A silent house.
A long run.
A quiet mind.
A silent house.
A long run.
A quiet mind.
The glory of our driveway.
a.k.a. the Site of Endless Driveway Turnarounds.
This is also the reason my husband staked two steel trellises on either side of the driveway. Which, yeah, are continually knocked over by people who don’t know how to stay on a driveway.
So. A lemonade stand.
Good thing our daughter wants to be a “Lemonader.”
Rocking my almost two-year-old son in the rocking chair.
The humidifier steams. The white noise machine zzhhhhhhs.
Faint lights from passing cars travel across the walls.
With his soft breath against my shoulder, I rock back and back and back. One year. Two years. Five years. Ten years. As many Christmases as I can remember.
Plenty of happy ones.
Plenty of ones filled with tension. (Growing up in a house with four teenagers will do that).
Plenty of forgettable ones in my 20s. (That limbo between getting married and having kids.)
Now, we’ve entered a series of Christmases that no longer mean comfort and joy or the most wonderful time of the year.
There was the Christmas of Nausea (2012), when I grasped for ginger candy and Sea Bands or whatever anyone suggested that might help me ride the waves of first trimester nausea. From December until mid-January. (Truly a delight, let me tell you.)
And the 37-Weeks-Pregnant Christmas (2016), when I told myself that I only had three weeks left to go. (It turned out to be another five weeks. Yeah.)
And all those fun Christmases of Illness (2014, 2017, 2018). 2017 was by far the worst, as the baby’s diarrhea stretched on for a few weeks, taking us all down into its shitty vortex.
And the downright sad Christmas (2015) when the baby’s heart stopped beating. After I had a D & C on New Year’s Eve, I sat in the parking lot of Whole Foods while my husband bought me a slice of apple pie. I listened to “Long December” by the Counting Crows and cried.
And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
to hold on to these moments as they pass
But if I’m really thinking about the Christmas when everything in my life changed direction, when I started plotting a course that brought me to this rocking chair, with this child in my arms, while my oldest sleeps in her bed across the hall, I always end up traveling back to Christmas of 2002.
It was Christmas Eve. 11:00 p.m. At Wal-Mart. And I was standing in the card aisle. Looking for cards for a few friends and my boyfriend. I had no trouble picking out the cards for my friends.
But I was having the hardest time picking out one for my boyfriend of three years.
Forever and always. My one and only. Meant for each other.
I couldn’t even pick them up to consider them.
Because I understood, suddenly and completely, that I couldn’t see a future for us anymore, the way that I used to.
What was our future? It was his vision for what we would become. A married couple. A house. No kids. I could be a teacher, but did I really need any more education than a Bachelor’s degree? Why did I want to travel when he was the most important thing in my life? Wasn’t a life with him good enough? And kids? Why have kids? They just ruin a good thing.
And for a long time, I thought, Yes, of course. You’re right. You are the only thing that I want in life. I couldn’t possibly want anything else. Right. I don’t want kids. Nah, too much work. We’d be much happier by ourselves. Living our life together without kids getting in the way.
But I did want more. Much more. And in time, conversations about the future brought me back again and again to a realization that I could not ignore.
We had come as far as we could together, but now there was more pulling us apart than was keeping us together.
And although my heart had been feeling that way for some time, I didn’t want to give up. I had poured so much of myself into making it work. I wasn’t a quitter. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I liked his family. I didn’t want to make life more difficult or more inconvenient for anyone.
And above all, I didn’t want to believe that although love can bring people together, sometimes it wasn’t enough to keep them together. No one makes movies or songs about the power of finding someone with compatible values and goals for life, or someone who trusts you and works with you to resolve conflict. It’s not sexy enough. And if I’m being honest with myself, I didn’t have the vocabulary back then to even articulate the problems.
I just remember thinking, This isn’t working.
I thought that a lot.
And yet, I was like the women in my family who came before me: devoted and long-suffering, servile and contented.
To end this relationship was not within my repertoire. At all.
But I also couldn’t lie to myself.
And therefore, I wouldn’t lie to anyone else anymore either.
I paid for the cards for my friends, got in my old car, turned the heat up, and flipped on the radio. The voice of Stevie Nicks reached through the speakers and the tears rolled.
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
I don’t know.
Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
Because I built my life around you
But time makes you bolder, children get older
And I’m getting older too
I didn’t realize it yet, but when I left that store that night, I had changed the entire trajectory of my life.
Because the very next guy that I dated became my husband.
Three years later, we were married.
And we had two kids.
I know. I know.
It’s what we’re tempted to believe: That all the decisions–good and bad–that we’ve made in our lives have brought us to a point for which we’re ultimately grateful.
But, had I made different decisions, would I have ended up somewhere else, where I would be equally as grateful?
But what I do know is that I did something extraordinary on Christmas Eve of 2002.
For years, I imagined my future, married, but no children. Never kids.
But on Christmas Eve of 2002, I allowed myself to imagine a different future.
A life in which, someday…
I might have kids.
It turns out, as it is with a lot of things, the biggest steps that we take all start with a thought.
The simple willingness to imagine a different future.
That ability to imagine a different future has taken me far beyond the original course that I had plotted for my life. It has helped me imagine that I could get a Master’s degree. And travel overseas. And change my political and religious beliefs. And write a book. And lose forty pounds. (Three times, yeah.) And relearn algebra. (It’s true.)
And, yeah, it has helped me to imagine a life that includes kids.
And, with endless gratitude, it has helped me imagine a future moment in my life when my children won’t always need me every moment that they are awake. And a time when we won’t have to pay for babysitters. And a time when we can travel with them without losing our minds.
What about you?
What different future do you imagine for yourself?
And what will you do tomorrow to help you get there?
After this last month of news that American women have had, I think I can safely say…
I haven’t always been interested in space travel.
Truth be told, I’ve only recently found the idea very appealing.
I’m pretty sure the strong desire to leave this planet is emanating from a deep sense of doubt in humanity’s ability to overturn–or at the very least disrupt–rampant systems of oppression.
I could go on. I won’t. I’m sure you’re familiar with the issues.
And so. Here we are. Women are told to vote (assuming our vote makes a difference–it doesn’t always). We are told to run for office (assuming we have the means and support to do so).
Sure, I’ll vote. I always do.
But in the meantime, if I’m really being serious, I have more faith that you can get us off this planet than I do in the American electorate’s ability to consistently move our country forward. Climate change is happening fast and if we’re still having arguments about whether or not it exists…
Is that sad or cynical? Maybe.
Or it could just be a logical estimation of the possibility that enough people who disagree with the direction of the country will actually be motivated enough to travel to a polling place and cast a ballot.
Societies are slow to change.
For most of human existence, patriarchy has been systemically and structurally embedded in society after society. (Precious few have managed to organize society differently.) Now that many of the factors that originally led to the necessity of patriarchal societies have been altered (division of labor, access to education, etc.), those same underlying assumptions that supported patriarchy are being either called into question or actively fought against.
Yes, societies are so, so slow to change.
Unless, that is, the people in those societies are taken out of their cultural context–and planted somewhere else.
This is one of the reasons why New Zealand and Australia were the first nations in which women gained the right to vote (1893 and 1902, respectively). European settlers (or invaders, from the indigenous people’s perspective), removed from their previous cultural context and banding together to build a life in a new land, were suddenly very flexible on the issue of women’s rights.
Women were, in fact, key to building these societies.
The same happened in the United States.
Women in the U.S. first gained the right to vote in…Wyoming.
And so, Elon, it’s not so crazy to believe that hitching my wagon to your star is, ultimately, quite feminist.
Might I suggest that our new civilization have some political structure where 50% of positions of power are necessarily occupied by women?
Just a thought.
I know people have called you erratic for smoking pot on Joe Rogan’s show…
Really? That was the main takeaway?
You talked about so many more interesting topics than that, like your vision that AI could be used as a tertiary level of cognition. And the fact that everything we put on the Internet is “a projection of our limbic system.” (Mind. Blown.)
I watched the whole thing (in 10-20 minute snippets over the period of a whole week while I folded laundry, graded papers, and ate lunch at my desk while simultaneously answering emails…).
I think you’re magical.
PayPal wasn’t your passion. It was just a $100 million thing you did so you could sink money into what really interested you: developing real plans for getting humanity off this planet (since we haven’t mustered enough political will to seriously try to figure out how to stop completely trashing it.)
You create electric cars that can drive themselves.
