I took the afghan from the laundry basket where it had waited two days for me to fold it in fourths and put it back on my daughter’s bed. It never feels right in my hands, though – and if it’s possible to have a complicated history with a thing, I do with this afghan.
When I graduated from high school – or when I turned 16, I can’t remember for sure – my step-grandmother (Sue’s mother) offered to crochet an afghan for me. I could pick the colors from the rows of Red Heart yarn at Kmart, so I chose teal (it was a phase) and pink (I still liked pink, then) and cream (it matched them both). The finished piece was stripes of those colors, in varying widths.
When I went away to college, the afghan went with me and kept me warm through two bitter Nebraska winters.
And then, my family finally broke apart, as it should have done many years earlier. My father and my stepmother would finally get a divorce.
Who would have custody of my younger brother was the question, even though he was 16 and, under other circumstances, would have been asked where he wanted to live. But leaving him there with Sue, after all that happened, wasn’t an option for any of us. My sister and I prepared written statements and agreed to testify at the hearing about the things Sue had done to us.
We hoped that her mother would help by testifying, also, to help her grandson get out of that house. She knew what had happened over all the years, she knew what all of us had been through. Because she had lived next door to us for 15 years, because she had a front row seat to some of what happened, she was in a unique position to tell what she knew.
But she backed out at the last minute. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t testify against her own daughter.
So I called her. I found a pay phone outside the courthouse and called her, in tears, and begged her to do this for my brother. I told her that maybe it would be the extra push we needed.
And she wouldn’t.
I can understand her not wanting to speak out in court against her own daughter. I do. I can’t imagine how that would feel, not only to believe and accept the truth for herself, but to say for the public record what her daughter was capable of doing. But I can imagine making at least that much effort to save someone who still didn’t have a voice for himself (even at that age, he didn’t).
The story goes on longer than this, but the short version is that my father was awarded custody. In the end, not having her help didn’t matter to the case.
But it mattered to me. A lot. I couldn’t see her the same way.
The afghan went into a box, where it stayed through 11 moves over 20 years. Tucked inside a box, packed inside the past.
A couple of months ago, I found it again. I knew I didn’t want it, but it didn’t feel right to throw it away, either. Someone without any emotional attachment to it might take some warmth from the blanket, so I set it aside to take to Goodwill or to an animal shelter.
And then my daughter found it. “Can I have this, Mommy?”
I hesitated, wanting to be rid of it. But what could I say? Hadn’t I just decided the afghan should be used by someone who wouldn’t care about its past?
Since that day, it’s found a spot at the end of her bed, where she can pull it up over herself if she gets cold in the night. She uses it to make blanket forts, or drags it through the house to the sofa, to curl up under to watch TV or read a book.
It keeps her warm.
That it was made by hands that wouldn’t reach out to help when they could have (at many times through the years, not just at the end)…well, that’s not something she needs to know. It gives her comfort, that’s all that’s important. And don’t I hope that’s true of me? It doesn’t matter to her that I was shaped by hands that knotted me together with uneven, tangled stitches, or that my flaws are more apparent to my children than to anyone. What matters is that she and her brother can find comfort without having to reach very far.
Tonight I put the blanket – clean and fresh-smelling – on her bed. “It smells really good, sweetie,” I told her, and she buried her face in it and breathed in.
As I knew, knew for sure, she would.