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My father used to call me Betsy Ross. Before anyone was up, I would go downstairs and pull my quilt out from under the couch. I’d thread my needle with string, and by that time, quite regularly, my father would come to me on the couch and swiftly kiss my forehead, smelling like shaving cream and pomade. He’d look down at me and say, “Good morning, Betsy Ross.”
“I’m not Betsy Ross!” I’d snap back at him, and then return to my work sewing another patch.
My quilt was one with a disregard for matching and uniformity. Its creation began in response to a conversation my family had at dinner one night. My mother, still in scrubs from her shift at the nursing home, told us that an old patient she particularly liked was going to die soon. I was an overly empathetic child, the kind that took just a bit too long to warm up to the world. I cried at the dinner table. And then decided that I would make him a quilt.
I cut the squares of fabric, and one by one, I sewed each square to the next by hand. My mother offered to help, but I was so insistent on doing it on my own that the only time she touched it was to teach me the double back stitch. Possibly because of this, it was not perfect, however hard I tried. Its bits of fabric were chosen from the scrap bin at Michael’s, therefore they did not match. Under a vague time constraint, sometimes neatness was sacrificed for speed. There were pulls in the fabric, holes where I had missed stitches, patches that were crooked and misaligned. My fingers were often bloody from distracted, accidental stab wounds. The quilt often seemed like it might never be finished. However, I kept on, thinking of the man.
A month from the start of my project, miraculously, I sewed the final stitch and knotted the string. I smoothed it out on my bed, looking at it, in all of its flawed beauty — The snags and pulls and the utter mismatchedness of it. It was so delicate. It would so easily come undone.
I showed it to my mother, half embarrassment, half pride.
“Will you let me bring it to him tomorrow?”
“It’s so beautiful. You did such a good job,” she told me.
“You have work tomorrow, don’t you? It’s Saturday. I can come with you.”
“We can think about it. I’ll have to see.”
After dinner, my mother told me the man had died about a week prior.
Although then it seemed like a fruitless project, looking back, that quilt was the first commitment I ever made on my own. I began and finished it with the stubborn, naive optimism and faith in myself that lingers within me today.
In a sense, I am still sewing a quilt. Today, my quilts are novels. Although I am no longer stitching together disparate rags, I continue to bind — experiences, ideas, people. And still, they are entirely my own, and still, they are fueled by a stubborn, naive optimism. A spark, a need, a hope.
Like the fabric compositions that preceded them, my novels often emerge fragile and on the cusp of unravelling. They reflect the sympathies and vulnerabilities of their maker, they spring from a desire to comfort myself and another. They represent the willpower of a young woman who, upon telling people of her aspiration to become an author, is badgered to select a more practical career choice. Sometimes it seems I know as little about writing as I did quilt-making. But I do not regret making that quilt. I do not regret delving into the unknown to hopefully bring a small happiness into someone’s life. And I do not regret novel writing, for the same reason.
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