Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Purls Before Swine

I’m going to make a confession that may shock folks who haven’t known me very long. But those of you who fall into that category are still in the heady throes of claiming to love me no matter what, so I’m sure you’ll take it as just another grain of my salt:

I knit.

And I like it.

And I’m actually quite good.

That last part should come as no surprise, even to those in the heady throes. Because even you folks know by now that this girl’s pretty much good at everything she does. By which I don’t mean to imply that I’m All-Powerful or anything. I just don’t Do things I’m not Good at. Or that I don’t Enjoy. But in general, if I like something, I do it, and if I do it then I’m actually quite good. Which brings me very nicely around to the B plot of this story…

The Kid and I have been off-and-on for about 16 months now. On, mostly, and off for a few three-week stints here and there. By now I’ve gotten used to the times when he decides he ought to pick on someone his own size, and more or less come to expect his return. So have my friends. Even the ones who never met him. When I call to report that it’s over again, this time for real, they just say “Okay. Sure.” There’ll come a day when he really means it, or I get sick of it, or I meet some rich old dude while he's out dogging around, but for now, well, I like him. And I think he'd testify that he's no exception to my "If I like something" rule.

The last three-week stint was in October. Three days before it happened, I’d revealed my worsted secret to my best friend up here and she asked how come I don’t do it anymore. I said I didn’t know. I said knitting was something else from my old life that I put away when I left – along with television, square meals, and the paperback Shakespeares I used to buy obsessively and even read (the Yale Complete is one thing, Erin, but who needs seven copies of the Pelican King Lear?). The conversation did get me thinking about having another go, but at the same time the whole idea made me tense. After all, every time I try turning on the television I get so wound up I have to go tearing out for a two-hour drive with the radio blaring (and, as I usually discover when I come home, the TV on). Every time I try to grocery-shop like a real person I feel like Robin Williams in Moscow Over the Hudson, overwhelmed by all the things there are to choose from, none of which seem like food to me anymore. And the last time I was in the old house I packed up all the Shakespeare for GoodWill.

My friend (she was the Bartender in this story, by the way) suggested I ease back into it with a sweater for her four-year-old son. It was a good idea, and I just might get around to doing it someday. But if I was going to take another stab with the needles, I didn’t know if it might be my last. In my other life I made One Perfect Sweater for everyone I love – including my mother (now deceased) and my husband (now divorced). That’s a lot of sense-memory in my muscles to work out while sitting still, especially for a girl who doesn’t so much watch the TV anymore. So I decided that, if I have only one more Perfect Stab in me, I might as well go ahead and stab the newest person on the list of Folks I Love.

Yeah. I admitted a long time ago I love that goddamn Kid. Not in a big-fat-shreepy, skipping-through-the-daisies, happily-forever-after kind of way. But in a he-is-who-he-is-and-I-know-who-he-is-and-I-love-him-for-being-that-and-bringing-me-safely-back-to-earth-when-I-was-spinning kind of way. And everything he’s done in those three-week stints or otherwise, everything everybody thinks I ought to get So Pissed about, I don’t. Because I knew exactly who he was when I picked him up, and he has never changed. When the stripes come out, you can’t exactly get pissed at the cat for being a tiger, you know what I’m saying?

So I went ahead and found a pattern I liked and ordered the yarn for it in his size, figuring if we went Off we’d be back On again by Christmas. Or, if the latest three-week stint happened to coincide with Christmas, then we'd be On again by his birthday a month later. (He’s going to be 25, can you believe it? My little boy is really growing up.)

Then, three days after I placed the order he Did Something that finally got me Pissed.

I won’t get into what it was. Suffice to say it was Something he promised he wouldn’t do again after I didn’t get So Pissed about the first time, and it wasn’t so much what he did as the manner in which he allowed me to find out. The little shit. I really believed we were Done For Good that time – even if nobody else did. But while I was deciding whether to cancel the order or make the goddamn sweater for myself, the box arrived. And while I was deciding whether to return it or make the goddamn sweater for myself, three weeks went by. And three weeks seems to be the magic number around here. So when he came back, I said yes, and I went ahead and made the goddamn sweater in his size.

Turns out knitting is just like riding a bike (something I don't particularly like, or do, or excel at, as it happens). I cranked out that goddamn sweater in a week – and it would’ve been six days if the pattern I bought hadn’t sucked so much ass that I had to spend the whole first day deciphering and re-writing it. It would’ve been five days if I’d ever knitted in the round before but I hadn’t, so I had to spend the whole second day getting it all twisted and tearing it out and starting over. It would’ve been four days if I hadn’t been so unhappy with the neck and had to spend the last day tearing it out and starting it over four times. Finally, though, it was finished. And it was The Most Perfect Sweater I’ve ever made.

But it was too small.

It was just my size, as a matter of fact.

And when I tried it on, I looked just like Angie Dickinson…

…except, you know, with Farrah Fawcett hair.

I almost kept it. But then I remembered that if I was going to wear it I’d also have to wear some, you know, pants. Which I didn't think would look anywhere near as cute. So I decided to give it to him after all, which meant I'd have to block it up to size.

