We are built by our experiences. I am a patchwork quilt thirty-eight years in the making. There are stories of joy, sorrow, hope, loss, discovery and rediscovery, and laughter. Lots of laughter. It doesn’t feel like it some days, when the sadness is real and visceral and being sewn into my flesh, but I can stand in the mirror and see the chortles, the guffaws, the downright side splitting, piss your pants cackling and remember fondly. The sadness is not permanent; it will pass, and it will make my skin thicker.
People, too, are part of who I am. I take bits and pieces from them, as they do me, and add them as souvenirs to my menagerie of flesh and cloth, yarn joints and button eyes. Here I have my mother’s argumentativeness, there my father’s fear of growing up. Nobody is too inconsequential; a stranger’s kindness, the mistrust from a thief in the night. Ex-girlfriends memorialize their presence in hash marks across my forearm and absent tiny chunks of my heart constructed of old paperbacks and fairy tales.
This is where you come in.
You took back what you gave me. You dug in, tore thread, and peeled it from my flank like an orange that just isn’t ripe enough to give easily, in pulpy bits and chunks. You had your reasons, I’m sure. I can even understand to some extent. But in fair trade of flesh and heart, you cheated; you took from me memories and warmth and words and in turn you gave me something that almost defined me, what I do. You read me like a book, understood me like your own self, and you spelled it out in a carefully arranged bouquets of roses and baby’s breath. I stitched it into place with love and pride because, yes, that was me, and somebody finally understood.
My flesh is exposed, raw, bloody. I try to reform the memory in my head, to patch myself up, but I cannot. It was not my memory to make, nor my words. You committed a crime, stealing from the living, breaking the pact of shared experience. Ghosts cannot complain, but I am not a ghost, and I come to you on my knees, hand on my side, making your kitchen tile slick with blood and ink.
I don’t ask for much, only what you gave me, to staunch the flow and remind me of who I am. I will then politely mop your floor and saunter back the way I came, leaving you with a hash mark, a ripped corner of Aesop, and the gifts I penned into your flesh untouched.
You gave me what I came for, and as promised I mopped your floor, said my goodbyes, and slipped quietly out your back door. I don’t move around a lot, I’m easy to find, someday, if you wish. I cleaned as best I could, but some of that blood, a few of my words, soaked into the grout, the space between things. Your tile floor will always contain my DNA. Nobody will notice, but you might, when the morning sun strikes it just right, or the light from the fridge while searching for a midnight snack. I hope it doesn’t bother you; I doubt it will.
I sit outside, in the dark of a strange city, sewing what was lost back into place. The flesh is still raw and of course it will hurt, but not forever. Nothing is forever, except for change. The alcohol disinfects and dulls the sting, but does not take it away. I – we – must all feel that sting; its part of the process.
Strangers pass me and give me knowing nods of acknowledgment. They’ve been here. They’re all constructed of thread and buttons and memories, too. Some of them even touch a patch as they go, seen or unseen. I am a brief reminder of their own losses, alcohol, sewing needle, and all. They say nothing, but they don’t need to.
We impress upon each other these small, shared moments; lessons learned, the only thing constant is change. We pin it to our skins, we are a part of each other now. We can ache and moan about the stitches, that this wound never heals, or we can adapt, grow, evolve. I don’t wish to stagnate, I have plans.
Do not deny what you’re made of. Do not hide your scars and aberrations. Every book has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Tearing out pages denies your readers pieces of you, denies yourself a history. A German doctor once told me in a thick, mad, Reich-ish accent that people without belly buttons lose their identities and go insane.
Do not lose your identity, as it is all you have.