On Faith and Fermatas

It’s just not simple for me. I wish it was.  I look at other men and women, these people who used to be the kids I grew up with, and I wish deeply that it was as simple for me as it seems for them. 

If faith is being sure of what I hope for, I hope for a life past this free of grief and full of love. If faith is being certain of what I do not see, I am certain there is a Holy being that is perfect and pure and powerful.

But I have faith so small, a mustard seed could crush it. 

It wasn’t always like this.  I’ve always struggled, but I think this wrestling started two years ago when I stumbled into someone who thought differently and it opened my eyes to a world of others. Others who saw something I hadn’t seen.  It shook me and challenged me and I believe I’m still feeling the reverberations from that impact. I am changed by it and I do not regret it.  I cherish it. But my faith has been shaken lose along with the falsehoods and curtains that fell and I have struggled to reclaim it. At times I’m not sure I want to.  There are times I am so disturbed by those who claim this faith, that I am perfectly at peace with having nothing to do with it. But there are also times I am consumed with the agony of the void where it’s comfort has been. I reach out for that rope that used to hold me up, and I find it unraveled at my feet. 

This is what it feels like, isn’t it? This is what they meant by “losing faith.”  

I think I decided today that I’d like to look at it a bit differently.  I’m choosing not to see this as a “losing,” but rather a pause, or more of a fermata. In music that little bird’s eye symbol is meant to indicate a prolonged note, or rest, the length of which is left completely up to the performer. That’s what this feels like: a note with no discernible end.  And though the vagueness of such a thing is somewhat unsettling, I’m feel rather calm. The tiny shred of faith that remains is the piece that assures me that no mater how hard I thrash or fast I run or well I hide, I am held.  The calmness comes from a certainty I still hold, that the God I’m not so sure about is not so fragile that my doubt and fear would break him or scare him away.  

So I’m stuck, you see? I’m stuck on a stage, holding this note that I can’t seem to end and move on from because I don’t know what the next bit of music will be for me. And I know you didn’t ask, but I just wanted you to know so that you didn’t think it was simple for me like it must be for others.  

Or perhaps simplicity was never meant at all and the most beautiful pieces of music are the most complex.  I suppose I’ll have to keep singing to find out. 

Advertisements

Remembering Now

I’m trying my best to remember you, to take inventory of who you both are at this moment.  I’ve only just realized how important this is as I watch you shed her baby years like dropped blossoms from a tree.   They told me it would go fast. They warned me I would look up and wonder where your infancy had gone.  And it’s not that I didn’t believe them, it’s just that each day has it’s structure and schedules and I don’t always notice the tiny changes that are you growing up. Like how your curls have descended past your shoulders or how your pjs have grown more snug each night. The changes are so subtle sometimes, it’s startling to look up and see a little girl who can write her own name and a walking boy approaching his first birthday. 

My Scout, you are four and a half years old today.  Tonight as I put you to bed, you rubbed the soft skin under my arm and sucked your thumb. Instead of the fretting over your dental future like I usually do, tonight I watched you fall asleep and wondered how many more nights I had before you outgrew yet another piece of babyhood. You’re doing such wonderful things these days. You are learning to read and write.  You love school and care deeply for all your friends.  You had Gramma giggling at all the small stories and anecdotes you tell about your classmates.  When you race me to the car every day on our way to school you say “Winned ya!” and then squeal delighted. You are obsessed with squeezing your baby brother’s cheeks and take very gentle care of him.  You love to dress up and put on make up.  You steal my make up bag at least once a week and hide it in your closet.  You always sincerely apologize and then you always do it again. Your favorite song is Exes and Ohs by Elle King, and if I laugh while you sing it, you get very cross with me and refuse to keep singing. You are light and laughter and fire and music at four and a half years old.

My Weston, you are eleven months old.  A few weeks more and we will be singing you your first serenade of Happy Birthday.  Tonight you fell asleep on my chest with your chubby thighs wrapped around my torso as I felt each warm breath on my neck. You suck your thumb just like your sister. You have seven teeth, maybe eight since I haven’t checked this week, and your two front teeth have an adorably large gap between them which you show off in wide grins and giggles.  I call you my sunshine boy, you beam all day long.  You love music and percussion. You ate your body weight in sausage and sweet potatoes tonight, but your real weakness is blueberries. You walk all over the house and are obsessed with brooms and vacuums. You love dogs.  When you are up to something naughty, like trying to pull out the outlet covers, you tell yourself “nuhnuhnuh” as if you are trying to scold your disobedient hand. My favorite place to kiss you is that soft spot buried between your cheek and neck rolls. You always giggle when I do.  You are joy and gentleness and determination and movement at eleven months old. 

