The Jacket I Don’t Wear Anymore

I do my own laundry and I cook for myself and instead of spending my Friday nights at football games and diners, I go out drinking with people who talk about things like communism and wine. I’m still growing up, and still chasing a sense of belonging, just as everyone else is.

n every high school movie ever, you can always spot the “cool kids” by the varsity jackets they wore. Like Native American chiefs wearing bearskin or superheroes wearing capes, there is an air of power associated with teenagers wearing varsity jackets — a globally understood indicator of authority and all the social benefits that come with it. When I was sixteen, standing in front of a mirror in Blinds To Go (the store that sold two things: blinds and varsity jackets), I didn’t feel any sense of authority at all as I wriggled my arms into the oversized leather sleeves. Even with the word “captain” embroidered on the sleeve, a position I had beat out seven older girls for (one of whom had punched a locker when the announcement was made), I still felt like the clumsy stick figure I had always been, nothing near the cinematic high school royalty seen in John Hughes movies. But that was the jacket I wore back then, and as I grew into the jacket, I didn’t know it at the time but I was also growing into my skin.

Being part of the color guard, football games were a prominent part of my high school experience. The jacket was my blanket when I would drift to sleep on one of the yellow buses coming back from away games. The tent-like sleeves hid my goosebumps on one particular bus ride—the first time a boy put his arm around me—marking the beginning of the year I would fall in love for the first time.

When I came home from college for winter break and I tried on the jacket for the first time in years, I noticed that the cuffs of the white sleeves had black marks on them. They were from mascara, when I would use the jacket sleeve to wipe my eyes on harder days. The year I got the jacket was the hardest year of my life, the year my mother got cancer. I was forced to grow up a little faster, but I had good friends to remind me I was still a kid. Especially on Friday nights after football games, sitting in the local diner devouring fries and milkshakes with my varsity jacket draped around my shoulders, I finally started to feel the sense of belonging I was supposed to feel as a letterman, a belonging to the American teenage dream everyone talks about.

At band competitions I would lend my varsity jacket to the freshmen when I would have to go out for awards, and I always made sure to bring extra hand warmers for my team. It was during these times that I felt important, looked up to. Almost like I was a grown up.

But I was only sixteen. At sixteen, my future was just some empty space just a little out of reach, a space I could tinsel up with plans and daydreams any time I pleased. Now I’m twenty, living inside that space I used to wonder about. I wear a different jacket now. I don’t get goosebumps when someone puts their arm around me anymore. I do my own laundry and I cook for myself and instead of spending my Friday nights at football games and diners, I go out drinking with people who talk about things like communism and wine. I’m still growing up, and still chasing a sense of belonging, just as everyone else is. I think the difference is that now I’m at the age where it doesn’t come from a jacket.

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Kate Brennan

Journalist, Newhouse grad, subpar snowboarder, rock climber, caffeine addict & 80s horror movie fanatic.