For those of you who don’t knit, blocking means wetting the finished sweater and pinning it down while it dries to force it to take on the measurements you want. I’d never done it before. And I was scared. I mean, I’m not afraid to stretch the truth for the sake of a story – that’s the whole point of a story, after all – but stretching The Most Perfect Sweater I’ve Ever Made is something else entirely. And I’m not tall-tale-telling when I say there was not a flaw in this goddamn thing. It was cabled and ribbed and moss-stitched without a single stitch dropped or row mis-counted. It was handmade-looking without being grandmother-looking. And it was all done in the round, so there were no side-seams or weird bulges at the armpits. It was downright fucking sexy just laying in a pile on the mattress, if I do say so myself. 

It. Was. Perfect.

And I had to dunk it in a sinkful of water and roll it up in a towel and walk on it and then stick it with a bunch of pins.

Took me two weeks to get up the nerve. Kept putting it on and trying to talk myself into keeping it. But then he’d come over and walk right by it without knowing it was his, and I’d picture how much sexier it would look with him inside. Even if he didn’t agree with that idea, I knew how warm it would keep him in the ice-shack, so I wouldn’t have to worry about him freezing his tiny little hairy ass off anymore. And yes, I thought about how – if he didn’t declare it queer and throw it out – it just might be something he’d have to remember me by, after we finally declare ourselves Finished With Each Other For Good. After thinking all of that, I couldn’t keep it. Every time I'd put it on, I'd only be reminded that I’d pussied out.

So I finally just held my breath and did it. Dunked it in a sinkful of water and rolled it up in a towel and walked on it and pinned it to the mattress and waited three long days for it to dry…

…and it came out even more perfect than it was before.

A bit too big now, perhaps, but he’s a growing boy. Ten pounds in the last few months alone. And I forgot that when the sweater stretched, the neck would stretch out too, and that's a problem, but I figured he’d wear turtlenecks with it and that would make it look all right. All in all, I declared my Blocking Debut and possible Knitting Swan Song a success. I folded it up and put it on the shelf while I waited for it to be close enough to Christmas that I could just nonchalantly toss it at him when he happened to come over. And then, well…

We finally declared ourselves Finished With Each Other For Good.

Not in an ugly way. Just in a this-has-gone-on-long-enough, and-we’ve-both-got-issues-we-can’t-get-over, so-let’s-end-it-while-we-can-still-be-friends kind of way. And we are friends. We ended it at 3:00 last Wednesday morning, ran into each other at the bar that night, and had as much fun together as we ever have. More than we've sometimes had, what with all our Issues we Can't Get Over and everything. Nobody else there would’ve noticed anything different about us. But I knew, so I’d brought his pool cue with me, which I’ve had since February. And when he came out to the car to pick it up I tossed the sweater at him, too.

“Here,” I said. “I made this for you. Merry Christmas.”

“You made it?” he asked.


And that was it. I don’t even remember if he said thank you, but he probably did. He always does. He’s actually very polite and respectful, despite what people say.

I told my friends the Kid and I were Really Over This Time and they did not believe me. To be honest, I’ve cried wolf about this damn dog so many times, I wasn’t certain I believed me either. So I decided to stay out of the bar. Because he and I are like junk food to one another: keep it out of the cupboards and we go without just fine, but put it within arm’s reach and before you know it the whole bag of Oreos is gone. So I stayed out of the bar all weekend. And next weekend's Christmas. And the weekend after that is New Year’s Eve. And by the weekend after that it will have been four weeks and voila. Spell broken. Really done. And if I know him like I think I do, that goddamn sweater’ll stay in his truck until he junks it and then, if I'm very lucky, he'll throw it on the floor of his closet for the dog to throw up on. I just assumed I’d never see it on him after all.

So imagine my surprise when I checked my facebook before going to bed one night and I saw this…

…in an album labeled “Ugly Sweater Party 2011.”

Teach me to give something sacred to a Dog, I tell you what.

I was right, though. The little shit does look sexy in it, even if it is a bit too big. And I'm not even pissed, because if he thinks it's ugly then he's a fucking moron, which he's not. If I know him like I think I do, he doesn't own another sweater, and this one was still on the seat of his truck when he pulled into the party, so he put it on. If I know him like I think I do, he didn't even have the balls to tell them where it came from. And if I know him like I think I do, he left it there. If he's smart, though -- which I know he is -- he'll tell me everyone admired the sweater and yelled at him for wearing it to an Ugly Sweater Party. Even if he has to, you know, lie.*

For my part, I'll give him this: that neck is totally fucked up. But the Kid knows what I mean when I say it's the little flaw that makes perfection possible. So I'm going to be standing by my claim.

And if I see him at the bar tonight, I’m going to be licking my palm and smacking him in the forehead so fucking hard that he falls down. Then when he’s down I’m gonna kick him in the nuts. And when he doubles over to grab his nuts, I’m gonna stomp on his bad knee and kick him in the sore spot on his back. Then I’m gonna get down on one knee and sneer "Who's old now, motherfucker!?" in his ear. If he cries uncle loud enough, I might see fit to let him keep his hat.

You know, I've never been a fan of the Mixed Martial Arts, but I’m starting to get the feeling I might like it. And if I like doing it half as much as I'm enjoying this little fantasy right now?

I’d probably be really, really good.

*Post Script 12/19/12: I was right about everything in that paragraph except this: he didn't leave it there. He doesn't wear it -- he's not a sweater person, really -- but he brought it home. And, after leaving it on the floor of his bedroom for a month or so, he folded it up and put it in the box in the back of his closet with the gun he built when he was twelve and the old blue ribbons and the picture of the fish he caught that summer with his dad...

Oh, and Post-Post Script?

He and I are still not Really Done.

Unless we are.