I will forget these things. I won’t remember how the two of you played peek-a-boo, both bubbling with giggles, in your tent for ten whole minutes today. I won’t remember that you fell asleep with pictures of polar bears and ice queens on your pjs.  I won’t remember how you both danced to Colors of the Wind as your curls caught the light through the living room windows. I can’t hold on to all these gorgeous pieces of your childhood, but I will put them here in these quick lines and jotted notes with the hope that when I come back to find them, I will see them looking up at me with that same wide-eyed innocence that you have now, and I will get to hold you like this once more.

  

That time I realized I my curse was a super power

It’s one of the youngest home videos I’ve seen of myself. My dad had hoisted that seven pound video tape recorder the size of a boom box onto his shoulders to capture forever what may be the first burst of one of the hallmarks of my personality.  I’m a fat chunk of baby dough on my mom’s lap, no older than four months, and my Aunt sits across from me playing a game:

“Sarah!” She says in a cheery voice and chubby baby me bursts into an enormously gummy smile.

Then my Aunt changes her pitch, “Awww, Sarah,” she says with a whine and a frown.  Chubby baby me instantly stops smiling and produces a lip so pouted its square as my eyes well up with tears.

“Hi Sarah! Hi Sarah!” She says again cheerily.  I stop crying and smile broadly, joy bursting from each dimple.

“Aw, Sarah…” More tears.  

Then my mom stops the game with, “Alright, alright gramma will get to see the lip on the tape, let’s just be happy now,” and she snuggles baby me as my toddler brother berates my Aunt in gibberish for making me cry (a hallmark of his personality as well: fiercely protective). 

This is me (well, part of me): Sarah the highly empathetic person. 

I first became aware of the fact that I fell on the high side of the empathy spectrum when I was around eleven years old and my mother nearly died.  She had been ill for three days with what she thought was a stomachs virus, but as she was driving to help me shop for some new clothes, she abruptly cried out and turned the car in the direction of the nearest hospital.  We hadn’t quite pulled completely into the parking lot when she cried out again and began to collapse, clutching the lower right side of her stomach.  I was able to help her guide the car into an emergency parking space. I helped her out of the car and supported the half of her body that seemed to be failing as we walked into the busy emergency room.  Up to that age, I had this image of an emergency room being full of nurses and doctors eagerly awaiting the entrance of a person in need.  Instead, I found myself sputtering a plea to a rather apathetic woman behind a sliding glass window.
“And your name is?”

“I’m Sarah, but it’s my mom. She can’t walk and her stomach hurts.”

“Ok have her sit down a nurse will call her shortly.”

I began to feel it as I sat next to my mother who was now freely crying in front of strangers in the waiting room: a sharp pain in the lower right side of my stomach.

After a few minutes a nurse arrived and helped my mother into a wheelchair and I followed as they moved her to an exam room.  We sat in an exam room for several more minutes, just me and my mom in agony. The pains in my stomach began to intensify. 

When the doctor returned, both my mother and I were sobbing in pain.  

“Does she need to be admitted as well?” The doctor asked alarmed.

My mom shook her head, “Just get her out. It’s me. She’s just feeling what I feel.”

It was the doctors face as he walked me back to the waiting room that solidified in my mind that my response was odd. 

My mother was in surgery for a ruptured appendix later that evening. Her recovery was difficult and long. My recovery from my phantom stomach pains was instantaneous as I stepped away from her cries, but returned when I saw her for the next several weeks.  It made me angry that I couldn’t be with her for more than a few minutes without becoming sick. It felt useless. It felt like a cruel joke.

There would be several moments in my young life which my increased empathy would become blatantly obvious and somewhat troublesome.   I saw it as a weakness the first time I was emotionally manipulated… And the second.  I was told often that I was too sensitive. Dramatic. There was a friendship that almost took me down with it as it crashed into pieces because I couldn’t stop myself from mirroring all the pain and hurt I saw in her.  In fact there were MANY relationships I struggled in because I couldn’t untangle my feelings from the other’s.  Often I would finally find myself, my own mind and heart, and then abruptly change, leaving the other person confused and sometimes hurt. The shame would eat me alive and I was unable to mend many of those bonds.  There were times I would get emotionally overloaded and my empathy would completely shut down.  Those were dark days, lonely and confusing. 

