A few months ago, Will came to me with a worried look on his face and confessed that there had been an incident involving one of the handmade sweaters. He had left it on his desk near a blob of sticky pink putty, and the putty had slowly expanded overnight until it overtook the sweater and oozed itself intricately into the very fibres of it. The poor sweater looked like it had just emerged from a very unfortunate encounter with an entire package of chewed up bubble gum.
I Googled several variations of the phrase "How to remove sticky goop from a sweater", and tried a number of different tricks involving ice cubes and salt and soaking and such, but none of them worked to completely loosen the pink stuff's grip on the yarn. The sweater is still sitting in my laundry room because I haven't been able to decide exactly what I should do with it next.
I was initially upset by this sweater versus putty incident, even though I knew it was an accident. I felt like the damage to the sweater was somehow an unravelling of my own story, that changing the way it had always looked took something special away from me.
It's interesting how we become so attached to physical objects that remind us of important moments from our past. We cling to them as proof of experiences and feelings that have passed us by and that we can no longer recreate; they reassure us that what we remember was real. Old photographs and treasures wrapped carefully in crinkled tissue paper keep us firmly rooted in our sense of self, when the constant ebb and flow of life makes us feel sometimes as though we're drifting off into the unfamiliar.
But physical objects like a handmade doll sweater are not the only testament to the moments of our past. The experiences represented by those things we've saved are woven into our very selves; their effects on us are displayed in the complex patterns of who each of us is at any given time. Photographs fade, fragments of delicate mementos are lost, and even our own bodies change in ways that are sometimes unrecognizable to us as we grow older, but our very essence is made up of our cumulative history: the events, people, thoughts and feelings that shaped us and made each one of us unique.
Over time, seeing the pink-goop-riddled doll sweater day after day in my laundry room has somehow shifted my perspective on its significance. The sweater, like everything in life, could not stay the same forever. Rather than seeing the pink stains as a symbol of something lost, I now see them as another meaningful layer added to my life's story. Some day in the future, when I am the mom of two men, I will come across that sticky sweater carefully packed away somewhere and will be reminded of a much loved boy whose vivid imagination used to spill out in colourful collections of random objects all over his desk. There will be no doubt in my mind then that what I remember was real, and wonderful.