It goes like this: one day you are 13, and everything feels slightly beneath you, like you’re too important to stop and look around at the world. Then you are 20, and everything feels above you, like you’re not as important as you think, and the world is so big you can’t fathom it. Maybe your unwarranted egoism protects you when you’re younger and makes you feel cool. But you drop your guard when you grow up and realize what matters.
That is how I felt when I looked at the patchwork quilts in my parent’s basement. They were horrible. Old, tattered and with outdated patterns of red paisley and blue polka dots. What was so appealing about 4x4 squares, all different colors, no sense of pattern, no cohesive aesthetic? I couldn’t bear them. I refused to use them. Not even in a tundra.
I didn’t understand why my parents valued these artifacts. They seemed depressing to me. Couldn’t we get some fuzzy blankets, throw out the old and usher in the new? I was embarrassed.
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The quilts are hand sewn, passed down from one aunt or grandmother to another. They finally landed in my house, which sits on that big hill a little bit far from town. I felt outdated living far from my friends, far from the mall and typical suburbia.
And how desperately I wanted to fit in, to pretend I lived in a cul-de-sac with fur mink blankets, to pretend that I never had to keep an eye out for wild turkeys that dashed through red leaves in the autumn at the base of the woods. To have a real sidewalk, to make it to school in five minutes, to shop instead of playing outside for fun.
Teenage wishes from an immature mind hold dear the desire to be related to, to be close to the action of it all, to rebel against what is known.
Now I am in the action of it all, and I miss what was known, feeling often like I don’t know enough. I think about one of my favorite song lyrics: “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger.” From “Ooh La La” by Faces. I think that says it best.
I look at the patchwork quilts today, and nostalgia fills my lungs and throat like smoke, seeping softly into my bloodstream, sweet and bitter at the same time. How could I have ever possibly dismissed their worth? The red paisley reminds me of my backyard, of the red leaves. The blue polka dots remind me of the dresses I once wore, of frolicking with no sidewalks to restrain me. I love the patchwork quilts. I would use them all the time. Even in a heat wave.
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Each patch is unique, incohesive. No pattern, an utter disregard for aesthetics. Some patches are objectively ugly. Some are indescribably beautiful. Is that not life? Some patches are ugly, and some are indescribably beautiful. I think that’s what I know now, if anything at all. We are who are because of the good and the bad, because the things only we can understand. That is the action, that is what matters. That is what makes you drop your guard.
We are patchwork quilts. Ever-expanding conglomerates of gashed scars healed by old, red paisley print bandanas. Scraps and needlework. Threaded loosely in some spots. Reinforced with a whipstitch in others. And I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger. But that, too, was a patch.
Audrey Vonderahe (she/her) is a sophomore studying journalism and criminal justice.