I remember the morning very well.
My wife (at the time) and I were house-sitting for an older couple in a bright and spacious home in Old Orchard Beach here in Maine. Before we left for the day to her parent’s house in Limington to celebrate the holidays with them, we each decided to give each other a Christmas gift. She handed me the package and I remember slowly tearing the paper from around a box, the kind that clothes are usually wrapped in, and then pulling out a faux-leather jacket. I smiled, thanked her, and kissed her on the lips.
“Thank you,” I said. “A leather coat? So cool. Haven’t had one of these since I worked at Timberland.”
She smiled and waited for me to look it over.
I never really bought any leather or even faux-leather coats for myself, preferring the simple style of my cloth jackets – which served a functional purpose but didn’t look especially flashy or anything. When I lifted the jacket to examine it, I noticed a large tear under the left arm. White cotton insides were showing from beneath the faux-leather layers.
“Oh, wow,” my wife said, grimacing. “I didn’t even notice that when I got it. We should bring it back.”
I never did end up bringing it back. For lots of reasons. Winter came and went, and so did my marriage, but the coat stayed with me.
The coat is the perfect metaphor for my relationship with my ex-wife. When she originally bought it, she disregarded or didn’t pay attention to the tear in the fabric. When she bought it, she didn’t take into account my own semblance of style – the jacket was her own idea of style, her own idea of who she wanted me to be and who I’d never be, at least in her eyes. When she bought it, I know in my heart she was already thinking of backing out of the marriage because we separated less than a year later, in the Fall of 2011.
That morning, as she started to get ready for the holiday festivities we’d be attending later in the day, I left that little house by the water and walked down to the ocean. The walk was cold, silent, peaceful. My breath curled into the air, frosting my beard and mustache. As I looked out over the frozen water, even then I knew we were in trouble. We’d been having lots of fights. A few months before, we’d had a terrible falling out after I found texts from her to her friend saying she still had feelings for him since they’d dated back in high school. But we talked, and I thought we’d ironed some things out. I’d forgiven her, mostly. I just wanted it to work.
This gift should have been the start to a new year of re-building. But we ignored the tear in the fabric, so to speak. The jacket was flashy to me, more for show than for functionality – especially with the rip in it, it did little to block the cold. But just as with the jacket, she didn’t think much of the functionality of our relationship at the time. It was also only for show. Her sister had married her high school sweetheart, so had her mother. When we’d first started dating, she often told me how her family was always pressuring her to find a guy, get married, have some kids.
“Fuck that,” she said.
We both laughed when I first heard her say that, as we walked on a frozen beach not far from the one I was strolling on there that day. It had been our first date. Still, we ignored those fundamental differences, and I asked her to marry me. She said yes. We both made a big mistake, and it wouldn’t be the last one either of us made during our time with one another.
I wanted so bad to escape the horrible mundane failures of my life. I worked hard to make the marriage work, but I wasn’t good at it. Bills, fixing the house, lawn care, plumbing – you name it…I was terrible at it all. But I tried. She tried the domestic thing, too. She wasn’t very good at it either. She didn’t like cooking. She didn’t like staying home. Our marriage fell apart, just like the jacket had.
But…the jacket didn’t just “fall” apart. I punished it. I went on adventures with it, creating new memories around it, memories without her. I stuck buttons all over it, piercing the fabric with needles attached to little tiny statements about who I am. She may have gotten “me” (or her idea of who she wanted me to be) the jacket, but I was the one who turned the jacket into something my own, something that was more a part of me than if I’d just worn it as it was. The seams began to unravel. The zipper broke. I took to wearing a hoodie underneath as the warmth of the jacket became just an idea vs. being reality.
These were statements I was making to the world, to myself, to her. The jacket, like my life, was my own. She had been a major factor in my life, and it hurt me a lot the way it was handled. But I come from adversity. I’m not a stranger to betrayal, nor a stranger to overcoming obstacles.
So the metaphor in the form of a jacket ends on a lighter note than it began; on my own terms, and with my own identity intact. The jacket has been punished enough and has served its purpose. I no longer think much of anything about my ex-wife, save for passing memories. For now, I keep the jacket – and I stick it with pins, with buttons. I wear lots of layers underneath it that sometimes clash with the jacket’s style. But it’s my jacket, worn on my terms, for my own reasons. Eventually, I’ll also let it go and get a new one, more practical, actually warm.