You build rockets that can take off–and land back on Earth.
You dig holes to develop a futuristic hyperloop that someday might take us across the country in like, 10 minutes, or something obscenely fast.
You create solar panels for roofs and electric semi-trucks that can haul the entire weight of a diesel truck–Uphill.
And you talk about the future with not only hope, but confidence.
I dig it.
You’ve made me a believer.
When I saw Interstellar, I thought, “Okay, if I were living on a spaceship that is basically a moving city, I could totally be sold on the idea of leaving Earth.”
Let’s leave behind a world that makes fun of science and learning and instead, embraces curiosity, courage, and the path less traveled (or never traveled, as the case may be).
Let’s try once more to make a different world where systems of oppression don’t emerge because of our lack of resources, tribalism, and ingrained patriarchy.
Let’s colonize, Elon. (#commassavelives)
Maybe you can’t tell, but I have a celebrity-crush on you. One of those crushes that you have for famous people that you’ll never meet in real life, but somehow you still think that maybe there’s the very minuscule possibility that our paths could cross… And if they did…
You probably have a girlfriend. That’s cool.
I’m married. To a very great man, at that. He is extremely smart, too. He had me at his tattoo of the Golden Ratio.
(Can he come, too? Oh, and maybe my two kids? I swear I’m raising them to be decent human beings.)
Your achievements have come up in conversations among our friends, many of whom are engineers. I’m pretty sure my husband’s words were, That dude doesn’t care about money and he’s just crazy enough that he might actually succeed.
Admittedly, I am not a scientist or engineer. I did well in high school biology, physics, and chemistry (I excelled at balancing formulas.) I struggled in algebra, but I loved geometry (Proofs were fun.) But science and math were really not my thing although I have tons of respect for those who live and breathe those fields.
But your new world is going to need more than scientists and engineers who can help take us into the future.
It’s also going to need people who can make sense of our past.
And I am full of stories.
I have other qualities that make me a good addition to your “space-bearing civilization.”
My special talents include:
Thanks for giving me hope that as a species, we may not be doomed to a future in which misogynistic, narcissistic, entitled men are necessarily destined to rule this planet indefinitely, to the detriment of the vulnerable and voiceless.
People like you make me remember that there are many people in the world who are trying to improve the planet and preserve the longevity of our kind.
P.S. Can we please leave Mitch McConnell and his ilk behind? Much appreciated.
And oh, and this is AMAZING.
And for those of you who didn’t immediately get the reference in the title…
Four years later. Still hard.
One of my father’s favorite songs was, “Daystar.”
He particularly loved it as sung by our small church’s music minister, Darrell Sproles.
Lily of the Valley,
Let your sweet aroma fill my life
Rose of Sharon show me
How to grow in beauty in God’s sight
Fairest of ten thousand
Make me a reflection of your light
Daystar shine down on me
Let your love shine through me in the night
When it was sung at his funeral in June 2014, it meant a lot to me that my name was in the first few lines.
If I could talk to him now, what would I say?
After I’m sorry for ever causing you pain and I love you,
I probably would tell him that his grandchildren would have loved to have known him.
He always had a very tender way with kids aged 2-5.
Love you, Dad.
Someday, things will get easier, right?
Until then, here’s a playlist of recent songs that I’ve enjoyed while running
at Early Hours when No Human Should Need to Wake Up Just to Have Some Time Alone
“Lex” by Ratatat
“Snow (Hey Oh)” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
“Help, I’m Alive” by Metric
“Lake Michigan” by Rogue Wave
“Secret Garden” by Bruce Springsteen
“Rivers and Road” by the Head and the Heart
“Let’s Be Still” by The Head and the Heart
“Growing Up” by Run River North
“Mhysa” by Ramin Djawadi
In that last mile, my body remembers Birth
The opening, the stretching
The pain, the power
An explosion of endorphins
Water pouring over flame
I remember Birth’s great paradox,
that very first thought with a newborn in arms,
How can so much Destruction
bring about such Flawlessness?
