Friday, July 8, 2016
A year ago, my husband and I walked with my parents beside a waterfall, working up the nerve to share our news. We hadn't written a script or talked about how we would tell them, and finally, more out of sheer nerves than anything else, M and I pulled them into a family huddle, four heads together, and whispered, "We're pregnant!"
The heart expands.
A year ago, my parents called me and told me to get M, and the two of us sat in the living room, holding hands like children, and listened as they explained that my dad's old melanoma had slipped between the healthy cells and made new homes in his lungs, in his soft places. Things would be different now.
The heart contracts.
There's an illustration that surfaces every now and then, that says, "Nothing in nature blooms all year," a reminder to go gentle on yourself in hard or fallow times. There are seasons when great wild things burst forth and everything is possible; there are seasons when the trees hold dead fingers against a gray sky and it seems that nothing will be possible again. And so it is with our bodies, with ourselves, our lives.
I am exhausted. The last year has been earthquake after earthquake until the ground beneath my feet is silt and I am drowning. My dad is sick. The birth of our son was such a trauma that I still cry when I think about it—my old dream of a big family seems impossible now. Money has been strangle-hold tight for months. I am overworked: even downtime when NS is sleeping or playing on his own is eaten up by my job. I am lonely. My family home is on the market; the farm where M and I got married will be sold next. Relationships have ebbed: starting back in November, I've been told by friends and family members that I'm mean, that I'm not grateful enough, that I don't share the conversational air, that I have shut them out.
And maybe I have. I sleep so little and I work so much. Some days, the only thing that keeps me alive is that, if I went, there would be no-one to feed the baby. It's hard to stay peppy and bright, it's hard to stay kind, it's hard to stay present. It's not all bad. There are moments of joy among the grief. But right now, it's a lot of grief.
Everything has changed. The deal I had with my parents—that they would never die—has been broken. The deal I had with my body—that it would behave and deliver—has been shredded. The deal I had with myself—that I would ask for help—has fluttered away on the wings of all the relationships I seem to have mangled. I know this all sounds so dramatic and over the top, but I'm really struggling to find good things right now. Add in the news, add in the heat, add in all the daily terrors of life.
Once, after another heartbreak season, my dad called me up and said, "Let's go to San Francisco for the weekend." I said "What?" and he said, "Come on, let's just go!" So we went to San Francisco for three days: picked over the bins at Amoeba Records, walked the Golden Gate Bridge, stopped into silly museums, watched No Country for Old Men, drank Fat Tire beer. On Saturday, we took the train under the bay and emerged in Oakland, the home of Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse, where we had dinner. But it wasn't Chez Panisse, exactly: it was the auxiliary cafe upstairs. And it wasn't dinner, exactly: we got the last seating of the night, so we sat down for a meal at nearly quarter to ten, on the cusp of the kitchen's last orders. I don't remember what we ate; I remember laughing as we ran, half-drunk, to the BART station in order to catch the last train back to the city.
Once, after another heartbreak season, I took my tiny son out in his stroller—his bright lemonade yellow stroller, so different from all the blacks and grays that I usually surround myself with—and we roamed around the city for a while, doing errands and meeting friends. On the platform of the bus station, as we waited for our ride home, I reached down absently and gently ran my fingernails up the soles of his feet. To my surprise and delight, he let out a giggle, and then a roar as I did it again. Soon, I was laughing, and he was laughing, and when I looked around the bus platform, I saw a dozen other people laughing too.
Nothing in nature blooms year-round. This week, I feel stuck and dirty and dire and alone. I know that my dad feels that way too—and my sister, and my brother, and my mom, all of whom carry this burden, and others. I am tired. I am lonely. I feel like the worst possible version of myself, and that everyone knows it.
Sometimes, when I nurse the baby, I imagine the two of us enveloped in a shimmering cocoon of white and purple light: a shower of love and safety for us. I imagine it for him, protecting him against the world, or at least softening the heartache when his own earthquakes start to roar. For now, though, I carry him over the cracks, and I hope that our shimmering love is enough to keep him safe. It's all I can do. I hope it's enough.
The heart expands, contracts, expands again.
Image by Esra Roise