The hardest thing about divorce for Ana wasn’t that she was ending her ten year relationship with Mikael. No, the thing that was the most frustrating, the thing that was currently keeping her up at night, was all of the stuff.
“Literally,” Ana said to her best friend Isabelle, over coffee and French toast on Saturday morning. “It is literally keeping me up at night. Like I was up until 2am last night cleaning out a closet.”
Isa laughed. “Ten years is a long time,” she replied. “That’s a lot of Amazon packages.”
Ana agreed. Mikael was officially moving out in two weeks. Until then, he had agreed to sleep on his buddy’s couch, in exchange for Ana doing the majority of the packing. Each room in their two bedroom apartment currently held boxes half full of his things.
“Is it ok, the packing? I mean is it…” Isa paused, choosing her words carefully. “Are you doing ok?”
Isa had of course offered to help but Ana had declined, claiming that the task of clearing out all of Mikael’s belongings alone would be cleansing for her, a kind of meditation practice.
“It is what it is”, Ana replied.
The ending of their marriage had not been a surprise to either one of them; it had been building for a long time. There were no ugly fights, no cheating, just the slow drifting apart that is the side effect of marrying your college sweetheart. Neither Ana nor Mikael were the same people they were when they had fallen in love ten years ago. The truth was that the adult versions of themselves just weren’t very compatible.
The worst part of it really, was that her mother had been right.
When she arrived home after breakfast, Ana decided it was finally time to start packing up the bedroom. Despite their breakup being relatively amicable, she had been putting off this task for awhile now, choosing to first tackle the books on the shelf in the living room, the extra dishes in the kitchen. There was something different about packing up Mikael’s clothing, something harder, more intimate.
She found the old quilt stuffed into the back of her closet, behind the suits that Mikael only wore for weddings and funerals.
Ana felt her breath catch in her throat as she unfolded it, attempting to smooth out the wrinkles with her hands. The fabric was worn and slightly faded with age but each square was still perfectly identifiable. Her first baby blanket. A t-shirt from the Montessori preschool she had attended when she was four. The leotard from her YMCA gymnastics team. The shiny blue of her high school graduation gown.
The quilt had been a gift from her mother for Ana’s 18th birthday, 18 years of memories meticulously sewn together. It had lay in its place of honor on her dorm room bed through the remainder of college, and then in her tiny studio apartment post graduation.
After the August dinner, when Ana and Mikael had announced their engagement and Ana’s mother had shattered her wine glass on the floor of the Italian restaurant, she had made the quilt disappear.
Ana had not seen it since. She had assumed it had gotten lost somewhere in the move from that first Queens apartment to the much larger one that her and Mikael rented after the wedding. Seeing it now brought back all the memories of that evening.
“No one should marry their college boyfriend”, her mother had said flatly, after Ana had showed her the ring , a simple aquamarine stone, no diamond. (Mikael had promised an upgrade once he was settled into his career.)
“But mama, we are in love”, Ana had replied, with the starry eyed gaze of a young woman who believed all her dreams are about to come true.
Her mother had waved her hand dismissively. “Of course you are, sweetheart.. But you have no idea who you are yet, either one of you.”
Ana set her lips in a stubborn frown. “I know who I want to be”, she said. “I want to be Mikael’s wife.” She paused dramatically. “We already put a deposit down. It’s happening this winter. With or without you.”
They had gotten married at City Hall on a Saturday morning, followed by a five hour party that evening at the very same Italian restaurant where they had announced their engagement. Her mother had refused to attend any of it, and in response Ana had stopped answering her calls.
At some point after that, the quilt had apparently been balled up and crammed into the back corner of her closet.
Ana ran her fingers over the fabric, pausing on the shimmery purple that had once been her YMCA leotard. The last time she had worn it she had been eleven years old. Her team had made it to the State Championships that year, which meant traveling 4 hours up the NY Thruway to compete in a different YMCA gym. Ana had gotten to stay in a hotel, two adjoining rooms with her coach and her teammates (no parents!). The girls had covered one of the queen sized beds with snacks from the vending machine down the hall, and had turned the other one into a makeshift trampoline, daring each other to bounce higher and higher, and then, once the snacks were gone, to jump all the way from one to the other without falling off. If she closed her eyes, Ana could almost still hear Natalie’s high pitched laugher.
