was short, I was too thin, I had ugly glasses, I had a bad haircut, I didn’t look the same as my classmates and friends. The hat represented the one aspect of my physical appearance I could control. If I didn’t like my hair (and I hated my hair), then nobody needed to see it. I didn’t need to be defined by a part of me I disliked. And as time passed, the hat, in many ways, became the most important part of my identity. I was ‘that Asian kid with the hat’. In a time when things were changing and uncertain, there was a constant in my life. My friends joked that they could always find me in a crowd, an acquaintance in sophomore year told me never to change (I’m sorry, Kevin McMahon, I broke my promise), and even my teachers remarked that they couldn’t recognize me without it.
Years and years passed in the same manner. I graduated high school with the hat, I found my first job with the hat, and I completed my senior capstone project with the hat.
In 2011, I entered graduate school. And as I began my work with the new titles of PhD Candidate and Legally an Adult (Maybe), I came to realize a few things. First, the hat was banned by Health and Safety in a laboratory setting and I was in flagrant violation of PPE guidelines every time I walked into lab. Second, Nobody Cares about what my hair looks like or even what I look like so long as I, you know, shower and wash and shampoo daily. Probably, no one had ever really cared very much besides me.
I still needed it for the first month or two of school. Then, one day before going out for dinner with my classmates, I hesitated before hanging it up in the closet.
It’s hung there ever since. And though I may not need it now, I don’t believe I shall part with it anytime soon.