The Blue Vest

An excerpt from This Messy Magnificent Life: A Field Guide

We saw it in the window of a store on a side street in San Francisco: the piece of clothing for which I’d been waiting without knowing I’d been waiting. “Come and be enthralled,” it whispered. “Let my fringes anoint you.” I slipped into the floor-length vest like a swan would slip into her wings, and I glided around the room as if the store was my lake. As I passed the rows of jackets and racks of shoes, I felt like Harry Potter in his invisibility cloak, except that mine was made of manifest blue enchantment.

“Do you like it?” I asked my husband when I emerged from the swoon. Although Matt’s wardrobe consists mainly of rugby shirts, khaki pants, and New Balance shoes in various stages of wear, he has uncanny wisdom when it comes to women’s sartorial plumage.

“Where might you wear this?” he asked, eyeing the shimmering blue fabric. “It doesn’t seem appropriate to wear around the house or to Whole Foods,”

Oh yeah, I thought, that’s right. We live in the country, down a mile-long gravel road where our daily companions are owls, oak trees, and deer.

As flouncing on gravel in shimmery vestements did not seem practical, I left the vest behind.

At dinner with friends that night the conversation was lively but visions of blue distracted me: the way thevest pooled around my legs, changed colors, became indigo then cobalt then slate. Wearing it is like wearing the ocean, I thought, as I took a bite of Caesar salad. And although it’s true, I can’t wear it to plant radishes in the garden, I have to wear something to restaurants or lectures; why not this?

The next morning I decided to buy the vest. But as I started walking to the phone, the fight with myself began. I want to be the kind of person who is no longer enchanted by things. If I was born in Asia, I’d be a wise elder wearing plain blue cotton shirts and long gray braids. I’d be doing tai chi outside in town squares, playing checkers and consorting with other braided women about how best to handle the rabble-rousing young hellions. I need to meditate more, disengage from my thoughts—not buy more clothes. Because when I am on my deathbed —which is closer now than it was last year or the year before—having a blue vest won’t matter—and I want to spend my energy on what does.

As I skulked to the bathroom, I decided that I really was hopeless, a spiritual failure. Then, as I was brushing my teeth, I thought, but in that case, why not be hopeless in a blue vest?


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