Visible Mending: Sashiko Soul

When I went over in the street, face to the San Francisco sidewalk, bloody knee, grazed elbow, bruised head; I came to such an ignominious halt, slammed to the floor, that I did not know what had hit me. It was bad. I am only just recovering physically. My glasses broke, and I kinda need them to see. My jeans got ripped and stained with something I don’t want to think about. I have only just got past the urge to splash rubbing alcohol on my face every time I remember that sidewalk. My denim jacket went much the same way. Even my sling bag took a hit, and came up smelling of shit. It would have been worse if I had any sense of style. I dress like a teenage boy circa 1992. In short, I took a huge wardrobe hit.

I don’t own many clothes in the first place. To lose my only jacket has left me tee shirted and freezing in the San Francisco gloom. The jeans, of course, were my new ones. I made a nod to the fact that we are no longer in the 20-teens my friend and had bought a pair of unusually girly (for me) ankle length ‘boyfriend’ style jeans in a fashionably pale wash. I kinda liked them. They are no more. There are some things that can’t be washed off in the laundromat, no matter how many time you boil the buggers.

I can cope with one less pair of pants. I have a spare bag, and the glasses….well I will just have to wait and at some point try and replace them. I am a danger outside without them, and cannot read the labels on anything in the grocery store, but my jacket! I need something to store my phone in, hide within and protect from the elements. Of course my favored ex boyfriend cut, loose levis jacket was ridiculously expensive to replace, and so I have been sitting jacketless and sad for the past couple of weeks, picking at my scabby knees like I am a nine year old child that is about to get told off and scolded about not healing up if ‘you keep on picking at the thing!’ My inner mother is angry at me. I don’t care. I am a fusser and a picker, so what?

“If you pick it, it will scar!” Now that was the Boy, who seems to occasionally fall into the role of ‘sensible one’ between the two of us. He says all kind of reasonable things, that lead me to wonder if he really did not get any of my wild and crazy in his genetic mix. It would appear not, and I am so grateful. I shrugged back at him, laughing. “Honey, I am covered in visible mending. A scar on my knee is hardly going to matter. No one sees my knees anyhow.” I get scowled at, patted indulgently on the head (he is now far far taller than I am), and fed a homemade gluten free cookie, he has just pulled from his oven. The oven appears to be magic. He pulls all kinds of treats out of it: cookies and cakes, cassava root bakes and charred sweet potatoes. The kid can really cook.

It is true though. I am scarred to hell and back again. I have stripes on my arms, stripes on my thighs, a knot on my collarbone and one right between my breasts. Ugly little scars and uglier bigger ones. I have one that runs faintly down my face, almost invisible, and another on my hand between thumb and forefinger. A crazily wrinkled one that is on the palm of my hand and another on the top of my wrist. Human sashiko. Visible mending.

Sashiko is the art of fixing material in beautiful, artfully random-looking but in fact carefully planned geometric stitches. The sashiko on my leg was not so carefully placed. The stitches put in at ugly intervals and leaving their own stab mark scars. I am a walking sampler. I wear my history on my skin. Most of the time I cover up the more visible ones. I don’t tend to wear short sleeves. These are the only ones that bother me, mainly because a little bit like the scars of geography on my accent, the scars of violence on my body appear to be considered by others as fair game as conversation openers. Total strangers in lines at grocery stores have asked me how the scars occured.

Depending on my mood I give them one of three answers. If I am feeling forgiving I invent a car accident or a lawnmower incident. If I am in a passive aggressive state, I ask them what scars, and tell them I have no idea what they are talking about. If I am feeling unforgiving I tell them about my husband. Very few have the decency to feel any shame. This does not happen as often now I live in relatively enlightened San Francisco. People here are thankfully mostly too wary to talk to strangers, and perhaps a little more house-trained. My last run in with rude people were some tourists from Stockton who were stomping around my beloved Japantown, oafishly incapable of not making scenes. They asked where my son and I were from. I was wearing my jacket, otherwise they seemed like just the kind of people who would enquire after the ugly scars on my arms, gilding their curiosity in fake concern.

A little like the broken Japanese pots fixed with gold in the kintsugi style, sashiko aims to make the mend more beautiful than the pristine object. I found a levis jacket, not a horrible color, discounted to thirty bucks, unfortunately it was ‘ready destructed’, meaning it was ripped full of holes at the factory. However, it was not tainted with the sidewalk, and so all that remains now is waiting for it to be delivered. Of course, I don’t want to walk around with a gaping hole above the breast pocket, or artfully scuffed sleeves, so I went out, bought some sashiko needles and special thick thread in a pale baby blue, and set about planning my artful visible mend.

I am not the crafty type. I can kinda sew, I vaguely remember how to patch stuff, and have seen enough sashiko patterns to have a clue how to proceed. If I stick to easy stitches, chop up an ancient pair of the Boy’s jeans for patches, and put aside a few hours I think I can make something that embraces the mend and beautifies the fix.

By Hokusai, 1831

I always half considered what it would be like to have tattoos around my scars. Perhaps wind a few branches of cherry blossom around the shiny red raised skin. A bee buzzing around the knot between my breasts. I never had the money or the guts to go ahead and do it, to make beautiful marks around the horrible ones. Instead I go for hiding the damage. Putting on that jacket no one can even tell from the outside I am wrecked. I might as well make my armor as pretty as possible. Ruthie sent me an iron on patch some time ago that reads ‘Heretic’. I love it. That will go on one of the arms. I think it suits me. Perhaps I will find a patch with the Great Wave at Kanagawa embroidered on it. I think I earned it.

I am going to take this new, ready-ruined jacket and make it my own despite the imperfections. I might not be able to sew pretty patterns around my own scars, those I have to live with, but I can at least embrace the pretty, hold onto the dreams, embellish the scars on my armor and hide the very visible mending that lays beneath.

As much as the scarring is visible, I fear what is most obvious is the visible mending of my soul. Bodies are all much of a muchness after a while, but a soul is something to treasure. My vulnerability is embroidered with spikes and burrs. Don’t get too close, don’t hold onto me, don’t try to take a bite out of unmarked flesh, otherwise I will bite back. It is a little embellishment of my defences, a stitch that holds my anxiety together and stops it from taking more ground. Kept in a neat little box, bordered by running stitches, it serves me well. Keeps me safe. Stops my soul from fraying at the edges, and the entire fabric of it falling to pieces.

There are circles around my sexuality, ever decreasing complete and perfect. I have laid it to rest, stuck a few flowers and perhaps a little white-stitched usagi-bunny on top of it. It is dead. Buried. Over. Done. Finished. My love is an open raw wound, frayed at the edges. No matter how many times I hem it, bind it, run lines through it, poke stars around it and work around it, the hole never closes. It is ugly and open. Perhaps I keep it that way. Maybe it is too severe to beautify. When I exit this world, hopefully many years in the future, that love will still remain, bordered by attempts to contain it, but not erase it. Those dropped stitches and failed campaigns to live with it will forever be written on my soul and skin.

I think I understand now. There is no point in trying to make damage perfectly healed. You are always going to see the cracks or faint lines of imperfection in the fix, no matter how hard you try to mend it invisibly. Once something is broken, it is broken. I suppose in the end it is better to make that which is ruined, pretty, to make the holes and scuffs and ragged edges a feature, not a fault. It is a way of accepting how things are and forever will be, without compromising on beauty.

Perhaps there is hope for me and my sashiko soul after all. I just hope my new jacket turns out beautifully. You know what they say about a stitch in time….


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