I’m learning how to better manage this sensitivity now, and even cherish it.  There are some amazing perks to being a person with high empathy traits.  For one, it makes me great at my job, almost any job, because I can see things from almost anyone’s perspective. It’s a blessing with toddlers and children who cannot verbally express all their feels. I cherish it in my relationship with my children.  I don’t need them to, I understand and can help them navigate out and find their words. Its a superpower in conflict allowing me to diffuse situations easily because I truly feel the other person’s emotions.  It also allows me to detect falseness quickly. If someone is expressing an emotion and I can’t feel it, there’s a good chance they don’t either. 

As I’ve grown I’ve learned to protect it like a gift. I can’t spend a lot of time around negative people, it’s dangerous and draining for me.  I can’t read or watch violent or excessively tragic things: my brain is too quick to create an imaginative scenario to help me process my own feelings of sorrow or fear and I will end up with very real and vivid scenes in my mind that torture me. I have to have alone time to process out all the tiny microaggressions my emotions encounter throughout the day that I can’t control like a flash-vent session from a coworker or emotional outbursts from my kids.  It’s intentionality and mindfulness that I’m happy to practice now, rather than resentful, because when I take care of this hightened sensitivity, it’s more like magic than misery.  

 

For Now

I write about the past better than I do the present.  The past I can wash with a brush dipped in golden resilience and line with humor.  The present is more difficult to manipulate.
Now… Well, now we are struggling a bit.  Last year brought so many changes: new life, new home, and a not-so-gentle shift in our family dynamics.  The year felt like that day you were a kid and your mom FINALLY let you ride the roller coasters at the theme park and so you rode all of them fifteen times, but then you couldn’t sleep that night because your head was spinning and you were sick to your stomach.  So basically, vertigo: 2015 was both Disneyland and vertigo.  

That’s not altogether true either.  Some parts were not Disneyland at all. 

There was a car accident in January that seriously injured my mother and sent all of us into a tailspin.  There was getting the flu one week before our son was expected to arrive. There was learning to parent two children and the feeling that I couldn’t meet both of their needs.  There were nights I sent my oldest off to bed with her father while she cried for me to hold her, but I was unable to tear myself away from the newborn cries of her brother. Somewhere in there my husband began suffering with depression and I followed suit shortly after. There were mountains of paperwork and hunting to find where we would be able to call home… I’m going to stop there.  It’s exhausting to think of everything that was difficult for us this year.  And you get the point, right? Plus, I’m supposed to be telling you about the present. 

*ahem*

Presently, my husband and I are both wrestling with depression and I got the lovely added bit of anxiety.  We are treating it in the best ways that are right for each of us.  We are honest with one another about how we are feeling each day, and even in our fogs and failures, we are able to see one another and pull each other along. Right now he and I are walking through this ridiculous bog and we both keep falling in sand traps and helping the other escape and it sounds a little adventurous but it mostly just sucks.  We are in the dead of winter, anxiously awaiting the warmth of spring.  But these winter days, though long, are temporary and not to be suppressed in subconscious caverns when the first thaw comes.  I don’t want to look back and forget as I wash everything to make it more palatable. I don’t want to forget that I had someone next to me fighting with me and for me when my head was a war zone. I don’t want to forget how easy it was to tell him, “hey, I think I’m dealing with something bigger than just being sad.” I don’t want to forget him holding me as I shook from fear of something I couldn’t control.  I don’t want to forget the long talks that spun like teacups as we tried to helped each other see their own value and beauty. 

One day I broke down crying over a Taylor Swift song. (You can totally laugh.) But “say you’ll remember me standing in a nice dress staring at the sunset,” hit a nerve. I told him that evening that I hoped he would remember me that way, the way I was when we first started dating, red-lipped and rosey-cheeked.  

 He laughed. “You’re the silliest girl. I’ll remember you like that, and I’ll remember you worn out tired and changed from carrying my two kids. You’re the same. You’re both. And you’re silly for thinking one is more beautiful than the other.”  Then I cried again and he hugged me, still laughing. 

I’m forever grateful for the way he never knows the right thing to say until it really matters. We are learning from each other so much in this haze. 

I may look back on now and say something trite about how it was dark, but we made it. “Thank god for Netflix and wine, haha.” I’ll do it to make everyone more comfortable because we don’t mind struggles when they are over and we can laugh about them.  But right now I’m going to go ahead and thrash around and try to find a way out and I’m going to write about it as honestly and plainly as possible so that I don’t forget in the light what I learned in the dark.

  

For Weston (a birth story)

From the moment I discovered you were coming, I hoped it was you.

I remember standing in the archway of the hall in that old apartment that you’ll never remember and telling your dad that you were coming.  He nodded.

“That makes sense,” he shrugged.

I stared.

“Well… because…”

“I KNOW WHY.”

