by Cat Green
Something foreign is possessing my body. I try to sedate it, but it is hungry. At the Goodwill in Cambridge on a Thursday after work, I picked my way through the long winter coats like they were carrion. Wool and fake wool, waxed cotton and fake waxed cotton. Things meant to protect.
I didn’t feel protected. I found a navy and cream houndstooth coat, too big for me but it made me feel like a dame, so I bought it. I wore it out of the store and down the street even though it was only October.
At home the coat hung in my closet untouched for a month. Its neighbors were knitted scarves, old slacks I never wear now, floor-length dresses I haven’t tried on yet, three white button-down shirts for work, a handful of blazers, and three other coats from the same Goodwill. These coats swallowed me whole in another life. I wasn’t sure yet whether the new one would do the same.
While there is more to who I am than the clothes I wear, I’ve become obsessed with what I put on my body and what it says about me. A month after buying it, I wore the houndstooth coat out for the first time. I hung it up in the locker room at work and my manager told me it was chic. She didn’t notice the fraying hem or the mismatched buttons. All that day as I made coffee wearing my mandated white button down and tie, I imagined myself as the heroine of a silent movie.
I tried to resew the hem, but no one ever taught me to sew, and it ended up looking worse than before. I picked out the stitches and redid them three times, but each time the hem bubbled and warped. At a party in December, a friend admired the coat. “Can I do the hem for you?” they asked. I didn’t want to let them have it long enough to fix it.
Boston January brought with it five-degree days and my houndstooth coat was meager protection. Its functionality didn’t match its aesthetic utility in marking me as a femme fatale. I wore it anyway because the latter was more important to me. At Trader Joe’s a cashier rung up my frozen pesto ravioli and when I left, he said, “Have a good day, ma’am.” All the way home, I prayed to the coat, thanking it, asking it to intercede for me.
We collect symbols and consume symbols and sometimes are consumed by symbols. That coat swallowed me every time I wore it and spat me out like a piece of gristle when I took it off. Like I was not something it could digest.
Cat Green is a Boston-based writer, living in intentional community and working for a large university. They write about history, memory, gender, and religion. Cat maintains a newsletter on agnostic spirituality at ImaginaryNovelist.substack.com, and they tweet @CatMaxineGreen.