The Green Jersey
There was a story, that he heard as a child. He could not remember when exactly he had heard it, nor how old he was then, but the story had never really left his thoughts. It was about a young boy, poor and unhappy, who had lost his mother at sea, and who often went to the seashore to look at the waves, in the hope of seeing his mother one more time. And one day, as he was crying on the seaside, convinced that he would never see his mother again, she appeared to him, with her long brown hair and her reassuring smile. She dried his tears, and took him with her, to live with her in the sea. Forever.
It was his aunt Madeleine that had told him the story. She had a way with stories, they always sounded special when she told them. He had liked that aunt, although he had only seen her a few times in his life. His parents said she was crazy. They had never liked having her around. He could remember his mother admonishing that aunt for telling such a nasty story, of a young boy dying at sea.
Obviously, his mother did not understand the story. But he did. And even after all those years, he still found himself going to lakeshores, for lack of any sea nearby, and he could stay there for hours, just looking at the small waves, and waiting.
Waiting for something, anything, that could take him away from his unhappiness. Maybe one day, he would find answers. Maybe one day, the sea would bring him what he needed so much. Just like it had for that boy in the story
His name was James Gatz. Jimmy Gatz. Jimmy. No matter how he said it, it sounded wrong. It was not him. It was the name of a poor man's son. And that was not him. It was only what others knew him as, and saw him as. And he knew that if his name had been different, he would not be coming home with a bloody nose so often.
If only he had a name that reflected what he deserved to be, what he could be, instead of merely what he was. Then, things would be different. For sure.
If only he could leave everything behind... start anew...
He was walking along the street, alone, his arms full of the food his mother had sent him to buy. It was actually not much. Just a few things that they could not grow by themselves in their miserable fields. It was nothing that would constitute a full, satisfying meal for a teenage boy in growth.
He had a long way to walk in order to go back to their farm, that place that did not bring them enough money to afford a decent life, that place that they nevertheless called home. They lived in the middle of nowhere, or so he felt.
Somewhere on the way, he met a beggar woman, sitting on the ground, against the wall of a house. She raised a shaking hand towards him and he gave her the only coin he had left from the groceries. She thanked him with a shaking smile, and, with a small nod to the woman, he went on his way. There were always people in situations worse than his. Sadly, those few people below him in society were the only one willing to respect him. That was the way it worked.
On his way, he met a few other people, boys his age, above him in society, and who made sure to remind him in their own way that he was to respect them. God knows he had not forgotten since the last time.
When he got home, his mother asked why on earth he had been fighting again, his father asked where the last coin from the groceries was. And as his father's palm swiftly hit the back of his head, all he could think of was the sea, and the waves, and their secrets that he wished to discover.
"James" was too common. Too simple. Too... him. There was nothing special to it. He needed a name that caught people's attention. Something shorter. Something more mysterious.
Something like Jay. Jay was good. It was short, enough to catch people's interest, without revealing too much. Jay was really nice.
But then, he also needed a longer last name than Gatz. Nothing too long, but nothing too short. Something to keep the attention drawn to him by his first name. Something that would establish him as a man to be respected. A man to be admired. A man that was not Jimmy Gatz.
He needed something like... Something like...
He could remember the last time he had seen his aunt Madeleine. He and his mother had went to visit her in her house, which was pretty far away. The visit was mostly spent in critiques and reproaches thrown by his mother to his aunt. He could not remember what all the fuss was about, he had not really been listening. Nor had his aunt. When his mother had finally taken a break from criticizing her sister's lifestyle, she had gone to make some tea in the kitchen, and his aunt had instantly turned to him, a sparkle in her eyes. She had motioned for him to follow her.
Both of them went upstairs, to a small and dusty room that seemed useless. Even the bed in it was full of dust, and the sheets on it were neatly pulled. He watched his aunt go through a pile of mysterious and useless objects, looking for something, before finally pulling a piece of clothing out of the lot.
It was a green jersey. A bit old, a bit dusty. Pretty big, too. She folded it and handed it to him. She did not say anything about it, she simply gave it to him. He did not ask any questions, it did not feel appropriate. But he had a feeling that this jersey had belonged to whoever had occupied this room, a long time ago, back when the bed was not dusty and the sheets had wrinkles in them.