In that last mile, I am part Khaleesi
Circle of Fire
Bearer of Blood
Someone who burns, but is not consumed
Someone who turns nothing, into something
I remember with my body
I am the Sex that brings Life into this world,
And this is Holy to those who understand
In that last mile, I am part Mhysa
I am more than Self
Connected to all the Souls who came before me
and all those who will come after me
Life after Life after Life
Link in the Great Chain
Those whom I will never know
Will never see
Will never touch
But in this space
As my feet slow against the earth
They are here with me
In my breath
In my blood
In my heart
And this is Holy to those who understand
Maybe it started when I fell while I was running.
That was June 1st.
Maybe that’s when this rough patch started.
While jogging in the dark, my foot must have caught on a piece of raised sidewalk and I fell forward and hit the concrete just as a minivan was passing me.
Left knee, right knee, left hand, right hand. I saved my face. (At least physically.)
The minivan kept going.
For a moment, I just lay there against the concrete, gauging my pain.
I hurt. But I didn’t think I had broken anything. I couldn’t see how badly I was scraped up, but I felt it mostly on the outer edge of my left hand and my right thumb, which was warm and wet. Blood, for sure.
What else to do but keep jogging home with bleeding hands?
I’ve only had a few dreams of my dad since he passed away three years ago, but they’ve always come around this time of year.
In the first dream, I walked into a convenience store and was looking for a jug of milk to buy. (Who knows why. I hate drinking milk.) After I pulled it out of the refrigerator case, I saw four men sitting at a small booth, playing a card game. All their heads were lowered, studying their cards.
I walked over and even though I couldn’t see their faces, I just knew that one of them was my dad. I don’t remember what I said to him, but we talked like we always did — our eyes looking at other things, words passing between us that didn’t really resemble anything like what we really wanted to say.
Like, I miss you.
Like, I love you.
Still, whatever we said was comfortable and familiar enough to make us feel like all was well.
It was then that I realized that my ride was leaving.
“I have to go, Dad.”
“Don’t leave,” he told me, still not looking up. Still staring through his cards.
I kissed him on the head, complete with his bald spot, and I told him that I would come back.
“It will be too long. I don’t want to be alone,” he said.
“I swear, I’m coming back, Dad.”
He didn’t lift his head. He just sat there, sad and withdrawn, just as he did for the last few years of his life. Completely alone, even in the midst of company.
I kissed his head again and walked toward the door.
When I got to the door, I turned around and told him, “This is where we can meet, okay? This is where we can find each other. I’ll come back. I promise.”
I woke up feeling empty.
I’ve never been able to get back to that convenience store.
A few nights ago, as the anniversary of his death approached again, I dreamed again of my father.
It was a scene I’ve lived a thousand times before — riding in the car next to my dad, his left hand balanced casually on the steering wheel, his elbow resting on the edge of his open window. He was talking a mile a minute about everything and anything, the way he did when he descended into periods of mania. At first, it was normal. Just dad talking and talking and talking while I was looking out the window.
Then, it started to snow. And snow. And snow.
The drifts piled up around the car as we drove. But then he veered into the parking lot of the K-Mart in the town where I grew up. He started driving in a circle, talking faster and faster, the tires kicking up snow around us. I told him to slow down, but he wouldn’t. As the car picked up speed, we spiraled once, twice, three times, four times.
With each pass, I tried to keep my eyes on a fixed point outside of the car. The McDonald’s. The apartment building. The ATM. Anything that would keep me anchored to reality.
Maybe, if I could keep my eyes on something, I could slow us down.
Maybe, this time, I could be the one to anchor both of us.
Maybe, this time, I could keep the world from spinning, keep him from sliding into depression, keep him from falling and breaking his neck.
But we kept spinning and spinning and spinning.
In my dream, I started screaming.
And then I was beside my mother, and we were looking at a calendar. She wrote down her birthday, May 9th. But then she crossed out the 9th and wrote in dark letters, May 10th and underlined it.
“What year?” I asked.
She wrote “1” and “9” very easily, but then struggled to write the next number. It came out looking like a gigantic “9” and then a “0.”
“1990?” I asked.
She shrugged. “Sure. It all kind of blends together.”
And somehow, I understood that we were deciding when we would go back in time.
We were trying to get back to a time when Dad was Dad.
I woke up a few hours later and went for a morning run in the dark.
Because I’m a glutton for punishment? Maybe.
I prefer to say it’s because I refuse to be beaten by a bad experience (although, there are plenty of times when I am).
