The other day I found a picture of my bedroom from when I first moved in to my apartment four years ago.
It’s all the same things, but arranged slightly differently. It looks so fresh I wish I could swallow it whole. I remember that feeling, of everything being new. So aware of each wall, each floorboard. It made me realize that lately I’ve been moving through rooms without seeing them. Moving through days like everything around me is tall grass. Like the whole world is green and old. It is easy, at the end of anything, a season or a job or a relationship for the world to feel dulled. Washed out. Nothing but grass all around. To forget that other things are still possible. That they are always possible. What did they say in 1968? Under the paving stones, the beach. Great people see something before it exists. They see the sand and the ocean under the grim street when everyone else sees only stone.
I think we can agree that summer is as much an idea as a season. It is a blurred edge, life at its slowest moments, but fleeting. Tasting so sharp only because it goes by quickly. Perhaps it is the revision of retrospect, but I think this summer has been the best one of my life. Yesterday I may not have said that. And tomorrow I might feel differently. But my life changed, in so many ways both big and small. Not all of them were good. And few of them were easy. But oh how I’ve loved these long days. And how they’ve hurt. It is hard to tell a story when you don’t like the ending. We give a lot of weight to those, don’t we? Endings. I still haven’t reconciled myself to this one. So I’m going to tell all the other parts. And then we’ll see.
I started sewing in April. On the same day that I wore the very first dress I made, I met a man I would spend the summer falling in love with. The world felt wide open with him. Like even if things would never be perfect they could be okay. No, more than okay, they could be great. Making clothes and being with him felt so linked. Like these new parts of my life were meant to happen simultaneously. As if cutting my hair and wearing what I'd sewn also begat love and worthiness. Like making this change was the thing I needed to for it all to finally work. I thought it was my becoming. The start of the next part of my life as I grow closer and closer to 30.
It felt so right from the very beginning. From the first glass of wine on that restaurant patio as the air was just starting to signal Spring. Near the end of our first date he looked at me and said you’re so pretty, I really want to kiss you, can I? No one had ever asked if they could kiss me. Not like that. My heart turned right over in my chest. I felt certain he could see it beating through my clothes.
In a practical sense, things were complicated from the beginning. He has four children, and an ex-wife. Our lives looked very different when we met. They still do. But for a time, we pieced them together. A lot of my friends were worried about me dating someone with kids. About what it meant for a future. They love me, so they were concerned. But I never worried. It didn’t matter to me. Not in a callous way. It didn’t matter because I wanted him. Every man I’ve dated has had baggage. We all do. Four kids felt like baggage I could understand and learn how to handle. Maybe it was because making things always makes me feel like I can take on the world. But I found a sense of confidence with him I didn’t know I had. Sometimes when we were together I'd close my eyes and think about biting into a fresh peach. The way you have to catch the juice in your hand. How it’s messy but in a great way. How we can’t help but laugh when eating one, even as our hands grow sticky.
There are a million little stories I could tell. About him pulling a magnolia branch close as we walked down a street in Durham after seeing a sad movie so I could smell it. Or how I made blackberry donuts late one evening as a surprise. I could tell you about sitting on his porch swing together after I’d had an awful job interview. How he held my face in his hands. We cooked together, and watched movies, and went for walks, and learned about each other, in big and small ways. We did all those things that make something work. Make it feel right. We believed in the same things. Cared about the same things. It was easy with him to look at the world, and not see it how it was, but how it could be.
I was learning about him during the same time I was teaching myself to sew. Making more and more complex things. Trying and failing and sewing my finger and miscutting fabric and then trying again. They’re linked for me, loving sewing and loving him, inextricably, as everything I care about is.
I’ve dated a lot. But it never felt like that. Easy. Alive. And I still don’t want to talk about the ending. Not because it was terribly tragic. But because when things are over, we start to feel like they never mattered. But I know that isn’t true. Every moment I spent with him mattered. Those memories still shine for me. He was kind when he broke my heart. I believe him when he said our ending was about him, and his life and its complications and not about me. But so many men have told me that I’m incredible but the timing is wrong that it doesn’t make me feel better anymore. It make me feel bland, boring. Like I’m missing something. Good but not good enough. A decent place to rest, but not one to stay, to put up new curtains or wallpaper. Temporary. To get them through whatever it is they needed to get through. And I’m tired of it. I want someone to try for me. Even if it’s complicated. Even if it’s hard. Everyone is so afraid. Myself included. But I don’t want to be afraid anymore.
Isak Dinesen says, “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” And while she’s right, and I’ve always found salt water to be healing, my true cure is making. I don’t know what it is about using my hands. But when I wear the clothes I made myself I feel complete. There’s something life giving about making. I feel confident when sewing. It reminds me what I am capable of, when so much in this crazy world feels out of control.
I know a lot of people find it superficial, but you’re making a statement with what you put on your body as soon as you leave your house. The clothes I made carry not just the memories of what has happened to me, but of their own creation. The careful task of choosing the perfect pattern, of finding the right fabric, and thread, and buttons. The delight of the first seam and the satisfaction of the final hem. Wearing it in front of someone for the first time. For most of the pieces I made this summer he was that person.
When he broke up with me I thought that would make it hard for me to wear these things again. But I feel grateful. I love holding those memories in my seams. It’s over, but my endings and beginnings are still ahead of me. There is always another dress to make, another loaf of bread to slice, another sweater watch appear before me. I sewed almost thirty garments this summer. Why do I need other people to tell me they’re good to believe it myself, to believe it was time well spent? I made them. I should feel proud of that when I pull a dress I made over my head or button up a shirt. Not when I count my likes on Instagram. And I do. But the weight of other people’s expectations, and my desire to feel worthy in their eyes has clouded my view of myself and my ability to feel confident in my own value. Outside of beauty and materiality. I started this project of sewing my own clothes to be less of a consumer. And I think I’ve achieved that in many ways. But I worry I’ve also turned myself into a product.
I have spent so much time feeling like something inside me was wrong. Like things wouldn’t ever work because I was missing something essential. I know now that isn’t true. Life is messy and complicated but I can make it beautiful. He told me I can learn to be beautiful and wonderful for myself. Not anyone else. I am still figuring out what that means. How to feel beautiful divorced from other people’s perceptions. How to feel proud of myself without validation from those around me that what I’m doing is good or worthwhile. I can be beautiful if I want. For me.
So much of my time with men has been spent trying not to make mistakes. I’m tired of that. I’m tired of waiting to be chosen. I want to choose. I think I’ve been waiting for permission to want things. To feel things. And no one can give me that but myself. I fell in love this summer. In real love, full of beautiful moments shared with another person. And it is over. I wanted it to last longer and it didn’t and that hurts. It feels like it won’t ever stop hurting. But this summer I think I also fell in love with myself. Finally. After 29 years. And on the best days I feel unstoppable.
I used to feel so much anger at my exes. At all the men who have hurt me, or left me, or just been endlessly disappointing. I didn’t realize I was still holding on to that. And in finally letting it go I can thank them, all of them, because I discovered myself through dating, as I did through sewing and baking, through the bad men and the good. And I don’t know if I would have come to be this person who I love so much without them. For a long time I thought all the heartache was leading me towards one right person. That it would all make sense when I met them, that someday all this pain would be useful. And I was right. But that person is me.