After reading the book Worn Stories, edited by Emily Spivack, I thought about what stories could be found in my own wardrobe. Since most of my clothes are from resale and thrift stores, many of them have stories that precede my purchase. But one item always brings back a story when I see it hanging in my closet – my black leather motorcycle jacket.
I love motorcycle jackets, even though my only experience on an actual motorcycle was a couple of rides on an ex-boyfriend’s Kawasaki over twenty years ago. Over the years, I have bought, sold and traded many a jacket. But I will keep this one forever, because of what we went through together.
On December 18, 2011, I was evicted from my apartment of ten years in Sacramento when my unemployment benefits ran out and I couldn’t get a job in my social service field because I didn’t have a car. My best friend, who was staying with me, and I went to stay with friends in Berkeley, which turned out not to be a wise decision. In the two weeks that we stayed there, we left the house every morning and wandered the streets of Berkeley until dusk. I had brought with me the few accessories of value that I had left and each day I sold one or two items to provide us with a hot meal. Every day brought another loss.
But in spite of everything, I craved something new. It was almost Christmas and my birthday was less than a week later. Even though I no longer had an address, I wanted a present. We spent a lot of time on Telegraph Avenue. Even though the university was on winter break, the street was filled with shoppers and vendors. One day, we passed a vintage clothing store called Mars Vintage. We went inside and looked through the racks. I found a woman’s black leather motorcycle jacket with a removable quilted lining. It had elastic around the waist, braiding on the front and back, and a row of studs on the back. Even though it was a heavy jacket, it fit perfectly. I looked at the tag – $50. I didn’t have $50, but I wanted that jacket. I didn’t want to take it off, but I did and I vowed to come back for it as soon as possible.
When we got back to the house, I put the last of my accessories and my vintage velvet coat in a bag. The next day, we walked the two miles back to downtown Berkeley. I sold everything except the coat at a store downtown, but I still didn’t have $50. Maybe I could trade the coat for the jacket. I had bought it from a friend years earlier, but I no longer had a lifestyle that incorporated occasions to wear a velvet coat. With hope in my heart, we trudged up the hill to Telegraph Avenue.
As soon as we entered, I checked to make sure that the jacket was still there. I went to the counter and asked the manager if I could make a trade, but she said that they did not do trades. I was ready to cry – it was no longer about the motorcycle jacket – it was about my life, about all I had lost, and the uncertainty of the future.
“How much money do you have on you?” The manager must have discerned the look of defeat on my face.
I took out my wallet and counted the bills. “I have $41.”
She smiled. “Well, since it is December 23, almost Christmas, I’ll sell it to you for $41.” She folded the coat and put it in a big green plastic bag.
“Thank you!” I started to cry. She handed me the heavy bag. As I walked out of the store, I felt that somehow, someway, everything would be all right.
Less than two weeks later, I was homeless on the streets of Los Angeles. Each evening, I waited at Venice Beach for the bus to the Emergency Winter Shelter. Once the winter sun set, the beach turned cold, with the surf making it seem even colder. The thin Steelers jacket that I wore wasn’t enough to combat the January temperatures. But my new motorcycle jacket was perfect. When it was fully zipped up, nothing could get through. It was my armor, protecting me as I navigated the chilly climate – both the temperature and the hostile reception of the people in Santa Monica and Venice. At night, I wrapped my backpack in the jacket and used it as a pillow as I slept on a dirty cot under a scratchy blanket of recycled materials.
I wore the jacket almost every day for several months. It was my constant companion when my best friend left after a month and returned to Pennsylvania. In the spring, when I returned to Sacramento, I discovered that one of my friends was not speaking to me. She castigated me for frivolously spending $41 on a leather jacket when I didn’t even have a secure roof over my head. But I loved my jacket. It was a part of me. It was like me – strong and durable, able to withstand whatever obstacles life put in its way. But it was also soft, stylish and “UNIK” (the brand name). I was unique too. It was a symbol of hope – that even in the darkest circumstances, a ray of light can still shine. I didn’t expect her to understand, so I never tried to explain. But we renewed our friendship and I put my jacket in the back of the closet in the room where I was staying.
It has been almost three years since I bought my jacket. A lot of things have happened since then, but when I look at the jacket, I feel the same sense of euphoria that I felt when I got it. “Don’t worry – you’ll make it,” it seems to say, “I’ve got your back.”