I hold anxiety in my breath like a flameless candle, burning and unburnt. The bones of my hips hold memories, chipped, melting into my womb. My fingers hold malice and death, grasping at cruelty with tips made rough by want. The long bones of my thighs hold the night we found each other. Open, unafraid. Your love exists in the skin pushed taut across my breastbone, scarred and freckled. Fresh paper for your words. Smooth winter. Crystalline and velvet. Never entered. Never turned away. Planed by trauma, by grief. Risen by your breath.
My baby came into the world through an incision. Cesarean. They wanted to try the suction. The forceps. I refused. He wasn’t moving. My baby.
Later, the doctor told me it wouldn’t have worked. We made the right choice. His birth. His birthday.
Soon it is my own birth day. I don’t know much about the story of my birth. My parents are long dead. Like most things about my infancy, there is no one to ask.
I remember the day my own mother turned 50. Our father was dead. Our stepfather was dying. My sisters and I took her to Pizza Hut. We laughed. We ate. We all drank the cheap wine even though most of us were not old enough.
On her final birthday, my mother wanted to go to the beach. She wanted ham sandwiches. We brought her there. One of those drive on beaches in Florida where she lived. She was dizzy and fell over on the sand. It was less than a month before she would die.
She was 19 years older than I am at my birthday. I was six years older than my son would be if I died at 69. I am a year and a half older than my father was when he died. My son is now five months younger than I was when my father died.
I make these calculations constantly. Buying time. Figuring out what is enough.
But there is never and will never be enough time. Other than love, it’s all that matters. Here begins my next fifty years. I am counting each hour, minute, second. The sand. The stars.
There was only the shimmer of life. A hologram of what was not. There is the part that is not the hologram. The part that is breath. And scent. The part that is hair and skin and blood.
I bump into a friend and we talk about therapists. He tells me a funny/sad story about his old one and I tell him about how I have decided to dump mine because the last time I saw her she tried to make me feel bad because she forgot it was our appointment time and left me waiting.
Our appointment was at 12. “It’s only 12:07,” she said. I was the one who emailed her to remind her after waiting outside. She has no waiting room. One must wait on the stoop until the last patient changes the sign over to open. No one changed the sign because there was no last patient. She had left it occupied herself.
She makes $200 an hour and I make considerably less than that an hour and all of my time is money ticking away.
I am irked by her but I stay in the appointment anyway because she tells me she will charge me for it regardless.
I sit down and cross my arms across my chest like a teenager. I do not want to give her a free hour that she gets paid for.
I immediately weep.
A few hours earlier I had left my child at school after having him for five days and I am an open wound. I have thrown myself onto the land mine.
We talk. I allow myself to open up because fuck it. She will hear me. She is being paid. She is taking this time from my paycheck.
My child is away from me.
Her cat begins to scratch frantically at the door. Are you allergic? Can I let her in? she asks.
She is home alone. Her partner or husband or whatever is not there and the cat is needy.
I say, of course.
The glass door handle breaks off in her hand. The door cannot be opened. She has a Victorian house. It’s for sale.
The cat mews and she frets over her cat during our session. She is worried. I can tell. This cat needs her.
I think of my son. I think of how she left me waiting on her stoop.
I think about how we talked about me feeling inconsequential last session.
I praise the broken door handle. I praise it. I know that all she can focus on is her cat. I talk on and on.
Last week, I felt like you didn’t even really need to see me again, she said. You’re so together.
You talk to me like you know me better than I know myself but no one knows anyone as well as I know you, I want to say to her.
She tells me I courageous. She tells me how many women sit on the other side of where I sit and just keep sitting there because they are scared.
You are courageous, she says.
But I don’t need her to tell me that. I leave without making another appointment.
There is the part that is not the hologram and that part is love. It is love. The love of my child, which is as rich and miraculous as dark soil in spring. Then there is the love of myself which is a cat behind an unopened door with a broken handle.
My final communications with her will about her payment. This is, after all, a business and she is nothing if not mercenary.