You see, I had been a bit… temperamental as of late.  Dad couldn’t catch a break and I surely wasn’t going to offer him one now.  But, dear boy, don’t worry because you were worth all of that nonsense, and far more, to both of us.

Dad was sure you were a boy.  I was sure you were a girl.  We argued about that for weeks until we opened a box full of blue balloons, and there it was: our first clue in the mystery of who was coming.

We argued more about what we would name you.  I liked lots of names your dad thought were silly or too difficult to say.  What’s so difficult about Sawyer?  He hated it.  He wanted his boy to carry his initials, so we started searching for W names.

We could have named you Warner.  Or William. Or Winchester. (We wouldn’t have, I promise.)  We agreed on Weston.  WESTON ROYCELLES WHEELER.  It sounded good and honest and trustworthy.

We waited for you for longer than we wanted to.  Perhaps every expectant mother feels that way, but you stayed past your 40 week gestation and made no attempt to emerge. We made an appointment for a Sunday evening  induction that I didn’t think we’d make it to; surely you would come before then.

Sunday evening came quickly.  You were anchored and unwavering in your dark little den. But it was time. It felt like time.  Where there was anxiety before, Sunday brought peace: resolution in knowing that you were decidedly coming.

We dropped your sister off at gramma and grampa’s house at 6pm and then headed to the nearest Walgreens for snacks and last-minute additions to our hospital bags.  It felt odd slowly planning and pacing toward such a climactic event.  It was different than the first time which involved driving, waters broken and contracting, toward the hospital at 2am.  Your dad and I kept fighting the urge to rush into the hospital early or call the whole induction off, but then we both breathed and just took the next step.

We arrived at 7pm.  A nurse took us up to the delivery room and we joked and ate salt and vinegar chips as she took vitals, informtation, and about 20 quarts of blood.  (Okay, okay. It was 4 viles.  Still.  Your tattooed mother hates needles.)

I didn’t feel anything with the first round of medication; four hours passed and not even a contraction to hit the monitor.

The nurse administered a second dose and told me to try and sleep.  It may be a while.

I slept for an hour that felt like 3 minutes before waking to a strong vice-like contraction.  I glanced at your dad.  He was snoring on the fold-out hospital bed.

I closed my eyes and fell asleep for another 30 minutes.  And then another contraction woke me, stronger.  I decided it was time to move a little.  I got up, peed, walked a bit, and then another contraction and another just after.  The nurse walked in, checked your heart, my heart, the rise and fall of the contractions.

“Looks like you’re getting a couple good ones!”

“Yeah!” I agreed breathlessly.

“Let’s try one more dose and see if we can get labor really rolling.”

I agreed.  The medication hurt this time, but it was easy to dismiss as I knew that each step, each pain, brought me closer to you.

4am to 7am was the fastest time has ever moved for me. The contractions were swift, sharp, and breathtaking.  I was amazed by what my body was doing for you, for us.

The morning nurse’s name was Aubrey.  She was energetic and straight to the point. She checked my progress and announced I was around a 4.  She asked about the pain.

“I know I want an epidural,” I told her.  I was not afraid of pain, but dearest, I felt sure it would be safe for you and I needed the energy to breathe and get you here. Pain has a way of making me feel incapable, the epidural was empowering.

“Ok, mama,” Aubrey said, “let’s get you juiced up.”

“Wait, though.  I don’t want it to stall my progress. I can wait.”

Aubrey looked at the floor and sat down a moment.  “Well, love,” she said carefully, ” I’m looking at your contractions and your progress and I think if you don’t have it soon, you’ll be real sad.”

That was exciting. I told her emphatically that I would like the epidural now, and began to rock and move until the anesthesiologist arrived.

I don’t remember that part much.  Needles again.  And shortly after, I slept. I must have dosed all morning, listening off and on to your dad and your aunt Wylinda talk about dreams and kids and tiny homes (it was a thing.  Your dad… you know what? I don’t think I’ll have to explain that by the time I let you read this. Nevermind.)

I felt a pressure that wasn’t there before and the monitor began to squeal.  Aubrey popped in quickly, searching for the heartbeat the monitor had lost.

“Little guy dropped into the birth canal! We lost his heartbeat a minute, but he’s just fine.” She pointed at the wriggling line on the monitor.  I let out the breath I didn’t realize I was holding.

“Let me go check on my other patient quickly and then we can check your progress.”

Aubrey was gone only 2 minutes before she bounced back into the delivery room, pulling a blue glove down to her wrist.

“Oh, I’m just too excited! Let’s check now!” she said, smiling.

“10 and…”

I felt a pop and my belly dropped a bit.

“I just broke your waters,” she said through an accidental grin.

I was ecstatic.  It was time.

