I will be forever grateful that my mother taught me to sew. Granted, she snapped at and insulted me the whole time. And granted that it came across as something I would “need to learn somehow” rather than anything she would delight in teaching me. Still, those moments spent at the sewing machine are memories I will treasure always.
My mother was not an affectionate woman, neither in word nor touch. She made it clear from a very young age that I disgusted her. Perhaps, I reminded her too much of my father, the violent criminal who up and disappeared sometime after my fifth birthday. Who knows? All I can say for sure is that the only physical contact I really ever had with my mother was completely utilitarian. She was forced to bathe me until I could do it myself. Sometimes, our fingers touched as we passed an object between us. Practicality. Little accidents. Never love or affection.
Sewing was different. I was small when she first started teaching me, and we only had one sewing machine. She had no choice but to hoist me onto her lap. Her arms wrapped around me from behind so her big hands could guide my little ones. It was a hug, no doubt, though far from official or intentional. Still, I savored how it felt to sit there so close to her. I drank in the smell of her skin. On one occasion, I even tried leaning backward, deeper into her body.
“Sit up straight, girl!” she snapped. “Pay attention.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said.
I never tried again. I simply made myself content with the precious little on offer.
It was not long, however, before even that much was taken away. By this time, my mother had found a new hobby: racing straight to the bottom of every beer bottle she came across. Still, for quite some time, I refused to give up hope.
“Ma’am?” I would ask, approaching her with all the care of a soldier in a minefield.
“Mmm?” Her typical response was a wordless grunt, all I deserved as acknowledgment of my presence.
“Can we have a sewing lesson?” I waited for the answer with every muscle tensed.
“Fucking sewing!” was all she could manage as a slurred response. She reached indiscriminately for an object on the table---a spoon on this occasion---and pelted it at my knees. I dodged just in time to hear it clank against the kitchen floor.
“Pick it up!” she demanded.
I obeyed and placed the spoon directly into the brown, soapy water that filled the sink. Before I could turn around, she’d dropped her head to the table and drifted off.
As time went on, I never stopped wanting to feel that closeness with my mother. I grew desperate. It became the most important thing in my little world to win her back somehow.
And then an idea struck. It came to me one day as I was cleaning the sewing machine. What if I made her something? A blanket? Yes! She was always complaining about how cold she was! If I made her a nice warm blanket it would show her not only that I cared for her and deserved her love, but also how much I had learned about sewing! The plan seemed perfect. Foolproof. I started right away.
I have no idea how long it took me, but I remember working on my little project day after day, night after night. I’d decided to make it by stitching together some old clothes and towels we never used anymore. It sounds horribly juvenile now, I know, but at the time, I was so pleased by how clever my plan seemed.
Finally, it was finished. I sent the last inch of my patchwork monstrosity through the machine and then held it up to get as good a look at it as possible. It was magnificent. I could hardly wait to show my mother.
Slowly, I pushed open her bedroom door. It gave a noisy creak as the light from the hall poured in and illuminated her supine figure, clad in a lilac bathrobe and with one arm draped over her eyes.
“Ma’am?” I called softly as I stepped toward the bed.
My mother did not answer.
“Ma’am,” I tried again, this time a bit louder.
Still, she said nothing.
“Ma’am,” I said finally, as loud as I dared.
She whipped her arm away from her eyes so suddenly, I jumped back in surprise. I could now see her staring at me, her eyes darkened by the shadows in the room, spearing me with hatred and the silent demand for an explanation.
I swallowed hard and tried to steady my hands which had begun to shake. Slowly, I lifted the blanket to where she could see it.
“I made something for you,” I said as sweetly as I could manage. “A present.”
Her eyes narrowed at my offering. She seemed genuinely confused.
I swallowed again. “A present. For you.... It’s a blanket.”
The silence that followed was deafening and hurtful, but I would still trade what happened next for an eternity of it.
The cackle that pealed from my mother’s throat ripped through me like a shotgun blast. Her chest flexed high off the mattress and her head hung back. Her mouth gaped, ghastly like a black hole. it was into that black hole that my sanity must have fled.
Her laughter, evil and mocking --it was simply too much. I needed to silence her. Without even thinking, I stretched the blanket taut and pressed it over her face. I held it there while she laughed and laughed until, at last, her laughter gave way to coughs, and coughs gave way to moans. All the while her hands flailed about ineffectually, sometimes making contact with my ribs, but more often grasping at the sheets on either side of her. Finally---mercifully---the sound stopped and my mother fell limp.
When it was done, the tears came---hot in my eyes, but cold on my cheeks. Without hesitating, I crawled into bed beside my mother. I nestled into the space between her arm and torso. The limb was loose and compliant as I brought it around and tucked it under my chin. I have no idea how long I stayed now. Hours, I now gather. Long enough for my mother to cool, stiffen, and then loosen again. At times, I allowed myself to drift off, and when I did, I dreamed of her---fitful dreams, more memory than fantasy. In my moments of consciousness, I tried as hard as I could to drink in every ounce of her fading scent, and to relish the feeling of her skin.
Her skin. The touch she had always denied me.
It was then that a new inspiration overtook me. Why could my mother not give to me in death what she could never in life? Would it not be some strange and beautiful way to make up for her sins? Yes, I thought. I will make a new blanket.
The first cut into my mother’s flesh was the most difficult. I was so fearful I would ruin her! But every successive slice became easier and, soon, I had gathered enough from her arms, chest, and middle for my purposes.
I couldn’t help but sing as I sewed the pieces together, supplementing as needed to achieve the proper shape. All the while, I imagined how sweet and warm it would feel to be wrapped up in my creation at last, like I’d longed for so often. It would feel, in a very real sense, like an act of forgiveness on my mother’s part. Forgiveness for having taken her life away: first by being born, and later more literally.
Written by Jdeschene