It was beautiful that morning. The moon was full and still high in the sky at 5:00 a.m. I watched the sidewalk much more carefully than before and walked for a few minutes before I started jogging.
The Head and the Heart played on my Pandora station.
Darling, this is when I met you.
For the third time not the last
Not the last time we are learning
Who we are and what we were.
You are in the seat, beside me.
You are in my dreams at night.
it’s easier to run with bleeding hands than it is to run with tears.
I’m like a lot of people — I only want to believe that dreams mean something when they’re good.
I don’t want to believe that the bad dreams mean anything more than the emotions that I’m working my way through when I have them.
When the right music finds the right moments, what we see and feel is carved even more deeply into our memory.
Cognitive psychologists have studied this. In long-term memory, what we tend to remember with the most clarity in the long run are the most unusual and emotional moments of our lives. Because of its ability to mirror or even amplify those emotions, music can be an anchor that fastens those memories in place for the duration of our lives.
As I labored this past February during the birth of our second child, the right music found the right moments over and over again.
I don’t think it was coincidence.
To be honest, I made music playlists for each of my births and loaded them with songs that I would like to hear.
But as anyone who has experienced labor will tell you, ain’t no one DJing your birth when the shit hits the fan. In my first birth, we barely touched the playlist once I was in active labor. It just played on. And whatever order I had chosen when I was willy-nilly loading the songs was the order that they played.
I honestly only remember one song from one moment of my first labor. It was the song playing when our daughter was born, “I Will Be Here,” by Steven Curtis Chapman. It was a sentimental Christian ballad that I added to the playlist on a whim, and one that I didn’t even particularly like anymore. Sure, it was a sweet song. It reminded me of those first vows that we said at our wedding eight years earlier.
But it wasn’t really a birth song. And it certainly wasn’t the one that I would have chosen.
So it was surprising to me just how many times the right music found the right moments in this birth. For me, the music felt like another birth attendant.
The songs held my hand.
The songs urged me one.
And sometimes, the songs were the screams from my own heart.
Someday, I’ll share with you a written version of this birth story. I’m thinking about releasing it as a free Kindle Single, if I can make the time this summer to do that.
But for now, let’s go on a ride.
Let’s give birth.
Contractions every 3-4 minutes. Standing, hips swaying. Eyes closed.
“I Can’t Make You Love Me If You Don’t” Bonnie Raitt
Here in the dark, in these final hours
I will lay down my heart and I’ll feel the power
Contractions every 2-3 minutes. Lying on my side on the bed. Leg, dangling off the side to help the baby turn into position.
“Landslide” Fleetwood Mac
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Contractions every 2-3 minutes and requiring controlled breathing to cope. Lying on my left side, gripping the headboard of the bed. Eyes sometimes open, sometimes closed.
“Society” Eddie Vedder
Society, have mercy on me
I hope you’re not angry if I disagree
Society, crazy and deep
I hope you’re not lonely without me
Contractions every 1-2 minutes. In the birthing tub. Blue light in the water. Legs floating. Head leaning back on the edge of the tub. Holding Doug’s hands as he sits behind me next to the tub.
Hypnotic, oscillating moments of weightlessness and heaviness. Baby pushing between pelvic bones, twisting in each contraction.
A lot of groaning.
“Teardrop” Massive Attack
Love, love is a verb
Love is a doing word
Fearless on my breath
Shakes me, makes me lighter
Fearless on my breath
Teardrop on the fire
Fearless on my breath
Forty-five second, double-peaked contractions every other minute.
This part… Oh, this part. I will write about this in detail later. It was thirty minutes of my life that I will never forget because it is the second time in my life that I encountered God.
“God Moving Over the Face of the Waters” Moby
Contractions every 1-2 minutes, but no urge to push. Although completely dilated, my water still hadn’t broken. Back in the tub for pain relief. I pressed my face into the edge of the tub and cried.
Doubt. Such deep, deep doubt.
“Last Man” Clint Mansell
Contractions every 2-3 minutes. When my midwife checked me, she told me that the baby still needed to come down farther. I tried a number of different positions but nothing helped. I asked her (okay, screamed for her) to break my water.
“Redeemer” Paul Cardall
This is another part that I will write about in much greater detail. For right now, just know there was a lot of screaming.
