It’s that time of year when pink and red wallpaper is up in Wal-Mart, endless aisles of chocolate hearts and love-themed teddy bears bombard us. Boys choosing the right shade of rose, girls selecting the best chocolate to gift. The impact of Valentines Day has reached out to more than the intended market of lovers. It prompts memories stacked away for some of us—the vibrant hues and displays spur nostalgia of past lovers, lost opportunities, the “could-have-been’s.”

Modern Love: The Podcast delves into the could-have-been moments of Jameson Rich and how a single moment changed his perspective on love in the episode, “The Shirt Stays On.”

A rugged 23-year-old theatre student, Jameson embarked on many relationships from dates, Tinder flings, and college one-night stands. In all scenarios, he refused to take his shirt off. This shirt represented more than just a physical barrier between two people. In fact, the shirt represented no trouble in the physical sense. Not removing the shirt, however, did entail the lack of intimate connection Jameson found time and time again. 

Jameson’s chronic heart disease plagued him with surgical operations since a young age. With knives and surgical tools marking his upper body since childhood, the scars remain deeply embedded within his skin. He never found the will to expose his scars to anyone. While many of us bury our scars and wounds internally, Jameson’s scars ran all along his torso, only sheltered by fabric. Who deserved to see them? Who could withstand the history and hours of hospital visits that those scars carried?

These worries paralyzed Rich’s ability to expose himself in his entirety to any lover he came across. As such, many lovers came and went, with no chance to see what lay beneath the shirt.

Fast forward, Jameson stands in his room alone. He reaches for his pulse on his wrist, his neck and he feels nothing. He calls 9-1-1. When he wakes up the doctors tell him his pacemaker stopped and his heart stopped beating for a moment.

Jameson didn’t dwell on how easily life can be taken away, or how lucky he was to be alive. A lifetime spent guarding his scars beneath his shirt, in what could’ve been his last moments, he learnt how lonely he was. Fear took a hold of him with every hookup, every crush, and every potential partner, and disabled him from letting anyone in.

Now, the lesson he gained was to live life with less fear. To open up a little more, as uncomfortable it may be, to the people and the opportunities of love as they are handed to him.  All it took was a leap of faith to show his scars. All Jameson had to do, was remove his shirt.