Originally published May 22, 2014
If you live in Chicago, or anywhere in the upper half of North America, you probably have your own story about how miserable you were this winter. This is mine. It’s a story about a coat.
As I write this, we sit on the cusp of Memorial Day weekend, the official kick-off to summer. The temperature is hovering between the 50s and 60s, and the sun disappeared behind a haze of clouds around mid-day. As winter continues to refuse to release us from its icy, uncaring grip, we get less greedy about our dreams of summer. Thoughts long, lazy days filled with picnics and boat rides and romps in the park are starting to fade. At this point, it would be nice to just have two days in a row of warm temperatures and clear skies.
Over the course of the decade that I lived in New Orleans, I owned “winter coats.” In retrospect, I realize that they were mostly for show, so that we could round out our wardrobes, and don them on the few occasions that the temperatures dropped into the 40s or below. We would shiver delicately and announce to each other, “OMG! I’m fr-fr-fr-freeeezing!!!” When the decision was made to move to Chicago, I heard over and over again, “Chicago!! Great city. Cold, though!!” This started to sound like the geographic equivalent of, “Your girlfriend’s got a greeeeeeeat personality!”
I understood this called for an upgrade to my winter attire. I purchased a new coat for our first winter here three years ago. It served me well then, and even last year, when I made the colossal error of adopting a three-month old puppy in January 2013. My coat and I spent long hours on sidewalks, trying to coax young Clementine into peeing anywhere other than on the carpet. And while that was rough, we were fine. It was all okay.
This year was different. Phrases like “Polar Vortex” and “Arctic Blast,” which sound like marketing terms for Gatorade flavors, suddenly entered our vernacular. The temperatures dropped below zero so far and so often that it seemed like a relief when they hit the downright balmy single digits. Winter came early, came hard, and stayed FOREVER.
The consequences of this were broad and far-reaching. On a personal scale, I developed a hot tea habit so intense, it eventually stained my teeth to an unsightly shade of taupe. I now spend as much money on over-the-counter whitening strips as I do on food.
On a larger scale, it is an interesting---and not altogether terrible---thing to experience being part of a region-wide bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Many things can divide us as a people, but nothing unites quite like collective misery.
It’s worth mentioning that, as a yoga teacher, I don’t have one commute each day. I have several. I go back and forth, from studio to private client, from bus stop to L platform, all day long, often starting at 6am and sometimes ending at 9pm. Oh, and I still have that dog, and she still needs to go out to pee 4,000 times a day.
This is all to say that, this year, my winter coat and I got close. REALLY close. And as anyone can tell you, our closest relationships are often the most complex. Reaching into the pockets for my keys would produce spent tissues, receipts, tickets, notes, loose change, earbuds, and gum wrappers: a piecemeal journal of hours spent en route. My winter coat transcended its simple status as seasonal garb and became my vehicle, my office, my desk. And at its most basic level, it was a protective barrier. It covered me, warmed me, supported me, kept me safe and healthy. It had my back. Literally.
Any relationship can take a turn for the toxic. At a certain point, I began to resent my winter coat. I didn’t WANT to be protected anymore. I wanted to be exposed, vulnerable, open to the elements. I wanted my skin to feel air and light again. My winter coat was starting to feel like a strait jacket.
I joked with my friends about hosting a ritual burning of all of our winter apparel at the end of the season. But the end of the season never seemed to arrive.
Even the coat was tested by this winter. The zipper was starting to separate, and the pockets were shredding (doubtless due to me thrusting my hands deeply into them with great vigor.) I knew that, ritual burning or no, this winter would be my coat’s last.
By late April, it was clear we weren’t out of the woods, but we were starting to flirt with the possibility of springtime. As excited as I had been to end my relationship with my coat, I started to have doubts. We had been through so much together. We had become so attached. And anyway, what was I going to do without pockets?? Where was I supposed to put my keys and my phone when I walked the dog? Hold them in my hands?? How does that even work???
Due to the frequency of my donning and doffing the coat through all my comings and goings, I had gotten lazy about hanging it. It never seemed to be very long before I had to put it back on again, so I’d grown accustomed to strewing it on the sofa between wearings. I glanced at it one night before bed and wondered what it would really be like to wear it for the last time.
I never got to find out. I awoke the next morning to discover that my cat, Racecar, had pooped on my coat. (Again. I left out the part about the first time my cat pooped on my coat, because I didn’t want you to judge her too harshly. But a lie of omission is still a lie.)
In an emotional state somewhere between giddy and
despondent, I felt certain that this was the Universe
telling me it was time to say goodbye to my coat for
good. I didn’t even bother to salvage the wreckage;
I balled the whole thing up---poop and all---and un-
ceremoniously bagged it and tossed it down the trash
Coatless, I felt untethered. Unshackled, yes, but also a
tad rudderless. The cold days weren’t quite behind us
when Racecar decided that the coat was ready to be
repurposed as a litter box, and I had no back-up plan.
I layered up in hoodies and scarves and told myself
we were rounding the curve.
I know I’m an overly sentimental person. I have been since childhood. It makes the yogic teachings of non-attachment (vairagya) particularly challenging for me. But it is weird and disconcerting to have gotten so used to seeing something every single day, and for that thing to suddenly be gone.
So goodbye, old friend. You were always there for me, even when I resented you. You did the best you could. I’m sorry I didn’t clean the poop off before I threw you away. That was classless, and you deserved better. You should have had a ritual burning, not a cat-shit burial.
I’ll have a new coat next winter. I don’t know where it will come from or what it will look like, but I know it will not be another black coat. My next winter coat will be a bright color. Because my daily commute shouldn’t feel like a funeral march.
I like careers that involve wearing comfy pants. If I weren't a yoga teacher, I'd try to write full time for a living. Join me here to see what's on my mind, and share your thoughts with me!