I am thinking of you all now for I have to repair it. A big, old hole at the bottom of the right sleeve as if someone had nestled their thumb in it, like a cat about to have a nap, round and around, until it popped right through. And there, under the collar on the left side, another hole where one is wont to rub, slowly, with the right hand; a self-applied massage where the slope of our shoulder meets the neck, there where the weight adds up. It has been a long time since I put it on, this Ecuadorian cardy. Somebody five thousand miles away from where I was then hand knitted the blue of a warm day ending into the grey of a gull’s mantle, and then three rows of raspberry red, on into an army tank green, a golden beige, a still desert yellow, three rows of each colour; and it has been with me half of my life, or should I say, for half of my life it has been mine. It has taken me three years to get it back from the latest contender. When I gave it to him I could never have imagined it would have disappeared from view like that only to be rendered stuffed into a plastic bag all creased and crumpled smelling of pure discard. And now as I fuss with it, turn it over to tend to it, welcome it home, I am somewhat enlightened to think that perhaps it was he who had worn the hole under the collar, as if he had taken some of the weight of our fall out, the devastation.
Here I am, darning this thing back to its former splendour so that it may go on being splendid; a lovely possession that I transform into a loving gift. I think the holes are really a result of a number of persons, a little bit of us altogether. They have both advanced beyond the colour boundaries of stripes and as my darning skills are minimal, first off I have to deliberate over what colour ball of wool I will choose to do the job. I choose blue, the blue of the bird landing after a hefty emigration and the even, soothing tides of sleep lapping over him until he can only be dreaming. The blue of the collar, and the rim of the sleeves. So blue it is. Blue is the frame. Blue is where I start.
In those long years between childhood and being really grown up, my willowy body rooted already in European shoe size 42, to the extreme dismay of my pin legs, took a long time to be comfortable with the regular leak of blood. It was as if my body was running away with me and had led me under the confident blue eyes of my eighteen year old lover! How I enjoyed them on me, behind his glasses; watching me kick autumn leaves like a little girl. He wrote me hundreds of love letters whilst he was in his lessons, or at home without me, and into his capable eighteen year old hands I went. Whenever we were alone, he would make love to me but not a thought of love passed my mind. I was much quieter back then, before the cardy, less bright; I didn’t really have very much to give. I was a young body being covered for the first time and how relieved was I when it was all over and he was far away.
My family moved from one county to another and took me with them. After sixth form I would take the bus into the old city and roam the back alley wealth it had saved up over the years. It was there that one of the independent traders lured me in with an Ecuadorian charm: bright, hopeful, warm, welcoming. When the door jingled behind me, and my head popped into the window display, its smell reached out for me like a bed of straw must do for a bunny. It was beyond my allowance but luckily it was the month when the leaves dropped off the trees with the help of the wind, and so as a present it was given, by the very one who had given me myself seventeen years earlier during a windy, leafless month and also many other affirming gifts over the years. It was to offer me comfort who erstwhile had felt rather awkward.
And such a gift is to be shared. The first one who came along, and shimmied his arms down the long stripy wool tunnels, was James. Those magnificent hands emerged with his wrists and a little bit of his lower arms from the frame of three knitted rows of blue. They spoke of his beauty when perhaps the set of his nose, mouth and ears pooh-poohed any such notion. I can see him in it now, head bowed, slightly turned from me, his shoulders de- hinging. I wrote poems about his shoulders leaving me, going down the stairs, out into the strange London streets where we had escaped to, poems about how I could fit whole verses into the hollow of his knees. Many poems back then for this boy who didn’t cater for any of my needs, really didn’t give a damn about me when that friend of his was by, swallowed far too much Guinness; was tawny and able but unlearned.
We lost the right to borrow the car so filled our small backpacks and took to the coast. My hair grew salt sea tangled as we roamed and came across market towns and went our separate ways in the second hand book shops we found. He opened my eyes to Nietzsche and inscribed in a lovely old copy of Sons and Lovers how, for him, I was his Miriam.
