It’s mostly been the shame that I couldn’t keep up with the nearly daily posting about my time in Japan that’s kept me from updating about more present happenings. I’ll be sure to finish that project as best I can with the notes I made (years ago now, jeeze), but that can’t be what stops me now, not because things are so important; things are as common as ever, unfortunately. So in the end I have no excuse to write.
That’s not true. I’m making a quilt.
First, the basics, because I’m a sucker for chronology. I’m back from Japan, as of July 2015, arrived on a Sunday, and started work on a Monday. It sucked. But with very little support or guidance, I became an excellent ESL teacher. I enjoy teaching, and creating and improving curriculum for classes, and dislike nearly every other aspect of it. My annual contract was not renewed last summer for just five weeks, a decision my boss (who is capable and intelligent) had nothing to do with somehow. There are men I work with, colleagues, who are blatantly disrespectful in nearly every counter, and it’s a wonder human resources hasn’t burned the place to the ground by now. Otherwise it’s grand.
Nicholas and I are together, and not disastrously apart, as I believe I predicted last, years ago, before I left town. We spoke nearly every day while I was abroad. My breakup with my ex happened months before I came home, and upon my return, I discovered that nothing was as I had left it: friends had lost touch, my partner of 7 years was erased from my life completely, I had no home, and a job I felt (and was made to feel) totally unqualified for. I was in mourning, depressed, anchor-less and overworked. I stayed with my parents. By the fifth day, my jetlag had finally completely worn off. By the tenth day, my mother began asking me “how the apartment hunt was going.” It was not an easy transition.
I live now in the same place I discovered on damn craigslist within two weeks of my return to my hometown: an early 20th century studio with recessed lighting, fake but convincing wood floors, and a new, modern refrigerator that’s much too large for this building’s era. I’ve done that thing I do in every apartment: I see points I could improve easily (curtains rather than blinds, shaving the edges of cabinet doors so they shut properly, refinishing the table I got from Nicole), but then I think, “I never stay more than a year, so what’s the point? I’d just have to undo it all anyway. And where would I store the blinds?” So. My quality of life stagnates in little ways, and those little indignities wear me down when I look too closely. At the end of the day, it’s in a shit neighborhood with loud neighbors, a very active fire station two doors down and an equally active police station a block away. They have a helipad.
So I’m making a quilt.
Nicholas was thrilled to have me back in the US, but I struggled to share his joy fully. I loved him so much, but I was crushed by the loss of what had been my best friend and partner of several years, in addition to all the other stresses of moving back to a city where I’d done a thorough job of tearing up my roots. “Does your breakup still bother you?” I asked him one night as we sat in my little car as we always did. “Are you in pain?”
“No,” he said. After two years together, they’d broken up a few months before. “We’d already been drifting apart.” He was quiet until he looked my way. “Are you?” Of course I nodded and burst into tears. He was very patient, but I could tell it bothered him. “If you need time,” he told me, but how could I push him away? What else did I have? I’d finally gotten my hands on him, he was finally mine, and I’d be damned (exhausted, depressed, disappointed in my pay, yes, but also goddamned) if I was going to let him get away that easily.
Then he moved away. He was accepted to every single law school he applied to with only one exception. When he heard from #26, he was on the verge of accepting their offer. It seemed like a good idea, it was a great school, and it was local. Then #8 came calling, number eight in the whole damn country. It could not be further away without crossing a border or an ocean. The first year was horrible, there was nothing to be done about it. I gave him all the support I could: calls, texts, letters, care packages. At the end of the first year, he told me he was considering extending his time there by a year or more to include a master’s degree. I said, “I can’t believe you’re considering not doing it.” It made all the sense in the world, but it was Spring then, and it snows in Virginia in the winter.
So I’m making a quilt. It sounds simple enough: cut colorful cloth into pieces, put the pieces of cloth together, the end. And yet it’s much more complex, and I’m struck by its similarities to life in general, and I cannot believe how many different ways there are to fuck this up. I’ve already had to undo all the work I’d done (I didn’t dog-ear the strips: shocking, I know). The first fuck-up is the best one though, because it wasn’t my fault: it was Nicholas’.
Summer was ending when I got it in my head to make this quilt to keep him warm in the winter. I’d sewn a few skirts by that time, how hard could a quilt be? I looked online and was immediately overwhelmed until I found what I wanted on the cover of a magazine: a red and white blanket that oozed warmth just by looking at it. I bought the magazine, and the cloth, cut it without the proper tools, and brought a good pile of it to Virginia work on while he was in class until we moved him into his new apartment. We were taking a stroll one evening after dinner down a small main street on the other side of the train tracks. The evening was balmy, and the breeze was no help. We passed a shop with soft pillows placed in the window just so in a very cozy fashion (not at all in keeping with the weather), one of which was the same colors of the quilt I’d just started. I asked Nicholas, “What do you think of that?”
“I don’t like it,” he deadpanned. My heart dropped. “Oh?” I asked casually. “Why not?”
“Red is so… aggressive,” he mumbled unhelpfully. No amount of coaxing could get him to say more. We went back to the hotel, where I showed him a Pinterest board of saved images of quilts under the premise of our future home’s decoration. He’d never used Pinterest before, so he didn’t know what I meant by “my board,” and flatly (occasionally brutally) shot down every single quilt I’d so carefully selected without realizing I’d selected them. Imagine this: your loved one’s head resting on your shoulder as you listen to him destroy the gift you’d been planning for weeks, the pieces of which rested at that very moment in a bag at the foot of the bed, which you’d bought, cut, and carried across the country to work on while he was in class. Feel, now, how your eyebrows jump higher and higher with every unabashed rejection: “No. No. Ugh, no. This one has ninja stars. Why are they all so sharp? No way. No,” and so on until all motivation to continue this project has left your body, like a ghost that whispers, “Nevermore” as it flips you off and turns the corner out the door.
Eventually he realized why I was showing him these pictures. “Baby, did you buy me a red quilt?!” No, I said, and brought out the pieces I’d brought: red, all. He thumbed through them with more tact but equal disapproval. The next day we took another look at Pinterest, at his insistence, and he found one he liked. That was August. It has been three months since then, which is apparently how long it takes me to mend from an emotional blow like that.
So I’m making a fucking quilt.
He knows better by now than to tell me he doesn’t like it when he finally sees it. I hope he likes it anyway.