By Anne Walls
We met in Europe, eight years ago. Me, under the influence of some deliciously heavy Spanish wine. It, sober (presumably) and hanging forlornly in the back of the world’s most under-stocked and over-staffed H & M. We made eye contact but I quickly looked away, shy. It was too soon, it would cost me too much, it was too…forbidden.
Well, maybe I’d just try it on.
It was love at first full-length mirror sight, as often happens with a girl and her favorite piece of clothing. Nevermind that it was a perspirational ninety-plus degrees in Madrid, or that a semi-bulky black jacket was the last thing this traveler needed to try to stuff in her already overstuffed backpack. I knew I had to have it. The jacket was a bit rugged – sporting cargo-type pockets and sleeves that looked best jauntily cuffed so as to expose the orange-flower lining that seemed to say: “Surprise! I’m tough AND tender! Brooding and yet spring-ish!” It buttoned up the front and was the perfect weight for those chilly (read: 72 degree) LA nights I somehow managed to endure.
The best part was the collar. Oh the collar. At first glance it appeared to be a simple folded-down affair. But when toyed with and unfurled, it became clear that this jacket lived to have its collar popped. Not in a double-layered, Prepster-in-a-Polo way, but in cool, elusive, semi-London Fog, very “come hither but don’t get too close” city gal fashion. And I was in constant pursuit of that very look.
Look, I’ll be honest that the fact I was even traveling through Spain on my own was a bit risqué for me at the time. I had been traveling with my sister but stayed solo in Europe on a sort of dare to myself since the recent ending of both my job (I quit) and my relationship (sorta quit again…or did he quit me? Regardless, neither of us were punching each others’ time clocks any longer) had left my schedule…a bit lax. Spain seemed like the perfect country to skulk around in, shrouded in mystery and intrigue. My new black jacket would help me do just that.
We took on the mean streets of Madrid, Sevilla, and Barcelona over the next few weeks until I decided to take the plunge: I invited the jacket to come back to the States with me. Was I being too rash? What would my friends say? Would the jacket turn out to be different once we returned to “real life?”
Thankfully, the jacket proved itself to be not only a perfect traveling companion but also a trust-worthy roommate and great going-out buddy. It dutifully held my ID, money, and phone when we went to concerts and parties. It doubled as a lap cover when I chose skirts that were just a bit too short for the current seating situation. It always kept me warm, no matter what temperatures I faced (and yes, I often traveled outside of Los Angeles and was greeted with this thing the rest of the world calls “weather).
Those were heady times, those first few years with my trusty black jacket. Collar popped and sleeves rolled, I felt poised and ready to take over the world…or at least a few awkward first dates and some even more awkward last ones.
But then I started getting careless. I left the jacket at a restaurant that was thankfully open when I went to retrieve it the next day. Then there was the house party that went awry. A solid two weeks passed before I was able to bribe one of my girlfriends to recover it for me. Once I helped a friend pack up his apartment and the jacket accidentally got tossed into a box and moved to the party pad my fun-loving pal was now a resident of. Getting it back that time involved tactically maneuvering through an ex-boyfriend laden soiree and then interrupting my friend’s brother and his new, ahem, ladyfriend making, double ahem, friends atop the box my jacket was stowed away in.
And yet, my jacket and I always found our way back to each other. I felt confident and strong in it, especially with that collar up and my ID and a few bucks in the pocket. Oh, and my Dr. Pepper lip gloss. Something about the enveloping freedom of its black canvas made me feel in control and, well, protected. The jacket survived a brief hiatus in action when a few men’s blazers and coats moved into its formerly-exclusive closet and it wasn’t taken out as much since its owner favorited hoodies and other more couch-appropriate gear. But then the blazers left and the jacket was back in heavy rotation, needed more than ever to provide a little coolness and intrigue…and a lot more protection.
We were inseparable, that jacket and me. Even when occasionally I lost it, I knew I’d always get it back, no matter what awkward social river I had to cross. Messes would arise, situations would get twisty, but I always came home, hung the jacket in its special spot in my closet, and knew it would be there the next time I needed a little shelter from the elements, both barometrical and emotional.
Then one night I went to the closet, breathless with the excitement of the impending evening and the even more impending relationship that seemed to be blossoming right before my eyes. Much to my surprise, it was with the very same person I dated those eight years and one beloved black jacket ago. He suddenly showed back up in my life and even though I had known him well years before, everything about this eight-years-later version of him took me completely by happy surprise. That evening we were going to dinner at a little French place near the ocean, so I would definitely need Old Faithful. I could feel that collar around my neck already. But when I looked in the closet, my jacket wasn’t there. It was gone. My trusty jacket was gone.
I racked my brain, retracing my social steps and latest movements. I hadn’t left it at the restaurant where we’d had that first amazing date. It wasn’t in the movie theater from the week before, the theater where I hadn’t used the jacket to cover my bare legs since his soft hand covered them instead. What about at that concert/loft party where we jumped in a bouncy house for what seemed like ever? Nope. I couldn’t believe it. This was so unlike me. I had lost my protective shield, my armor, my…my black jacket.
As I stood, mouth agape, it hit me: maybe I didn’t need the armor anymore. Maybe I was having such a good time with this wonderful new-old surprise that I had forgotten to take my protective layer with me. And maybe, just maybe, it was time to face the world in my own skin.
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