This Smith College jacket is my favorite article of clothing. The story of my life is woven into this fabric…my hopes, my dreams, my failures, my triumphs, laughter, love, heart ache, disappointment and joy, all woven into this jacket that I’m wearing.
I bought this jacket on campus in June of 2009 but its story goes back to 1981 when I was 5 years old. In that year my father was sentenced to 40 years in prison in a highly publicized trial. My little brother was less than 6 months old and at 25 my mom found herself with two young children that she was ill-equipped to take care of.
She had dropped out of school in the 8th grade and had no real job skills to speak of. She had to sell the furniture in our dilapidated trailer to feed us but even that wasn’t enough. We constantly moved in search of work. At one point the three of us lived in one room of a run-down trailer while my mom worked two jobs to try to feed us.
By the time I was in the 4th grade, I had gone to seven different elementary schools. I couldn’t diagram a sentence but I could grocery shop, cook a meal and take care of my toddler brother. By the time I had started high school, my mom had re-married and things went from bad to worse. My step-dad was inappropriate with me and rather than give up the financial and emotional security of married life my mom sent me to live less than a mile away with my Aunt Sara.
Life in Aunt Sara’s house was in a word…hell. She was physically and verbally abusive to me every single day of the three years that I lived with her. While other kids were going to parties and proms, I had become an expert on how to camouflage the bruises that she gave me. She told me every day how ugly, stupid, worthless and unlovable I was. After a while I began to believe the things that she said to me and gave up on myself. Were it not for two amazing teachers who encouraged and at times cajoled me into staying, I would have dropped out of high school. Graduating was a huge victory for my family and me since I was the first to actually get my high school diploma. I was not ready academically or emotionally for college, so I joined the workforce.
A few years later, while working for Carnival Cruise Lines, I met my ex-husband and married at 23. My ex was college-educated and from a close-knit family. He was everything that I was not and all that I wanted to be. I wanted his love more than I had ever wanted anything, so I let him turn me into the “perfect wife.” He told me what to wear, what types of food to eat, whom I should vote for…he spent years molding me into his ideal of the perfect woman. All the while the real me was being slowly suffocated, trapped inside a shell of a person I no longer recognized and frankly didn’t even like.
I sank into a deep dark depression that culminated with an in-patient hospital stay. As I began to get healthy and assert MY opinions, MY thoughts and MY needs, my marriage fell apart. After 9 years, I filed for divorce.
The divorce process was lengthy and it was during that time that my friend suggested that we take a road trip to this cute little town called Northampton. While we were here, we took a walk onto the Smith campus and he turned to me and said, “Wouldn’t you like to go to a school like this?” I looked at him and laughed, “Girls like me don’t get to go to schools like this.” I loved the school and campus so much that I went to the bookstore and bought this jacket. After my divorce was final, I moved back home to Florida.
Inspired by my visit to Smith College and my desire to be a teacher, I started attending community college. It was there that I excelled. The girl who had been told that she wasn’t smart enough for college was now the woman who was making A’s. Fast-forward two years to 2011 and I was applying to Smith as an Ada Comstock Scholar. When I found out that I was wait-listed, I was crushed and made plans to attend another school.
It was on a rainy afternoon in early June when I received a call from Sid Dalby [associate director of admission] offering me admission to Smith. It was the happiest moment of my life. As I hung up the phone I looked in the corner at a box of stuff that I had planned to give away and saw my Smith jacket laying on top. I rushed over and picked it up, holding it close to me as I sobbed tears of joy with the realization that my dream was finally coming true.
And so the fabric used to make this Smith College jacket is the fabric of dreams woven together over 35 years to create a masterpiece….me.