September 17, 2003

Beer, Leather and Finding Yourself

It's not as easy as I thought it would be.

When something is replaced, you should be able to get rid of it, reclaim the space, and move on. But some things are not so easy to get rid of. Even when you're supposed to. And you drink a beer. And you stare at it.

My future wife, Maggie, gave me the first leather jacket I had ever owned. Once I got it I wore it nearly everywhere except in the hottest heat, or when I went swimming. This leather jacket and I were inseparable. Friends from the time can attest, I would often take it off, but it would be nearby. Sometimes, when it seemed too hot for a jacket, I had it on.

It protected me once when I took a nasty crack to the head and was briefly unconscious, falling back on it and my backpack. It stopped what would have been a nasty puncture wound once, with no ill effects. I hid from hail under it, and from sleet. It saved my skin on numerous occasions when I came up too hard against the "new brutalism" concrete walls of UMass Dartmouth.

I sat around computer labs and restaurants in and had some of the best times of my life wearing it, laughing and joking with friends. I played role-playing games in a friend's kitchen with it nearby.

Perhaps I was too attached to it even then. I certainly didn't want it to get lost or stolen.

I wore it in the rain and snow. Shoveling and running. Walking and sneaking. Through the forest and in the city. I put things inside the jacket so I wouldn't forget them. I was told it was too hot - to take the jacket off. I was asked why I still wore the jacket long after the zipper was broken.

It warmed me from the chill up my spine on a cold autumn night in Providence outside the Avon Cinema. We were leaving of a Halloween showing of "Nosferatu."

I spread it on the ground to eat off it like a picnic blanket, or to lean on it so I could read a book, or just to have a place to sit. I covered my face with it to get some rest away from the world, and breathed in its relaxing perfume. I covered my young wife's bare shoulders with it when she wasn't prepared for the weather.

I was wearing it when I saw the shuttle explode. I was wearing it when I shook Ted Kennedy's hand. I was wearing it when I first saw the house within which we would start our family. It went on my honeymoon and I posed for pictures with it on in front of the Adventurer's Club.

It sat on the chair in the delivery room, patiently, while my first child was born. I wore it on the unseasonably cold March morning when I drove home a father for the first time.

It's been to Old Sturbridge Village a number of times, and to the zoo. It's been on a carousel. It went to Maine and drove around aimlessly.

Nowadays, the leather is worn through in some places. The back is stiff, strong and rough, almost like sandpaper. This leather is leather armor. But the collar is soft and warm where it has been rubbed to a fine nap by my beard. The pockets all have holes. The lining is in OK shape. Buttons are missing. The wrists and bottom cloth trim are frayed.

Why do I care about it so much? I almost can't think of a place I'd wear it nowadays. I have a newer jacket, a gift from my parents. If I were going to do something messy or dangerous, perhaps I would wear it. I might wear it for some sort of protection.

I told Maggie I would get rid of it. She knew the new jacket was coming and so this one was to be surrendered. But. I'm not sure I can do it now.

For a moment today I thought I'd already discarded it. Then I went looking for it. When I found it, I can't remember if I was relieved that it was still here or perturbed that I was going to actually have to make the decision to part with it.

And now that the time has truly come, I sit here with a beer and stare at it. It's hanging pathetically from a plastic hanger not made to hold its weight. It looks deflated, somewhat defeated. Or maybe that's wrong. Does it, perhaps, look ready? Ready for the next adventure? Is it ready to be grabbed off a chair, tossed on in a second and run out the door as it has for so many times?

I don't know.

But I do know this: I can't part with it just this moment.

Maybe I don't like to think that I've changed much from that person who used to wear the jacket. Truth is, I have. I've always been changing. It's all for the better, I hope. Butů is it schizophrenic to miss an earlier incarnation of yourself? As we change, are we sometimes too quick to discard some of the good along with the bad? Do we lose good parts of ourselves in our efforts to move on? I think that maybe we do. I think it's fine to shed the bad parts of your personality as you learn and grow. But it takes some effort to find those good things out of ourselves that we may have forgotten. To remember ourselves and return to ourselves.

I'm going to finish my beer. Then I will hide the jacket in the attic. And then think of an excuse for why I didn't throw it away. There's a good chance Maggie will forget about it. It won't bother anyone up there. And sometime in the future, I'll find it again. And I'll drink a beer. And I'll remember.

Posted by James at September 17, 2003 2:17 AM
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Cheers for a nice essay. It may help to think of aging as growing into yourself. As long as you don't feel too old to do something or act a certain way then you never will be.

Posted by: Mike at September 17, 2003 9:19 AM

I too often worry about doing something that will betray my former self. If I spent nearly as much time worrying about how to make things better for my future stuff, I'll probably be happier. All I know is that I can't stand parting with old things. However, once they're gone, I'm usually surprised by how little I miss them.

Posted by: julie at September 18, 2003 1:59 PM

"However, once they're gone, I'm usually surprised by how little I miss them"

That's part of what makes it tough to part with some things. Because you know that, once you do, you will not miss them. If that mankes any sense.

Posted by: JP at September 18, 2003 2:09 PM

Ok, I haven't read the essay yet, but the title made me giggle. It could just as well used for someone coming out of the closet. heh.

Sorry. my bad.


Posted by: Rui at September 22, 2003 5:05 PM

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