He was fifteen when he bought himself a fedora.
His infatuation with this style of hat had been inspired by the movies he used to watch, the one where gangsters confronted law enforcers as "Vesti la giubba" transformed petty crime into opera. It was the hat that blew through the forest, always skipping ahead of the hero, no matter how clever he attempted to be. This was the hat that hid the face of the man who fell to earth, letting us know that his story was over. He loved the fedora and all it came to represent.
He found a fedora for sale in the city, and even though it had been cleaned, it still retained a smell that suggested a world that existed in black, white and grey. It cost him most of his wages from the job that paid him very little. This hat was his first attempt to mould a look away from the glare of grown-ups, to find a way to express who he was today, and who he might be in the future. He was a teenager. He had questions but few answers. This hat though was an initial step into the unknown.
Unfortunately he lived in a city but not one of the bigger ones. He felt the other teenagers stare, heard their comments behind his back, noticed the rocks whiz past his head as he walked through the park. His friends did their best to accept this choice of hat but in time resorted to jokes, a way to hide their secret discomforts at the challenges of growing up. This simple piece of clothing was too anachronistic for the places he frequented.
If only he'd found someone who understood what the hat meant, that it was a little shuffle into a world of style, a tentative statement announcing he was on his way to being his own person. He needed that one person who was on his side, to give him a nudge further down the untrodden path. It is difficult to overcome those self conscious years, to define who you are as an individual while still being accepted by the crowds you find yourself surrounded by. Over time he tired of the looks and the comments and the rocks, instead wanting to sink into the shadows of adolescence so he could just survive. Eventually the fedora was put away and disappeared from his life.
Many years later, well beyond those teenage years and creeping past the mid point of his life, he met a girl who delighted him. Her sharp features matched her sharp mind, her laugh declared a confidence he admired and her smile suggested secret thoughts she mostly kept to herself. He noticed every time they met that her eyes reflected the mood of the day. They would bump into one another every now and then, and with each surprise meeting, his heart would skip a beat when he realised she was nearby.
They would chat and they would laugh and they would share whispered thoughts about the people who surrounded them but he knew she thought of him as an acquaintance, nothing more, and who could blame her? Over time his posture had crumbled just a little, the shoulders rounding down, the spine curving out at the top and then in at the waist. His neck let his face slide slightly forward and he could feel the skin sag underneath. He was self-conscious of his appearance but lacked the vigour to improve his situation.
When they found themselves standing together one final time, at a party that was neither fun nor terrible, they enjoyed a few moments before she bid adieu. She'd left her partner somewhere with strangers and the fact that she was spoken for deflated him, dispersing his dreams to the far corners of his imagination. He watched her walk over and hug a man who looked like he could have been his age, tall, stylish, a fedora in his hand. They kissed a brief kiss. He placed the hat on his head, his arm around the girl, and together they left, swallowed whole by the night.
Later the man sat alone in his room, and wondered what would have happened if he'd kept the fedora all those years ago. If only he'd had the courage to be the person he wanted to be back then, just maybe he could have been the one to leave the party with the girl of his dreams.
Copyright Justin Hamilton 2018