So it has come to this: I’m sitting in my bedroom, talking to a coat.
“You’ve been a good coat, Janine,” I tell the red pea coat with silver buttons, which is strewn across my lap. “And I’m going to miss you.”
Janine, unsurprisingly, does not respond. Coats—and other inanimate objects, I’ve found—can be that way. Karen the Lamp never laughs when I flip her on and call her Bright Eyes. Albert the Throw Pillow has absorbed thousands of my tears but never offers a word of comfort. I really need to stop naming things. There are too many expectations when you give lifeless things interior lives.
Janine is different, though—sweet, dear, woolen Janine—has left my room with me, has gone into the world, has lived. I was wearing Janine the first time I saw my eternal crush, Eli Morris, in the school parking lot, his beautiful breath swirling around him in the cold October air. I was wearing Janine when I took my driver’s license test—all three times. I was wearing Janine when I went to New York City for the first time with my grandmother. For the greater part of the past two years, whenever it’s been cold, I’ve been wearing Janine. I still haven’t figured out how to get Eli Morris to wrap himself around me, but I’ve always had Janine to keep me warm. As much as it pains me to say this, I’m pretty sure the one consistent love in my life has been a coat.
So I guess that’s why it took me by surprise when my friend Morgan asked me if I wanted to participate in a back-to-school clothing swap and my mind immediately went to Janine. After two autumns and two winters, I don’t feel the spark anymore. She’s a great coat, and she’ll make someone happy, but she doesn’t really fit me these days (not only because I grew two inches last year—finally—but like, you know, metaphorically, also or whatever.) I somehow feel that Janine will be better off with another owner, and that she’ll have more adventures without me. But I still want to cry as I hold her on my lap and stare at her silver buttons, marked with tiny scratches that you can only notice if you’re really looking at her—if you’re in love and can’t help but pay attention.
I get too attached to everything. I’m probably the only person in the history of Dr. Wilson’s orthodontic practice to ask if I could take the broken bits of metal with me after having my braces removed.
“For what?” he asked, slightly horrified.
“The memories,” I said.
He didn’t let me keep them. “Your straight teeth are a daily reminder of your braces,” he offered, as if that were any consolation. I can’t put a “gorgeous smile” in my jewelry box and reminisce over it every six to eight weeks, depending on my emotional state, which, of late, has been particularly messy. It’s like everything means something BIG, and it’s hard to explain it to people like Dr. Wilson, who only see bits of metal and wire, as opposed to endless memories. My mother actually apologized to the receptionist at Dr. Wilson’s office because I was crying after my braces came off.
“Usually our patients are happy,” the receptionist offered as my mother coaxed me to smile for the Wilson Orthodontics Hall of Fame. I grimaced as the camera went off. I’m not even sure my teeth were showing.
“It’s been an emotional day,” my mother replied.
It’s been “an emotional day” for the last three years. Everything pulls at my heart; everything either hurts or feels so good it’s hard to process. I am a walking Emotional Day. But come on! I had my first kiss wearing those braces! It was a terrible kiss, and it involved Ryan Dorn, and way too much of Ryan Dorn’s tongue, but still! A first kiss is a landmark moment, isn’t it? And my braces were witnesses, all sharp and awful but apparently worth the risk of permanent injury to Ol’ Tongueface Dorn, and something about that is beautiful to me, you know? Dr. Wilson didn’t get it, and my mother didn’t either. To them, my old braces were scrap metal. I don’t understand most adults. Is nothing sacred? Or does it just get easier, as you get older, to give parts of yourself away?
I’m supposed to take Janine to the dry cleaners today, because my mother refuses to let me bring her to the clothing swap until she’s been “properly cleaned and pressed.” Goodbye, all of the work I did breaking her in. Farewell, the lingering notes of at least five different scents. Au revoir, small pizza grease stain on the lapel. You shall be removed forever. Cleaned and pressed, like a dead thing someone forgot between two pieces of paper.
And what if no one picks her up at the clothing swap? What if I go through all of the cleaning and pressing, only to have my memories sucked out of her for naught? A Janine without a pizza-grease stain (obtained October 19, 2014, right before a haunted hayride with my best friend Cat) is not Janine at all. It would be like bringing home an impostor. I’d have to start calling her Fanine, or something. And to see her sitting there, not chosen, a sad unwanted thing that nobody cares for but me?
Even worse: What if someone chooses Janine, but there’s nothing for me to take home in her place? What if everyone else brings the kind of T-shirt that’s a pit-stain away from becoming a rag, or a tiny sweater that I can’t fit into, or, heaven forbid, something paisley, which just looks like a bunch of creepy amoebae swimming around on fabric? Do I have to take something? Is that the rule of clothing swaps? It seems implied by the “swap” part of the deal. What if I lose Janine and end up with an article I hate out of pure social obligation? Or what if someone picks up Janine and says, “Oh good, my dog needs a new bed,” or “Oh great, I can use this to throw on mud puddles so I can gallantly lead my girlfriend over them like people do in cartoons for some weird reason?” What if—and I can hardly bear the thought of it—someone picks her up and says, “These buttons need to go?” I don’t think I can take it.
Although: Morgan did tell me that she’s giving up her royal blue sweater with the embroidered ghost on the front. And I’m pretty sure Ellis is bringing a killer pair of boots that she doesn’t fit into anymore. And if Cat ends up going, I bet she’ll bring the green velvet cape that she found at a thrift store last year but doesn’t wear anymore because she thinks velvet feels “too creepy.” I’m not 100 percent sure of any of this, but I think I could maybe, possibly, pull off a creepy green velvet cape. I try to picture it:
There I am in my green velvet cape, taking a train to Boston. There I am in my green velvet cape, getting into a delightful argument with Eli Morris over the best types of cereal. There I am in my green velvet cape, existing, being someone I’m not sure how to be yet. There I am. Look at me. Who knows what I’ll get up to, in my green velvet cape. “You should see me now, Janine,” as I twirl around and snow falls on my hair, and birds land on my arms, and some lady walks by and says, “That’s a great green velvet cape.”
I look at Janine and whisper: “I think I’ll call her Claudia.”
Janine doesn’t say a thing, but I know she approves. ♦