For my twelfth birthday, my mother bought me a jacket. It may seem like an odd gift in August, so let me explain. This was the hippest, coolest, most fly jacket a kid could have in the early 90s. It was meant as an accessory, not for warmth. It must have taken her weeks to save up for it. I loved it. It was a treasure. It was “my precious.”
After wrapping it in plastic, I tucked it away into my closet. School began. I wore it the first day. (This was a non-homeschool time.) The stress of not letting a white jacket get dirty was overwhelming. Compliments are great, but they came with touches. Not, “Wow, J, great jacket. May I touch it?” But rather full on hands all over my arms and or back without my consent. One person, who had never had a kind word for me previously, asked to try it on. The disgusted scowl that came when I said no still sticks out in my mind. Some people have never heard that word, I suppose, and certainly not from someone who they deemed inferior.
Math class rolled around. I ended up being called to the board. One wouldn’t think that, on the first day, it could already be so messy. But this teacher liked to throw chalk. Dust from bits of exploded yellow chalk was already everywhere. And as I stood there, solving the problem, erasing until I got it right, some of the yellow got on me.
It sank into the grooves of the fabric. Now, before you start thinking of a million ways to clean that, keep in mind that I was on a school bus on the way home. Shout Wipes and the Tide To Go stick were not invented yet. And kids were not permitted to carry water.
(Has that changed? Or do the same people who complain about childhood obesity still deny a drink from 8am to 1pm, then permit the maximum of one juice box or tiny carton of milk, and then no more drinks until arrival home sometime after three. Unless, by chance, a kid is lucky enough to pass a working fountain without a line and grab a quick sip during the class-to-class sprint. Of course, people who get drinks tend to excrete the liquid, flushing out the body, and that is rarely permitted outside of the twenty minutes allotted for lunch and required socialization time that is monitored and recorded. Fall short in that time on any level and parents WILL be called. But I digress.)
I returned home and cleaned my jacket, by hand, for an hour. Easing the lightly moistened washcloth over the stains, trying not to get it so wet as to cause damage. Despite my love of reading, it never dawned on me to look at the label. I could have thrown it in the wash machine. But the buttons! What if one came off? I had seen that big metal monster eat shirts and pillowcases before! No, no, that would not do. So even if I had seen the instruction, I’d have ignored it.
Once it was properly clean again, I wrapped it back in plastic and tucked it away. My mother asked me one day why I wasn’t wearing it. I told her I was saving it. She didn’t understand.
The first school dance of the year came up. I was to attend. Again, my mother asked why I wasn’t in the jacket. And again, I said I was saving it. Now she asked what I was waiting for, as a school dance seemed like a big occasion. “Prom,” I said. Not some silly seventh grade dance. A real occasion. Prom. My wedding. I wasn’t sure what other big events life was supposed to hold. Those were the only ones movies, books, and television had told me about. My mom told me about a jacket she had at my age. One that she loved and wore everywhere. I asked what happened to it. She said it eventually became ratty and was tossed out.
The horror of that possibility blinded me to the life lesson. My jacket, my precious, getting to the point of being trash? My heart nearly gave out. No, that would not be the case. I would prevent it!
In March of that year, a jacket similar to my own appeared on the lost and found wooden tree by the school office. This one was dark blue. It hung there for a month, unclaimed. By April, I took it. I wore it all day. A few people complimented it. Some said I was lucky to have two. It got dirty. I didn’t care.
It meant nothing to me.
I returned it to the tree a week later, sick of it living in my locker. This was no “precious.” Someone I love didn’t give it to me.
Years later, Prom rolled around. I didn’t go. I was attending a party, for free, with my older friends. Spending about $500 on clothing for one night, a limo, tickets, and whatever else sounded foolish to me. I’d need that money in a few months for expenses at college. And then, of course, there was the real reason I didn’t want to go… My significant other was three states away in a special hospital fighting brain cancer.
The jacket did not go to Prom.
It might have been “retro” acceptable to my fellow students, but it certainly wouldn’t have made it past the dress code police. Something I didn’t know about in seventh grade. Of course, I also didn’t know I’d fall in love with someone who, a year later, would be dying. Life throws all kinds of curve balls.
The jacket didn’t make it to my wedding, either. I’m not the same size I was in high school, much less in seventh grade. I didn’t factor that in at age twelve. It would not have been appropriate attire anyway for that day.
So there it still lives, in plastic, in the back of my closet somewhere. It is behind old Christmas ornaments and a blender that barely works (but belonged to my great-grandmother and is probably worth something on E-bay). My mother barely ever saw me in it. I never considered, in my youth, how that might have made her feel. She scrimped and saved for this great gift, and I probably seemed like I did not appreciate it. My mom used the speed dial on her old phone to call me this week. She asked me to look up and three-way dial her eye doctor. She could barely see. My mother is loosing her vision. I could hear her trying not to cry and not to panic, but when the huge two-inch buttons on your super size phone get hard to read, there isn’t much calm left to rely on.
Seven lessons from this:
1. Life is meant to be lived.
2. Exist in the present. The future is only for hopes, goals, and dreams.
3. Appreciate what you have, and do not wait to use it.
4. Nothing means more than love, in any way that it is shown.
5. Don’t put your dirty paws all over someone who dislikes being touched.
6. You cannot anticipate everything that is to come.
7. Value your sight, hearing, taste, sense of smell, ability to perceive touch, and your whole body, really, because you never know when parts of it might be gone. (Show extra kindness to those who have already experienced this.)
A list of seven of something brought to you on Sunday. What can you add?
Do you have something you treasure not just because of what it is, but because of who gave it to you?