And never having read it, back then,
it didn’t mean a thing to me,
although I rather liked his handwriting-
long drawn out,
Perhaps he found himself too tall,
that he bent ever so slightly towards the ground, or else the world a tad assured and advancing too fast upon him. In my cardy he had looked like a scarecrow, the gaudy colours humming below his tan skin, and the scarecrow posture to match, as if he had been somewhat manhandled in getting here to the middle of the field, and now his furrow of coal eyes asking too many questions. Such an unruly, silly child. Fed up of feeling like his mum trying to tame him, I soon fell in love with someone that lovely bit older than me and de-robed James of the cardy, that he would often take from me, probably tired of seeing it shrouding me all the time. He never once tried to take my cardy from me indefinitely, never left my house with it, always left it on the bed settee in my room or slung over the back of a chair somewhere downstairs.
And now, having read Sons and Lovers twice, maybe thrice, his inscription means a whole lot and I slide the book out from time to time to remind myself what being Miriam feels like.
Nigel was indeed older than I. After my initial winding up, our falling was clockwork. Transitory, for him. At the ripe old age of twenty-four he was already weary and prone to getting podgy, and I was a blessing in the form of a young thing come to alleviate the boredom for a while. The five years between us was an entire generation; we had no reference points except whiskey and walking in the park but he left me bereft every time he told me that I was too much… I ran after him begging him to stay, not to leave me again, and he, like a frenzied escapee, just kept running.
I would wait loyally for hours, a novice smoker, and he would be lovely in his welders outfit coming up the stairs from his night shift and lovely out of it … In between our love-making he would confuse me with his stories, sometimes about work, and I never made out if he was an oddball or a sheep, if he loathed it or felt resigned. Although I have an inkling... Perhaps by wrapping him up in my Ecuadorian cardy I could make him feel at ease, and he would let me in on it all. He took to it. It fitted him well. We lived together and it came to live with us. And when we dotted about, it followed us - Spain and Portugal; used as a pillow for siestas or a blanket on fresh nights.
He headed north and I headed east and loathe to have him forget me, I insisted he take my cardy with him. However, I soon got myself tangled in a love inexplicably more natural and rewarding than my three years with Nigel, even though it lasted three days. This man (whom I knew I was to marry) went east and I went and found Nigel in Leiden. Our old love was hard there between us like the floor under us in his friends’ apartment. Hard; the rolling together, the keeping apart. I crawled out, taking my cardy with me and he didn’t seem at all put out to see it go, something that had suited him so well.
Goodbye, my dear: in the end it was truly final. After the year too long of rolling together, now only the keeping apart forever.
As I tug the cardy across my knees, I find one tiny hole in the grey of the left pocket. It is all grey wool on the inner side of the pocket as if it would have been a shame to hide the colourful stripes. I remember your arms flexing, pushing nail bitten hands into the raspberry-red rimmed pockets, distorting the run of the knit with a fist shape, whilst your neck buried itself in the blue collar. I think, was it you that started this little hole in all the grey, pushed a little too far and ...That’s all I think. I’ll repair it along with the others.
The man I knew I should marry had no need of my stripy cardigan. He had a checked, fur lined flying jacket to wrap himself up in when we stepped outside into the snow, and anyway my cardigan was half a world away, with my ex-boyfriend Nigel. The day Jon left Brasov and headed South East I drank vodka in a charming suite we had taken in an elderly lady’s house. By the light of the snow and the white sky shining in from outside and a tasselled lamp, I warmed myself in this room. I lay out my diary on the crocheted tablecloth and wrote that I could just put my life on hold until I saw him again. I have one photograph of him, and a box of little bits and bobs from that journey, not all related to him. It is somewhere at my mum’s house, I believe.
See him again I did. Almost two years later, a cool spring in London Town. After the first beer he let me into his little secret: a marriage in the hills of India with his long-time girlfriend. I had known of her existence but I hadn’t realised that she was to do so much robbing. I imagined that was to be my job. Into my arms he came for a rapid lullaby and off our love went sleeping for a thousand million years. Yes, we were efficient and we never saw each other again and as the morning came on and he was already gone, Ani Di Franco crooned and stomped and agreed with everything I was feeling. I pulled my faithful cardy about me and measured the eventual onslaught of the day by the weight of my tired eyes.
