Indelible Denim

In honor of back-to-school time, I thought I’d post this story I wrote a few years ago about my dear friend, Janet. I was trying to find a home for it in a magazine, but perhaps this is where it is meant to be. You tell me.

•   •   •

When Janet breezed into our dorm room that first day our freshman year of college, I immediately knew what she was all about. She didn’t even have to open her mouth; her jacket said it all.

The denim, faded to a perfectly distressed milky blue, the collar frayed into strings of fringe, the buttons worn to a coppery patina—all swirled together into the epitome of everything a college girl wanted to be: hip, smart and carefree.

Her jean jacket was the real deal, and so was she.

During that first year of school, Janet and I became best friends: inseparable and incorrigible. We studied together, laughed together, drank beer together, played lacrosse together, drank more beer together, gained 15 pounds together, and pulled all-nighters together. All along the way, Janet’s Levi jacket was there.

In fact, her jacket seemed to gain a personality all of its own as it absorbed every ounce of college fun laid in its path. It also soaked up everything from our bad hairdos and purple eyeshadow to eccentric professors and weird boyfriends, weaving them deeply into its soft fabric.

At the end of our freshman year, life shipped Janet and me off into different directions for the summer. My dad had died of cancer earlier that year so I immediately began working several jobs to pay my way through our very expensive private college, while Janet sailed to Tahiti with her family on their boat. I couldn’t afford envy, so I celebrated her adventure, and made her promise to send postcards so I could live vicariously.

With hugs and tears, promises of letters, and plans to regroup in the fall, we parted ways. But not before she unceremoniously tossed a bag at me. “Here, I think it’s time for you to have this,” she laughed.

I had no idea what she was talking about until I peeked inside the bag and saw a lump of denim and fringe staring back at me. Before I could say anything, she jumped into her car and headed to the airport.

The warmth of Janet’s jacket immediately wrapped itself around me with a friendship so deep, it could only be described as the best of sisterly love. Not only did her tattered jacket make me smile, but it also carried me through a horribly challenging summer of work and living alone in my dad’s old house.

My dad’s widow, my stepmother, had already moved on with her life and planned to remarry less than eight-months after his death. Her gift to me was letting me take care of the empty house while it was being listed on the market to sell. I was grateful to have a free place to stay, but I often bumped around in that quiet old house. Putting on the jacket eased the silence and made me smile, even laugh out loud at times, thinking about some of the antics Janet and I had pulled over the previous year.

When I had to wake up at the crack of dawn to take a city bus to one of my jobs, Janet’s jacket gave me a sense of Zen-cool, even as I sat next to a drooling drunk and a mentally ill woman cursing at me as she praised Jesus. And when my own mom had to be hospitalized after having a mental breakdown, Janet’s jacket gave me an inner-steel I never knew I had.

That was twenty-five years ago.

During the next two and a half decades, Janet and I stayed best friends, living completely different, yet parallel lives. After college, Janet went to grad school in New York, then became a journalist, then later a magazine editor. I fell in love with a photojournalist and launched my career as a photo agency director, then later a writer.

In an ironic and fortunate twist, Janet moved to my home state, Oregon, and I moved to her home state, Colorado. With my relatives in Oregon and her relatives in Colorado, it made it easy for us to keep in touch whenever we visited our families.

Janet and I shared all of life’s ups-and downs together. She was part of my family and I was part of hers. I attended her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary party. She was there for my mom’s surprise 70th birthday party, and then shortly after, her funeral.

Janet was the “best woman” in my wedding, and I was hers. When I picked up the phone to share my news that I was pregnant, she screamed, “No way, so am I!” Our daughters were born eleven days apart. And without ever talking about baby names with each other, we both nearly gave our daughters the same name.

Over the years, Janet and I survived the stresses of miscarriages, caring for seriously ill loved ones, and heart-shattering losses of friends and relatives. But we also reveled in life’s simple joys together, celebrating motherhood, friendship, career leaps and athletic accomplishments. The lighter side of life was never far from us either. Common interests in books, music, and travel, often connected our hearts and minds, as did politics and exciting events like a smart new president being elected.

During that quarter century, I moved more than a dozen times, and each time, no matter how hard I tried to convince myself to give that jacket to the thrift store, I could never part with it. Every time my husband and I moved, I faithfully reached into the back of my closet and packed it up. But not before pausing and running my hand across the soft denim, thinking about all the memories woven into it.

A few years ago as I was preparing for a writer’s conference in Oregon, I came across Janet’s jacket in the back of my closet once again. This time I took it out and tried it on. Though the collar was little more than shreds of fringe, and the elbows paper-thin, it still fit perfectly.

“Wow Mom, that’s cool,” my five-year old chirped. “Are you going to wear that to your conference?”

I laughed at her innocent thought, but then realized she wasn’t too far off the mark. This jacket had always given me an extra shot of courage. Maybe I should wear it to the conference as I pitch my first novel to an agent, I chuckled to myself.

