In and Out of Time
We like to believe that we can create a sense of comfort in things we make for ourselves and each other and that a physical object can convey a message (mixed tapes, anyone?). For example, those who make “prayer” shawls are asked to keep the intended recipient in their thoughts as they are knitting or crocheting. The idea is that the maker imbues the shawl with these thoughts and that the recipient is comforted by the physical shawl.
Keith and I met in college in the 80s. We instantly clicked, becoming one another’s co-conspirator, confidant, and bestie. When Keith and I reconnected upon my move to Brooklyn, NY in 1994, it was as though no time had passed since our last meeting.
In 1996, I knit him a sweater for his 30th birthday (Lloyd by Marion Foale), using apple green Annabel Fox yarn. It may have been a touch oversized as I wasn’t necessarily doing gauge swatches at the time, but it became a favourite—not only of Keith’s but of his friends who’d come to visit.
By the time Keith was turning 50, the sweater had seen better days. There were multiple holes and runs, and what had been a “touch oversized” was now outright baggy. I had become a better knitter by then, and I wanted to rip out the sweater and use the original yarn for a new (and improved!) sweater for him. Reknitting the sweater felt like an appropriate way to celebrate our bond as friends and honour the way our relationship had endured. I’d moved to Canada eleven years earlier, but this time we’d managed to keep our friendship active.
I asked him for his input this time, and as soon as I brought the sweater home, I started looking for suitable patterns. I was excited to start on it, but there were a few projects I needed to finish first. Keith knew of my intention to knit the sweater for him; he didn’t need the physical object immediately. The sweater could wait.
One night in February 2019, I texted him to see if he was available to chat. There’d been some drama in his life, and we needed to debrief. He texted back, “No! Still at hospital!!” Hospital? Who was in the hospital? A mutual friend later texted to tell me that it was Keith who was in the hospital, and his liver was failing.
Keith died ten days after that text, at the age of 52. I’d managed to book a flight down a few days after I’d spoken with Chip, his partner. There’d been some anxious days when I didn’t know if I could get down to see him before he died because I was waiting for my renewed passport to arrive. Keith and I had texted on the 12th of February; I flew down on the 21st, and he died on the 22nd.
I hadn’t even ripped out the original sweater yet. I’d thought I had time. The sweater sat in my office, and all I could think about was Keith and how I hadn’t managed to tell him one more time how much I loved him.
It was while repeatedly encountering (sidestepping?) the sweater in my office that I realized what I needed to do. I would still unravel it, but I would use the yarn to knit a sweater for Chip. I knew that Keith would want me to maintain my relationship with his partner, and I wanted to reassure Chip that my connection to him hadn’t died with Keith. The new sweater would be a way to connect with Chip and build upon our relationship as well as memorialize Keith.
The unraveling has been challenging. I blame grief for my second round of procrastination. I’ve struggled to find the seams, and the yarn has definitely been compromised in some areas (there will be a lot of Russian joins). But I also feel that I am with Keith as I take the sweater apart. I know that this sweater once held him, and I hold onto that.
There is so much in the sweater that speaks to who both Keith and I were in 1996. I see the ambitious knitter I was then, and the green speaks to me of our youth and naivete. We hadn’t lost people close to us yet, and we were still feeling, and to a certain extent acting, immortal. I feel his mortality now, in the yarn that passes through my fingers and each stitch I undo.
Yet I’m also anticipating the transformation. I’m anxious to cast on. I’ve chosen a different sweater (Gib II by Andrea Mowry) for Chip because while the sweater will tie us together through our love of Keith, it will now be his, made for the man Chip is. There is still a fair amount of patternwork involved, but this time, I’ve done a gauge swatch. As I knit, I’ll be thinking about both Keith and Chip as well as what ties us all together.
I am confident that Chip will feel the love. My goal is to have this sweater finished in time to get it to him by Keith’s birthday, September 29th (still ambitious). I want this garment to move beyond the sublimation of grief into a physical manifestation of love, remembrance, and futurity.