In New York

My husband bought me the coat for Christmas two years ago. Its military style and high collar are the embodiment of an aesthetic he loves. As for me, I liked the coat’s length, and the fabric it’s made of, warm enough to wear in winter, but light enough to serve in other seasons. It was a good present.

Except for the buttons. Like rebellious souls, they constantly try to escape the ordered environment they’ve been stuck onto. Slowly but surely they let their threads unwind, and wait.

The first button I lost was the one on the right shoulder. It probably came off when I was putting on my heavy backpack as we rushed out the door of my in-laws’ house, headed for the train station after a week-long visit. About an hour later, when we’d settled into our seats on the train, my husband noticed the button was missing, and reproached me for not being more careful, full of regret that a thing of such perfect symmetry was now asymmetrical.

Miraculously, my father-in-law found the button hiding in the gravel of their driveway. He didn’t know what it was at the time, but when my husband mentioned what had happened to my coat, he realized where it had come from. At our next visit, the slightly battered escapee was sewn back into place, and it’s remained on my shoulder ever since. I’ve been careful with the coat since then. Not obsessively so, but I watch.

A few weeks ago, I was wearing it as I got out of my train at Penn Station and walked up Eighth Avenue. With the energy of the city whirling around me like the wind, then racing through my heart and my blood, I noticed briefly that one of the buttons near my midsection was starting to hang from its thread. That was surprising, because it hadn’t seemed loose before. I resolved to be cautious — no sudden movements — and to fix it when I got back to my father’s house, where I was staying.

And then, while taking in the buildings and crowds around me, I shifted my purse slightly forward. I don’t know how I felt it, but I did, and glanced down to see the button plunge into a gutter.

I didn’t fully come to terms with it until I’d crossed the street. I hurried back and gazed down helplessly beyond the thick grate it had slipped through. The button didn’t wink up at me. I saw nothing but masses of cigarette stubs. I finally sighed and walked away.

I feel relieved that the coat’s new asymmetry doesn’t seem too noticeable — it even took my husband a few days to realize something was missing.

And in a way I’m happy: I lived in New York for three years, so there must be traces of me, strands of hair in some bird’s nest, other elements that can only be seen on a cellular level. But when I left the city, I took all of my belongings, and while I was a resident, I never grafittied or created any art. Nothing larger than a few millimeters of me remained behind. Now there’s this button lying in the midst of the people passing and the tall buildings and the taxis, this button lying just beneath the sidewalk near Penn Station, which has long been my gateway from family to city life and back.

There’s a visible trace of me in Manhattan now, just as a part of Manhattan has remained inside of me.

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I wrote this nearly four years ago, and posted it on my old blog on Open Salon. The site is gone, and I suppose the button is still where it fell. I think about both quite often, the latter especially when I miss New York.

On another note, in the comments section for this post, I wrote: Some of my friends and family told me the button is now rat money. I kind of like that idea, too!