When I lifted the little flap on one of the front pockets, I half expected to find a college relic: a picture or beer tab, an old boyfriend’s phone number. Instead, in the empty pocket I simply found inspiration and the answer to why I hadn’t been able to give this tattered jacket to the thrift store or sell it on Ebay for an absurd amount of money; this jacket needed to be returned to the hip, smart person that it still epitomized.

Photo of Janet in her jean jacket

Janet and her famous jacket

Just like Janet unceremoniously tossed a bag at me twenty-five years ago, I did the same to her when I saw her the following week in Oregon. “Here, I think it’s time for you to have this back.”

Of course, she had no idea what was in the bag, nor did she even know that I still had her jacket all these years, but when she saw the lump of denim and fringe staring back at her, she fell backward on the couch and howled. “Oh my god, I can’t believe you kept this thing all these years!” We laughed until we couldn’t breathe. “Oh man, if this jacket could talk, we’d be in big trouble!” she choked between gasping for air.

As she tried it on, the fit was so perfect and the style so “classically Janet,” I knew it was finally back on the shoulders of the right person again.

I don’t know if Janet’s jacket ever made me hip, smart or cool, but it definitely made me smart enough to know that I’ve lived a charmed life; Janet’s friendship is one of the reasons.

I can only imagine what kind of bag will be tossed at me in another twenty-five years, but I’m certain it will be filled with more memories of our indelible denim friendship.

Do you have an indelible friend? If so, I’d love to hear about this special person. Leave me a comment and dazzle me with the details of your friendship.

41 thoughts on “Indelible Denim

  1. Becky, this post hit home so squarely it was jaw dropping for me. I completely get the jacket “thing” and the friendship. While I’ve written with great trepidation through my marital separation in my blog called, I went to Paris last year to a writer’s retreat in an attempt to break free of all the fear of putting myself “out there” as a writer, a single mom and a woman again. It was a life changing visit. I found a special jacket of my own in Paris and wrote about the woman who inspired it. I didn’t get the jacket at the time – it was the one that got away or so I thought. Now, a year or so later I went back to Paris and bought that jacket – a red leather one no less! Well, the other day as my divorce attorney drew up my agreement I started a new blog and wrote my inaugural post about another inspirational woman – my mother who I’ve come to realize is closer to me than I ever imagined.

    Love your story and love that denim jacket!

    • Christine,
      Many thanks for swinging by my blog. I’m glad this story resonated with you so much. Bravo to you for breaking free of your fears and embracing your inner writer! And what better place to do that than Paris! I just zipped over to your blog and read your beautiful story. Very nice!

      • Thanks so much for visiting the blog…I’m am on a mission to stick with this as I start this new chapter of my life. It’s such an inspiration to read about all the amazing women finding their voice in social media.

        Now back to the darn book!;)

  2. Becky, I don’t know where this story will find its final home. Much like the jacket, maybe it needs to travel around a bit. I so enjoyed it, and know that you will, one day, find the perfect fit for this piece. You have done so wonderfully with the jacket. What a great gesture to return it to your friend. I have every confidence this story would be great in a magazine, if you choose to keep submitting it.

    Also, I caught mention of a novel — are you finished?? Did you have luck at the conference?? Crossing fingers!

    • Melissa, I’m glad you enjoyed this story. I hope I find the perfect place for it, like you so optimistically suggest.

      Ahh, the novel. It’s about 3/4 of the way done, just like my nonfiction book about Jeffrey, The Art of an Improbable Life. Guess it’s about time I finished both! I had a literary agent interested in the novel, but the pull of my other book was so strong I put it on hold. Now I’m pulled in a whole other direction which is completely unrelated to writing! Oh my, life is so interesting!

  3. Becky, what a wonderful, uplifting story. You and Janet truly have a very special bond. I have a few, longtime friends but none like yours. These are friends who I may not speak to for months and even years, but when I do, it’s like no time has gone by at all. As if the last time we saw each other was the day before. Friends like these are to be treasured.

    • Thanks, Monica. Janet and I may not see each other for months at a time either, but the beauty of an indelible friendship is that you can pick up where you left off. Shared memories hold friends together like glue.

      I remember some of your posts about reconnecting with your friends, and how you felt like no time had passed since the last time you had seen them.

  4. What a beautifully written piece! I’m sure Janet is very touched. I think that a friendship like this transcends the bounds of friendship and moves into the realm of family.

    • Thanks, Kristine. I hope you know that more than a few shimmering threads of this jacket involve memories of you! What a fun time in our lives! And what bonds we created. When I think about all you and your family did for me…”Wow” is about all I can say. Lucky me to have such remarkable people in my life!

      • Trust me when I say that I am truly blessed to have had such wonderful friends as you and Janet in my life. My college years are full of wonderful, fun, crazy, inspiring memories that we all shared. My life was enriched beyond measure and I am incredibly thankful that I was able to share it with you. Thank you does not even begin to express the way I feel.

  5. I can’t find anything original to add to the women who arrived before me, except to say congratulations to both of you for enduring the years, the challenges, the heartaches and hardships. A friendship for all seasons is truly something to be respected, honored, and finally cherished. Wonderful story, Becky.

