End of school, junior year. My son Jake has emptied out his locker and dumped a huge plastic bag full of detritus on the sofa — the complete set of Twilight novels, his yearbook, damp t-shirts, socks, mouthguards, his midterm report card (better I didn’t see that), his prom photos, sneakers, cleats, a raft of hall passes from mornings he was late. One item is conspicuously absent.
“Where’s your letter jacket?” I ask as he sits at his computer, immersed in World of Warcraft.
“Your letter jacket. Where is it?”
There’s a moment’s pause while he multi-tasks and mulls whether the question merits a response. “It’s in the closet,” he says finally. Another pause. Then, with increased intensity as he realizes what I’ve asked: “Isn’t it?”
There are fairy tales about those who become too enamored of certain possessions: Snow White’s stepmother and her magic mirror, King Midas and his gold. In our household, it’s Jake’s letter jacket, a wool-and-pleather totem with his varsity football letter stitched to the left front and his number and position on the sleeves. Part of its importance can be traced to the fact that the jacket cost a freaking fortune, much more than anything else in Jake’s wardrobe, which mostly consists of Nike basketball shorts and Under Armour shirts bought in outlets. In fact, when Jake brought home a flier about the jackets, he suggested we not get him one.
“It’s so much money,” he admitted. That was last September, the fall of his junior year. He’d spent his sophomore football season playing JV, and how much of a role he’d now have on the varsity team was still an open question.
“It could be your birthday present,” I suggested, and saw him weigh this in his mind: What will I have to give up? (Answer: cash, and the computer games he could buy with it.)
What he couldn’t add into his calculations was what he couldn’t know: how important that letter jacket was to me.
“I think you should get one,” I told him. “I’ll pay for it.” And I did — $215, plus an extra $20 for the size 5XL. I wanted it to fit him for as long as he lives.
The day he brought it home, I hung it in the kitchen closet — and visited it, secretly, whenever I went into the room. When I visited, I’d pet it. I thought it was the most beautiful, most splendid piece of clothing I’d ever seen.