It must be expensive to live in that state of constant upkeep. The large Victorian house. The cat on the other side of the door. The quiet rooms. The time ticking away behind the occupied sign.
It must feel like something heavy and smothering. A pillow over the face. A moon clouded over. It must feel.
Now it is spring and snow continues to fall, splashing wetly against windowpanes. We know it will not last on the ground forever but it can make you feel like winter has not and will not ever end.
If you let it, that is.
There have been times in the past year or so when my periods of transition have threatened to crush me with feelings of fear and hopelessness. Times when I let myself believe that the crusty snow, covered in filth from all that winter has brought, will never melt away and reveal the tender ground beneath.
Indeed, I have allowed a massive wall of hardened snow to grow around me in that I no longer feel like a writer. Despite my saying to myself constantly and consistently, “You should write today,” I find many reasons and excuses not to. The truth is that there is no one and nothing to blame but myself. Indeed, I’m responsible for my own abduction. I’m the one who brought me underground and would not let me rise. I’m the one who has kept myself in this perpetual winter.
Now, it’s time for me to push up and out. To rise.
I will and return to this mother who is always there for me. The one who comforts me when I’m lost and reminds me what it is I have come here to do and that is to make sense of this world through my words and to seek out my vulnerability and reveal it to the light.
You, rise with me. Your heart is strong and your voice true. Sing out and welcome the spring of your words. Do not be afraid.
It is the coldest day of winter so far. Well below zero. We are up before sunrise and loading the baby in the car because today is the day I become an American citizen. I have lived in this country since I was 11 but as I was brought here and did not come by choice, my decision was a long time in coming. My wish was to become an American before the vote in November so that I could vote for Barack Obama. I missed out by several months but for his inauguration, I will be one of you.
I am sitting with my fellow immigrants. I have a mixture of emotions. Fear, a slight tinge of sadness, but mostly I feel joy. The wait in the courtroom is long but we don’t mind. We have all been waiting a long time for this day and we approach it with determination.
Soon the judge is before us and we pledge ourselves to this country, the United States of America. We were not born here but we choose to remain here among you, as one of you.
Today, I pledge myself to you again, my fellow Americans. I pledge myself to you citizens, and immigrants, and I especially pledge myself to those of you who are the most vulnerable, including the undocumented, who are still protected under our laws.
I face these dark days with my heart full of love for this country and her people and though I resist the terrifying change before us, I am still one of you and will be forevermore.
This could pass over or through but your eyes are not clouded. The leafless branches of the tree hold up the nest just like your empty heart will expand, refill.
Let go of that dark time before. Let it seep away. It was never anything more than a halo around your brightness. Nothing more than a trick of the eye and the heart.
All you have to do is open your hand and take it. Take it all. Now.
Be brave, soul. Recognize that moment when everything is full.
Last year when I wrote my preview post, I was in a much different place in my life than I am now. I was in the thick of breaking myself down to the core. Now, that core has been reinforced and all that I am radiates from it and becomes again. This new me.
2016 was the year of me understanding my capabilities. It was the year of me bleeding all of my blood onto the ground and letting it soak in and feed these new roots.
From these roots came me, my child, our new life.
This year I stood before a judge and said, yes, we are breaking apart what no man can put asunder. We are humans and we are doing what only God can do.
There is a great deal of pain in admitting your failure.
What a lifetime of writing has taught me is that failure means learning and I am determined to learn from this one. As I have.
I will continue to raise my child up in every way–physically, emotionally, spiritually.
I will turn 50 and have a colonoscopy.
I will trust my intuition (that voice inside you speaks to you for a reason. Never stuff it down. Peril awaits you if you do).
I will turn my face to this broken self and take her in my arms. She needs me and so I will learn to love her in a way that no one else can. I will raise myself up in every way.
You. You raise yourself up. Bring your new self forth into the light of this day and gaze upon her. She is bruised but not completely broken. I see her magnificence.
I see you.