It had been a good meet for Ana, first place on bars and floor. Their team had come in third, and Ana remembered calling her mother right afterwards. “I nailed my layout”, she had bragged. “Perfect landing!”
She knew her mother had no idea what a layout was, but she had cheered loudly into the phone anyway, telling Ana that she was so proud of her and to congratulate the rest of the team as well, and also to please remember to brush her hair. Ana had rolled her eyes in typical pre-teen fashion, but later that evening, after removing the thick French braids that hung like ropes on either side of her head, Ana had brushed all the knots out of her long blond hair.
Her mother had always come to all of the local gymnastics meets that were held at the small YMCA in Queens where Ana practiced, despite being a single mom with a very hectic work schedule. Afterwards, win or lose, they would go out for ice cream, sometimes alone, occasionally with a couple of Ana’s teammates. Her mom had sat there smiling, slowly eating a small cup of strawberry with whipped cream, while Ana and her friends rehashed the meet, who had fallen off the beam, who had stuck their landings.
She had always been proud of Ana, always supported her. Until the one time she didn’t.
Ana sighed. She was about to toss the quilt back into her closet but she changed her mind, folding it instead and placing it on top of her dresser.
She then returned to the closet to gather up more of Mikael’s shirts.
A week later Ana was done. Each room in her apartment now held a couple of cardboard boxes, sealed with packing tape and helpfully labeled with their contents; a few dishes and some extra silverware in the kitchen, two sets of sheets and a couple of towels in the living room, shirts and pants in the bedroom. Mikael was coming by with his friend’s van on Monday to collect them. He had decided to let her keep all of the furniture, claiming he could get the few items he needed for his new studio apartment on a weekend Ikea run.
After sealing the last box, Ana lay back onto her bed and dialed Isa’s number.
‘Its done”, she said.
“Congratulations?” Ana could hear the uncertainty in her friend’s voice.
“No that’s appropriate”, she replied. “It was a big chore. Emotionally and physically. I’ll take the encouragement.”
Isa laughed. “Ok then. Drinks to celebrate? Drinks to mourn your failed marriage?”
“Yes”, Ana said. “A drink sounds good.”
They met at the Irish pub on Ana’s corner, a dark, cozy place, with a good selection of draft beer and a dish of peanuts on the bar. After taking a long sip of her drink, Ana turned to Isa.
“I found the quilt in the back of my closet.”
Isa’s eyes widened. ‘The one your mom made?”
“Wow. Did you burn it?”
Ana snorted. “I thought about it”, she replied. “But no, its on my dresser.” She paused, thinking. “She was right though, wasn’t she?”
Isa frowned. “Was she though? I mean you were married for ten years. I am not sure if that counts.”
Ana was quiet for a minute. Then her eyes suddenly lit up. “Oh my god do you remember our graduation?”
Isa burst out laughing.
“How could I forget?!” She arranged her face in a mock worried expression. “Ana, I am concerned that your friend is not wearing anything under her gown. Perhaps you might want to lend her a dress?”
She laughed again. “Nothing ever got past your mom.”
Ana smiled, remembering. Isa, always looking for an adventure, had bet her $50 that she could get away with wearing nothing but a bra and underwear underneath her graduation gown. Ana still remembered holding her breath while her best friend went on stage to collect her diploma, half expecting the blue fabric to end up in a heap on the floor. It didn’t of course, and Isa had shot her a wink as she moved the tassel on her cap to the other side and sauntered off the stage like a supermodel on the runway.
They had debated later as to whether or not Isa had actually gotten away with it.
“Your mom doesn’t count”, Isa had protested. “She notices everything. Remember Jonas’ house party junior year where we came home tipsy? She knew the minute we walked in the door.”
