Don't go out without a coat.

Part of a series on dating.

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Right. I'm going to reveal something about myself that may be shocking, even panic-inducing: I'm a little bit what you might call "anal-retentive".

This leads to things like constructing a complicated roller-bearing lever press apparatus to re-true my cheap aluminum pans so that the cheap glass lids fit perfectly and they don't wobble on the burners. It also leads to having a jack, a spare tire, a can of flat-fix, flares, rope, a tarp, a folding shovel, a squad-sized trauma kit, and a change of clothes in the trunk of my car. I've only ever used the change of clothes, but damned if I'll get caught without the rest of it. You know, just in case.

This story is partly the story of that change of clothes. It is also the story of a one-woman episode of the Jerry Springer show.

When "Jacqueline" was cold, and didn't bring a coat, I was able to save the day. Or rather night. We'd been dating for some weeks, and although it was ice and snow cold, she was clearly trying to make an impression (and was succeeding) with her little black dress and heels, and didn't have an appropriately enticing overgarment to match. So rather than wear one that didn't, she went without.

When I picked her up from her place, she swore the cold didn't bother her, and she even managed to hold back the shivers, for a while.

Enter the Carhartt jacket from the Vehicular Apocalypse Kit. Bulky and dogshit-brown, with elastic cuffs and a huge brass zipper.

Her exact words were "Oh my God, that thing is SO UGLY!" followed shortly by "....but it's so warm!"

So we had a nice night; dinner followed by a walk downtown. Dropped her off at home and she asked if she could borrow the jacket until next time, for the walk back up to her apartment. I didn't have a problem with it.

She ended up liking the jacket so much that she held onto it for the duration of our relationship. I'd stayed over at her place one night and was on the way out early Sunday morning to grab some surprise Sunday morning donuts from a nearby donut shop. I grabbed the first coat I could find, the Carhartt, and walked out. Hands went into pockets, and found that the pockets were full of what felt like folded up paper. While waiting for donuts, they turned out to be letters addressed to Jacqueline. They had been opened and read, and put back into the envelopes. I didn't read them. The instant I realized what they were (letters not addressed to me) I shoved them back in the pockets.

When I got back to her place, there was much rejoicing over surprise donuts. I mentioned, in all sincere casualness, that there was some stuff in the jacket that I didn't know if she'd forgotten about, and her donut froze halfway to her face.

She didn't say anything for almost 30 seconds, and I thought she must have been racking her brains to figure out what it was, or if I was playing a joke, or something. I said, "It looked like some letters or something. I don't know, just thought I'd mention it in case you'd forgotten."

And that's when the hollering and throwing stuff started.

I really don't remember what most of the hollering was about, except for the oft-repeated phrase "DON'T YOU BE JUDGING ME! DON'T YOU BE JUDGING ON ME AT ALL!" and suddenly I was scrambling for my things and bugging out before things got any louder or weirder, or the thrown objects got any heavier or more accurate. A youth spent watching COPS on primetime television had taught me that it was better to leave than stick around.

So a few days go by and she calls "to talk about what happened". I told her I didn't appreciate the theatrics, and that I hadn't even read the letters. She said she wanted to apologize, "It's just that, I get so emotional when I think about my husbands."

I asked her to run that by me once more, and she repeated herself.

A few more pointed questions revealed that the letters were from her first and second husbands, who both used to be in prison and now live with each other, and who she doesn't allow to call her, only to write letters to "make appointments". I asked what kind of appointments she was talking about, out of morbid curiosity. Why, appointments for "physical contact and child visitation" of course.

A few questions later, I got her to put together the entire picture for me.

She has two ex-husbands. They were both in prison at one point. Together or not, and for what reason(s) I do not know. They are both friends. When they became friends, pre- or post-Jacqueline, I do not know. They live with each other. They both have kids with Jacqueline, though neither knows which of the two kids is his. The kids live with their grandmother, even though Jacqueline has legal custody, and the ex husbands make appointments with her via postal mail to visit the kids. Imagine how many questions this is raising for you, and imagine how hard it was for me to not dig any deeper. I didn't. This is all I know.

Oh. Jacqueline was barely 22 years old at the time, and had never breathed a word of any of this. Not the barest hint. I didn't even know she had kids, and her apartment was sanitized. Not even any baby pictures.

I didn't want to stick around to be ex-con-husband-babydaddy? number three, so I let her keep the jacket.

I saw her last year at a Wheatfields restaurant with two dudes and two kids. The same part of me that says "Swerve off the road!" wanted to go make some smalltalk. The waitress didn't understand why I thought my muffin was so funny.

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