I was five when I realized that my father's suit jacket was too big
on me, that the sleeves went down my arms, traveled past my hands, and
nearly reached the ground. But there was some kind of comfort in wearing
his clothes; there was protection. I discovered it at the age of three in
the back of his closet, that was otherwise empty smelling of cigarette
smoke and cologne. The smell sent tingles down my spine, even at such a
young age. I never wanted to take it off. I wore it over the stupid, frilly
outfits that my mother dressed me in, shielding myself. I was never one for
the prim little muffin look. This raised a few eyebrows in my preschool
class. My teacher, Miss Nelson, a woman with wrinkles at twenty-five and a
bad perm often called my mother in for conferences.
"The children don't like Gail. They're afraid of that big jacket she
always wears! It's for a man, Mrs. Donovan." Miss Nelson spoke in monotone,
stating the obvious. She didn't leave much to the imagination. And I mean
that in every way possible.
"It's Ms. Donovan, Miss Nelson," my mother replied. She looked down,
trying to dodge the subject in any way possible. She reapplied her bright
red lipstick to her lips that didn't need reapplying, and fixed her hair
that didn't need fixing. She didn't like to talk about me much.
"My apologies. Listen, Ms. Donovan," Miss Nelson began hastily,
"We've noticed some things about Gail that seem, well, odd." My mother
didn't respond.
"Gail sits alone, and it seems as though she has conversations with
herself. She counts and such.she arranges her food in quite a strange way.
She doesn't even try to play with the other little girls, she always keeps
to herself, and hides under that ridiculous article of clothing." My
father's jacket. What bullshit. Afraid of a jacket? That's what I thought
at the time, off in a corner with some Play-Doh. I was just like them, I
thought. What was there to be scared of? To me, something had to be a
monster to be terrifying. Something out of "The Nightmare on Elm Street."
As for talking to myself, didn't everyone do that? I had seen Marcy talking
to herself while she was painting in art that day.
After my mother didn't speak for awhile, Miss Nelson sighed. "Do you
understand what I'm getting at, Mrs. Donovan?"
My mother gritted her teeth. "Ms."
"My apologies. Ms. Donovan," Miss Nelson continued, an edge to her
voice, "Do you understand what I'm saying?"
At this point, my mother looked over at me, a glare on her face. I
knew I was in big trouble. "Her father, he-" my mother stopped. "She never
really knew him, and I suppose she dresses in his clothes to be closer to
him." Suddenly, her head snapped to attention, as if waking up from a vivid
dream that you were trying to remember. "Are you saying that my daughter is
an outsider? Odd? Different from the other children?!?!?" My mother was
panting now, shrieking with an intensity I was unaware of at that point.
Miss Nelson, shocked at my mother's sudden outburst, steadily
replied. "Well, yes, but it's nothing that can't be fixed. Gail seems like
a bright girl, she just-"
"No!" My mother cried, jumping from her seat, coffee spilling
everywhere. She grabbed my hand, and pulled me towards the door. "I'll do
everything in my power, Miss Nelson, everything!" She dragged me out of
that classroom, her eyes bulging, her face red. She looked ready to
explode. She cursed as we ran to the car, well, her sprinting, me trying
desperately to keep up. I felt my father's jacket bouncing around my
shoulders and I wondered what was so wrong.