Despite LA being a city stripped of seasons, there are cold days now and again when the sky is overcast, stretched white and subdued and back-lit by a smaller sun, days when the temperature goes slippery, unexpectedly drops during the night like wet soap, and I catch myself shivering on the walk to campus and wondering why I assumed every day was supposed to be like the last: jeans and T-shirt and only sun.
In cold weather, any sensible and responsible adult would put a jacket on. But I’ve always been, like LA, senseless and irresponsible. I am tacked to one hot and burning season with cold days here and there. Two years ago I was eighteen and I took a flight out of El Paso and into Los Angeles with five pairs of shorts and a gym bag stuffed with T-shirts. Around Halloween I realized I didn’t have a pair of pants to my name and my mom sent me a care package with my jeans, cookies, and a note that said Don’t read the cookies, eat the jeans, and wear this note. I’m only half kidding. Please use your brain in LA.
But I take growing up very seriously. I turned twenty this past April and even though everyone assured me turning twenty-one would be better, everyone’s also been drinking since sixteen anyway and I don’t care about twenty-one festivities all that much. Starting a new decade should be more important than starting to drink at a bar instead of the garage. As a twenty-year-old I want to consider myself capable of packing pants, too. I don’t want to make the same mistakes over again, just new ones, and I want start soon.
With this past summer all out of gas (the wheels freshly fallen off another relationship, mid-August weather making my shirt stick, and black smoke pumping out of a three month writing project) I took a flight back to LA with two pairs of jeans and shorts. Progress, like fun-sized candy, comes in small packages for me. But it’d been a hot summer and I was hard-pressed to call it a good one. I had worked for UTEP’s Chemistry department as a proofreader but for undisclosed reasons wasn’t issued a campus parking permit and required to walk seven blocks from my truck to my office on the daily, business casual, mid-afternoon hour, kicking each workday off with a no nonsense water cooler visit, a little perspiration on my lip, and I consider myself a hard worker as long I’m putting one foot in front of the other. I was grateful to get my cardiovascular work in from truck to office. But the more I thought about it, the more my trek from truck to office was making my summer go two-face: Healthy but sweaty. Vitamin D but skin cancer. El Paso but I’d eventually be going back to Los Angeles.
The night I packed my suitcase it was ninety-two degrees in El Paso, had been one hundred and two that afternoon, and the windows in my room were thrown open, the fan whirring along to Dylan going How does it feel? on the radio, and the only thing I knew to pack was clothes for hot weather. Who could think of cold weather during a time like this, Bob? That’s how I feel. I’m feeling soulful too, Bob. I’m also feeling dumped. Tell me how does it feel? The girl I was with that summer had called me boring earlier that week and never got around to calling me back after that, Bob. That’s how it feels. She spoke Spanish as her primary language but she spoke gorgeous accent-free English too, better than me, and when we had arguments I was under fire on both sides of the language barrier. My suitcase was on my bed and flung open but empty. I blamed the heat for all the things that didn’t go my way during the summer. I can’t look ahead into different seasons, Bob. I can’t plan for cold weather when I’m sunburned and crawling in sweat. There’s a jacket in my closet, Bob, it’s a new jacket and blue and I have nothing against it—it was a gift from a well-meaning aunt—but it just doesn’t feel right, it’s too big and too new, an XL, and I don’t feel right taking a new jacket that doesn’t fit me or this hot weather.
The first cold day of November, a Monday, caught me in a T-shirt and jeans, walking to class, wet hair, and not much changed since August. My brother had gotten married two weeks earlier. (My other brother had carried me back to the hotel room after the reception.) One broken-down summer relationship had been swept away and replaced with one broken-down fall relationship and I was becoming more and more convinced that the only difference had been her name and hair color and primary language. But I knew for certain I didn’t have a jacket, knew I needed one, and knew this weather was going to get me sick if I didn’t figure something out quick. My mom had stopped sending me care packages a while ago. I didn’t want that new jacket anyway. I’m twenty years old. I’m on the second decade. I’m old enough. Old enough for what, who knows. But old enough, whatever that means. Old enough, old enough, old enough, and if I keep saying it I will be.
I drove to Target with a friend and found a nice one, preened in the dressing room mirror with it on, fake leather, checked out, felt warm the next day and the day after that until the temperature swelled back up to ninety. Then it was Thursday and someone said the jacket looked ridiculous and tried to get me to take it off because I was sweating again, the weather had turned hot again, and she pulled at it until she tore a button off of it and started to laugh at what was left: a single line of black thread hanging like a dry and dead tongue.