It was adorable. Hung up on the far wall at American Eagle, the little gray coat called to me. So imagine my shock and joy when I discovered that it was just my size. And on sale. Fifteen dollars and the little gray coat was mine, mine, all mine!
This was perhaps my freshman year of college. I think.
What I do know is that, during that year, cropped coats were in, and so was being cold.
I didn't realize just how cold the little gray coat was (I'm just realizing that I had an inadequate little gray coat and little gray car all at the same time, and that both have been retired in the same year, after having also been acquired in the same year--freaky) until my trip to Spain, France, and Italy.
Picture a mountain. No, not the one I almost fell off of, this is a different one. Mount Vesuvius. The one that blew all the ash up into the sky and killed all of Pompeii way back when. Now imagine that the temperature on the top of that mountain, or rather, at the base point from which all hiking tours leave, is well below zero.
Now imagine winds ranging upwards of 50 mph, so high that they had to ban people from going on hiking tours, because huge boulders were falling from the mountain and onto the roads and trails. This could have killed us, but it ended up just adding two hours to our trip due to the closed roads.
Perhaps a visual aid will help.
I had my friend Tabby take this picture, because I thought my dad would like to see how high up on a mountain I was, since he has a mountain obsession. But--doesn't it look like that hand is reaching out to grope my nonexistent breast? As if they could find it, under the coat?
I must add, by the way, that the hat I am wearing in this picture was graciously donated by my friend Jaren, who had brought two with her. This was good because I had brought no hat, and I needed one. Europe is cold during the winter. I also must add that the scarf I am wearing in that picture was abducted and then lost by an as-yet-unidentified member of my family. I loved that scarf. 'Fess up, family.
Tabby and I thought the random arm looked like it was going for my breast. It kind of looks a bit strange in there, even if it wasn't reaching for something anatomical, so we decided to retake the picture.
The sad thing was, Tabby failed to tell me she was about to press the button, preserving for all time my place on Vesuvius. But I am glad she didn't tell me. If she hadn't, I would have no way of showing you all how cold that mountain really was.
You can't fake that level of cold. The second she took the picture, Tabby and I ran for the bus as fast as we could, jumped on board, and shivered for a good fifteen minutes, at which point I ventured out and found a lava rock because the guy at the station told us it was okay.
When I came home, the cold hung deep in my bones for two whole weeks.
The following year, I was shivering nonstop. One day, I borrowed Mom's coat, only to discover it was at least twice as warm as mine was. Then she tried on mine, ushered me to the car, drove to Kohl's, and forced me into a Columbia jacket. I also got a lovely green coat from the Gap for Christmas. Apparently, Mom thought the gray coat was lacking in a serious way.
But this did not replace the gray coat in any small way.
You see, both new coats were very warm. Warm enough that I couldn't throw them on when the temperature was above freezing without baking inside them, reaching a level of extreme misery, and carrying them for the remainder of the day.
Several years passed, during which I used the gray coat for part of the winter before phasing in the warm ones. I considered dumping the little gray coat, but I couldn't get rid of it without replacing it, and there was nothing else to take its spot.
Last year I noticed that the once-tiny hole in the lining had become much larger, possibly due to that time I got my thumb stuck in it and did a little dance around Grandpa's kitchen as I heaved my arm up and down like a bird's wing, trying to free my hand, until Mom grabbed me and eased the jacket off. Now when I put my arm in the coat, it got stuck between the lining and the woolly part, trapping my arm completely. I called it a "dead end" and once left a job interview trapped like that because I didn't want my interviewer to see me turning in endless circles in a vain effort to escape.
Hey--that was the interview for this job! I must have pulled off my calm, collected in-car jacket removal.
After the terror of being trapped in my coat, before witnesses, I decided something had to give.
So when I went home, I took a handful of the lining and just yanked at it. It tore easily. I ripped the whole lining out this way, without even the need for a seam ripper. It was like tearing paper. That easy. And as I did it, little plumes of dust--the disintegrated lining--filled the air and made Mom and I sneeze. Me because I was pulling it out and Mom because she was trying to stop me.
I looked for a replacement coat last year. I didn't find one.
I sent Mom out early this fall on a hunt for a new coat for me. She tried on dozens, because she knows if a coat is big on her shoulders but fits her in the body, the shoulders will fit me. Also, if it is a shade too long for her--it will be the right size for me.
She didn't have any luck, but she did find a new coat for her. Because she wasn't looking, you know.
I met Mom and Auntie Jean at the mall up in Lake County on Saturday. While there, I looked at the Borders where my aunt works, then we went to the Gap to make the trip worthwhile. As I walked inside, I saw it. The perfect replacement for the little gray coat.
It's a perfect red, double-breasted with big pockets to store mittens in, lining that actually lines, lovely little buttons, and it fits me! And it was 50% off! During a two-day only sale which I happened to walk in on during the first day! See? Half off!
I got a matching scarf with it, and I am so happy, I can't begin to tell you. No longer will I shiver like a refugee on the side of a mountain in Italy. Now I will shiver like a refugee before slipping on my toasty red coat (red makes you think hot, which makes you warm, in my twisted psychological reading of the situation), before hopping into my new car with its working heater and remote starter for those extra chilly days.
Goodbye, little gray coat.