My husband doesn't even like wolves.
He doesn't actively hate them, but he's impartial.
It doesn't matter. His feelings on the subject are irrelevant. Wolves like him, and they have become a part of his identity, whether he likes it or not.
His unwanted collection of wolf paraphernalia started years ago, long before hipsters adopted the wolf tee as their ironic uniform.
We're too old to be hipsters, which I'm not even sure is still a "thing," because we're that old.
This is what happens when irony is unwanted and relentless. When it is "eternally vigilant."
For my husband's birthday, his sister gifted him an oversized brass table lamp embellished with howling wolves, in reciprocity to the velvet panther mural he'd given her for her birthday two months earlier.
She had boldly hung the mural in her basement, thereby boomeranging the gag. But my husband's disappointment was palpable. Just a flicker of frustration, like, "Where in the name of all that is howl-ey am I supposed to put this beast?"
That was all the momentum needed.
Any big sister of any age understands the sadistic satisfaction in finding a new way to ruffle your sibling's fur.
Today, wolf decor packs (zing!) his man space (garage) and laundry baskets (closet). A double-wolf-head statue even marks (double zing!) his business.
But nothing can one-up the wolf-dragon T-shirt, sent to my husband by another wolf-wearing man and relative stranger from Virginia.
Darius Nabors also did not pick the wolf spirit guide. His senior year in college, his fraternity brothers jokingly voted him "most likely to wear a wolf T-shirt."
Not most athletic. Not best-dressed.
"I thought I would be remembered for all of the great and wonderful things that I did. My intellectual capability in the classroom, serving as president of the student body," he writes in his wolf-shirt blog, 1man1moon1dream.blogspot.com. "I thought people would remember my moving speeches, my cunning wit, my athletic prowess on the intramural Frisbee field."
But no. He was the wolfman.
The harder he tried to deny it ("All of my shirts have collars, and starched collars at that!"), the more it made his friends laugh and the more they insisted it was an inevitable part of his life, Nabors said.
So he learned to own it. He had to.
The joke became the subject of his TED Talk, "My Phuket List," whereby he vowed to give away 104 wolf shirts (the number of weeks in two years) because wearing them has sparked so many entertaining experiences. He swapped shirts with three people on the street -- traded his wolf shirt for whatever they happened to be wearing. He ran into a woman at a Red Sox game wearing the same wolf shirt as him.
And when he read an article I wrote several months ago about Joe Archibold, a Longmont boy who had outgrown his favorite blue striped polo shirt, an annual tradition for his class pictures, Nabors offered to send him a wolf shirt instead.
"This email isn't a joke," Nabors wrote. "Wolf shirts are something that every self-respecting person should own."
Joe ended up finding a bigger polo shirt, and my husband ended up with one of the 104.
My husband has yet to own his given identity, but every day, he seems to struggle less. Perhaps some day, he will give in and willingly slip into a nature tee, even if from pure exhaustion or boredom or inability to keep up with the laundry.
As I fantasize about that hypothetical day, I think about the letter that Nabors wrote to his friends when he finally came out howling:
"I went online today and ordered a wolf t-shirt. I will no longer be the man that denies the fact that I truly love these shirts. They are a part of my being, my soul, my natural self. ... I have a new mission in life, at least a partial mission: to make wolf T-shirts legitimately cool."
He says wolves teach us about eternal vigilance. Which I suppose may explain why once you're marked with one, there's no escape. Trends, irony or all fashion rules notwithstanding.
As Nabors puts it, "Wolf t-shirts have helped me learn what life is about and the fate that we sometimes have to accept when we live in this world."