That was the last time he had seen his aunt. He never knew why, his parents refused to tell him, and they just stopped talking about her after she died. They did not go to her funeral.
It took years before he could fit in the green jersey, and he wore it frequently. His mother never liked it, and she mentioned it every time she saw him in it, but she never tried to stop him from wearing it. He did not have that many clothes, after all.
In a way, it was his favorite jersey. But in a way, he also hated it.
Life at home was long and boring. His parents made him work at the farm. He hated it. But at the same time, he learned from it. He felt himself becoming more and more autonomous, and mature. Nevertheless, he could not help but hope for a better life, in which he would not have to sweat like this for a meagre amount of food on his plate every day.
Whenever he could, he went to the closest lake and stayed there for hours, just looking at the waves created by the wind. When there was no wind, he just looked at the calm water, analyzing it, waiting for the merest movement. It was fascinating, how changing and unpredictable the water could be, even in smaller lakes like the ones around his home.
After hours of meditation, he would come back home. Sometimes, his mother would be waiting for him, no matter the time, and give him a long lecture on how worried she and his father were, and how lucky he was the it was she, and not his father, who had stayed awake to wait for him. Recently, however, he had more than once come home to a dark and quiet house, with nobody waiting for him.
That was fine by him.
Days were mostly all the same. Long and boring. And lonely.
One day, he met a girl. She was not from the area. That surely explained why she paid him attention at all. They talked for a long time. He lied a lot about who and what he was. Her name was Sophia. She never asked for his name. That night, he lost his virginity.
The next day, he saw her with other boys he knew from school. She ignored him. He was not the mysterious stranger anymore, he was James Gatz, son of a poor family of farmers. They never talked again.
Otherwise, days were mostly all the same. Long and boring. And lonely.
From what he could remember, his aunt Madeleine liked to tell stories. Among the few that he remembered well, there was one about a Danish King who travelled across the different seas, looking for something that he could not name. That man, a certain Gaddesby, had travelled across the whole wide world, looking for that special something, founding new lands and meeting strange creatures on the way. Yet, he could never find that something.
Until someday... he did. Almost by accident. In the strangest of places.
James however never heard the end of the story. His mother had caught her sister telling yet again one of her "crazy stories," and had lectured her for being so dreamy, and always so useless. His mother had dragged him out of the room, and he never got to know what that place was, nor what was the special something that the king was looking for.
The thing with his aunt's stories was that he could never know if they were real, or coming purely from her imagination.
That suited him, for some reason.
Something like... Gatsby.
That was it. Jay Gatsby.
"Jay Gatsby," he tried in the mirror. It sounded nice.
"Jay Gatsby," he tried again. It was even better.
Jay Gastby, respectable man.
Jay Gatsby, millionaire.
It was another normal day. He was out in the village to do groceries for his mother. He was walking along the quiet streets, with no hat on his head to protect himself against the harsh sun of midday. It was hot. It was just one of those days. And he already knew how it would go.
On his way back home, with a small bag full of foods required by his mother (nothing he liked), he met a group of boys about his age. Maybe the same as the last time. Maybe different ones. The biting remarks were the same anyway. He ignored them. They got bored and kept going.
He suddenly wished he could go to the lakeshore. It would soothe him, make him forget, although for just an instant, who he was, and what he was.
But he could not. Not today. His mother was waiting for him. He was tired, he was not in the mood for a scene. So he kept going, although at a slow pace, for he was still not in a hurry to get back home.
Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw a hand raising in the air in his direction. It was a beggar woman. The same he had been seeing in this same spot every time he went for groceries. The same hand was again raised towards him, and as usual, he dug in his pockets, took the remaining coin from his purchases, and dropped it carefully in the woman's hand. She nodded a thank you, smiled, and waved for him to get closer. He did, warily, and he heard her weak, trembling voice asking him a question. She had to repeat herself a few times before he understood.
His name. She was asking for his name.