I mean… Yeah. A lot of screaming.
“Press On” Robinella
Life is filled with bitter music
Breeze that whistles like a song
Death gets swept down like an eagle
Snatches with our shoes still on
“Welcome Home” Radical Face
All my nightmares escaped my head
Bar the door, please don’t let them in
You were never supposed to leave
Now my head’s splitting at the seams
And I don’t know if I can
“Holocene” Bon Iver
And at once I knew I was not magnificent
Huddled far from the highway aisle
Jagged vacance, thick with ice
And I could see for miles, miles, miles
“The Wound” Gospel Whiskey Runners
The road is long and dusty and alone
I’ve got not place to rest, no place to call my own
My eyes have seen the glory of your love
And I won’t turn back this time
No, I won’t turn back this time
“Work Song” Hozier
When my times comes around
Lay me gently in the cold, dark earth
No grave can hold my body down
I’ll crawl home to her
“You’re All I Need to Get By” Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
Like the sweet morning dew, I took one look at you,
And it was plain to see, you were my destiny.
With my arms open wide,
I threw away my pride
I’ll sacrifice for you
Dedicate my life for you
“I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song” Jim Croce
Every time I tried to tell you
The words just came out wrong
So I’ll have to say I love you in a song
“Do You Realize” Flaming Lips
Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face
Do you realize we’re floating in space,
Do you realize that happiness makes you cry
Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die
And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round
I asked Doug to take a picture of Henry’s face so I could see him up close.
When I saw the picture, what I thought was,
That’s exactly right.
I am in middle school. And I have a crush on a boy. Let’s call him John Smith.
He’s in my reading class and he sits in the back left corner of the room. I sit in the front right corner.
One day, as I enter the room, our eyes meet for a moment. We don’t smile at each other. It happens so fast, I can’t even tell if he’s just looking to see who it is or if he actually intends to look at me.
Terrified, I look away and take my seat.
I spend the rest of class wondering if he wanted to look at me. Me. Just another overweight girl who was too shy to talk to anyone besides her close friends.
When the bell rings, I look around the room and catch his eye again. We still don’t smile at each other, but he doesn’t make a face or look away.
When I hear this song on the radio as I’m doing my homework, it strikes me. Maybe I’m in love.
I don’t feel like it’s safe to write about this in my diary, so instead, I write I love John Smith over and over on each of my biceps. It’s winter, so my sweaters will cover it up, I reason. I don’t know why it makes me feel better to write this on my arms. But I feel like this is what a girl does when she falls in love. She covers herself with the one she loves–until he’s the only thing she sees in the mirror.
I listen to the radio on my very own CD/cassette player that I’ve bought with my own babysitting money. I don’t have enough money left over for CDs. So in the afternoons, I turn on the radio and press down the play, record, and pause buttons on the cassette tape deck. Then, I wait for a good song to come on.
But I miss this one.
This song is deceptive. It comes on softly, like a ballad, and at first, I don’t think it’s for me. It’s too slow and I can’t understand all of his words, but then he sings out a line that strikes me.
And now my bitter hands… shake beneath the clouds… of what was everything
All the pictures had… all been washed in black… tattooed everything.
I wonder what it’s like to have your heart broken like this. To be so in love that losing it turns your world to black.
It makes me believe that to be so in love is the best and worst that can ever happen to me. And I want it to happen to me.
But I doubt that it would ever happen to a pudgy girl like me.
“Vindicated” by Dashboard Confessionals
I’m driving in my 1990 Geo Metro with the windows down because this car doesn’t have A/C (or power steering, for that matter). My hair is pulled back to keep it from flying in front of my eyes. And this song is blaring out on the radio.
I am flawed.
But I am cleaning up so well.
I am seeing in me now the things you swore you saw yourself.
I’m in love.
I have become interesting. I am loved for my intelligence and drive. My ambition and my doubts. I have become a person with depth, even views on politics. As we talk, my thoughts and curiosities and unspoken plans come flooding out and I shock myself. I’m not putting on a face. I’m not acting a part. I’m finally articulating everything that I’ve been feeling deep in my soul.
I stop obsessing about which jeans and shirts make me look the thinnest. I start enjoying food rather than seeing it as what stands in the way of me being fully loved.
And I am loved for it.