Aubrey bounded out to retrieve Dr. Hughes.  He was not my regular ObGyn, but I knew he was exactly who was supposed to deliver my boy.  He sat down, congratulated me, smiled warmly and asked if I was ready to get to work.  I nodded.

Aubrey talked me through the first two push cycles, but I had it after that. Just like riding a bike, said no one ever.  But really, my body just knew what to do.

We were trying to make your birth time 3:16pm on March 16.  But you came on the last push at 3:15.

Births are magical things. There were seven people in your delivery room, and then, though no doors had opened and windows stayed locked tight, there were eight.  No one could keep from smiling and delighting over you, as you were a perfection we had all worked very hard to bring forth.

There you were: dark hair, swollen newborn eyes, long legs with fat rolls already forming and long fingers that made your grampa giddy to teach you to play piano.

They had to clean all the meconium off of you, but then they brought you to me and laid you naked and wriggling on my chest and it was finished. You were here. 8lbs 14oz 21 inches long.  Our boy.

That is your beginning, my love: your entrance to this world. I thought you would like to know, someday.

I dreamed a thousand different dreams of you, but none were as sweet as the you that you are.IMG_3907

One Word 2015

It was that sound of the spoon scraping against the bottom of the pot; the frantic scuff-squeak of the metal on metal as it searched for more. But there was no more.

I started off 2014 with determination. Persist. That was my mantra; my one word for the year. I remember choosing that word during those first yawning days of the year. I had noticed it around me, almost asking me to be chosen. There was so much expectation with the choice: if I persist, naturally, there will be growth. This dream will turn to something real. There will be more. But there was no more.

As 2014 has drawn to a close, the empty scraping is all I can hear as I dive into challenges. It echoes in my writing, or perhaps I should say, the absence of my writing. It resounds in my harsh tone with my little one and in my passive dismissal of my husband’s affection. I can hear it’s reverberations as I fumble and fail and grow weary and try but do not succeed. I can hear it in the morning as I stretch my feet onto a cold floor and press to find the will to create for myself a day which I would look back and be proud to have lived. And though I persist, the creativity, the patience, the will has run dry and the spoon keeps coming up empty, empty, empty.

It feels like failure: to persist and yet come up empty. The defeat is overwhelming, but in defeat, we can often find a subtle shift. Not a surrendering as much as a bending, a mold-ability, a softness. It is in this softness we often find our new beginning.

There is a wall in front of me. It has been there all of my life and I have called it many names, and have, until recently, believed it to be a part of my fate: the cards I was dealt. It is only in the last few months that I have come to realize it is of my own making and, as such realizations do, it has kindled a fire in me to see the wall come down. I have been throwing myself against this wall all year in hope that it would fall, and though my persistence is admirable, not a single brick has cracked. But I have. I lean against the wall bloodied and bruised and empty. Still empty.

It was a sudden realization on the night of my twenty seventh birthday: I am not the force I once was. I am weakened and frail and hungry. It slipped into my mind with ease, this idea that in order to conquer my challenges, I must first heal myself. I must seek out the things that build me up, that heal my wounds, and that give me strength. I must nourish the deepest parts of myself. It is the first time I have stopped to wonder why the spoon always comes up empty: who is supposed to fill the bowl? And perhaps I am slow in my processing to have finally seen that it is my bowl to fill: I must nourish myself. I must allow time for rest without guilt. I must read words from great minds that cultivate ideas, without forcing words which are not ready to come. I must allow space for hurt to become healing and pain to become peace.

My mother used to make split-pea soup during cold winter months when I was young. It was never my favorite dish, I’ll admit, but I do remember the feeling contentedness it would bring. The hunger would stop, warmth would set in, the emptiness filled, and though I wasn’t winning races or acing tests at that moment, I felt as though I could.

So I am beginning 2015 in my kitchen: I am cutting carrots into thin disks and slicing onion shreds and dicing half-moon celery stalks and filling this empty bowl with all the lovely things that sustain me. I am learning that even this is just a different kind of persistence. It is not glorious or worthy of praise, but it is necessary. The determination of the old year will not die with it, but with the new year will come the wisdom to nourish. And with the nourishment, when things are not quite so empty, perhaps there a dream will grow into something a bit more.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/3dd/50284854/files/2015/01/img_2701.jpg

What I’ve Been Working on Lately

So I’m working on a piece of complete fiction involving a girl, her mother, the loss of her father, and generations of fear. I’ve gotten out a bit over six thousand words so far, and have several more waiting to be penned. Much of the excerpt below will make more sense in proper context, but for immediate purposes, the main character has a mother, a sister, and two brothers and she has just learned her father passed the day before. Hopefully there are enough clues for the rest of it to come through effectively. It doesn’t have a title yet, but it does have a loose outline. Hope you find this five hundred word sneak peek engaging, albeit a bit on the depressing side.  As the work grows I hope to share a bit more with you and ((hopefully)) ((one day)) publish the complete work.

