A Stitch in Time
Within a certain realm, my mother could fix anything. A ripped seam. A tangled necklace. My unruly hair. And, on numerous occasions, me. There, her tools were a kind of magic that doesn’t fall easily into words. Often, it was simply a look different from any other and either a raised eyebrow or a simple question.
Then, she would listen. Sometimes, she would shake her head. Sometimes, she would tell me I was an idiot. Other times, still, she would rage at whomever or whatever had caused her baby girl a headache. Over the years, the list of offenders grew long, as lists do, but they’re all just ghosts in this story. What matters – what mattered – was the listening. The being present and invested in the kind of way that, maybe, only a mother can be – one who has seen and loved since the beginning.
Last year, I taught myself how to hem, so that I could remove the sleeves of a T-shirt that are too constricting to be anything but annoying. My stiches, though small, were uneven and somewhat veering. This, like all skills, is something that comes with time. Like a number of things, it’s something I’ve had to reacquaint myself with in the wake of my mother’s death.
It’s been nearly four years, and it hasn’t gotten any easier. People, well-meaning, will lie directly to your face with the shiniest kindness. They will say it gets better, but it doesn’t. It just gets different. It is, as best as I can tell, the emotional equivalent of losing a limb. Something essential that was there all your life is gone. And nothing can replace what’s missing. You just learn to live, to cope, without it.
One of the many things she taught me, though, was the importance of listening. Not just hearing the words and waiting to get your say in. But attending to the sentences and the feelings behind them, being present in that moment, and really communicating. So many people are simply there, but not there. So many people hear, but do not hear. You can blame all kinds of things for affecting the way we do, and do not, communicate: the internet, cellphones, texting. In a world where communication is often instant, words are sometimes consumed as fast food. And it really is all too easy to stop putting in the effort, to stop being fully present, and to stop paying attention to what’s being said – and, perhaps, what’s not being said. It takes effort, and in this everything-on-demand world, people have often grown lazy – careless with our attention and reckless with our inattention.
But I am, thanks to my mother, an excellent listener. I am a better listener than I am a talker, unless I trust you without hesitation. Or there’s tequila involved. Even then, I can still be guarded. Most people do not realize this. Most people are fooled by a wide smile and a well-timed joke. But that’s another thing my mom taught me: people see what they want to see. People believe what they want to believe. And like creating an amazing Halloween costume, it is the details that matter, that fill out the picture. (My mother, it should be noted, once handstitched a Batgirl costume for me, complete with utility belt. Unfortunately, this was the summer I first moved south, and the particular town we lived in didn’t trick-or-treat. That was only discovered after knocking on several houses and the occupants giving seven-year-old me quizzical looks, as if I was a strangely dressed beggar. All I succeeded in getting that evening was…an apple. I’m still mad.)
There is a long-running joke in my family that I cannot sew to save my life. As a kid, I was fascinating by sewing. I would often steal an old shirt of my father’s to practice on, stitching on a pocket (I don’t know why I thought a pocket would be cool; kids are weird). I am certain it never quite resembled a pocket at all. But I like the idea of patching up, of creating, of somehow taking something and making it better.
As you might already suspect, I get that from my mother. If she could fix it, she would. If she could make it better, she did. If she could help, she helped. And that is a gift she gave me that, perhaps until recently, I didn’t quite understand. I am not one to sit idly by when someone is hurting or having a hard time. I am not a sidelines person. I’m in the game. I jump in, full-hearted, arms open. I will always hug you. And I don’t know how to love in small measures, because love is not a small thing. It’s a miracle made of starlight and bone, blood and madness, skin and madness. She taught me, by example, that it is something you fight for, no matter what. And on days where I need reminding of that, on days where I need more strength that I can find within myself, I wear her opal ring (borrowing it only). Because it reminds me of everything she was, everything she went through and strove for, never letting life make her jaded and bitter. Never letting her doubt herself or her own heart, even when it would’ve been all too easy to.
I suppose, in a way, my mother is still working her magic. It isn’t just in the things she left behind or the skills she taught me. It’s the way in which she lives in my memory, woven like thread into each moment. She showed me how to listen, how to love, and how to take a stand.
I can’t hear her voice, anymore, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still listening.