I picture her. The woman who owned this jacket before me. I imagine her. Seventy-five, frail. Cold all the time, in summer, in spring. She bought this jacket because it warmed her. Her bed was empty then. Her bed is empty now. A glass of bourbon adorned her nightstand. Her life was a quest, just a quest to be warm, just a quest to be comfortable and safe and held and be something more than just a cold, old woman. But the jacket couldn’t warm her forever, and neither could the bourbon, and neither could the cigarettes which fossilized their smell into the fur lining of this jacket.
I picture her. This necklace around my neck, around her neck once, too. It was never worth much, but it always meant the world. It was the first piece of jewelry that she ever bought for herself. She was tired of waiting, waiting, just waiting to be appreciated by someone else. She was tired of only dressing up in the worth that others gave her. It was cheap. But it was beauty in its power. It was cheap, and it started to get that old jewelry smell—the smell that coins leave on my hands when customers tip me in quarters, a smell that says I’m not worth much, but at least I’m worth something. It was cheap, and she didn’t need it any longer because she could buy herself more.
I picture him. It’s not something I want to picture. The anger and the accidents that left their finger prints in the chips on the edges of the frame have left their fingerprints on me.
I picture her. I picture all the things this little box has held. Her first rings when she was seven. Her love notes written on sticky notes when she was thirteen. Her first condoms; her first drugs. Her lighter and her wallet. A little lockbox in her backpack; all her vices were a secret. Some secrets were never made to last. Until she trusted the wrong boy, until she trusted too much, until she cared too little, until her parents stopped asking, until she stopped talking, until she trusted the wrong boy, until she didn’t come home one night, until her parents started to ask questions again, until her parents got answers and got angry, until she threw everything she owned in a box to the left but left the box at home, until she trusted the wrong boy. I don’t know where she is now, but I hope she’s fine. I hope she’s happy, and I hope she doesn’t need little lockboxes for her secrets.
I picture her, throwing the straightener in a garbage bag. How many times did she hear that she’d be “so pretty with her hair straight?” How many times did she hear ‘nappy’ before she decided that her curled hair sings of beauty?
I picture them. I sit on their couch. I can see the night she sat there crying, and he sat there yelling, and something about a football game, but something so much more. He stood up, still yelling, something about the wine on the cushion. She, still crying, something about the wine, something about the time, something about Jessica, something about her pride, something about his dad, and something about the wine. He sat there, explaining. She sat there, yelling. He, crying. She, laughing. He, standing. She pointing, he leaving, she laughing. She crying, she drinking, something about the wine.
I picture her. She’s making the friendship bracelet during the summer camp of ’99. Hannah and Emma 4ever. Forever’s not as long as it used to be.
I picture him. Thoughtful, kind, but disappointed in those he threw his affections on. He bought this jacket for a friend on their 18th birthday. But, the friend aged so quickly in that day. Do you feel older? Yes, yes his friend did. Being 18 is so old, so busy, no longer have the time to hang out. He kept trying to reschedule.
I picture her. I picture her walking through the store trying to find a jacket, not warm enough to fight the cold, but long enough to cover her arms in August. I picture her crying. She wore a tank top again. I picture her smiling then, too.
I picture them in their apartment. It’s his first time out of his parent’s house. And it’s his first time in three years having a place of his own, not couch surfing, not shelter hopping, not van living, not buying memberships to twenty-four hour gyms and staying warm there for the night. They had nothing when they fell in love, and they had nothing when they moved in. He found this at a garage sale. A painting of a landscape. It was no masterpiece, but it was a piece in their master bedroom. It was the only art they had in their life, only that and each other.
I picture her. She never knew what side of the store to shop in, so she found a sweater that looked like both. It served her for a while. It let her hide, and it let her smile. Eventually, she decided that there was a side she liked to shop in. She found a part of herself that she never wanted to hide in a two-size too big sweater.