*****

I woke up looking for Courtney. Her bed was empty. I tip-toed into Luke and David’s room, but there was nothing but balled up sheets on their beds and a stench of poorly groomed adolescent male. I wandered into the kitchen, but it was still and silent. Feeling anxiety creep up the back of my neck, that fear of being left behind, I scrambled towards my mother’s room and fumbled the door open. In the pale light, I could make out four sleeping forms: Luke at my feet, my mother and sister snuggled close in bed, and David on the far side of the room buried inside an overfilled queen comforter.

It ached to see them sleeping soundly.

They all fit so well together. They all seemed to belong to one another. I was a voyeur on their moment of mass grief. And even as my breath fogged the glass of the window I had created in my mind, a piece of me wanted to join them. I thought my heart would calm if I could just curl up next to my mother and stare at the ceiling, listening to their collective heartbeats until they stirred and awoke.  But there was no room beside her in the bed. And there was a larger piece of me, that piece that ached, that piece that knew my tie to this family died with my father.  They had always said it, strangers, extended family, church people, they had always remarked how much I looked like my father.

“Was her mother involved in the process at all?” they would tease at him. He would always laugh and affirm their folly, and my mouth would suddenly feel dry and sore like when I drank lemonade too fast.

Sometimes I wondered the same thing; was she involved or just a passive bystander, carrying the child until birth and then submitting her to her father. I can’t explain why it felt like I was his and Court was hers and the boys were these explosive planets that orbited the family and belonged to no one but each other.

But seeing them all asleep together, I began to realize that I held no place here any more. I was his, past tense. I don’t believe I could ever be hers. As much as I may want her to, my mother has no room for me.

I closed the door quietly and slipped back into my room to find my teal Chuck Taylors. There was a hole in the canvas I hadn’t noticed early and a flash of anger flushed my face as I realized Court must have worn them. No matter what garment it was, if it didn’t belong to her, somehow she would ruin it by mistake.

The front door always creaked once it reached about twenty degrees, so I slipped out the back door and slithered under the slide down garage gate, catching a bit of motor oil on the t shirt I had swiped from the box of my dad’s stuff he’d left behind in the garage.

****

Lost Shadows and Lost Words

I haven’t written in a while. I haven’t had the words or the thoughts or the time or the space.

But mostly, I haven’t been depressed.

I’ve carried mild depression since my early teens; it was never severe enough for treatment until after the birth of my first child.

That’s when the anxiety was wrecking my nights and the exhaustive depression was suffocating my days. That’s when my dark little shadow became less of a melancholy companion and more of a tyrannical authority.

I knew it was time for treatment, time to talk or take a pill or something. A friend suggested a milder and somewhat debated solution: nutrition. I was surprised how much it actually helped. Avoiding the gluten that was slowing down my front brain processing and sugar that was wrecking my adrenals plus adding in some strong supplements for what my body had been trying to cope without made a significant difference in my mood, irritability, fatigue, disinterest, and feelings of hopelessness.

It seems as though the depression has vanished, but with it went the words. All the words that flew so freely from my fingertips are now stifled.  I’ve sat down to write at least a dozen times since the start of June and simply found myself counting the number of times the cursor blinked up to one hundred and fourteen and then shutting the laptop and nervously pacing and searching for the lost creativity like Peter Pan in search of his shadow.

Wendy: Boy, why are you crying?

Peter: I was crying because I can’t get my shadow to stick back on. Besides, I wasn’t crying.

It’s a bit frightening, the unknown.  Will I ever be able to really write again? Will the words come out or get stuck in some crook in my brain?

Writing used to bring so much comfort, but now it’s a nerve-wracking fight of anxiety as the consonants and vowels fail to create a coherent thought. Or the thoughts are too coherent. Or too plain. Or too absurd. Select All. Delete.

Perhaps Peter in his child-like way knew the importance of his dark little shadow. Perhaps he knew that losing his shadow would mean losing a piece of what made him Peter Pan. Perhaps I don’t know how to be fully me without my shadow.

Perhaps Peter was just afraid of being out of control of his shadow. Perhaps he simply felt that if it was attached to him, it couldn’t creep up and suffocate him when he wasn’t expecting it. Perhaps I’m simply afraid to lose track of it, to imagine it gone only to wake up one morning with it’s hands around my neck and it’s weight tethered to my ankle.

