Of all the types of fallout I still have to deal with from my abusive past, the one that’s often hardest for me to deal with is the physical effect of the flashbacks. The memories themselves are what they are; it’s when I realize I’m (re)acting like they’re happening again right now that’s the problem. I went no-contact with my abuser years ago, but it’s a little harder than just not answering phone calls anymore to get all the reminders of them out of your life. And I have so many triggers. Certain songs, certain scents, movies, attitudes, objects. Catching something out of the corner of my eye can give me that classic pit-of-your-stomach sick feeling before I register I’ve even seen the thing, and you literally cannot get away from your own body no matter how much you want to. Sometimes all I can smell is the hallways of the apartment building where I grew up, like heavy summer night air and warm V-8 and pink erasers, the really soft kind.
Somewhere my mid-twenties, I started giving myself permission to get rid of the things that were embodying the bad things about my past and keeping them too much in the present. It’s never the easiest task for me. I have to work to ignore all of my “but this could still be useful in some way!” instincts in order to feel OK about throwing something away just because of how I feel about it. There’s a calculation I do with each object I come across that stops me functioning or that I suddenly realize has been keeping me agitated every time I use it. It often comes down to asking what was the price I paid for wanting the thing vs. what was the trouble it caused her to give it to me? Did she think she owned it even after she gave it to me vs. did I want the thing badly enough to put up with her making fun of me for it? Was it something she intentionally burdened me with or did I feel like I earned it? I trashed the dollhouse, kept the Compact OED.
None of which is technically about this quilt. And yet.
I was living with my mother again and I needed a thing to focus on to keep my mind together a little until I could get away from her again. I don’t think it was intentional or a conscious decision, but I fell back on a familiar choice from childhood. Crafting was always the only escape method that both worked for me and read as neutral to my family. if I wanted to calm myself by reading or cooking food that only I liked, that would get me noticed and in trouble, but if I was sewing or crocheting something I looked normal to them and they’d leave me mostly alone. I don’t remember what exactly sparked the idea, but I decided to make a quilt. It was an odd choice of craft for me. Quilting was something I had tried a couple times before and decided it wasn’t my deal because (I believed) it required more exactitude than I was naturally capable of or could magically, instantly acquire. This was a time in my life when I had a real “if I can’t just be good at it, I don’t want to learn or try” situation going. Actually, that time in my life lasted from about age 4 to age…a bit younger than I am now. I’ve tried pretty hard to put that attitude away recently. I’ve found that all it really leads me to is a policy of intentional not-trying, which means things don’t look like I wanted them to but I can’t see how it could have gone differently and then I never get better at anything.
I was still pretty deep into that policy at the time, though. I used what was at hand, old clothes and fabric scraps from previous quilting attempts. I mixed woven and knit fabrics even though I knew enough to know that wasn’t a great idea, and then was disappointed that my pieces weren’t all behaving the same way. I used a coaster for my square template rather than the rotary cutter and quilting ruler I knew full well how to use and then got mad that my squares weren’t all the same size. When my differently sized squares of fabrics of varying stretchiness did not arrange themselves into a neat checkerboard of perfectly aligned seams it was more proof that quilting was not for me as opposed to just plain getting what you get if you’re not going to try. I didn’t even actually do any quilting on it. I finished it with knots like I remembered learning how to do in an elementary school project once, but I didn’t remember exactly how to tie them and I didn’t look it up so they were weird and most of them have long since fallen out.
But I did finish it, and it did keep my brain together for a while, and I did get away from my mother eventually. And now it’s been something like another 15 years and I still think about cutting up my old clothes on her living room floor every time I use my quilt. I still always notice the few things of hers she said I could use (and so I couldn’t not use them because then I’d have to explain and justify why I didn’t consider them a precious gift) first when I look at it. It’s falling apart in the places it was never properly put together, the remaining knots no longer holding and the seams between incompatible fabrics separating. I’ve wanted to do something about it for a long time, but after the last time I gave up sewing forever ago I never really knew what I could do with it. When I decided to give sewing another try a few months ago, remaking this quilt was one of the first things I wanted to tackle. I don’t like living with it but I don’t want to throw it out. I would rather find some way to honor what it was and what it was meant to be but make it into something that feels right for my life now.
Ripping it apart felt goooooood. I separated it all into three piles: the knits that might become something else someday, the wovens to keep for the new quilt, and the stuff that brings up the bad things. That last armful got a moment of thanks from me for keeping me warm so many times and then a firm drop into the trash.
Since there wasn’t nearly enough left after all that to make an entire quilt top, I started filling out the rest in a way that complements the original’s scrappiness with some repurposed pillow cases from old sheet sets that are no longer complete. I’m also grabbing some packs of pre-cut quilting fabric whenever I see one that I like. As for construction, I’m just making it up as I go. I’m not not-trying but I’m also not getting bogged down by it not being “perfect” even if I did try. It’s a little (lot) wobbly and I don’t entirely know what it’s going to be when it’s done, besides a learning experience and an opportunity to heal a little, but so far it’s working.