At last I could get on with my life. It wasn’t long before five tremendous girls claimed me for their own and took me from, albeit stripy, loneliness to their bosom. We had wicked stair parties in the house we shared together, where my cardy would take turns. Everybody loved it; it was a loveable thing. One night fuelled by red wine and not much else I found myself following Jamyang along the wide Central London pavements after his kind offer of a night cap. We chatted all the way back to his apartment. He was in love with one of my girlfriends (she was delightful) and we talked about that on our way back, something seeming to guide us. I think that he was the first man I simply liked and was quite surprised at the first kiss and then even more surprised at how wonderful it was going to bed with him as it had never once crossed my mind. And in the morning (three mornings later, one nightcap leads to another...) more surprised at how miserable I felt that it was my friend he loved and not me.
I decided to lose my friend over it but he was worth it. They are never worth it, I chanted for many years after, embarrassed to have betrayed a friendship for a mere male. But now, looking back, I’m not so sure. We had moments of such incredible clarity together: He was loved by me and I was the most unconventional girl in the world, and if only the bus just kept rolling and the bridges just kept coming his shining black hair would cover my lap forever, and the jolts and the rattle of the 171 would be an ever welcome medley compared to our jarring thoughts. My sun and moon in Scorpio, or him and his fears left over? Little scars scattered his body. The Himalayas were in between him and his family. Did he ever really tell his whole story?
I remember leaving him in some south London pub not in the least interested by the trouble he was getting himself into. These guys were obviously idiots and Jamyang so gentle, so intelligent. ‘If you are going to fight them, I am getting the bus,’ I told him. And I did.
He turned up hours later, bloody and tired. I took him in, cross; bathed his wounds and took him to bed and let him cry against me. Him and his left over fears.
After that first walk home in the morning, tripping over remaining stars and reading the uneven pavement for signs was what we became best at. We would pretend to be going somewhere but truthfully just taking in this vast night air; sometimes we’d bump into someone we knew and be elevated, ‘Oh! Here we are!’
I shared my Ecuadorian cardy with him because it was colourful and so were we. With it and the furry orange hat with pom-poms that he gave to me, we paraded the streets, our warrior cries exultant. Sometimes we would run, just run and I’ve never ever been surer of my love for anyone. He was my size, but seemed smaller. Whenever he came around to my place he would take off his outer garment and put my stripy cardigan on. He seemed to unfurl with me, and when we were a little bored by the Sunday feeling we conjured up together, we would bounce around the room to Dylan’s I want You dah da-da da dah, I Want you dah da-da da dah, I want you dah da-da da dah, So muuuuch and he’d sing the chorus in Tibetan and we’d be so warm he’d sling off the cardy and there it would lay, on the bed, as our two dancing bodies drew together .
When he phoned me out of the blue after I had left London and was heading to France with my new boyfriend, he said, ‘You broke my heart, you know,’ his song of an accent making of the words something less heavy. ‘Really?’ I said. I don’t think I ever really knew. ‘And you didn’t even say sorry!’ and we laughed. A little bit. For the last time.
About three weeks ago now one of those lovely girls from my time in London phoned me up. It’s not often we speak these days and I was delighted to hear her voice with its very-much-missing-from-my-life Derbyshire lilt, ‘I’ve got some bad news. It’s Jamyang . He killed himself on Friday.’ Her words became a leitmotif, all that was left of him and his story. It’s all so very final in the end. ‘I’ve got some bad news’, it could have been anything. ‘It’s Jamyang’, and I’m hanging, hanging, and it’s all so very final in the end.
I live in a different country now to the one he ended up in. I didn’t go to the funeral or the prayer service at the Buddhist Centre. I thought about him a lot though, that day. I played Bob Dylan and danced about my room. I wondered what his room was like, where he ended up. I wonder why he wouldn’t let them in. I wonder what was with him that night when he took his story out of reach of us all. ‘He killed himself on Friday.’ This Friday? Last Friday? Hundreds of years ago? Or not quite yet? When, just when, Jamyang, did it get so bad?