Or perhaps Peter simply doesn’t adjust well to change. He is the boy that ran away and refused to grow up. Perhaps he simply holds on to his shadow out of the comfort of the familiar, no matter how dark it may be. Perhaps I would rather have it’s familiar shade than learn to do something different. I haven’t failed to notice that Peter was a lonely soul and I’m not sure I want to find myself on a fantasy island with no one but a dark shadow and an irritable and manipulative fairy to keep me company.

I had almost forgotten that every time I experience a major change, my words seem to vanish for a time. My marriage, moving into a new house, a new baby, a new job… and several of those are happening at once right now.  Health changes are just as drastic.

I’m going to have to learn how to write and create without my shadow and I’m not sure I can do it. But this is my beginning. This is my brazen crow in the face of what scares me.

And perhaps the shadow is gone forever, and perhaps it will come back. Thats OK. What matters right now is waiting for the words to return. And they will. Because change is simply a part of life, and they can be good changes and still be frightening, but the stuff that makes up who I am is not dark shadows and familiarity. There is a constant and consistent humming, the drive to put words to paper, that has never ceased. It continues to bring me back to this page and pull me back towards expressing myself with words. I have been through enough change to know that the humming doesn’t stop.

The will to write might stop, the words might congeal, the eloquence may vanish, but the humming remains.

So they’re there, the words are there somewhere waiting for the stillness so that they can float back to the surface and itch their way through my fingers once more. 

IMG_2362.JPG

for when you are lost at home

I got lost in my hometown last night. I’ve lived in this city for twenty six of my twenty six years. I was driving from a friend’s house to my apartment when I took a wrong turn somehow. I was heading south instead of north on a road which I had driven so frequently that every marker was familiar, and therefore nothing threw up a red flag. This was home, I knew this place, I knew exactly where I was, except I had completely lost my way.
I had traveled very far off course before I realized what I had done. And then I was furious. I was now so far away from my destination and I was an idiot. I mean seriously, what the hell was going through my mind? As I yanked my Civic into a U-turn, a few hot tears stung my eyes.
And then I was suddenly terrified. Panicking. It had become very dark and I was alone and it was late and even though I knew where I was and how to get back to my apartment, there was this voice in my head screaming. You are lost. You are stupid. You are alone.

It wasn’t a new voice, that familiar and festering fear had been growing there, tightening my belly and swelling my throat for quite a while. Days? Months? It’s hard to say how long, but I am realizing that I have been driving hard and fast and unaware in the wrong direction for some time. This road has been familiar and I know exactly where I am, but I have completely lost my way. And it’s become very dark. And perhaps this makes the fear and frustration greater: the fact that I have all the tools and knowledge and experience and yet I still make wrong turns and become lost. Perhaps this fear is that same one that has haunted me since I was a child: that I’m not always in control. Or that I think being in control will save me from being lost. After all, no one else was driving but me. There is no one to blame but myself. And I’m still just as wrong and I’m still just as far away from home. And I am still afraid. I am a very brave girl. I know this. I have always known this. But bravery, for me, is engaging and struggling and seeking and sometimes I just don’t want to do it. Sometimes I simply cannot break the silence that has formed between myself and Him. Sometimes I cannot be brave enough to admit that I was wrong, that it was my fault that I don’t know what I am doing and I don’t know where I am going. I took a wrong turn somehow.

I was detangling my daughter’s ferocious mane of espresso colored curls and, as is common, she was screaming at me in such a way that made me believe that if she knew how to use profanity, she would be cursing me into oblivion. I persisted, nonetheless, at detangling while trying to soothe and encourage her. “I know it hurts, sweet girl, but mommy is almost done. You are being so brave.” She threw her head back and sighed in frustration, “But I don’t want to be brave! I just want to be happy!” It knocked the wind out of me a moment. It was like my soul just spoke but with a baby lisp. And God, it’s true, I just want to be happy. Do I always have to be brave? Do I always have to be the one that asks, seeks, engages, and struggles? Can I just be happy? Other people are happy, aren’t they? Why do I have to have all the questions and doubts?  I don’t want to detangle this, I don’t want to be brave.  I just want to be happy.  

I called my husband from the road, crying angry and embarrassed tears. After a few incredulous questions from him mostly beginning with “what do you mean…” he threw me a rope to hold.
“Baby, you’re not lost. You know how the city’s lights are so bright you can see it glowing in the sky? Just pay attention to where the light is, love. Head toward the light and you will find home.”
And then I remembered that sometimes bravery is as simple as turning one’s head toward the light and moving toward it. I may remain in the dark for quite a while, but I will not be lost.  I have always been Home.  

