After 9-11, I crocheted a wool afghan that measured 5'x6'. It was my way of understanding what had happened on that day. David and I lived at 15 Warren Street in lower Manhattan, just down the block from City Hall. I have never been able to write about 9-11. For me, what David and I went through is indescribable. Words cannot capture that day. Instead, I crocheted for an entire year until the afghan was done, and I thought I might be able to move on.
In 2011, our puppy Kage arrived. He was an energetic and destructive puppy. He found my 9-11 afghan and tore through a chuck of it. At the time, I thought it was a sign that I needed to put it away and forget that day, although I've never forgotten that day.
Recently, 7 years after Kage tore through it, I pulled the 9-11 afghan out of the closet where I had balled it up and thrown it. The afghan was in bad shape. The wool had pilled, and the afghan had stretched out and become misshapened.
I chose to repair it. First, I closed up the wound with a series of red stitches to remind me that the afghan had suffered through a trauma and that the scars left from that tear should not be forgotten. Second, I decided to felt the afghan, a process of washing and drying the wool until it turns to felt.
After I finished the stitching, I was nervous about throwing the afghan in the washer. I thought it might come out a pile of wool yarn, completely destroyed. But, I wanted to take the risk, to see if transformation is possible, if we can take the past and refashion it into something gentler, something that is softer to the touch.
The felting worked, although the afghan shrank; it lost 2' in the width and 1' in length. It has also completely lost its shape, warped into a shadow of its former self. But I think it's beautiful.
What does this say about memory and trauma and survival? Can we simply reframe the past, stitch it up, and run it through the washer, trying to make it less painful, but knowing that the result can only mimic the original? Can we live with this simulacrum of what was? Can I?
A. W. Barnes
writer, artist, scholar, cultural critic, queer theorist