It was an easy question, yet not one he was often asked. He was surprised for a short while, and then he found himself thinking. As if an entirely new opportunity had just presented itself to him. And in a way, it had.
"Gatsby. My name is Jay Gatsby."
The woman nodded again, and smiled. Her eyes said thank you.
As he went back home, he felt like a different person. And entirely new man.
The next time he sat on the lakeshore, the sun was setting, there was some wind, and small waves were kissing the shore softly. And he thought. For a long time. About James Gatz. About Jay Gatsby.
He was not Jay Gatsby. Not yet, at least. But he would be. When the time would come. He would be.
When his mother started being sick, things changed in the house. And yet, they did not change that much. The hostility that he had felt for so long was still there. The tension between him and his parents was only higher. Everyone made him feel like he had to feel bad, and he did, but most likely not for the reasons expected.
He loved his mother. He could not deny it. He loved her, he loved his parents.
But he had not felt like their son for a long time.
His father hit him quite a few times in his life. Years later, he could barely remember most of those blows, but there was this one time that he never really forgot. His father had heard that his son had been going around saying that his name was Jay Gatsby. Was he ashamed of his father's name, now? That night, Henry Gatz came home with his face red. There were barely any words spoken, but the blows had left indelible marks, that remained long after the bruises had left his skin.
He remembered that one time, but not for the bruises, nor for the loud, and yet broken, voice of his father. He remembered it for the assurance he got at that moment, that one day no one would call him James Gatz. No one.
He got older. Nothing really changed. He did chores and groceries for his parents, days were long and boring. He was less and less on good terms with his father, but they simply did not talk about it. They ignored the tension. He knew that he still loved his father, and he knew that his fathers still loved him, but things were just not like they were when he was a child. He grew up, and he slowly drifted apart from his family, waiting for the day that he would really be able to leave this place.
While waiting for that time to come, he started writing in a notebook. It helped him remaining focused, disciplining himself, and remembering what really mattered to wrote it for himself, although he knew that his father sometimes took a look at it, when he was absent. He knew that his father was pleased by what he read, but he also knew that they would never talk about it. They never really talked about anything anyway.
The more time passed, the more James Gatz felt ready. For what, he was not sure, but he knew that he was ready.
Time passed. Days became months, and then years. He waited. He did not forget. Yet, a part of him was slowly losing faith. What if it could not work? What if this promised life was simply not for him? What if he was never meant to succeed?
He never abandoned. But a part of him just started to believe that he would always be James Gatz, the ungrateful son of a poor couple of farmers, the young man in his old green jersey.
He had not been to the lakeshore in a while. So when he finally went, it felt strange, different. He could not tell why.
He sat on one of the big rocks, and stared at the lake. There were barely any waves, but there would be more soon, he knew that. Some great winds were to be expected. A storm was coming.
He was not as alone as he would have wished. There was an old man a bit farther on the shore, next to a rowboat that he obviously could not maneuver anymore. James wondered what that man was doing with that boat, but in the end, he did not really care. It did not matter.
Being back there felt refreshing. He remembered his childhood dreams and teenage aspirations. He was basically a man, now. Yet, he had never really let go of these ambitions. Never completely. He wondered why. But then again, it did not really matter.
He stayed on the beach for a long time. It was rather hot outside, and his green jersey clung to his skin. It finally fitted him, after all these years, but it was now all torn, it was all too old. He did not really know why he wore it anymore. It was comfortable, he guessed.
When the sun started to go down the sky, hours later, he had to consider going back home. His father would not appreciate his coming back so late. Although lectures were getting fewer and fewer, most likely because he was older now. Discipline seemed out of place now. At this point, there was not much they could do to change him.
As he rose and stepped down the rock, his gaze swept back to the water and the slowly awakening waves, and that is when he saw it.
A white yacht. In the distance, yet not so far.
He stared at it for a little while, fascinated for a reason that he could not quite grasp. He thought that this boat was not safe, with the winds that were coming. He should go warn the people on board.
And somehow, he just knew, then, that this was it. That nothing would ever be the same again. He did not understand how nor why, but this was what he had been waiting for.
And he knew that he would never be called James Gatz again.