It's hanging in the entrance closet, under a tailor-made cover with my name embroidered on it. I've had it since the year I turned forty, a gift from my spouse.
It was supposed to signify that I had finally attained maturity, intellectual ripeness and maybe even common sense, and that he and I, together, had by sheer dint of sweat and some tears excavated the basement and were now adding floors to the house of our marriage: children on the verge of adolescence, careers on the upswing, future looking o.k. It was the 80s, and people wore fur then.
The coat wasn't a surprise, since it had to be fitted and adjusted to my measurements. We shopped for it together, over a period of months, going from fur store to fur store in Baltimore. We'd walk into those silent, carpeted rooms and were instantly attended by a salesman (never, for some reason, a saleswoman) while I tried to exude a self-confident urban chic that my academic weeds belied.
The salesman would look me over, then disappear and return holding what looked like a large animal limp in his arms. Holding the coat by the shoulders he would sweep it insouciantly over the carpet and then ruffle the fur the wrong way with his hand, in the exact gesture that cats despise.
I felt terribly nervous. What were we doing, proposing to spend x amount of dollars on a winter coat? Didn't I already own a perfectly serviceable parka? But, hey, I was turning forty, and it was the 1980s.
One thing I was sure of: I did not want mink. Mink was of my mother's generation, and I wanted a fur that was more hip. Coyote and fox were too dog-like. Sable was out of our price range, as were marten and ermine. That left--and I am beating my breast as I write--seal.
Not the pure white coat of the baby seal, but the deep, even, chocolate brown fur of the adult, short and velvety and delicious to the touch. Its raised collar caressed my cheeks like a butterfly. Its cuffs tickled my wrists. And from shoulders to mid-calf I felt enveloped in a softness that was at once cool and amazingly warm. We bought the seal coat.
What makes us do these things? I have no idea. All I can say is that, while I would not have bought something made from an animal that I knew to be endangered, such as an ocelot, I wore that seal coat as unthinkingly as I ate hamburgers at McDonald's or put newspapers in the garbage. Those were the days.
But they didn't last, thank goodness. By the time the decade was over, the horrors of the fur trade had been made public, and urban fur-wearers were routinely spattered with paint the color of blood. On cold days I found myself reaching for a wool jacket, or my trusty old parka.
It's been a quarter century since I last wore that coat. Although it makes me uneasy to see it hanging in my closet--I should do something with it, but what?--I'm glad that things have changed. I'm glad that nobody--nobody I know, anyway--wears fur anymore. I'm glad that many people think twice now before eating industrially-produced beef. I'm glad that almost everybody recycles.
And on days when I feel that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, when the climate is warming and Egypt is exploding, I think of the fur coat languishing in my closet and say to myself that, at least in some things, we have made progress.