I have always been a teller of stories.
~Carmen Maria Machado
The first time I read The Husband Stitch, I wished I hadn’t read it. Because I knew that the many times after I’d reread it, I would continue to ask myself what it was like the first time -like asking someone who likes sex about their first time.
Reading it the first time was difficult. I had to pause every now and then and do something else. It was early November and I had a whole day yawning at my disposal. AM sent me the link and as I began to read it, I had the vague discomfort that only someone who is tragically falling in love can have.
Then there was this laziness that occasionally comes even when you have found a great piece of writing, and sometimes, especially after you have found a great piece of writing. This happens because the mind bookmarks it for a moment in the future where the reading will happen and where the energy to be left smitten and ravaged can be found in plenty, and- guiltlessly.
But I pushed — because I knew that the preliminary pleasure to be derived from The Husband Stitch was going to be like no other.
The moral of that story, I think, is that being poor will kill you. Or perhaps the moral is that brides never fare well in stories, and one should avoid either being a bride, or being in a story. After all, stories can sense happiness and snuff it out like a candle.
Every time I had read a great line, I’d put my phone away, sigh, and dig deeper into the folds of my rug. I would shut my eyes for not more than three minutes before straightening up and starting over again.
Scoffing is the first mistake a woman can make
Pride is the second mistake
And being right is the third and worst mistake.
The Husband Stitch was and still is the most haunting story I have ever read – the kind that makes you want to impose it on all the people you know and love. The kind that allows you to grow a little, no matter how overshadowed you are by it, and want to be.
As a teacher, here was another tiring thing I felt compelled to do – which was to take it to class after class and make students read it, with the hope that they will fall in love with it, like I had.
But – as I have come to learn – This is the worst mistake a teacher can make — especially if you are an Avarna woman teacher. And if like me, your language is questionable, if you falter over difficult words and don’t have answers to questions – then it doesn’t matter how much you love something, you will never be good enough. Not as good as someone Savarna or someone male or someone both.
I used to think I wasn’t good enough. Or rather, I was made to think I wasn’t good enough.
But I don’t let myself think that anymore.
Not because I have suddenly found confidence but because I recognise now how power works. Because centuries of Savarna assholes have gotten away by making a lot of people feel that they aren’t good enough, that they will never be good enough.
So now even if I’m not good enough, I tell myself it is okay. As long as I have stories to take cover under, and learn from – then everything will be okay. From Ambedkar, to Vaidehi, to Marquez, and Machado – I must keep trying. It’s what my father did, it’s what my mother does, and it’s what I must do.
Stories have this way of running together like raindrops in a pond. They are each borne from the clouds separately, but once they have come together, there is no way to tell them apart.
How did I do The Husband Stitch in class then?
Today, I do that story in the classroom as though I own it – as though it came from my body after days and nights of sacrifices. But always remembering and painfully knowing that i did not write it. Maybe that’s how one must do stories in classrooms. As though something of value was sacrificed for it. As though without you, they would just burst into tiny puffs of smoke and disappear.
(If you are reading this story out loud, move aside the curtain to illustrate this final point to your listeners. It’ll be raining, I promise.)
Soon, I had found another reason to drag The Husband Stitch to other classes; I had to undo the memory of doing it the previous time. And so each time I do it, I am simultaneously undoing it. As a result – as of this moment, I know a couple of lines, and two paragraphs by heart. That’s the great thing about loving the same story everyday– that it can liberate vulnerable people who carry what they love proudly.
I did the story again, today. And loved it –again. And I felt the same wave of possibility that makes writing seem all at once doable and at once monstrous.
It’s what makes teaching enjoyable – I can fall in love everyday, shamelessly – with the same story – again and again and no one can take this away from me – no matter how good they are.
I’m sorry. I’ve forgotten the rest of the story.
*** All the sections that appear within quotes are from Carmen Maria Machado’s short-story – The Husband Stitch ***
*** Featured Image Credits – Granta