Eventually Ana had paid her friend $25 (they agreed that her mom discovering Isa’s prank was worth half) and hung the photo of the two of them in their caps and gowns above her bed. If she looked carefully she imagined she could see the outline of Isa’s bra through the thin blue fabric.
That fall, Ana went away to college in upstate NY. She took the photo with her and placed it on her desk in her dorm room. A year later, when her mom gave her the homemade quilt, she brought that upstate with her as well. After graduation, she had packed all of her college things into two large garbage bags and thrown them into the back of Mikael’s car. The quilt had made it back to the city, but somehow, the photo had gotten lost.
Mikael knocked on Ana’s door early Monday morning, just as she was pouring herself a cup of coffee. She offered him one as well but he shook his head.
“There is a grande Starbucks cup sitting in the drivers seat as we speak.”, he said. “Otherwise there is no way I would have gotten here safely.”
“Of course there is”, she replied. She led him around the apartment, pointing at the boxes as she went. “They are all labeled. You know, so you can find your stuff later.” Her tone implied that he would not have been able to otherwise and Mikael grinned.
“You know me so well.”
Ana’s smile fell away. It was true, no one knew Mikael better.
“I’ll be in the kitchen”, she said quietly.
Mikael met her gaze for a second, then nodded and started walking briskly towards the bedroom.
He took the two kitchen boxes last. “I think that’s everything,” he said, handing her a set of keys.
Ana put them down on the kitchen counter, wrapping her fingers around the warmth of her mug.
“I will be in touch soon about the paperwork and stuff,” Mikael said.
Ana nodded. “No rush”, she replied. “I’m not going anywhere.”
She watched as he turned to leave. There was no doubt in her mind that this was the right decision. Her and Mikael wanted different things out of life now; he was ready to slow down, wanted a home in the suburbs and a family. She wanted to keep advancing in her career, to travel, to be free. They both deserved to move on. And yet.
“Mikael?” He paused at the kitchen door and Ana wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tight. She no longer wanted to be his wife but she thought she might always love him. “After the dust settles and we adjust to this new life and all, do you think maybe we could be friends?”
Mikael smiled, a sad, sweet smile that lit up his light brown eyes. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he replied.
Ana locked the door behind him and took her coffee into the bedroom, placing it on the table beside her bed. She then grabbed the quilt off of her dresser, wrapped it around her body, and fell asleep.
She awoke two hours later feeling refreshed, her mind now as clear as the sky after a storm has passed. She took a giant gulp of the coffee on the table, now cold, but still strong and delicious. She then took three deep breaths for courage and grabbed her phone.
Her mother answered on the second ring.
“Hi mom. Yeah its me.” Ana could hear jazz music playing in the background, the same music her mother had always listened to when Ana had been small. “
“Ana why are you calling? Is everything ok? Is it cancer?”
Ana couldn’t help but burst out laughing; the response was so typical of her mother.
“No mom, don’t worry, I don’t have cancer. I…” she paused, not sure how to begin, what to say. “You remember the quilt you made me? I found it in my closet. I thought I had lost in in the move but it was there, in the back.”
Her mother exhaled loudly. “Ana it has been almost ten years. You are calling me now because you found my quilt?”
Ana could picture her mom’s expression, brow furrowed, lips pulled down in a frown.
“No mom I.. Mikael moved out. We are getting divorced.” Ana sighed. “I don’t know…I found the quilt and I just thought… Its ok though. I’m sorry I bothered you.”
Her mother was silent. Ana was just about to hang up when her mother said quietly, “Maybe we could meet for coffee?”
Ana lay back onto the bed, her eyes filling with tears.
“Yeah mom, coffee sounds great,” she replied.
She took a quick shower, got dressed, and pulled her hair into a tight ponytail. On her way out of her bedroom she glanced back and saw that the quilt that she had fallen asleep with was now in a messy heap on the floor. Ana picked it up it and spread it carefully across her bed instead. She then grabbed her purse and went out to meet her mother.