• “Me Alone” in Bearing Up published by RandellJones.com
  • “Apprehension and Transcendence” in Exploring published by RandellJones.com
  • Masks in Crisis
  • My Olympic Quilt

Masks in Crisis

Content warning: the below text references sexual violence.

Mid-April I began a “Writing in Crisis” class as I was, ironically, living my perfect life—quilting and sewing to my heart’s content thanks to “Shelter at Home.”  Making a Coronavirus quilt tapped my creativity and helped me process the scope of the death and sickness in the world.   Making masks—hundreds of them—became my therapy in a similar way to how quilting got me through difficult times.  Together they were working for me, bringing me to a peaceful place. 

Last year my quilt “Hell and Hope” transformed the pieces of my soul scorched by being raped.  The hand ignoring the serrated knife and defying the flames of Hell reaches toward the butterflies and dove of hope.  This quilt was months in the making and profoundly cathartic.

It is traveling the country although currently held hostage at the shuttered New England Quilt Museum in Massachusetts, the state where my rapist is imprisoned.

On May 1 the phone call came disturbing my peace.  The parole hearing is now scheduled for June 18.  It was supposed to be March 17, but the coronavirus caused it to be postponed.  And what a relief that was—no flying to Massachusetts as the pandemic was unfolding.

But the reality of real-life returns.  No more hiding behind my masks.   Should I travel to attend the parole hearing in this time of COVID-19?

I have wanted to attend this hearing for years.  You see, I was raped in 1981, and my assailant has been in prison all this time.  The question at hand is “Should he still be there?  For the rest of his life?” I have an opinion and the time is near to express it.

My perfect life is merely an illusion that I choose to enjoy for moments as I realize the world that existed before the coronavirus still exists.  Sheltered at home I can quilt and make masks and hide behind them…but only for so long.

My Olympic Quilt

Copyright 2020

Being in Houston with “Hell and Hope” was the culmination of a horrific experience turned glorious.  I burned fabric in my backyard in Greensboro to include in the hell represented in my quilt.  And now the world can see my creation.  For a quilter, having a quilt in Houston is like qualifying for the Olympics.  I was able to spend a week at the largest and one of the most prestigious quilt shows in the country. 

My Hell took place in Boston in 1981 when I was raped at knifepoint in my Back Bay apartment.  Fran and another woman met the same fate and shared the same conviction that this serial rapist should be locked away.  We all appeared at various court proceedings to make this happen.  After the two year process, we traded phone numbers, but didn’t really keep in touch.

Going on with my life I eventually moved to Greensboro in 1998 where I found beauty in its many parks, fellowship in my quilt guild and community in my children’s schools. This was a great place to raise my family.  I never thought about it being a refuge away from the city of Boston where I met my horror.  Afterall, that happened so long ago.  There was no point in thinking about it and, truth be told, I couldn’t talk about it without shaking inside and appearing agitated.  But thanks to living in Greensboro, the trauma of my experience years ago resurfaced in the most startling, healing and beautiful way.  

In 2009 at Back-To-School Night where parents get to meet our kids’ teachers, I ran into Fran. What was so startling about our chance meeting was not just the years that had passed, but the distance and circumstance. We were 700 miles from where it all began, in a city where we each chose to move our families, and at the school where we each chose to send our daughters who turned out to be in the same classes.  Sharing the most beautiful hug, we each knew—no, we each understood—what we had experienced.  The bond that tied us together was strong enough to set us free.

“We have to get together for lunch sometime.”  I’m not sure if Fran said that or I did, but we each wanted to reconnect.

Fearful of facing our fateful connection, it took me a month before I contacted Fran to meet for a lunch that began my journey through the trauma. Meeting Fran opened a Pandora’s box that I couldn’t close.  The venom from my past —the rape at knifepoint—was now leaking from this box.  I didn’t know how to stop it.  But I did feel driven to write a book to express my feelings.  

Writing a book has been a lot like putting together the first quilts that I made—take a bunch of scraps, put them together, rip out the parts that need redoing, take some classes to learn how to make it better, repeat and keep going.  Eventually, a quilt…or a book…appears.  The book hasn’t happened yet, but the pursuit of the book lead me to the quilt that brought me to Houston.  

In 2018 a writing professor who had done a great deal of work with survivors of sexual assault suggested I read Alice Sebold’s memoir Lucky, the story of her atrociously violent rape and its aftermath.  The last line of Lucky told how she was holding “hell and hope in the palm” of her hand 15 years later.  How striking an image.  The fires of hell infiltrating the fragility of hope.  The truth in Sebold’s writing fueled my emotional emergence and the creation of my quilt and the accompanying essay honoring her in the exhibition  A Better World:  Heroes working toward the greater good.  While I did not name Fran as my hero, she and all survivors of sexual assault are.  The quilt in the show was a healing process and drew out the venom of the emotions gnawing at my soul. I talked to people—without shaking inside—about the symbolism of the dove, a bevy of butterflies over a flower, and the lone butterfly resting on the fingertip of the outstretched hand, all defying the flames of hell.

If Fran and I both hadn’t thought that Greensboro would be a great place to live, we wouldn’t have crossed paths, I wouldn’t have faced my demons, I wouldn’t have pursued writing, I wouldn’t have read Lucky and I wouldn’t have created my “Olympic” quilt.  Greensboro is not only my home, but it has brought me peace.