    • I agree that a friendship for all seasons is something to be cherished. That’s a great way to put it. Thanks, Brenda!

  6. “The Sisterhood of The Traveling (Jacket)”: so tender and sweet and evocative. I just reconnected with an old friend from Zambia (don’t call me an “old” friend) and even though we weren’t quite as close as you and Janet were, we shared so much in a time unlike any other in the history of that place as well as a connection I hadn’t realized at the time existed. Made for a special and unexpected bonding. And much hilarity! Send this off to more magazines, I urge you. xoxox

    • Hilarity is a major part of any deep friendship (at least as far as I’m concerned). :-) Your time in Zambia and the connection you made sounds powerful. So glad you could reconnect with your friend. I like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Jacket, by the way!

  7. I received this comment via email and thought I’d post it. I love the background details on the history of denim! Thanks Alan!

    Sacre bleu! Denim? Bien sur! C’est Francaise!

    Becky, Years ago, while visiting with French friends in Azrou in the High Atlas of Morocco, I was told the story of the origins of the word “denim”…….

    When Levi Strauss introduced his rugged blue dyed pants the the 49ers during the California gold rush era, it turns our that the canvas fabric he used
    was produced in France, from the city of Nimes. The manufacturer stamp on the fabric had the company’s name and “de Nimes”, or, “of Nimes”, which became “denim”…..

    Cool term derivation, non? As I will likely always drive French cars, I wear this French termed clothing!!!!!

    All best to you, Jeffrey, and Olivia……Alain

  8. Becky Becky Becky!!!!! Thank you for posting this. I’m truly honored, and honored to have you as as a pal all these many years. I cherish all the memories we’ve had and look forward to many more! And what a great writer you are. You captured so many things in that piece. xo

    • Planet!! So great to see you here–a guest appearance by my denim friend, herself. I loved writing this story and remembering all the things we have shared over the years. I really do feel like I’ve lived a charmed life, and one of the reasons is my friendship with you.

      And yes, you can thank me profusely for NOT delving into any college photos for this post. :-)

      • Yes, I do thank you profusely for that!!! Yikes. I’ve been having flashbacks to the old L&C days all morning!

  9. Your denim jacket story brought back many memories to me too, but a little different in nature. After my husband died four and a half years ago, just as I turned sixty, I needed to feel hip, not sad. I dressed in my favorite old denim jacket, and started buying bohemiam clothes from the thirft shop, and topped my outfit with vintage turquoise jewelry. The demin and turquoise gave me the courage to get back out into life, feeling like a hip widow, not an old one, and I wrote a book about my first year. I still wear my jacket, and several others I’ve purchased along the way, and smile that it helped me survive and make many new friendships I treasure now. Your story was one of the most beautifully written I have read in some time.

  10. Purple eyeshadow and postcards so perfectly place me (us) in time and place. Then there’s the jacket, so vivid in the way it takes on a life of its own and becomes a symbol of deep, long-standing friendship. About a year and a half ago, I reconnected with my oldest, dearest friend, and it felt as if we’d seen each other weeks ago, not years. That’s the way it is with best friends, isn’t it?

    • That’s exactly the way it is with dear friends. I just saw Janet a few weeks ago in Oregon. Although we only had a couple hours to visit, and were distracted with kids in tow, it felt like no time had passed at all.

  11. What an exquisitely written story. So loving and moving; the use of the jacket perfect as a vehicle on which to pin all the poignant memories of a friendship any of us would wish for. It doesn’t surprise me that you would have such a friend. You clearly have an overflowing heart. I truly love this piece. Bravo!!

    • Thank you, Jayne. Your comment means a lot to me. There’s nothing quite like the bond women create–especially when created during pivotal times in our lives. Janet is a gem; I’m glad you could glimpse a tiny portion of this person whom I’m proud to call my friend. She would fit right in to that lunch gathering we had the other day. She’s fun and feisty just like the rest of you fab ladies.

    • Thanks, Cindy. I queried a few magazines when I first wrote this, but never found a home for it. Guess I should give the old “college try” again. Mostly I wanted to share this very special person with readers and celebrate the power of friendship.

  12. I love this story! You tell it with such heart and love. It especially touches me now because the relationships I have with my women friends are deeper and more meaningful than ever–and that includes you! You’re a wonderful storyteller, Becky. Thanks for sharing this lovely little bit of your life with us!

    • Thanks, Jessica. As you know, there are few things more powerful than the bond of female friends. Aren’t we lucky!

    • How fun! I hope I get to read your story. I’m glad this one inspired you. Thanks for swinging by to let me know.

  13. I love, love, love how you told the story of your friendship with Janet using just the right metaphor of the softened denim jacket. What a lovely friendship! The jacket helps show the commitment to each other that you have. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Thank you, Tina. I’m glad this story resonated with you. I feel extremely lucky to have Janet as my friend, and I also feel lucky to be able to share this story with you.

    • Ha ha ha. It all began in Cork’s class! Such fun. Thanks for stopping by to say hi. Will you be taking Shelley’s class this fall?

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