TThe jacket is old and soft. Made of thick black leather with padded shoulders and brown stripes on the pockets. Three buckles converge at the waist, creating the perfect ’80s silhouette.
I found it in the window of an antique shop in Brighton, England. On one of those quaint cobbled lanes, somewhere off Cranbourne Street, under colorful flags and flower boxes. I was there to present a conference paper at a symposium on contemporary women’s writing, a graduate student eager to make a name for herself and waiting to start her life. I didn’t know it then, but I was free. All the responsibilities I had were in perfect accordance with what I wanted to do. I had just turned 28.
I’m still in touch with this woman and her dreams and ambition even though it scares me too. I can be single-minded and give up every other experience for a big plan. She was always totally determined, this leather jacket woman – she had a five-year plan and she stuck with it! Impressively confident, but also shy about being pushy. It was this woman who could not find time to visit her grandmother, who regularly missed the birthday parties of her nephews and nephews, who walked and did not look back.
You and I are of course the same, but we are also completely different. It’s not a bad thing, just life goes its easy way; Take jobs that pay bills, buy a house, raise a family.
I am careful not to measure the current situation by this initial flourishing of independence and ambition. Nothing can stand the comparison. It is not a question of failure or success. After a few years of the Five-Year Plan, when things were going well and the items were successfully delisted, there was a deeper shift. Every time a goal pole was hit, there was another pole to take its place. This is an over-ambitious pattern.
I began to doubt whether it would lead to any real success other than the constant ability to sacrifice everything else along the way. My resolve wavered. Why did you do this again? I realized I don’t want the same things anymore. The jacket went to the back of the closet.
Seven years later, as I stand in front of my closet, soaked with the amount of crap I’ve accumulated, I don’t know what to do with this bulky thing I never wear. Years ago, as English coldness gnawed at my bones, the jacket felt like a practical purchase, emulating the same style of punk I met in Brighton, with their shaven heads and old clothes. But here in the Australian sunshine, I always felt a little silly. A statement from another climate and another time.
I throw it thickly on the bed with other clothes that I want to give up because it no longer fits: tight black office dresses; Shiny embroidered tops. A pair of light-colored pants that I bought on a whim when I decided to have more colors in my wardrobe. These are the things I can live without.
But despite its uselessness and bulkiness, I put the leather coat back into the closet at the last minute. You can call it sentimental value. A huge souvenir. But I think it will always represent something different, a part of me that I don’t want to give up forever – this ambitious and directed woman – even if it just doesn’t fit right in.