Head vs. Heart

When I was in the throes of writing The Boy, I told my sister that this was a challenging book to write, not just because of the subject but because I’d been convinced that in order to tie the fiction and non-fiction together, I needed a third thread — memoir.  And I was terribly uncomfortable writing about myself.  She looked at me wisely, as older sisters are prone to do, and said that she had always had the feeling that I was hiding in the heart of all of my fiction, and how was this different.

In its own difficult  way, adding the personal to that hybrid has helped me to get past the boundaries I’d  built into my writing.  Personal essay, or simply “spilling my guts” (as I’ve described it to my family) in posts like this seems to demand to be written.

When I saw the call for submissions for A Family by Any Other Name, edited by Bruce Gillespie and forthcoming from Touchwood Books in April  http://www.touchwoodeditions.com/book_details.php?isbn_upc=9781771510547  I didn’t hesitate to write about my reaction to our daughter’s coming out, or the way in which it challenged my faith.  I sent the essay to Elisabeth before I submitted it and asked if she and Barb would be comfortable having this story out in the world.  Of course, she answered, but you know, you made me cry.  I believe she said the same thing when I asked for her reaction to a very short piece of “fiction” that I was hoping to include  in my collection of short stories, A Crack in the Wall.  When I look at both pieces now, I see myself perhaps even more clearly in the fiction, which sprang from my surprise that my heart had a different reaction to Elisabeth’s coming out than my head. The essay, writing as myself, from the heart, helped me follow the path to the point of “Finding My Grace.”

Simply because the book and the story have been a long time relegated to “back list” status, I think “Stitches” needs to come into the light one more time.  So here, with my thanks to Oolichan Books for permission to reprint is “Stitches.”  http://www.oolichan.com/hegerat-a-crack-in-the-wall


There is a knot in the thread. So close to the end of the hem, the woman pauses to tug each stitch through the fine cloth.

These are her mother’s hands, her grandmother’s hands. Always stitching.  Christening gown, plaid jumper for first day of school, red velvet Christmas frock, graduation dress, wedding gown, christening gown. Sewing the lives of daughters.

The girl on the floor squares her shoulders, braces palms on either side of blue-jeaned legs and drinks a deep breath. “I have to tell you something,” she says on the exhalation.

The fabric puckers. “I wish I had a finer needle, and lighter thread,” the woman says. “I wish you’d asked me to do this when I got here yesterday instead of when I’m halfway out the door.”   

“Mom! Will you just listen?”

The daughter’s voice stumbles over words. The mother’s vision blurs. She crosses her knees to bring the work closer, head bent to the needle. Measures her stitches smaller, tighter.

She wants to cover the soft lips with her palm, to say No telling is needed. While you were at your class this morning I did what visiting mothers do.  I tidied and snooped. But it seems she’s sewn her tongue to the roof of her mouth.

A photo frame lay flat, folded, face down. It’s usual position, upright, drawn in clean lines on the dusty desk top. She’d picked it up and tilted the glass to the sweep of window in this twenty-second floor student apartment, sunlight turning the faces in the picture to spangles.

A triptych of two girls. No. Two women. In the first frame both squint solemnly into the distance, in the second they smile their secret to the camera, and in the third unabashedly into one another’s eyes. Telling this mother what she already knew.

The girl is still again. So quiet the room, the sound of the last stitch piercing the cool skin of fabric is audible.

How to keep the wrong words from exploding. Bouncing off the wall of light and ricocheting around the room.

How to say thank you for telling me.

When she stands to gather her girl into her arms, the dress refuses to slide free, dances instead from where she’s stitched it to her lap.

In a minute she will pick up the scissors. Snip her daughter free. Stitch by stitch.

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