Steerforth Press asked me to read the audiobook version of my book, Unstitched. I’ve never recorded a whole book before, so it’s been an intense experience to read the entire book, word by word, just a few feet from a stranger. The book blends both nonfiction and intensely personal memoir. I’m not talking about writing about memories of weeding a garden, either.
Now, in the last phase, while I’m listening to the final version, it’s a fascinatingly educational experience to hear this book I wrote read aloud to me, in my own voice.
One thing that jumped out immediately at me is that much of this book is about being a single woman with two teenage daughters, and how much I’ve figured out in my life without a man. I wouldn’t categorize this as a triumphant, let’s banish the men story (my God, I feel like I can and do whine like there’s no tomorrow), but that theme of woman threads all through this book.
The book’s title comes from the conversation between Stanciu and the father of the girl who overdosed. Looking at the church that will become a social center not just for those in recovery but for everybody in town, Stanciu remarks “everyone’s so busy working that no one seems to have time or energy to put into groups … that used to keep people connected.” He replies, “We’ve come unstitched, … We’ve got to stitch the darn thing back together.” … This is a deeply compassionate and extremely important book. Every Vermonter should read it.”
Day by day, the weather warms in Vermont, gradually brights in the tiniest drops of green from last year’s brown. On my walk, I pass by a house with a whole garden bed of purple crocuses. Brilliant gardening, I think.
The kids have reappeared in yards and on porches. I pass two small brothers digging in the mud, enthusiastically leaning into the work, talking. Walking, I pass a few groups, but they’re all families — siblings, sometimes parents I hardly ever see, out walking, too. One small band of teenage boys roams on bicycles, and I sense my daughter’s resentment. Social distancing seems weird — I know this. We’re hardly in a war effort of knitting stockings for overseas soldiers, and yet its success relies on collective action.
It’s a strange lesson to learn at age 14, that as a kid you’re equally part of society, too. Frustrated with virtual high school, my daughter complains she’s not learning anything. But these lessons are deep and hard here, I think — lessons that will rut into her adult life.
So here’s a weird thing….. not long before dusk on Sunday, I was at the (closed) Goddard College library. I was there to record a small radio piece.
Save for myself, there’s no one on campus, so I wandered around. A few years ago, the college converted to low-residency programs. The campus now — with some buildings disintegrating into moss and rot — has an odd Planet-of-the-Apes-ish feeling.
I expected to read shortly some writing about the collapsing American Empire. For a few moments there, I wondered if I’d hit a time warp…..
We are inclined to think of hunters and gatherers as poor because they don’t have anything; perhaps better to think of them for that reason as free.
October already, again, the fall has bent around again, and before long, snow will fall again. What will we do? The same things, I suppose, we always do. Boil beans and onions and chilis for soup, keep the house warm, lace up the ski boots and slide over the fields.
At our old house, further along in the autumn, we’d walk down to the bus stop in the dark. The girls and I would listen to coyotes howling in the hills. Here, in town, we’ve heard coyotes, but rarely. It’s foxes we see here.
My daughter returns home from school enchanted with learning French, dreaming of distant lands. She has her summer tan yet, her hair sun-bleached. She’s dreaming of her driver’s license, of flying to Africa, stuffing her backpack and hiking the French Alps…..
Meanwhile, this day is going by perfectly well-adjusted, as some days are, with the right amounts of sunlight and shade, and a light breeze scented with a perfume made from the mixture of fallen apples, corn stubble, dry oak leaves, and the faint odor of last night’s meandering skunk.
On my walk to the co-op, I stop at a bed of peonies and cup a giant blossom in my hands: perfect white stained with drops of red, like a strange variation of the drops of blood on the snow in the Grimms’ tale. Enchantingly beautiful. And that, perhaps, is metaphor enough for one Saturday morning.
When the peonies bloomed,
It seemed as though were
No flowers around them.
My nearly 14-year-old daughter plays country music in the car, edgily looking at me from the side of her eyes. The girls’ father sends them a text that he honors their truths. What’s anyone’s truth, anyway, I wonder, as I listen to my daughters.
Maybe dreaming with her best friend about learning to drive, messing around on the water with kayaks and a pizza-shaped floatie, adoration of her two cats. A reticent girl with big dreams.
That’s all truth, as I much I know it. Not words, not ideas, not ideology — only what’s around us, what we’re living, how this reticent girl with big dreams is growing.