In the days that followed his death I took it upon myself to recuperate my cardigan. It wasn’t really a symbolic move. It was just that I had really had enough of living the worst three years of my life. I asked for everything back from the ‘perpetrator’. He obliged for the cardy, left it hanging in a plastic bag in no-man’s-land. I had asked for far more ‘valuable’ things to be returned so the cardy was really a throwaway concession for him. Little did he know that it meant the world to me. And now in my possession once again, I repair it. I am darning with little expertise but a lot of will, healing the holes in the blue that looked so beautiful against Jamyang’s amber skin. It was worth it, the love I wrapped about him; my blue, grey, red, green, beige, yellow love.
I got out of the car and into his arms. One of my best friends since sweet sixteen, he suddenly became so much more – as if the stars had lined up and we could do nothing about our change of course. We collided; me, madly and he, slowly but surely. I felt it was only right to confide myself in him who had been there in the back row through all my dramas, not really a spectator but present none the less, eating his popcorn...My Scotsman from the wilds of Hampstead! How perfectly wrong we were for each other, with only our mid twenties’ stubbornness in common reaching for heights we almost got to.
Whilst I was making my irregular way across the eastern globe, likewise privileged he was packaged and paid for as far as Ecuador with a bunch of same-aged souls. He came back with a lot of Ecuadorian knitwear, mainly hats and jumpers, to give away as presents. I wasn’t one of the lucky ones. He was fully aware I already had my cardy, having been wearing it sporadically for the past seven years. Long into our relationship he still had a stock of hats he hadn’t managed to sell or giveaway. (He must be saving them for a rainy day...) Eventually I became bearer of one of these leftover hats. I have it to this day. An habitual winter warmer. It makes my forehead itch.
And so this man never really wore my cardy, having a jumper very similar. His colours deeper, more maroon than raspberry. All his friends that used to come and visit had at least one woollen garment hanging loosely off them. I kept mine tightly pulled around me. I must have confused him. After all, he had seen me joyously offering it to others over the years. Like a good mother, pulling out the spare pullover when required to warm or to comfort. Perhaps for that, he didn’t wear it. Or perhaps because he measures over two metres tall and my cardy struggles to cover the two limbs it normally swamps on others. Or, better still, perhaps because I never really offered it to him, knowing he didn’t really need it.
He comes to mind more in his own jumper, maroon-framed with the autumnal stripes. How many worlds in between maroon and indigo blue? Perhaps if we had never asked, our answers wouldn’t have been so different.
At last, I saw the perfect candidate for my cardigan of love a mile off. He beamed. He darted back and forth below the terraced-garden wall, his back bowed but with the force of moving forward, and I just knew he had to have it.
And so after I had broken my best friend’s heart (and this time I knew I had done it) and invited this stranger to come and live with me now that I shared his country, I remember very clearly the day when I handed my Ecuadorian charm over to him. By now it had become for me almost a ritual. ‘Will you take this cardy?’ It is yours. You will wear it forever, I know, beside me…He seemed so pleased and made his promise to wear it. It’s not a keepsake, you see; my cardy, it’s useful. It works. It really does keep out the cold.
It has taken me three years to get my cardigan back from this man who has obviously mistreated it like he has a penchant for mistreating things. Unfurling it from the bag, I am delighted. It smells slightly stale, but not as bad as it could have been. I have seen things leave his jurisdiction in a worse state.
I place it as soon as I can into the washing machine, all by itself, and turn the knob to the gentle 30°. I add a little savon noir and a sprinkle of patchouli into the drum. Firstly, I want it to be clean, to have lost the odour of his discard. Then, once dry, I trace its wellbeing for signs of time and two, no, three holes come to my attention. I commence my work of reparation, joining the new wool into the knit of the old, creating the blue lattice base for the patch of interlacing wool to grow over.
When I have finished, one will see where the holes have been. One will see that it has been worn and loved enough to mend. Even as the holes dwindle – and I am taking my time- I sense that it is really far too big, and even too heavy, for me to wear by myself. Very selfishly, I must give it away, and I can’t help but wonder who I am darning it for, this time! Who will appreciate the joy and the colours of this too heavy thing, who will make it light?