Unwanted Gifts: Quilt

One Christmas, after I had grown up and moved away and started and then ignored my own traditions, my best friend gave me this blanket. It’s made from used saris and hand stitched in India. The fibers came to me already worn and handled, containing a personal history of all its previous wearers. Reincarnation, rebirth and regeneration are common beliefs in Eastern religions, and this blanket embodies the ethics of this code. My friend found it and thought of me, and I know she didn’t over-think it. If you look close, you can see the places in the fibers where the seamstress made a mistake and, instead of starting over, used a patch of cloth to cover the flaw.

When I met my best friend, we were both starting over in Kansas City for the same reasons. We both came from the Midwest and from divorced parents. Both our mothers started living with a woman. Both of us fought with our fathers about the same things. We had all these things in common, but one thing made us very different: she was amazing at giving gifts and I was terrible at it. This blanket hits me right where all our words never could, and even though we stopped speaking to each other about a year ago, I still have it. Maybe it’s the cold child in me that can’t let go of something that keeps me warm, as if I am still sleeping pressed up against the wall over the heating vent in a bitter Wisconsin winter, waiting for the breath of hot air that kicked on for five minutes every hour.

I don’t like getting gifts because one year I ended up with two of everything. “Why do you have two moms?” I remember the unintentionally cruel question from the other middle school students. “If your mom is gay does that mean you’re gay too?” I didn’t have an answer to that question, thinking my mother’s gayness was a phase that would recede when she was done being angry at my father. Instead, she and my step mom moved into a house together, interlocking our lives, and all of our things. My mother’s house reflected her newly uncovered sexuality. 2000 was a glamorous time for two women in their 40s. We had two dogs, two couches, two televisions, two cars, two sets of knives and two sets of pots for two moms to ignore while they went out to places with names like Juniper and Gads.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the zip code, our father’s house became a museum. He kept close the hand-crafted objects collected from his travels around the world, things that couldn’t simply be duplicated or replaced. He’d downsized to a ranch with a dark interior, where he curated the rooms to reflect the kind of single man he could finally be. With a cigar hanging from his lips, expensive black caviar under his fingernails, and a useless hunting dog sighing with his head on my fathers lap, he presided over this home where he could sink into the natural state of his shibboleth. His house slowly transformed into the colors and odors of a Flemish painting, where it always smelled faintly like Limburger cheese and it was somehow always winter.

Bedding is a powerful thing. When children suddenly have to choose whose house their beloved bed and covers and pillows go to, the other parent goes out and hastily finds a small creaky frame and scratchy wool blankets that smell like dust in an attic. The second bed is never as nice as the first. It’s always a little too small, a little too old, and lumpy in places a ninety pound child can feel poking into her ribcage. Blankets can ruin a perfect bed, and they can make perfect a ruined bed. A blanket is the ultimate symbol of a new beginning.

My best friend knew these truths, because she lived through them too. She knows the value of a blanket. It must be warm enough to make it through the winter when one parent was cheap with the heat. It must be pretty enough that friends who sleep over will be jealous of it. It must be light enough to wrap around our shoulders and walk to the kitchen like that on a Saturday morning.

I ask myself: how can a person who knows so much about me one day not be a part of my life? The end of our friendship left behind all these textures I don’t understand but am now responsible for mending. Were her gifts a way to cover up the holes in our friendship, and did I hold up my end by providing the patches we could use to mend it? Or did we avoid talking about what made us tick because we have the same emotional guards that characterize children whose parents made them the weapon?

So how do we face unwanted gifts without facing our own history and our own shortcomings? The comfort of the objects we seek out only serve to reaffirm who we believe—in our most generous way—we really are. It’s easy to do what my parents did, to fill our homes with objects that reflect our ideal self back upon us. It’s easy to gloss over our faults and flaws with things that keep us bobbing on the surface above our chaotic emotional depths. To disrupt this dream is to be a better human. We must find some objective flaws to remind us we have them in the first place.

Obviously I kept the blanket. I sleep with it every night and I wrap it around me when I eat cereal hungover on my couch. I finger the threads and trace the patches that cap a hole to protect the delicate insides. I think about my friend and where she is, how she’s doing, and if we’ll ever really be friends again. What else are we supposed to do with the parts of ourselves we have a difficult time facing?

This is how you deal with an object given to you by someone you love who is no longer part of your life: hold it closer. Recognize the parts you haven’t patched up are not broken, but simply incomplete. An unwanted object, one with patches and stitches in the places that were torn, can remind us to do the only thing left to do after something is damaged: repair.

quilt

Listen to the live version from David Wayne Reed’s Shelf Life series.

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2 thoughts on “Unwanted Gifts: Quilt

  1. Annie, this is remarkable. Thank you. It brings up memories of a friend with whom I had a spat, a friend of more than thirty years. She died before we reconciled. Another patch, another tear in the fabric. Hugs, Chica.

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  2. Best yet Annie. You are wise beyond your years. Next time we get together I’ll tell you some old man stories about reconciliations. Sometimes they happen, sometimes they don’t. Happy Holidays to you and yours. Stay warm, Love, Mo

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