January: A (Beloved) Dirty Coat
by Tyler Slade
Runestone, volume 9
January: A (Beloved) Dirty Coat
by Tyler Slade
Runestone, volume 9
January lurks around a corner, and sees me stranded at the airport, standing in front of the luggage carousel. I anxiously stare at my phone as I realize that the public transport I had planned on is unavailable, because the train, for some reason unknown to me, doesn’t run on New Year’s Eve. I fight the ridiculous urge to walk, or to stay the night in some dark corner of the airport. I call for help with little hope, as I am certain that making the trek to pick me up from the airport is, certainly, not most people’s ideal way to welcome January, the first month in the tedious and distinctive procession in which we organize our lives. To my surprise, a few friends instantly offer to come get me, and they do, and they make it feel as though it’s an adventure instead of a burden. I begin the New Year sitting on their floor, eating from an array of bread, cheese, and fruit. I wake up the next morning swaddled in a comforter on their couch in the town that I have come to call home.
Too quickly, January settles around my shoulders; a coat that provides no warmth that frigid first morning. The day itself is bright and crisp, but January feels as dark as the old mascara smeared underneath my eyes; it streaks down my face like a greasy oil spill, an ecological disaster that pollutes each pore. Eventually the middle of January bleeds together and I don’t know which direction is which. Everywhere I look it’s January. I stretch my arm out in front of me and all I touch is January; it unfolds in front of me and is a wasteland behind me. I sell my broken car to the mechanic for two-hundred dollars because I cannot afford to fix it. My bike gets stolen almost immediately afterward. My friend lends me her old Saturn that is held together by faith and zip ties. January sounds like all the CDs that she burnt in high school, and my drives are accompanied by the welcomed stylings of CAKE and Duran Duran. The car beeps at me incessantly as I sing along to whatever song is playing and together we make a horrible cacophony of noise. I don’t mind the beeping or the flashing coolant light or the missing mirror on the left side because the car is running despite all of these things, and I decide that I will continue to run as well. The faith that is holding me together is spilling from me and pooling at my feet, and the discarded mess of it follows me wherever I go, but I go anyway.
A late-night knock on my door reverberates through January, and I tentatively open the door to see a man standing there. He has deeply tanned skin and a salt and pepper beard. I later learn that he is homeless, and notorious for flying into fits of rage. He asks me for tinfoil and I immediately get him some, because I don’t know what else to be besides polite when a strange man knocks on my door at night, and I don’t think about the illicit substances he might be using the tin foil for until after he leaves. He then brings me my bike, and tells me that I should really be better about taking care of my things, and that I should keep it inside. I thank him for the advice and for the bike. He points to a band poster on the wall behind me and proudly tells me that he’s friends with Joey Ramone, the lead vocalist of the 70’s punk-rock band The Ramones. He then calls me sweetness and promptly leaves. The next day, I walk to the record store where I work and he shows up. He’s there the next day and nearly every day after that and stares at me through the windows when he’s told he can’t come inside. The cops say they can’t do much about it but to let them know if he comes to my house again. This instills a lot of confidence.
I know this man lurks in the shadows of January, but I feel better when I imagine what I’d do if I saw him peacefully walking the streets with his dear friend Joey Ramone, who has been dead since 2001. Maybe, in the brief time that this man had my bike in his possession, he let the resurrected Joey Ramone sit on the handlebars while he pedaled and they both felt the wind in their hair. The thought makes me smile and for some reason I don’t feel as scared as I should, but I still jump at faint noises in my apartment and place makeshift boobytraps in front of my windows in the hopes that a knocked over shampoo bottle will be enough to alert me in the event of a break in.
A cold, frozen river fractures January abruptly. I stand on the rocky shore and watch my friends sit in the ice-coated water because, apparently, it’s good for you and it should be done, even if it makes your toes feel like they are going to fall off. Snow coats the ground and sits atop the branches of the surrounding trees in a pristine, orderly line. A boy I had dated a month prior stands to my right, and I find myself wishing that I hadn’t forgotten my bathing suit so he could see how brave I was, so he could watch me effortlessly jump into that unwelcoming water and sit there picturesquely, as though the cold didn’t affect me, as though his coldness was nothing to me. After seeing my courageous, icy baptism, he’d feel sad that he hadn’t appreciated me enough. He’d remember that I had made him laugh, that I had made his bed for him.
But my feet feel heavy as the cold settles over me like a familiar, unflattering sweater. I realize that I might have the bravery to jump, but do not have the stamina to stay. I imagine myself getting hypothermia in the river, and I see my friends rush after my frozen body as the current swiftly takes me away. I’d be in the water for so long that I’d be enveloped by ice and, as they eventually drag me to shore, I would not look like an enticing romantic partner at all. He’d glance down at me, looking pathetic and blue in my small ice-cube casket, and, as it melted, I’d apologize for getting water on his shoes.
As January unfolds further, I find out that he had been seeing someone else the whole time anyway, and when things end between them I become friends with her instead. She and I laugh about the whole thing, and when I find out that he is my fifth cousin, I tell him that we should put this all behind us so things aren’t too awkward at the family reunion. January has a sense of humor, but mine is better. Still, when I am alone, I feel humiliated for hoping and for feeling, and am embarrassed that the only person who has shown consistent interest in me is a homeless man who follows me and steals my things. January serves me humility on a silver platter, but I lose track of it in the ever-growing pile of clothes on my bedroom floor, and by the time I find it once more, it has rotted into a mess of shame.
I want to crumble under January’s weight, but eventually I find the strength to scrub the shame from the floor. January is the silence that fills the room, and I see it reflected in the floorboards, more clear now than before. For the first time in years, I stopped biting my nails. My coworker gave me the mace off of her keychain so I’d be safe on my way home. I laughed with my roommate on nights that were preceded by long, difficult days. I spent hours in the print studio and was so focused on my work that I didn’t care that I got ink on my favorite pants. I caught up with old friends who came into town and had dinner with new friends who felt like old friends. I bought a new vinyl and listened to it everyday for a week straight. I held a soft, charmingly ugly chicken that had a more beautiful head of feathered hair than any eighties star I’ve ever seen. I ate fresh kolaches one morning as I ran errands. When I realized I did not have my wallet at the 7-11 checkout counter, and moved to put my lemonade back, the cashier shook her head and told me to take it, that it was on her today. I stayed up until the early hours of the morning driving around with friends, sharing music and rating houses in neighborhoods that we’d never be able to afford. The little, unassuming things that January handed me each day turned out to be very big things; woven together they made a haphazard tapestry that caught and held me when I couldn’t face the distance in front of me.
Still, I find myself wanting to shed January like a dirty coat, and I eventually do. As it hits the floor, I feel tired of explaining, tired of needing, tired of being. There is no bitterness left in me as I consider January’s exodus, just a hollow sort of tranquility, a resounding acceptance of what has been and what will come. As January glides swiftly around yet another corner, it looks back to see me slipping out of my bed, shedding my brand new crisp sheets to sit on the couch in the dark under the heater. It’s my favorite spot. I lean forward to feel the warm air on the back of my neck, and think of nothing at all. Eventually, I lay down, and as I drift off to sleep, my fingers briefly, instinctively, reach to grasp the emptiness left in the month’s tremendous, tender wake.
Brigham Young University
TYLER SLADE is a recent alumnus from Brigham Young University, where she studied philosophy and minored in both creative writing and global women’s studies. Her work has been published in Inscape Literary Journal, A Woman’s Experience, and Short Edition. She is from San Luis Obispo, California but currently resides in Salt Lake City, Utah.