I bought some of those LED candles for our windows for the holidays. So easy. No wires. But I accidentally broke the glass flame of the one in my room (I had a spare). Such a small, fragile bulb, but the glass went everywhere. It took me a long time to clean it and I still stepped on pieces along the way.
Tonight a piece fell onto the floor from seemingly nowhere as I was getting into my pajamas. I thought of the heart. How your heart can be fractured into millions of tiny fragments and you try to clean them all up and you think you’re doing a pretty good job of it. At least superficially no one can tell that anything is broken. But every once in a while you find a piece and quickly scoop it up and throw it in the trash. Oh and then you step on something and it’s another damn piece and it wedges in your toe and hurts you for a while but then that pain goes away too.
And then you forget about the pain. You move on. You start to feel okay again. And then good. And then great. But then a piece of glass tumbles onto the ground in front of you and as you pick it up you cut yourself and you remember again.
But the supply of glass needn’t be endless. Eventually you will run out of glass if you let yourself.
It was the smallest light bulb after all, even though it did burn so brightly when it was lit, letting passersby know that you were there, inside, alive.
Go. Find your own bulb to replace it with. A bulb that, while just as fragile as the last, will burn brightly still. A beacon. Hope shining out in the darkness.
Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, ple…
I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. Wha…
It starts with a girl. It always starts with a girl.
She presents herself as unafraid but she is fearful or we know or suspect that she will become so as she ages. As her innocence fades, wears thin. As the eyes of men and boys weigh upon her bones. The judgment. The lust.
She meets a stranger. She is enlightened, emboldened.
She learns why she is special.
(Be wary of people who tell you you are special. Tell her that. But you can’t tell her, because you are writing her. She belongs to you after all.)
She doesn’t know what she’s capable of.
She is 11.
She loves the woods.
She is at home there.
She is the one who saves everyone.
She saves herself. She saves her father. She saves her mother.
Saves the town. The world.
(Maybe that is going too far. No. It’s not too far. She saves the world.)
It starts with a girl.
It starts with a girl in the woods.
Her heart is big and open for now.
It always starts there. With a girl in the woods.
Here is what I have come to after a year of learning: my job as a parent is not to teach my child how to live a life of perfection. Rather, my job is to teach him how to thrive in times of imperfection and adversity. My job is to teach resilience. Basically, as painful as it is to realize, the goal is to teach him how to one day live without me.
Not including those brave and strong parents whose children will never be able to be independent, I see a lot of modern parents struggle with the concept of letting our children grow and push forward for themselves (I struggle with this myself). Given my current life situation, I have had to let go of a great deal of control. I have had to enlist trust and acceptance and as such I have come to believe even more fully and wholly in my child and his abilities even more than I already did (and I didn’t think that was possible). As such, I have watched my child grow in ways I didn’t even know he was capable of yet. Through it all, I have seen him retain his loving and trusting heart. I have seen him survive, thrive, even.
On mother’s day I see much lauding of the perfection of motherhood, of the sacrifice, of the dignity, of the beauty, of the devotion, of the selflessness. As a mother, I have always felt myself on the outside of such praise. I knew I loved my child wholeheartedly and that I was the very best mother I could be, but I never felt as good as the other mothers. I felt undignified, sometimes selfish, often tired, sometimes frustrated, often anxious about my abilities. I felt wholly and completely flawed and unlovable. When my child expressed his love for me again and again, I couldn’t believe that he could love me despite everything that I felt was so utterly and completely wrong with me.
Today, I want you to consider that perfection is a crutch and that embracing your own imperfection and imperfections of others is, in fact, your liberation. Let go of the need to show the world only the pretty pictures of your family. Instead, show the outtakes. Your true beauty lies in those moments when your child is embracing you and you forget that you have a cigarette in your hand and that your laugh lines are showing.
As for me, I embrace my imperfection. And now more than ever, I believe fully and completely in my ability to mother. I have mothered my child through change and adversity. I have mothered my child with everything I have. I will mother your children. Give me the world’s children. I embrace them all with the brave heart my mother gave me.