JThe jacket is age-worn and soft. Made of thick black leather with shoulder pads and brown piping around the pockets. At her waist, three buckles come together to create the quintessential 80s silhouette.
I found it hanging in the window of a vintage store in Brighton, England. In one of those quaint cobbled lanes, somewhere off Cranbourne Street, under colorful flags and flower boxes. I was there to give a talk at a symposium on contemporary women’s writing, a doctoral student eager to make a name for herself and waiting for her life to begin. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was free. All the responsibilities I had corresponded perfectly to what I wanted to do. I had just turned 28.
I am still attached to this woman, her dreams and her ambition, although she also scares me. That I could ever be so simple-minded, giving up all other experience for one big project. She’s always been pretty determined, that woman in the leather jacket, she had a five-year plan and she stuck to it! Admirably confident but also shamefully opportunistic. She was the woman who couldn’t find time to visit her grandmother, who regularly missed her nieces’ and nephews’ birthdays, who left without looking back.
She and I are, of course, one and the same person, but we are also very different. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just that life goes on in its laid-back way; take jobs that pay the bills, buy a house, start a family.
I’m careful not to gauge how things are now against that initial blossoming of independence and ambition. Nothing would stand up to comparison. It is not a question of failure or success. There was a deeper change that happened a few years into the five-year plan, when things were going well and items were successfully ticking off the list. Each time a goal post was hit, another took its place. This is the model of the over-ambitious.
I began to doubt that would translate into any real success other than an unwavering ability to sacrifice everything else along the way. My determination wavered. Why was I doing this again? I realized that I no longer wanted the same things. The jacket has moved to the back of the wardrobe.
Seven years later, as I stand before my wardrobe overwhelmed with the amount of crap I’ve been holding back, I don’t know what to do with this bulky thing I never wear. When the cold of England seeped into my bones years earlier, the jacket had seemed like a practical purchase and mimicked the same punk style of the young women I encountered in Brighton, with their shaved heads and vintage clothes. But here, in the Aussie sun, it was always kind of silly. A statement of another climate and another time.
I dropped it heavily on the bed next to the other clothes I’ve decided to donate because they don’t cut the cut anymore: tight black office dresses; shiny sequin tops; brightly colored pants that I bought on a whim when I decided I wanted more color in my wardrobe. These are the things I can live without.
However, despite its uselessness and the space it occupies, at the last moment I put the leather jacket back in the wardrobe. We could talk about sentimental value. An oversized memory. But I think it will always represent something else, a part of me that I’m not quite willing to give up forever – this ambitious, driven woman – even if it doesn’t quite fit.