The jacket is age-worn and soft. Made of thick black leather with padded shoulders and brown piping edging the pockets. At its waist three buckles pull together creating the quintessential eighties silhouette.
I found it hanging in the window of a vintage shop in Brighton, England. Down one of those quaint paved lanes, somewhere off Cranbourne Street, beneath colored flags and flower boxes. I was there to deliver a conference paper at a symposium on contemporary women’s writing, a PhD student eager to make a name for herself and waiting for her life to start. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was free. Any responsibilities I had fallen perfectly in line with what I wanted to do. I had just turned 28.
I’m still tethered to that woman, her dreams and her ambition, although she also frightens me. That I could ever be so single minded, forgoing every other experience for one grand scheme. She was always quite determined, this leather jacket woman – she had a five-year plan and was sticking to it! Admirably confident but also ashamedly opportunistic. This was the woman who couldn’t find time to visit her grandmother, who regularly missed her nieces’ and nephews’ birthday parties, who left and didn’t look back.
She and I are, of course, one and the same, but we are also very different. It’s not a bad thing, just life continuing in its casual way; accepting jobs that pay the bills, buying a house, starting a family.
I’m careful not to measure how things are now against that initial bloom of independence and ambition. Nothing would stand up in comparison. It’s not a question of failure or success. There was a deeper shift that happened a few years into the five-year plan, when things were going well, and items were successfully being ticked off the list. Each time one goal post was reached, another took its place. This is the pattern of the overly ambitious.
I started to doubt whether it would result in 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 I didn’t want the same things anymore. The jacket moved to the back of the wardrobe.
Seven years later, as I stand in front of my wardrobe overwhelmed by the amount of crap I have held onto, I don’t know what to do with this bulky thing that I never wear. When England’s cold seeded into my bones years earlier, the jacket had felt like a practical purchase and emulated the same punk style of the young women I met in Brighton, with their shaved heads and vintage clothes. But here in Australia’s sunshine, it always felt a little silly. A statement from another climate and a different time.
I let it fall heavily on the bed alongside the other clothes I’ve decided to give away because they no longer make the cut: Tight black office dresses; shiny sequinned tops; a bright pair of pants I bought on a whim when I decided I wanted more color in my wardrobe. These are the things I can live without.
Yet, despite its uselessness and how much space it takes up, at the last moment I return the leather jacket to the wardrobe. You could call it sentimental value. An oversized keepsake. But I think it will always represent something else, a part of myself that I’m not quite willing to give up forever – that ambitious, motivated woman – even though it doesn’t fit quite right.