#tbt Gettin’ Reconciled #sol16

Slice of LifeI looked up for an instant on my morning commute, attempting to focus on the stream of sunlight that played around my fellow subway riders as the door closed. As my eyes returned to the book I held in my hand, I caught sight of the young man’s purple Marmot jacket. It was of middle weight, ideal for whatever this weather is we’re having at present: not winter, not spring.

A jacket. Just a jacket.

I grew up in the class below working class on a horse farm in Kentucky (whatever that is; let’s just call it poor). We were the workers, my grandparents, uncles, and, in the summers between school, me. We worked for people who were decidedly not working class. When you move in the world of competitive show hunters and jumpers, money–lots of money–is a given. I grew up watching. I grew up envying. I grew up knowing I was a worker.

I grew up wanting some marker of a whiff of that life.

Just a whiff.

Sometimes, my uncle would bring home a gift, or a cast0ff from the people we worked for or people he knew. One day, he brought home a jacket. It was a CB jacket, a red ski jacket intersected with the most perfect strip of navy.

I think I nearly cried that day because someone had given it to him. That jacket represented light years between the life I was living and all sorts of aspirations. He didn’t ascribe any of those same markers to it, certainly. To him, it was just that: a jacket that he threw over the foot of his bed and piled another half dozen items on top without a second thought.

I might have snuck upstairs and squeezed myself into that jacket. Probably looked at myself in the mirror, zipped and unzipped the YK zipper slowly as I imagined all the parts of life I was sure accompanied wearing such an item. I most likely slunk back down the stairs, each step on my descent a reminder of a life I was simply not to live.

And my life went on. I left the farm. Went to a college where CB jackets and ski slopes were birthright. Learned, though, that I could have my own dreams. Figured out, certainly, what kind of life I could have that wasn’t driven by longing for a life I’d never be able to lead while growing into the life I live now and being quite proud of that life.

Then, today, that reminder. Of that life. Not even the same jacket, but expensive, just the same. A twinge that–however minuscule–evoked an immediate picture of that same CB jacket in my mind.

But now, today, I know: I am not that jacket.

I am not that jacket.

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7 thoughts on “#tbt Gettin’ Reconciled #sol16

  1. This: “I grew up watching. I grew up envying. I grew up knowing I was a worker.” This was me in college, awakening to the differences between me and the people who stomped around campus like they owned the place, complaining about professors who did not live up to their standard of concierge service (“My tuition pays their salary!”). I wanted to pass on Phi Beta Kappa because of the $50 membership induction fee. Thank goodness one of my profs emailed the dean of students and got my fee covered for me. These days there are affinity groups for 1st generation college students. We are evolving as a society.
    Your verbs are awesome: ascribe, snuck, zipped and unzipped, slunk, evoked. And the detail of the YK pull (made in China!).

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  2. I love the details of this. How seeing an unlikely image brought back such an evocative memory. I talked to my students today about symbols in their memoirs and I feel like this is such a beautiful example of how a seemingly everyday item, a jacket, can convey so much more.

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  3. Wonderfully written. It reminds me that we often have no idea what significance lies in associations of others. Privilege wears the jacket without thinking, while you spend agonies and years thinking about the jacket. Glad you found your own way, and glad you wrote this strong piece.

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  4. I remember government cheese delivered by nuns and trash bags filled with hand me downs – both things felt like Christmas Day to me, until they didn’t. Until I saw the CB jackets and Levi’s. I was there with you. When you can see the other side, you know how little it all is, but when you are on the side where the CB jacket is unattainable, it takes on a life of its own…

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