Thursday, January 25, 2018

Log cabin quilt, unraveled

I passed those evenings, while you were off with her,
making a log cabin quilt,
the most complicated I had ever attempted;
cutting hundreds of inch-wide strips of brown and cream fabric
with my brand-new orange rotary blade
on the rickety trestle table I inherited from Nanny K.

The central square of each block -- one inch by one inch --
was cut from a shirt I'd found at a rummage sale,
and contained the image of a duck, intended to be a symbol
of a friendship and a collection that we shared
(of wooden duck heads, given us each time I came to listen
to your band; a collection we divided up at the time of our divorce --
the ones I got still grace my fireplace mantle).

It took an hour, as I recall, to build each intricate block,
and since I needed 36, I count a minimum of 12 evenings,
seated at the sewing machine, guiding the thin strips through,
occasionally dampening them with tears,
and wondering how much longer it would take
to finish the quilt; for you to tire of her and return to me --
or if you ever would...

I remember, when they were completed,
laying the quilt blocks out on the dark brown rug
and trying all the possible combinations
of those dark and light diagonals,
hoping to find a pattern that might bind us back together,
until one night I fell asleep and dreamed up the arrangement
I'd finally use.

But it was the curtains I made to match
once the quilt had been completed --
cream flowered, with a thin brown stripe
of leftover cloth that I sewed on, three inches from the bottom --
that proved the unraveling of the fabric of our marriage.
As I sat at my sewing machine one Saturday afternoon,
stitching on that stripe,
the phone rang, and you answered it downstairs.
I heard your voice take on that tone,
that loving tone you only used with her,
and my foot slipped off the pedal as I listened, thinking,
"How long, O Lord, how long must I go on?"
when I heard another voice, not yours, or hers, or mine,
fill the room -- or was it just filling my head?
I'm not quite certain, but it was real, and very clear, and said,
"You can go now."
It was all I needed to hear.

I switched off my ancient Singer, slid the material to one side,
and walked downstairs to confront you in the kitchen.
You took one look, and said, "I have to go," into the phone,
hung up, and snarled, "I suppose you want a divorce."
It's odd -- we'd never spoken that word; had never even
discussed a separation. I'm assuming
that the power of those words I'd heard was shining in my eyes,
but what I know for sure is that I finally said yes --
not just to your question, but to myself, to my right
to joy, to respect, and to love.

Last year I gave the orange rotary blade
to the daughter who was conceived under that quilt,
with the man who is my husband now, some thirty years ago.
She who, without my teaching her, became a quilter, too.
The quilt itself, now badly frayed,
lies in a box in the closet of the room where she grew up,
in the log cabin where her father and I now live.
The ducks at the centers of all those squares
have faded, almost beyond recognition,
just as the features in your face now seem to have grown dim
( I noticed that the other night, when we went to hear you play --
first time I've heard your sax in 35 years --)
a gradual erosion, a loss of plasticity
driven by age, and by the disease
that I suspect I'm not supposed to know you have.

But that voice I heard still resonates,
like the overtones in your saxophone,
an ever present memory of the first time I was given the courage
to say the yes to myself that would subsequently mean
I'd always have the courage to say no.

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