As a ten year old there were many things I yearned for, but this was the year that I became obsessed with a light brown corduroy coat with soft plaid lining. A classmate named Lilas wore such a coat to school every day; there was something about it (the sturdy corduroy with the cozy lining) which caused my heart to ache with desire.
Every day at school I watched my classmate’s chaste strip tease, casually hanging her coat on a hook as if it were just any old ordinary coat. Somehow this piece of clothing had become symbolic for me of everything unattainable in my world. Some kids had spiffier coats, more trendy ones. What was that to me? My eyes were drawn to this one coat which seemed to say, I’m reliable, I’m comforting, I’m constructed of earth tones because I’m so down to earth you could lollygag in me to your little heart’s content.
All that school year I coveted, I dreamed, I ached. I even went so far as to tell my mother about my dream coat.
“The lining is soft plaid,” I told her with all the earnestness I possessed. “Maybe something like flannel.”
I don’t recall her response or even if there was one. It’s indicative of how thoroughly in love I was with this coat that I would share my enthusiasm with my remote mother.
I threw myself into this new obsession wholeheartedly. I began getting up earlier for school so that I could be sure to not miss the daily ritual of The Taking Off of the Coat. Rising earlier and practically running the few blocks to school didn’t faze me at all. We all do strange, unaccountable things when love has a hold of us!
Some mornings, oh some mornings my step dad barged in on me in the bathroom, startling me so that I dropped my toothbrush in the sink and simply stood like a deer caught in headlights. What thoughts I once used as a distraction during these early morning molestations, I don’t remember. But this year as he overpowered me, violating me there in that tiny bathroom with its cold tile floor, I focused on one thing only: he would make me late and I would miss Lilas slipping out of her coat. Out of our coat. Out of the coat that should have been mine, had the world been a friendly place full of benevolent justice.
After school one day my mother presented me with a new coat she’d seen on sale. This coat was constructed of a orange-red polyester which felt spongy to the touch. There couldn’t have been any other coat on the face of this planet more dissimilar to the beloved coat of my dreams. Everything within me felt revulsion for this coat. Just looking at it made me my skin feel clammy.
I hated this coat. I would have hated it under any circumstances, but the fact that my mother had gone out of her way to buy it after I’d bared my soul to her about Lilas’ coat made the feel of it against my skin nearly unbearable.
Why was my mother always giving me the wrong thing, or giving it to me much too late?
In fourth grade I’d longed for a Barbie watch. I didn’t get it until sixth grade, when I was much too old for something so childish. I had to wear it though: we didn’t waste things in our home. I made sure to always wear it with the watch face under my wrist unless it was covered with long sleeves.
The puppets and puppet stage I was keen to own when I was 9 didn’t make their way into my possession until I was 11. Did my mother do this purposely, or was I really so invisible to her that she couldn’t see me growing?
I never did get the coveted coat. I wore the orange-red one only because I had no choice. I wore it when I rode my bike to meet the first boy who’d ever shown an interest in me. I had it on the whole time he molested me behind a grocery store. It flapped in the wind, unbuttoned, as I rode home in a fury, hating the boy, the coat, my life. Everything was a fake then, a fraud. The boy didn’t like me, he only wanted to touch me with greedy hands. My mother didn’t love me, she only bought me needed articles of clothing because she had no choice, she was stuck with me. But she could choose whether or not to honor my preferences and desires. Everything in my world seemed fraudulent, everything right down to this ugly polyester made out of man-made materials.
I wouldn’t do this in a million years, but with all my being I longed to approach Lilas one morning as she slipped out of this magical coat. Touching it lightly with my fingertips I would look into her eyes and whisper just one word:
Oh my childish longings for a coat that symbolized everything my life lacked in the way of reliability and comfort.