It’s sort of amazing how much an article of clothing can impact your sense of identity. Yesterday after what feels like about fifty years, I decided to pull out my high school jacket and actually wear it out in public.
First of all, I am half-surprised that I even still own it. Let’s face it: high school was not one of the happiest times in my life. In addition to going through the usual puberty issues and the bullshit that is high school cliques, I was still sorting through the fact that my dad had just died a few years back, which all came together in the form of a suicidal 14-year-old who used severe hyperactivity as a defense mechanism. If only I’d discovered tequila sooner; things might have been very different for me in college.
But I digress.
I begged my mom to buy me this school jacket, mostly because everyone else had one. High school was the time when I still thought it was cool to be like everyone else. I had a lot to learn. She resisted for three years, but finally got sick of my begging and relented in my senior year. That was the same year I earned my varsity letter – in drama – and I was so excited to put that on my jacket, too. Forget the fact that I also hated drama club but could not bring myself to walk away. That, again, is another story for another day.
After that first year when I wore the jacket every single day and even to bed sometimes, it went to the back of my closet and never came out again. Once I graduated high school, I was done. Forever. Or so I vowed.
Yesterday I realized I really always loved that jacket. And for some reason I thought it was just plain wrong to wear your high school jacket if you weren’t in high school, or, like me, you hated everything high school represented in your life. But I slipped it on anyway and I haven’t taken it off since.
I will admit that it’s weird. Slipping on that jacket is like slipping on an old skin, an old identity. I walk down the street wondering if anyone will recognize me. I think about the kids in high school that I hated and actually hear their taunting voices in my head while I head to the office. I remember the late nights I spent at school rehearsing plays, and all the horrible things I used to think about myself. I wonder if anyone thinks I’m as much of a poser as I feel.
Wearing that jacket doesn’t make me feel young again. It makes me feel old. And it’s not really that it’s a bad thing that I feel old, because with age comes wisdom. But it’s like I put on some other persona that isn’t quite me any more, and yet isn’t quite what I was back then, either. It’s an odd embrace of the past in the present, and the taste is something I haven’t quite got used to but am curious enough about to keep my tongue roving around, trying to learn more about this new flavor in my life.