I picture them. Secondhand classics. Secondhand love stories. Discount romance and thrift store heroes. I guess I’m secondhand, too.
I picture us in the reflection of the glassware. I picture us setting the table on Thanksgiving, so proud to finally have enough glasses, to finally have enough family…I picture us (oh, to have a home, to have a home); I picture us (oh, to be an us, to be an us).
I picture them dancing in their room in the summer of ’84. Mom ain’t home, and dad never was; daughter left, and mom never knew. Oh her Shari! Oh, her sherry. But they were still dancing in their room, the new record on that old record player, to that something meets boy, something meets girl, and they love each other so. “Oh Shari,” when mom came home. Oh Shari, mom never cared. Oh sherry, mom loved you still.
I picture them in their photo frame, with the photo still in place. Two stock smiles and two stock dreams to be something more than two stock models at the photo frame section of the local thrift store.
I picture him. Everything he did, he did for the art. Nine shot glasses from nine different states—he wasn’t an alcoholic (of that we swear). It’s not addiction; it’s aesthetic. He wasn’t alone, not drinking at a bar alone, not drinking in his bed alone…he was performing. His life a statement, on what, I don’t know; I’m not sure he knew either.
I picture it in the figurine cabinet at some grandma’s house in the middle of suburbia. One among many, little porcelain boy, but she said he was special when he stayed in his place, smiling, quiet, always still, never touched, never touched, always locked up in that cabinet, glass closet, never touched, never touched. A flicker of rebellion in his fake smile gaze; a flicker of porcelain in his rebellious phase. Sometimes the price of freedom is to sell yourself.
I picture hir, only five at the time. The doll was hir sister’s, but xe loved them too. Barbie looked so good in GI Joe’s army helmet and Ken’s flannel jacket. Xe was afraid to show hir mom (what if she only loved him, but never liked hir). Hir mom smiled, eased hir fears, “you have a future in doll fashion, lemme tell you.” She laughed at her own joke, but the joke became a memory, and xe remembered it as love.
I picture her. It was a statement hat; it was an identity hat. She wasn’t a girl. She was “the girl in the hat,” and she liked the ring of that, to stand out, to be out, to be noticed, to be known. She liked being the girl in the hat who could disappear at whim—remove the hat, remove herself. Dissociate temporarily when reality got too pressing. Dissociate permanently when…her secret is safe with me.
I picture her, Marilyn in that vintage frame. I picture her sitting in the room of a child, adorning the wall and the adorning the child’s mind with thoughts of grandeur. “I can be Marilyn,” the child said; I said that, too, my child. I still believe it, too, my child. But I send my prayers to you, my child. You are the fire of a thousand suns, but you long to be the moon.
I picture something in an all too familiar blur. Drunk men tell no tales, but darkness is still present when the memories are blacked out. Donated shot glasses rarely have good pasts.
I picture him. A beady necklace with a dolphin pendant; I picture his hands rubbing against the figurine in moments of anxiety. To this day he’s not sure if it was just some nervous ticking time-bomb or a prayer to the unknown, like an irreligious rosary. He grabbed the dolphin during his class presentation in Geography, and when his mom sat him down on that motel style floral chair that fateful night, and when he sent his application to college on Tuesday the fifth. He grabbed it when he first fell in love, or in lust, or in crush, with a straight boy. He grabbed it as he typed that message, with a glass of wine by his side; this wine was his blood, and he just wanted that body to be next to him. He grabbed it as he knelt on that linoleum floor in a porcelain confession. Who did he hail? He, the Virgin Mary, in his own right.
I picture him. Christmas lights around the edges of his room. An Instagram perfect romantic ambience makes his head seem more Disney and his bed seem less lonely. Dress your room for the love you wish you had. Writing an ode to Grindr in the candlelight, rose petals on the desk and vanilla in the air. It didn’t work for him then; it hasn’t worked for him yet. He stripped off his lights, and he stopped believing in fairytales. I hope he’s doing fine. I love him, you know.