Him (or The Quilt)

I sit on the single bed

with my mom

looking at memories

spread out on the quilt

my dead grandmother made.

 

“Come back” her letter said, “I don’t want to store your stuff anymore,”

in her three-bedroom, ranch-style house with the full basement

where she lives alone

after the divorce.

 

I sit on the single bed with my mom

on the quilt my dead grandmother made

deciding what to take back on the plane

to my single bedroom

in my small, shared flat

far away.

 

I spread my hands across the quilt,

decide to taking it with me,

warm with remembering

how my grandmother made it for me,

matching the colors in the fabric to the paint samples I showed her –

the only time I was allowed to redecorate my room.

 

But Mom says no:

it was made for the room,

so it should stay in the room

(and because she likes it).

 

So I sit on the single bed with my mom,

on the quilt my dead grandmother made

that I will never have,

and page through a grade-school scrapbook,

seeing the memories from a long-ago time:

report cards of excellence (shrugged off when I brought them home),

Camp Fire Girls award certificates,

my first place poetry prize from sixth grade –

and I am almost smiling.

 

Then I turn the page and see a forest of blue ribbons

speckled with a few red and fewer white.

“What are these?” I ask with a wrinkled brow,

because honestly,

I do not remember.

 

“Oh, those,” she tosses off with an airy wave of her hand.

“You won those first place ribbons at field days over the years.

I found them buried in your dresser when I cleaned it out

and pasted them there.

We never made a big deal out of your winning

because your brother wasn’t any good at sports and

we didn’t want to hurt him.

 

We didn’t want to hurt him.

 

We didn’t want to hurt Him.

 

Casual words cascading over me

like lava,

burning my heart.

 

I sit on the single bed with my mom,

on the quilt my dead grandmother made

that I will never have,

staring at a forest of blue ribbons

and it begins

to come back to me.

 

Remembering those field days,

sunny grade school days of almost summer,

running races, long jumping,

winning with an easy grace.

 

Blue ribbons and more blue ribbons,

laughingly comparing them to my brother’s compensation ribbons

on the walks home;

bouncing in the door,

excited to show my dad,

her telling me

“Don’t bother him.”

 

Taking my ribbons into my bedroom

alone,

confused.

 

Shouldn’t winning feel good?

 

Finally hiding my prizes in a drawer

along with my pride.

 

And now I know it was because

we didn’t want to hurt him.

 

I sit on the single bed with my mom,

on the quilt my dead grandmother made

that I will never have,

staring at a forest of blue ribbons,

righteous anger beginning to bubble.

 

Remembering going to the schoolyard

trailing behind the cub scouts,

so my den mother mom could teach the boys to play baseball.

 

Being sent to the outfield to shag balls,

begging and begging for a turn at bat

until the boys laughingly relent

because it was cute –

a girl

playing baseball.

 

But then I find my swing

and start hitting the balls

again and again –

then getting sent back

to the outfield

 

because we didn’t want to hurt him.

 

Remembering joining the intermural soccer league at 14,

practicing, working hard and harder,

loving the running,

loving the winning,

but when the high school soccer coach

asks me to join her team,

I decline,

thinking I couldn’t be good enough,

because by then

I didn’t want to hurt him.

 

I sit on the single bed with my mom

on the quilt my dead grandmother made

that I will never have,

staring at the forest of blue ribbons,

memories tumbling over one another,

my gut wrenching,

anger bubbling,

and my heart aching

from those casual, cruel words.

 

And I think

how my life

would be different

if I could have seen myself

as the athlete

that I am.

 

Instead

I sit on this single bed

fat

and unfit,

having avoiding exercise

my entire adult life.

 

Because We.

Didn’t.

Want.

To Hurt.

Him.

 

I rise from the bed

and take myself out of the room,

leaving it all behind

with the quilt

(because, really, who needs to be reminded of this shit?).

 

And days later,

when my gut unclenches,

my heart stops bleeding

and my eyes stop leaking,

I realize.

 

I will no longer

hurt ME

to avoid

hurting him.

 

So Fuck

Him.

 

I

am joining

a gym.

 

 

 

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