We say we will follow the deer tracks in the snow later in the day but we never do. They all lead to the same place, back to the denuded arbor vitae. We could trace them to our windows and look in as though strangers seeing it all for the first time. The empty bed. The daffodils blooming in the jar. Dust on the picture frame. We would not see the hard line or hear the clock ticking down time. We would not know that to fear death is the worst fear of all because there is no escaping it. There is no wishing it away. The deer always come back to that which feeds them.
When I was eleven, my best friend and I would talk endlessly on the phone. I remember pulling the cord as far as it would go, up and down the hallway. I don’t even know what we said to each other but there seemed to be a lot to say.
As an adult, I eschew the phone. I feel trapped by it. Even cordless, I am strangling.
The smartphone is different. I don’t use mine much for talking and when I’m having an actual face-to-face conversation with someone, I try to remember to put it down. In truth, I fought against getting a smart phone but was very quickly addicted to it once I had it. Even so, I’m struggling to see how it has enhanced my life. I’ve cut back already–no Facebook on the phone. No more words with friends. But still it calls me.
For a while, my son’s favorite movie was WALL-E. I remember watching it with him and becoming depressed at the scene where all of the humans are shuttling around on their chairs talking into devices. The scene is meant to represent a possible future but, in truth, we are there already.
I realize, I’ve come to use this device in the same way I used to use a cigarette. I use it when I am uncomfortable or alone. It makes it easier not to look and listen when all I should be doing is looking and listening and living in the moment. I tell myself that I need to capture these moments of my son’s childhood and post them out to the world, but do I? The pictures of me at his age are few, but my memories remain. I lived those moments for myself. They belonged to me and not the world. They still do. I wonder if I am robbing him and I do believe that maybe I am.
As a rule, I don’t make resolutions but this year I am. This year I am going to fight the urge to pick up the phone when all is quiet. I am going to fight the urge to pick it up and hold it in front of me when I should be using my own eyes instead.
I am going to look. I am going to listen. I am going to let the world be quiet.
The cold is quiet. It is still. Crows are larger than expected. Frost edges the cracks in the pavement. The light is gentle, not punishing. The brother and sister are dressed appropriately for the weather. From a distance, they might be a middle-aged couple walking their dog. Closer, he carries a radio and sings along. She holds the lead. They do not feel the cold in their fingertips and toes. They did not grow up in the north, waiting for the bus at -30 degrees. They do not know the squeal of boot on snow when it is past midnight and the moon breathes down. They do not know the crunch of tires over ice. They do not yet know the way that winter settles into your mind.The quiet of it. The stillness.
My son will say something that dazzles me and reminds me of the beauty in the world.
I will come to the anniversaries of loss and wonder that you have been gone for 35 years, or 13 years, or five years, or less. You will come to me in my dreams and I will know you then as I once did.
My heart will turn black with envy, or worry, or shame, or anger. I will rage and rage and rage, until I remember our time here is short and then I will let it go.
Sometimes I will overeat and drink too much. Other times, I won’t.
In the dark night, I will worry over my health and promise to take better care of myself.
I will lie next to my child at night and he will tell me that there is no better mother in the world and I will believe him and know, as always, that this life we are living together is precious and should never be taken for granted.
Often, I will fear that I will lose you only to discover that you are not lost.
It is the season of lights.
I am not a religious person and yet the lights represent something to me; they are a coming home. A call out into the world that we are not alone. A shining forth of our good will.
In the darkest night, light gives us hope, even if it is in the distance. Perhaps, especially then. It is something to strive for. To move toward.
And yet my heart holds on to darkness now that I find difficult to shake. In my darkness, I think of the anniversary upcoming. That of the extraordinary loss of life at one school not so far away from where I sit in my chair, in my warm kitchen. It is possible to say that every day since the Sandy Hook tragedy, I have thought about those children and adults who were lost. The reality is that it probably has not been every day, but most days for sure.
Especially in the morning when I drop my son at school, I think of those lost. My son is six and in first grade. He loves his teacher. He loves his family and his dog. For Christmas, he is equally excited about gifts and spending time with his family. When he was born, he was someone we didn’t even know was missing from our lives until he was within them. His presence was a magic light turning on within all of us who love him.
His light burns ever brightly.
And as I watch him walk confidently into his school each morning, my heart catches in my chest and I drive on. Trusting that all will be okay again today, again today, again today. It is a prayer. It is a plea. We are okay. We are okay. We are okay.
That day, after I knew much of the horror, I waited anxiously for my son to get off the bus from kindergarten and when I saw him, I could breathe again. Later, we sat together with his hand in mine. I placed our hands together on the black and white blanket we have on our couch. I marveled at his warm hand in mine–that he was there with me, alive, well, happy, and innocent of the horror all around him.
Innocent or not, we find a way forward. We have to or we would not survive. It is our nature to move forward while still looking back. It is part of our survival instinct to listen and learn from our elders and from their tragedies and their happiness, from their love and loss. And as we age, our loss piles up like a rock wall around us, threatening to not let anything through.
My husband’s grandmother told us once that “it won’t snow until the brooks are full,” and I have seen this to be true. Until the brooks around us are full of water, any snow that falls, typically does not stick. It must be something about the frozen ground, that water cannot permeate.
Left to its own devices, nature does not disappoint us. The sun rises and sets. The Winter Solstice approaches and we turn on our lights, welcoming the darkness.
The brooks are now full. The solstice is coming.
We turn on our lights and send out a message of hope to all who are out there in the darkness and alone.
In the dark nights, we turn on our lights and we wait for snow.
Yesterday my heart was dark. In the morning, I received the news that I did not get a job that I thought I wanted. I was one of two final candidates. Obviously, they chose the other guy. You’d think I’d be used to rejection but this felt different because it wasn’t about my creative work; it was about me and how I did not fit into someone’s mold of what they think they need.
When I told my son about not getting the job, he was baffled. Who could be better than Mummy? Knowing that I am the person he would always choose is what healed me. There is no one better for this important role I have in his life. I know that and so does he.
I was also, oddly, healed by Patrick Swayze. Always, after a particularly painful or judgy rejection, I turn to my mantra from Dirty Dancing, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” If I can say that to myself a good fifty times, it helps to heal the wound. Didn’t work so well yesterday, but…
When I was at the grocery store, Swayze found me again when “She’s Like the Wind” came on the loudspeaker and as I listened, I truly became Baby.
I don’t need him. He needs me and he would be goddamned lucky to have me and living without me will drive him insane. I am out of his league and he’s a fool to believe he is anything I need. He can’t even make eye contact because I am so far above him.
I do not need you. I am like the wind.
Instead of going to sleep with a heavy heart, I went to sleep lying next to my kid, holding his hand. I went to sleep filled with gratitude for all that I have. I am home. I am warm. Those I love the most are with me. Tomorrow, I will break bread with more family. There is not much more that I need.
And you? You are like the wind, my friend. You are.
Thank you, Patrick Swayze.