Leather Coat – August 30, 2003

My leather coat has history. It’s six years old now, and the girl who bought it for $99 at Wilson’s in Ann Arbor’s Briarwood Mall doesn’t exist anymore.

She had never been in a leather store before, not even a chain like Wilson’s, and she fingered the material as if it were special, foreign, a hint or promise of what her life could be like. She imagined motorcycles, fucking, smoking, cool, leather on leather, black, smooth, then cracked and imprinted with fingerprints that would never quite fade. Other people’s fingerprints, her own, it didn’t matter; all recorded in the soft press of flesh on leather.

So. She bought the jacket. She was with her first boyfriend, who had taken her to the store, and he thought this one looked good. It zipped up the front, two pockets low on the sides, lined with thinsulate for the Michigan winters, and a thick belt strung through loops and tied.

She sat in the bus station, wearing the jacket, staring out at the salt-stained road. Going back to Chicago. Weekend visit over. One leather jacket acquired. One hotel room paid for. One bed defiled. Huddled in the corner of the seat on the way back, sky threatening snow but not releasing it, trees stark against gray, rows upon rows of houses blurred in rows upon rows of small towns, unnamed, unknown, uncared-about, just places between here and there. Curling up in the jacket against the seat, smelling new leather, and the stench of that waterproofing junk they’d sprayed over it, and the guy. The first real smell it acquired.

Other smells joined it. The bitter cold of a Chicago winter. The stench of stale sweat despite the chill. Exhaust fumes from cars and buses, and the slight hint of mildew. The warm, homey scent of her parents’ house in Jersey. New York on a spring day, still a little windy. Heat. Sun. Musty closet odors, from being stored for months. Men. Women. Friends. Love. Tears. Anger. Hope. Screams. Ambition. Fear. Daring. Life.

Cracks appeared; the waterproof spray wore off and was never reapplied, though she wore it in the rain all the time. Stains, with unremembered origins. Tiny tears. Softness she never would have expected. Age. Wisdom. Years.

Now it hangs in my closet, unused. It is not cold in L.A. There is no wind to cut through your bones like a razor blade. I have a much nicer leather coat, a soft-as-butter lambskin number with no lining, unemcumbered. It frames my body better. It cost a lot more. But it is not my coat, and I am not its whore. Its softness is not acquired; it has no experience. It is a high-fashion stranger; it just looks good on the surface. My old coat knows me, through and through: who I was, who I am, where I’ve been, how I grew, who I’ve loved, what I’ve done, things I’d never tell anyone. I will never leave it behind. It has a soul, and it is mine.

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