Life as a Claustrophobe

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From Jane's World

There’s no avoiding it. I have to walk into the church room full of women and take off my jacket. After all, it’s an exercise class, I’m the teacher, and the ladies are waiting for me.

I open the door, struggling with the handle while trying to hang on to three bags containing yellow, green and blue exercise bands. In my other hand are two mesh bags filled with small blue exercise balls.

The wind whips into the room with me, and a few of the ladies jump up to grab the equipment and start handing it out. Now that my arms are empty it’s obvious that my black winter jacket is wide open except for the bottom inch, which remains closed.

Walking to the front of the room, knowing I’m being watched, I slip my arms out of the sleeves and scooch my jacket down my body to the floor. With precision I pick up first one foot and then the other, stepping over and out of the jacket, taking care not to trip. I toss the jacket onto a table and turn to say hello. The ladies are staring at me slack-jawed.

While we start our warm-up exercises, one of the ladies asks, “That a new way to take your jacket off?” I shrug and reply that the zipper broke earlier in the day. I go on to say I tried everything but the darn zipper won’t budge. The class moves right along, as does a lively conversation about zippers. Seems everyone has a particular way of repairing an unruly one.

After class, as I gather up the balls and bands, I notice a group of gals swarming over my jacket. But this is no time for repairs. My next class is eight miles down the road and I need to skedaddle if I’m going to be on time. The zipper remains stuck and I wriggle my way back into the jacket.

A short while later I’m in another church room full of women, and once again I step out of my jacket, imagining this is how a butterfly breaking free from its cocoon must feel. The women all stare. I explain about my zipper. The workout begins, and sure enough, the conversation centers on Zipper Repair 101 and continues until I share the following story with them.

I was sheep-sitting in Ferryville one winter, and in a phone call with my mom I must have mentioned the early morning chores and the freezing weather. Before Christmas a packaged arrived with a card from her saying, “Stay warm, honey. Love you, Mom.” Inside the box was a red down-filled jacket. It was a little too snug but it kept me warm, and I started wearing it to do chores.

Three mornings later, after completing my chores, I couldn’t get the zipper to unzip. Worse, I had pulled it as high up on my neck as it could go.

I paced from the kitchen to the living room in the jacket’s tight embrace. I tried to remain calm. I forced myself to inhale to the count of four and exhale to a count of six while desperately tugging on the zipper, trying to get it to move even an inch to give my throat more room.

My upper body started breaking out in a rash and sweat began pooling on my forehead and under my arms. My face was flushed, my heart rate accelerating. Meanwhile, none of my fumbling with the zipper was helping.

I felt like I was being buried alive in a too-short coffin that was pressing my nose down into my panic-stricken face. Certain I was close to dying, I grabbed a pair of scissors and, holding the bottom of the jacket taut with my left hand, I starting cutting my new jacket open alongside the zipper.

I cut all the way up to the neck, not stopping until the thin material fell from my body in a heap, releasing a blizzard of tiny, fluffy feathers into the room.

Weeks later, my mom called and asked how I liked the jacket. I told her I loved it. I had, for three full days.

Before the people who owned the farm returned home I vacuumed a thousand times. Still, they probably wondered if I’d butchered ducks in their house that winter.

The class ends and I manage to squirm back into my jacket. To my horror, a gaggle of women approach me and start fussing with the zipper. I keep saying, “Just leave it, I’ll fix it when I get home.” But they all have their hands somewhere on the jacket, pulling and pushing and maneuvering until zzzip! The zipper pull breaks free and beelines up to my chin with one of the ladies’ fingers still holding it.

Panic kicks in and I beg, “Please get it down—please!” They tell me to stop fidgeting, but I’m on the verge of freaking out.

Finally, in the nick of time, the zipper skips down to near the bottom of my jacket. I rush out into the cold, my jacket flaring open, my bags of equipment flopping in the chilly wind, seeking the safety of my car.

Driving home, I’m picturing exactly where I keep my sharpest scissors.

Originally Published March 22nd, 2018 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout