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An Absolution

Sewing through three quarantines, by Denise Archer.


You are absolved.

You are absolved of endless mask-making, of your refusal to do so, your use of ITY, your wrecked silk project, your purchase of that machine you really wanted when your family needed those dollars for your kid’s soccer dues.

You are absolved of eating too much chocolate, having breakfast for dinner and cookies for breakfast and skipping lunch, of the Quarantine 15 and even thinking about it in the face of body positivity. You are absolved of choosing your single, child-free lifestyle against everyone’s wishes, of those harsh feelings for those who don’t understand why you identify beyond the binary, of the hurt caused by those who cannot embrace your gorgeous fatness—or your beautiful blackness—and of your humiliation by loud, direct voices.

You are absolved of your shitty marriage and even shittier family relationships, of not checking in enough on your elderly or expecting too much from others. You are absolved of that nugget of ugliness you still carry because of those unspoken messages that you should change your body size or body part or ability or skin color or hair—and for believing it in the first place.

You are absolved of making garments only for yourself in spite of others wanting them, of the bitter feelings caught like a sour apple in your throat for those who expect it.

You are absolved of it all.


My first quarantine was when our son was born two and a half months early. Whenever a bud of dusky gray bloomed around his lips, I knew he had stopped breathing. I would dig my thumb deep into his miniature heel and drag it hard across the bottom of his foot. It forced him to scream just like my body screamed from the punch of adrenaline and searing heat, my hands trembling after each episode. He had fragile lungs. The wrong sneeze could have killed him. We had yellow masks tacked in a row against the kitchen wall so that visiting family could wear one after first washing their hands. Our phone number was flagged by 911. If we used it, an ambulance would be dispatched without anyone needing to say a word.

So we hunkered down for eight months. I only ran out for a few errands during that time and avoided all grocery stores. My husband traveled to and from work with occasional runs to get food. We were given back-door entrance to the pediatrician’s office and immediate space in any room. We never had to wait in crowded lobbies. On the weekends, if the weather was nice, we walked a covered stroller in the park or on the street, safely away from others, all before social distancing was de rigeur.

And then one sunny day in late June, our family threw the baby shower we never had, and our son was launched into the world for a second time. And it felt glorious.

During that quarantine, I was at home with a baby and a sewing machine, but I never picked up a piece of fabric for him. I tried. I really wanted to. I even had five yards of batik to make a simple baby-wearing wrap. Instead, it was my mother-in-law who churned out blanket after swaddling blanket. My baby inspiration was dead, and guilt took its space: I had decided to make something for myself instead.

Out of nothing but the supplies I had in my bin, I created the most luxurious garment I could imagine, something impossible to wear during my baby haze. It was a rose-colored corset out of silk dupioni, a glamour from another world, and it hung unfinished in my closet. On occasion, I would pass by to admire and touch it. Years later, I grabbed some hook and eye closures, carefully hand-sewed them on and wore that corset to an auction.

During my second quarantine, I had cancer. The chemotherapy did its job so well, and it began to kill me along with the dying mass in my breast. I had a white blood cell count 600% percent lower than a healthy person. The doctors cautioned me against cuts to my body, my skin being the only layer of protection against the harsh world. The yellow masks and vigorous hand-washing made their appearance once again.

This time, we hunkered down for six months. My husband traveled to and from work and hosted the occasional playdate. Our son, then 11-years old, took up hunting Pokemon in the city and nearby forest and avoided contact with me whenever he got sick. Mostly, I laid in bed asleep.

When I wasn’t asleep, I tried to sit in my sewing room. My creativity was dead—some days, all my effort was put into being upright. So I decided to stitch pieces of scrap fabric together with no purpose. It was pathetic and pointless, however, soothing to my body and mind (but this story has been told before; there is no need to repeat it).

And then, three weeks after my mastectomy, just as my eyelashes were beginning to grow in, we threw a Christmas Eve party for family and friends with fresh-cut decor, twinkling lights, and a buffet of desserts baked by our son. And it felt glorious.

Now we find ourselves distanced once again. This time, the entire world participates. And this time, technology caters to our needs and our deep yearning for human contact. Businesses have pivoted. All kinds of curbside-service and deliveries are available. The internet is deluged with the world’s conversations, phones and emails are digitally stuffed with a never-ending cascade of messages. Also, the news is not good. Tragedy has hit many. We cannot recognize this new wild country we’ve stepped into.

Therefore, I sew. I avoid the news, put my head down, and run fabric through the machine. I’ve dusted off old ideas and projects. My task-list and hunger are endless as I try to make it all. Except for one: masks. I do not know why this is difficult for me, and I do not question it. Someday the answer will come. Right now, I must do, I must make, I must sew. Eventually, masks will be swept into the mania, but not yet.

However, I do know one thing: the endless will end. And when all fears of the virus have been eradicated, there will be a world-wide celebration like nothing history has ever seen. And we will participate. And it will feel glorious.

In the meantime…

You are absolved of eating too much chocolate, having breakfast for dinner and cookies for breakfast and skipping lunch, of the Quarantine 15 and even thinking about it in the face of body positivity. You are absolved of choosing your single, child-free lifestyle against everyone’s wishes, of those harsh feelings for those who don’t understand why you identify beyond the binary, of the hurt caused by those who cannot embrace your gorgeous fatness—or your beautiful blackness—and of your humiliation by loud, direct voices.

You think these words are mine? Walk over to the dedicated space for your absolution. Spend time with the one who releases you of your doubt, your guilt, your fears. It waits, patient and silent, in the corner of the room.

It is your sewing machine.

Baz
Devon
Witt

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