For years, I’ve had this coat that doesn’t look good on me. This is a mermaid blue Patagonia Fitz Roy down that I listed for $ 49. Attracted by the case, I forcefully ignored the fact that the only size available, a small size for men, bulged at the waist and barely closed over my hips. It was the warmest thing they had, a winter belay jacket, and I knew I would be lucky to find something this pretty for five times as much. With vague unease, I congratulated myself on my stoic lack of vanity and bought the thing.
On his first foray into the field – a whitewater canoe trip with my varsity club – I looked like a blue marshmallow with legs, my butt accentuated by the narrowness of the hem and my swollen waist in Michelin Man down tubes. Even in November, with wet hair and a snow-misted sky promising snow, I was too hot. Early the next morning, I let my tent mates shiver in their sleeping bags, did some show jumps, and fry a dozen eggs in bacon grease. The others awoke, reluctantly, to a cold breeze passing through a haze of black smoke.
“Uh, Luna? “Remarked a boy, smiling:” your jacket is full of holes. I sighed and looked down at my overly puffy stomach and sleeves. The shiny fabric was splattered with grease spots and lint that dripped generously.
Over time, I’ve learned to compensate for the jacket the same way I compensate for all my insecurities, flaunting them until they seem intentionally comical. I looked silly in this thing, so I wore it all the time. I got into the habit of leaving the bottom few inches of the handy double zipper open to loosen the jacket. I sealed the holes with a mixture of duct tape and iron-on patch. But the truth was, I hated this jacket. It made me feel like I wasn’t taking care of my things. It made me look fat. Worse yet, I was embarrassed to be embarrassed by the fancy Patagonia gear I had bought for a bargain.
Today, with a few hours to kill before the next ferry leaves for my family’s home on a not-so-remote island in Maine, I’m taking the jacket for repair at the local Patagonia outlet. The woman behind the registry has Midwestern charm.
“Girl, we’ve all had a rough year,” she says conspiratorially. “I’ll just get you a new coat.”
“I made put this one up for sale, I stammer, but she’s already heading to the back.
“Don’t worry,” she said in a loud voice. “Everything is on sale right now! It’s our habit to replace or repair anything that hasn’t stood up to normal wear and tear.
Suddenly, I feel like my philosophy of dirt equipment – that big companies always try to rip you off – has been overturned. The woman must have thought that the holes in my jacket were the result of ordinary use, and not of an overzealous cook working by the light of a lighthouse.
She comes back, puts a chic new jacket on the counter: Gore-Tex shell, powder skirt, 800-fill power. It is a tasteful navy.
“This one costs $ 799, but it’s been discounted twice, and it’s the only one with comparable warmth in a men’s small,” she says. “We have to give you the most similar to what you originally bought. “
“Are you sure? I mean, I know I should have worn a shell over a coat like that. It’s probably my fault it didn’t hold up better. I walk away.
It is already bringing it into the system. “Do not worry !”
So I walk out with an $ 800 jacket, slightly nervous about having a fatal accident on the way home from my newly damaged karma. Impulsively, I zip it over my fleece, tags and everything. It fits. I put my hands in fluffy pockets, turn a corner to reach my car and see myself in a window. Stop. Stare at my reflection for a moment in the glass. And then I hurry back to the store, decompressing as I go, making sure the jacket is off before coming to the door.
“Excuse me, I’m so sorry to bother you, but can I get my old coat back?” He comes out suddenly. Then, slowly: “I changed my mind.
A different woman is now at the checkout, reserved and neutral. She takes my old jacket out of a basket and picks up the new one. I get the puffy blue like I’ve been given a baby or a full cup of tea. I slip my arms up the sleeves a bit in astonishment, a bit apologetically. Close the zipper too tight. So get the hell out of it.
After the pandemic started in early 2020, I came home from college for three months. My father and I did our best to pretend that the nebulous quality of our days was a choice rather than an imposition. We stuck a New Yorker cartoon on the refrigerator that showed a man on the phone telling the person on the other end of the phone, “I’d love to, but I have a million lonely ritualistic things I have to do.” The Friday night movies have become a comfort, a source of conversation and a marker of the days.
By the time I got home the New Yorker the cuts were turning brown around the edges from the rays of sunlight coming through the large windows in our kitchen, making it look like an unkempt pancake. A summer had passed, and an autumn living with friends and taking distance education. I have discovered, as I have often done since high school, that coming home after a long absence is an exercise in putting my new self back into the dimensions of my old one. More and more, I do not fit.
We continued the ritual of watching old movies together. My dad and I are both fiercely proud, insisting on proving that we know more than the other about various things that matter to us. Any subject of overlap is an area of competition. Kayak. Books. My aspirations to work in outdoor education. The films gave us common ground that was impersonal, less loaded. We laughed and talked easily, as before, of lives that are not ours.
During the Christmas holidays, on a comedic kick, we watched Dinner, the 1980s classic about five friends in their twenties and the restaurant that forms the touchstone of their divergent lives. The impending marriage of one of the guys, Eddie Simmons, and his insistence that his fiancée pass a test on the Baltimore Colts before he does, fuel the intrigue. Afterwards, we stayed to discuss.
I wondered why you never saw the face of the bride. Everything except his voice and his hands were omitted, and I had assumed that was to show that his inclusion in Eddie’s life was not yet certain. I was sure the final scene, the wedding, would be a big eye-opener: the pretty bride, the happy groom, his doubts forgotten, the viewer’s feeling that the companionship cherished from childhood had been changed forever. Instead, I was disappointed and confused.
As I get home on the ferry from my unproductive trip to the exit, something sticks. I stand outside on the deck to avoid the other passengers, as I have regardless of the weather since spring. There’s no one to talk to, and it’s impossible to turn the pages with mittens, so I look at the water again. Thinking of the way my life is rushing as the waves turn to cream in our wake, changing too quickly to fix my eye.
I have lost friends this year because of distance, but I have also gained friends because of proximity. For months, five roommates have shaped my entire social life. Because they were all I had, I accepted them. I have learned to swallow the evil and wash it away with the good. I came to love them not because of something in me that attracted me to them, but for who they were exactly. Like the family.
I understand, suddenly, why we never see the bride. Because it doesn’t matter what she looks like, even who she is. In the end, although she fails the football test, Eddie gives her the benefit of the doubt and marries her anyway. It’s his commitment to her, the imperfect bride, and the reluctant choice of her circle of friends to accept her, that makes this ending happy.
In a few weeks I am leaving for Denmark, and my brother’s apartment, where I will finish another semester by taking distance courses. I’ll find a job for the summer. Then I will move in with friends for the last year. I did, not just at the promise of a vaccine but at the end of being stuck at home. And yet I hope not too quickly to swap the months constrained by the pandemic for a more recent model. I wanted to retrieve the old coat because, for a moment in a window without it, I did not recognize myself. This irrelevant exchange taught me that having something to get the best out of can be better than having the best. While so much time at home made me feel more intensely how I am constrained by my father’s love for me, the torn parts of our relationship, it also forced me to fix what I can. and accept the rest.
When I pack my bags, I put the coat on last. Not because it’s the only thing I have, but because it’s the hottest thing I have. I also remember getting off the ferry that day and running up the hill towards the house. Opening the door to our cluttered locker room was like slipping my arms into an old, familiar and worn out jacket.