A Short Story
I didn’t think much of it at first.
It was only a jacket. An old, ugly leather jacket with an asymmetrical zipper and flat wool lining around the cuffs. The material along the collar was cracked and peeling. The warm hazelnut color had darkened with age to a filthy grey-ish brown. Worst of all was the musty odor, which most likely came from the coat having been worn on the backs of sweaty men for generations.
But to my grandfather, it was as good as new. He wasn’t bothered by the wear and tear. Most times he acted like there wasn’t any. What mattered, he said, was the fact that it managed to last so long.
He’d gotten it as a Christmas present in ’54, about a year after he got back from Korea. My grandmother bought it for him as a late welcome-home present (but also because she’d seen Marlon Brando wear a similar jacket in a movie and thought that her husband would also look sexy in leather). After that he wore it everywhere- family outings, date nights with my grandmother, football games, parties, his sons’ graduations, his friends’ funerals. Wherever he went, the jacket came with.
The two parted ways shortly after my grandmother died. Afterward, my grandfather passed the jacket off to my jovial uncle Jasper. Jasper liked it a lot. I remember how each winter he raved about how warm it kept him. Unfortuantely, uncle Jasper’s time with it came to an abrupt end when he was killed by a drunk driver one August afternoon. Then it was my father’s turn to inherit what had become a family heirloom. He held onto it for a couple of years, mostly keeping it tucked away at the back of a cramped closet. A few years went by, and during that time my mother decided she didn’t want to be a mother anymore. She left, disappearing off the face of the earth. In response, my father relied on a unique cocktail of drugs to stay emotionally afloat. His methods did more harm than good, and eventually he was buried next to my uncle Jasper.
Thus, I was the next in line to receive the jacket. I got it on a Saturday in September. It was stuffed inside a recycled cardboard box and sealed tightly with several pieces of scotch tape. I acted surprised when I opened it, even though I knew exactly what it was. In all honesty, I wanted nothing to do with it. It was an eye-sore. It was an unwanted reminder of a past that hurts even to think about. But it made my grandfather happy, so I accepted his gift and smiled. He smiled back.
A month went by. The jacket was still in the cardboard box, untouched, hidden underneath my bed until one November evening. A few friends had invited me to some fancy dinner at a place called Bellaforte’s. Of course, I accepted. After my father’s death, I’d lost any motivation to leave the house. This was a chance to resume my life, and I wanted so badly to give the impression that everything was okay again. I put on a white long-sleeved blouse, a pair of nice blue jeans and beige-colored wedges. But I still needed a jacket. So I pulled my grandfather’s coat out from its hiding spot, doused it with fruit-scented body mist, and was off to Bellafonte’s.
When I arrived, one of my friend’s acquaintances- a woman named Martha, I think- was the first to speak. “You can’t go inside wearing that!” she said, her breath reeking of alcohol. “You look like some homeless hag!”
As sloppy as the insult was, the words hit like bullets. Panic washed over me in that moment, and all I remember doing next is rushing home for a change of clothes. I threw away the jacket, tossing it into the garbage bin behind the house. I couldn’t have it near me anymore. I didn’t want all those years of sadness and pain draped over me. I went back to Bellafonte’s feeling like a huge weight had been permanently lifted off my shoulders.
A few weeks later, I returned home from work to find my grandfather crying on my front porch. He told me his closest friend had passed, and he wanted to wear his jacket to the funeral.
“I don’t have it anymore,” I confessed. “I can buy you a new one.”
“No,” he said, his voice trembling. “It has to be the one I gave to you. Where is it? What happened to it?”
I paused, rehearsing what I had no choice but to say in my head. The words rolled off the tongue slowly and painfully. As they did so I noticed my grandfather grow more despondent. He bowed his head until he was staring down at the pavement. Panic once again overwhelmed me.
But it’s just a jacket, I thought. Just a hideous jacket. But the longer I pondered over it, the clearer the truth became. I went over and sat by my grandfather as he wept. He held my hand. My eyes filled with tears. It was at that moment I finally understood.
The jacket managed to survive all these years. Those we loved couldn’t.