When the Ghost of Christmas Past Brings Leather Pants

Emily Kingsley
Dec 8, 2019 · 7 min read
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

The Present

This is my life now: I have two kids, a house, a dog, a husband. I teach high school science. I drive a Subaru and I go running and skiing when I can. I have Amazon Prime and I do laundry and grocery shop on the weekends. Whether it’s ideal or not, it’s my life.

A few years ago, some of my students started hosting a school wide clothing swap. They ask people to bring in donations, and then one afternoon at school, they spread the clothes out on desks and chairs in a big classroom and encourage everyone to come in and take whatever they want.

Teenagers can be a huge pain, but they can also be awesome. The clothing swap is an example of kids being awesome, because it is a free community event that brings everyone together. The cool kids, the shy kids, the rich kids and the poor kids all come in and have a blast picking through the odd assortment of flannels, leggings, boots, t-shirts and jackets that overflow onto the floor. Almost everyone goes home with at least a few items.

I already have loads of clothes, so the last thing I need is to bring home bags of other peoples’ off-casts. But I want to show support and solidarity, so I always stop in and recommend outfits to my students. This year, I tried convincing one girl that she needed to take home a cardigan with a giant cat on the back that had fish-shaped buttons. I got another boy to take one of those rug shirts that everyone brings back from trips to Mexico and I found winter boots that fit somebody else.

It was almost time for me to get back to teaching when something in one of the piles caught my eye. It was a shiny black cuff sticking out from under a pile jeans and khakis.

My feet led the way and before I knew it, I was holding onto a pair of stiff black leather pants in just my size. I felt my face flush with longing as I smoothed my fingers along the hem.

In that moment, two things were abundantly clear to me. The first was that the eyes of two dozen teenagers — most of whom ignore me while I’m teaching about protein structures or cellular respiration — were staring me down and would definitely notice if I walked out with the pants.

The second thing was that my life of driving my kids around, shoveling snow, walking the dog and cleaning the bathroom wasn’t a life of black leather pants.

Still, though, I wanted them.

I put them down and covered them over with some bright orange Adidas track pants. On my way back to my classroom, I told another teacher about them and how I had wanted to take them, but I chickened out because I knew my students would heckle me relentlessly had they seen me grabbing them.

When I left school later that afternoon, I found the pants tucked in the bottom of my bag.

The Past

I started college in the fall of 2000. One of the things I did in my first semester was visit the mall regularly with my friends. I was from a small town where the nearest mall was almost a two-hour drive away and I didn’t know that this was something people did.

Growing up, going to the mall was an epic day-long journey where my mom would race through stores, trying to do a season’s worth of shopping for four kids in a short window of time. There was no browsing or strolling. It was in, try on, pay, next store, repeat.

At college though, the mall was only a few minutes away. I could go to it without purpose or aim and wander in and out of stores as I pleased.

That fall, I fell in love with a pair of black leather pants at the Gap. My transition to college was tough. It was a major adjustment to go from rubbing elbows with the country bumpkin dairy farmers of my hometown to the well-heeled world-traveling set that I met at my Ivy League university.

I showed up with mostly jeans and a few pairs of Chuck Taylors. My best outfits were embarrassingly common compared to the designer clothes that my new classmates seemed to have in endless supply. I channeled all of this frustration into longing for these black leather pants.

They cost $99. I had a work study job that paid about seven dollars an hour. Each week, I would try to budget and save both money and courage, telling myself that at the end of the week, I would go buy the pants.

I could pair them with my high school marching band shirts or those tank tops that we used to horribly call wife beaters and my fashion status would automatically rise.

But each week, I spent my money on other things like admission to crappy frat parties, overpriced bubble tea and late night sushi rolls. I never pulled together enough money to buy the pants.

At the beginning of the fall, the pants were on a big rack with dozens of pairs in every size. As the weeks went on, the pants were fewer and fewer, until there were only a few left and they were hung on a different rack in the back of the store.

By Christmas break, they were gone from the rack and mostly gone from my mind.

The Future

After the clothing swap last week, I brought the pants home and put them on a shelf in my closet. I didn’t really have a plan for them, and at a time when I have been trying to Marie Kondo my life and get rid of anything that doesn’t at least spark a feeling of comfort and indifference, it seemed kind of silly to even have them in the house.

But then one evening after I put the kids to bed, I pulled them out. They were tight — like, really tight — and I immediately felt like a badass in them. A badass that couldn’t bend down to put shoes on or even sit down in a chair. I took my hair down out of it’s usual messy bun and threw on a tight workout tank top.

I went downstairs — gingerly, because the pants were TIGHT — and my husband did a double take. By 9pm I’m usually wearing pilled workout pants and a grubby shirt from some 5k I did 10 years ago. He was shocked and impressed, which he demonstrated by pulling me towards him and getting all handsy on me like he used to when we were dating.

I tried wearing them for the rest of the evening, but I ran into trouble when I couldn’t bend over far enough to put the plates into the dish washer.

So I headed upstairs and peeled them off. They were so stiff they nearly stood on their own. As I was admiring them, something that I hadn’t noticed earlier caught my eye.

The pants were from the Gap.

I know from years of shopping for my kids there that each item from the Gap has a secondary little tag that tells you the year and season that it was sold.

I flipped to the small little tag and saw that it said “Fall 2000.”

They were the very pants I had longed for in college.

In a few weeks, we’ll be ushering in a new decade. Like a lot of people, I like to use the new year as impetus to make improvements and changes to my life.

My resolutions usually involve less sugar, more exercise, financial responsibility or being more patient with my kids. But I can’t get rid of my kids or my job or any of the other middle class trimmings that I’m shackled to.

So as much as I would like to have resolutions that involve exotic vacations or a year of self-exploration and renewal, my goals are scripted and boring and they fall apart within the first month or two of the year.

Somehow, the more New Years resolutions I make, the more my life seems like a treadmill of tedium. I’m just trying to keep everybody fed and dressed with enough energy leftover to watch a half hour Netflix show before falling asleep and doing it all over again.

When I think about the next five, ten or twenty years of feeling rushed, bedraggled and overwhelmed like I do most of the time these days, I imagine Ebenezer Scrooge’s final question to the Ghost of Christmas Future:

“Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”

In Dickens’ story, when Scrooge wakes up from his dream, he realizes he has the power to change is life, and he is magically transformed into someone who is generous and kind.

I’m already generous and kind, so I don’t need that type of transformation.

But I do need transformation. I need the same transformation I longed for 20 years ago when I was in college. It’s an ass-kicking-hair-down-hoop-earrings-to-the-gym-wine-for-breakfast-first-on-the-dance-floor-truth-hurts kind of transformation. It’s a stop-running-yourself-ragged-by-always-worrying-about-clean-toilets-and-never-missing-a-day-of-work kind of transformation.

I don’t think I can wait any longer.

And now that I finally have my leather pants, I don’t think I have to.

2020, bring it on. Late nights, leather pants, glitter, glam and guts, here I come.

Laundry be damned.

Photo by Til Man on Unsplash

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Emily Kingsley

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It’s not as complicated as you’d think. But it’s not as simple as you’d think either. She/her.

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