It makes me cry. It makes me feel that I’ve been lying to myself for years. That I’ve been trying to be “the girl that guys love,” some amalgamation of images and insinuations from TV and movies and books about what makes women desirable.
I feel cheated that I’ve lost so many years playing this game.
I’m at a funeral for a friend.
Her family gathers around her casket at the burial site and a soulful older woman begins singing this song. Soon, the whole family is singing together, a hymn that I know intimately, one that I had sung hundreds of times in my Southern Baptist Church.
In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever
’til my raptured soul shall find rest beyond the river.
It feels like a lie.
My friend didn’t believe in Jesus. I haven’t seen her in years, but I know that much. She loved the idea of magic and truly wished that it existed in this world. She believed in the beauty of a phoenix rising from ashes. She loved symbols and ideas. But religion? Never.
She didn’t leave a note. She didn’t tell anyone what her plans were. She just did it.
With her father’s gun.
On a Friday night.
It’s not until this moment, as her body is lowered into the ground, while her family sings a song that she would have hated but is the only comfort that they can find in this day, that I begin to reconcile this stark contrast.
I begin to believe that people believe what they find comforting–or at least what validates or supports how they want to live life.
And when they can’t live out their beliefs, they destroy themselves. Or others.
And so I think that wherever she is, she is happier than she was on earth.
I’m leaving Piqua, Ohio, driving on I-75 South, leaving another funeral.
This time, it is my husband’s close friend and co-worker. A guy he had shared a desk with for the past three years.
It’s one of those deaths that makes you think, Really? Bled to death from a burst vein in his throat? The doctors couldn’t do anything about that?
It feels like a cruel, cruel mistake. Like he went through the wrong door and it slammed behind him before he could turn back. On one side of the door is him. On the other side is his wife, his two stepchildren, and his three-year-old daughter.
True, he wasn’t in great health. He chewed tobacco and subsisted on a diet of cheesy, meaty Penn Station sandwiches that he called heartstoppers. And, yes, he bragged about never touching vegetables.
But he was only 33.
On the way home, I continue listening to the Cold Mountain soundtrack that I’ve just bought. When “Idumea” comes on, I feel my heart tighten in my chest.
And I am I born to die?
To lay this body down!
Soon as from earth I go
What will become of me?
I think about my own mortality.
I want to know that I’m more than a collection of emotions and memory, fueled by food and organs, all covered in skin. I want to be more than all the decisions that I’ll spend my entire life either being proud of or rationalizing.
I want to believe that some part of me is more than brain and body. That part of me is immaterial. Immortal. Impossible to fall into ruin and decay.
I think about whether it’s possible for me to believe in no afterlife. But I’m not sure I have it in me to believe in nothingness after life. My mind cannot even fathom it. But I still think about it the rest of the day.
The thoughts circle in my mind for two more days.
Then, I decide to live.
In the following week, I decide to truly learn about how to portion my food, how to balance what I eat and how much of it to eat. I start drinking water all day every day. I buy a cardio kickboxing program on DVDs.
I drop from 175 pounds to 135 pounds in the next ten months.
My husband and I are driving on the Hana Highway that runs along the northern coast of Maui when we see dozens of surfers out on the waves. We’re riding in a Mazda5 with four of our friends: Ryan, Cate, Ben, and Sarah. It’s the second day of our week-long vacation away from cold, gray Ohio. Our plans for the days are eating and doing whatever looks interesting.
And this looks interesting.
We pull over at an overlook and pile out of the car. Ryan, Cate, and I lean against the railing, pointing at the surfers’ daring moves. They paddle like fiends toward the incoming waves. We watch them stand up on their boards, wobbling until they find their balance. The waves are high. They are tunneling rolling monsters that swallow the surfers over and over again, only for more surfers to replace them. After a wave takes a few of them down, one or two of them escape the wave and skid away safely onto calm waters before they sit back on their boards, looking for the next one. Always the next one.
Holy shit! Did you see that? Get that guy! Ben points out to Doug, who is attached to his camera, angling for the best shot.
Somewhere nearby, a car blares this song over its speakers and it’s all too perfect.
I. Am. So. Happy.
Six months later, I hear this same song at an outdoor music festival in Columbus, Ohio. Instantly, I’m back in Maui.
