love, Love + Dating, personal
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Episode 5: Like an oldtime military overcoat

Our first date lasted two days. The 2nd one, four. The 3rd was five nights long, and so was the 4th, from which I’ve just returned. Mmmmmmmm. They kinda have to go for a long time, when we live so far apart…

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Nothing about this courtship and romance has been ‘as usual’. We began emailing Oct 4th, and didn’t actually meet in the flesh for 78 days. 11 weeks. That’s a looooonnnnnnggggggg time, especially in this age of instant gratification, with extreme technological resources. So how many times did we Skype/Facetime/Whats App video before our first date?

None. Zero. Nil.

Why? Because one of us really didn’t want to, despite occasional hints or suggestions from the other interested party, or the incredulity of workmates and friends. Let me give you a clue: it wasn’t me.

I’m usually pretty forward in my romances; a combination of genuine Feminist confidence (I want to be FREE to do whatever I want, whenever I want), plus bravado to cover up my ubiquitous Crabby cautiousness or nerves. But this Melbourne Luddite Snail had me slowing down, chilling out, and most importantly, using my written words to build connection.

Internet dating and blogging are kind of similar: you take a risk getting yourself online. You take a risk framing your profile or blog in terms of what you’re looking for, hoping that someone/other bloggers will find you and want the same thing. From my experience, it’s pretty easy to keep it light; messaging with multiple people helps to support that lack of commitment, or blogging about easy, fun topics, like a diary of growing back your eyebrows (I kid you not).

It’s like eating fat-free dessert every night.

But that’s not who I am. I can be light and funny, but those who know me well can attest (I hope!?) to greater depths. Successful blogging or writing is about finding your true voice, just as a successful relationship requires revelations about vulnerability, weakness, fears and failures. The distance between my new love and I has required us to dig deeper, share more personally, and make more effort than usual to create trustworthy intimacy. It’s amazing. Neither of us can believe it. It’s flowed mostly with an ease that’s a sweet sigh of relief, but it’s also been demanding. Barriers have to be smashed or dissolved, which damn well hurts. It goes against the very nature of our survival instincts to expose our precious underbellies in connecting with someone, yet that’s precisely what we must do. After our 2nd date in late Jan, I came home to write a version of this short story for ‘H’- perhaps you can relate?

“The military jacket

I can’t really remember when I found it, but must have been quite young. I’d been exploring the house: poking under beds, opening dresser drawers, sliding down the bannister, and peeking behind shut doors. It was hanging in Mum & Dad’sbedroom cupboard upstairs. I wish now that I hadn’t found it of course. But there you go.

I remember it was attractive, as though calling to me from its wooden hanger. It draped beside theirs, and my brother’s as well. How did I know which one was mine? They were all clearly too big for me. But something about the woollen fabric made me want to touch it, and before I knew it, I’d tugged it down onto the floor in front of me.

It was heavy! Solid, strong, and thick, ready for battles. Tender though I was, I knew this coat would protect me, and give me something I needed. As I picked up one sleeve, I smiled at the pretty peacock’s feather of colours which lined it in silk. Stroked the hard line of the shoulder pad, jutting out to keep a soft collarbone safe. The buttons too were rich and heavy, cold to the touch; hand-cast silver, each one a little different, but perfectly matched to their opposite leather-lined button holes, so that once they were in, they could never come undone by accident.

I must have strained to lift the whole jacket, and put it on. I knew it was too big, but also that I would grow into it eventually… I felt like a soldier getting ready for war, trying on my new uniform for the first time; looking at a familiar yet now unfamiliar outline in the bedroom mirror…

Do you remember finding old jackets in op shops? Trying on dated suits just for laughs? Sometimes you can smell their previous owner: stale sweat soaked into armpits. Or perhaps the protective stink of mothballs? The faded wisp of a glamorous perfume if you’re lucky, and once I found a long blue jumper still hugging the scent of apples, cinnamon, and shortcrust pastry.

My jacket’s smell changed over the years. At first it was almost neutral; just clean wool, fresh silk, and the faint tinge of leather with metal. Becoming a teenager gave it new odours: the beginning of a musky funk, plus soap and deodorant to counteract it. Massive arguments with Mum brought a salty tang from all my tears, and the heat of rage warmed the wool so that I could bury myself in it at night to sleep, curled in my single bed listening to pirate radio stations playing punk music, instead of doing homework.

It fit me better as I grew, and wasn’t nearly as heavy either. In fact, as I moved into my anxious restless twenties, it became a reassuring weight along my slim bones. I used to like leaning into it against the bus window in Sydney, ignoring fellow commuters, or on the holiday train to Byron and Cairns; no matter what friends or lovers came and went beside me as I travelled, I always had my long coat to fold around me.

I never took it off. I undid the top three buttons a few times, and of course having my baby ripped a big hole in one of the seams near the front, but I stitched that up fast with rough brown string, and carried on. The deep pockets are so useful for carrying stuff, like wet handkerchiefs, unfinished love letters, lost toys or dreams, and a thousand unreturned whispers of caring. You can shove those things right down in there, jammed up hard and cold against the thick wool, pat down the flap of the pocket like a lid, and just carry on. The broad shoulders steer you firm through crowds who may sway your path; then their knocks or caresses go unfelt. The jacket just keeps you safe, and completely certain of the battle plan: march ahead, chest up, shoulders back, arms straight.

Till one day, I felt a bit itchy. You know when you try on a great sweater, but as soon as it touches your bare skin you want to rip it off? I began to notice my coat felt like that sometimes. Just a tiny sense of wanting to wriggle an arm out, or open a few more buttons and let the fresh air in… Except that after all these years, many of the wool fibres have rubbed off the inner sleeves where the silk is threadbare or torn. They’ve attached to the skin of my arms; twisted their way down into my pores, and snaked along muscles and veins. Some of the sweat, salt, blood and hair of my legs has woven itself into the flaps of the coat skirt.

Am I wearing the jacket, or is it wearing me?

And now, I really want to take it off. I’m so tired of it. It’s been pounded into me, like a cloth being smashed on a rock down by the river to wash it. Or rather, I’ve pounded it into myself, and myself into it. I can see Mum still wearing hers, and my brother strapped in tight as well. Dad was unbuttoning his own by the end, but the effort was mighty. I know the weight of mine is lesser, and sometimes when I’m dancing it feels like it’s only silk… But I want it to slide off my naked skin like cool water… for it not to rip me as the fibres untwine from inside my very flesh.

I don’t know if I can do it. How much will it hurt?

What I do know is that I can’t keep wearing it. I’m scratching all over, and the collar chafes my neck bloody raw. Where I used to find comfort, now I find prison. Where there was softness, now there’s restriction, even pain. The peacock colours are deadly dull, and there’s a foul wet smell to the dense wool.

Take it off. Take it off me. Get it off. Get it off me.

It weighs a fucking ton.

Please help me get it off.”

*sigh

Were you ever wearing such a thick coat, and most importantly, what helped you remove it?

7 Comments

  1. Pingback: Cracking shells | bone&silver

  2. Pingback: Episode 7: Press ‘Pause’ | bone&silver

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