August 16, 2013
It’s 2:00 a.m.
I am in the Mother & Baby room after giving birth to my daughter. All the nurses and doctors have left. My husband sleeps on the couch next to my bed. My new daughter sleeps in her glass bassinet next to my bed. Aching and hurting everywhere, I lie on my side and watch her sleep. No music is playing, but from somewhere in the recesses of my memory, this song comes forth.
I had a good life, before you came.
I had my friends and my freedom. I had my name.
Still there was sorrow and emptiness, ’til you made me glad.
Oh, in this love, I found the strength, I never knew I had.
I am utterly amazed by myself. That I could grow this perfect human being. That I could survive something as painful and soul-testing as birth–and then live to talk about it.
I know that everyone calls this love, but if I’m honest with myself, I know that what I’m feeling is something completely different.
I know now what it costs to bring life into the world.
For the rest of the night, I slip in and out of consciousness as I play this song over and over again in my mind, watching her sleep.
I’m on maternity leave. My one-month-old daughter sleeps in her bassinet upstairs while I’m washing dishes downstairs. Next to the kitchen, the washer is whirring in the laundry room. Late summer sunlight peeks through the blinds. My eyes are so heavy. I find it funny that sleep is not like other things in life. When it presses down on you, you feel light. But when it leaves you, you feel heavy.
This song comes up on Pandora and I’m bobbing my head to it. Then, my hips are swaying. I drop the dishes in the dishwasher over and over again, almost mechanically, getting lost in the song. But that is my life now. Mechanical, repetitive movements chugging along at regular intervals. I close the dishwasher as the song heightens.
I turn it up. And up. And up some more.
It’s in my ears, in my mind, in my limbs, filling me up until I’m nothing but the notes of this song. I close my eyes and I’m pivoting on my toes, twirling and sliding, arms uplifted like the ballerina I never was.
I am lightness.
I’m in the living room, the dining room, I’m everywhere. I’m nowhere. I’m beyond this life that is now mine: endless repeating tasks, punctuated by a face that I’m desperately in love with. One that I’m forever tied to.
I’m my former self.
I’m a self that I have never been and probably never will be.
Until the song slows and quiets and ends. Until its heartbeat stops.
In the silence, I sit down on the ground, resting back against my heels.
Then, I cry.
October 5, 2014
I’m at Ryan and Cate’s wedding.
The air is chilly, but we’re warm in the party barn at Polen Farm in Kettering, Ohio. We have danced and danced. We have taken this reception by the arms and spun it around. Melt With You, Careless Whispers, Tongue Tied, Jackson 5’s ABC. I dance the shit out of this reception with Cate and Julie and Katy and Suzy. Even Sarah dances. Jason and David spend the hours knocking back beers and mixed drinks and wine. Ben and Chris are reminiscing. It’s a glorious four hours.
Then, this song comes on and we separate into slow-dancing couples. As I dance with my husband, I look over at my newly married friends, feeling beyond happy for them.
Josh pulls away from Suzy and tugs at Sam’s sleeve. He says something to him. Then, he’s on Ben’s sleeve. Then, Sarah’s. Soon, he’s got everyone gathered in a circle around Ryan and Cate.
And that’s how we finish the song. Dancing in a circle around these good friends, Cate’s face pressed against Ryan’s chest, trying to cover her tears.
I. Am. So. Happy.
“Awake My Soul” by Mumford and Sons
It’s 20 degrees outside and I’m running.
It has been two weeks since the miscarriage. The bleeding is over. The healing begins. I start exercising again, but the dance/cardio-kickboxing doesn’t feel right. I suddenly realize that I need to feel at least a little sexy to want to dance.
And I do not feel sexy in the slightest right now.
So I put on layers, a jacket, and gloves. If I could run in a sleeping bag, I would.
My eyes watch out for ice and snow along the sidewalk as I run past an apartment complex, the post office, and several doctors’ offices. Past the body shop and the Donato’s. My breathing hits its rhythm and the burning in my legs has numbed.
In these bodies, we will live.
In these bodies, we will die.
And where you invest your love,
You invest your life.
And that’s it.
That simple truth makes this all the more bearable.
We love. We lose. We feel pain.
And if we’re really lucky, we find our truest selves along the way.
All of it is beautiful.
Because all of it is life.