And there is happiness, joy even, in embracing small braveries and breaking silences and admitting faults and seeking the light.  

the moment of motherhood

Labor began at 1am: fear and blood and water. With the small lamp on my dresser glowing softly I breathed slowly, my belly expanding like a planet and pressing in on my lungs as I pulled the air deeper, forcing it to sustain me. My hands shook as I dialed the hospital.
“And how many weeks are you?”
“39 and 4 days. “
“And you’re sure your waters have broken?”
Sure? Certainty had fled my mind the moment I read that positive pregnancy test. But there was fear and a strong pressing of something telling me to GO. Move.
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
I hung up the phone and leaned over the bed to where he was sleeping peacefully and carefully balanced at the farthest edge of the bed so as not to wake me during whatever precious moments of rest I might have been able to snatch.
“Wynton,” I whispered to him as I placed a falsely calm hand on his shoulder. He lurched out of his sleep and threw himself quickly off the bed, slamming first into the wall before falling into the space between the bed and unfortunate wall.
“Shit!” I gasped, “Are you OK?”
He sat up bewildered, muttering apologies for having awakened me.
“No no,” I said, painfully suppressing laughter into my over-crowded belly, “It’s time. My water broke.”
We stared at each other a moment, processing one another’s current pain and distress, and then burst into the most relieving laughter, hiccupping giggles that broke the waves of fear and sent them streaming in tears down my cheeks.
We climbed into the car, still laughing. We drove chuckling. We arrived at the hospital in smirks and snorts. This would be the balm that would help me through labor. At the most difficult moments, he would tell me to remember him falling out of the bed.
Hospitals have a way of blurring memories.
There were contractions: sharp and deep and crushing.
There were pricks and tubes and tests.
Blood pressure. Baby’s heart rate. Dilated. Progress. Water breakage. Nausea. Pitocin. Epidural. Meconium. NICU.
“Do you understand? After delivery she will have to go straight to NICU.”
Confusion. Fear. Fear. Fear.
It would be the twentieth hour when she would lean to me, and in a voice I appreciated for its methodical calmness, whisper, “OK dear, it’s time to push.”
And I did. We did: my husband, my sister, my nurse, and me. We labored all. And I was afraid but I was not alone.
Two more hours would pass, hours which felt like months, each contraction a season. There were whispers of interventions, of forceps and vacuums and C-sections. Someone (another nurse? a doctor? my own fear?) muttered: I don’t think she has it in her to deliver.
This whispered doubt was a gift which brought my pride and ability swinging back into my consciousness.
She was delivered, pulled from my belly on the next contraction. Eight pounds and thirteen ounces. Twenty one and half inches long. Silent.
Silent.
There was a swift, suctioning noise, a gurgle, and a small cry. I couldn’t see her, but the power that rushed over me with that distant wail shattered me. I was weeping in joy and exhaustion. And terror.
They laid her with me for a moment, I spoke to her and her dark eyes searched for me above her head.
We have to take her now, mama. She has a fever. We have to take her.
The next two hours felt like seconds. Sutures and signed papers and smiles with soft congratulations.
Are you ready to go see her?
I sat at the trough-like sink and scrubbed my arms up to my elbows, the cleansing before the receiving.
They wheeled me past clear plastic cribs each containing quiet drops of delicate life. One of them held an infant, sleeping soundly on her belly, her bottom high in the air. My heart stopped and I stared as they wheeled me past her and up to a covered crib. I lifted the dark and heavy coverlet to peek at the beating heart underneath, the size of my hand, chest fluttering, eyes closed. A boy.
“No,” I told the nurse, “No, he’s not mine.”
“Oh, gosh, you’re right. I’m so sorry,” she stuttered and wheeled me back to the girl with her bottom in the air and rolls of dough on her back and arms, fat and substance I was grateful for having seen the fragility of her crib mate. But size does not determine significance, his beating heart just as precious to his mother’s as hers was to me.
I placed my hand on her back and whispered her name. The machine next to her crib began to scream an alarm.
“It’s OK,” the nurse assured me, “her heart rate just jumped because she heard your voice. It’s normal.”
I sat staring at her, our hearts in galloping solidarity. It was that moment I became her mother. And perhaps some women would define it differently, argue that it was the moment of conception or birth, but all I know is in that moment I was not afraid anymore. It was that moment that certainty and serenity washed back over me: peaceful pounding hearts. It was in that moment that I was aware of my body’s potential to heal her, to comfort her, to guide her. It was that moment I could understand: she is my blood, I am her hospital, and she stays with me.*

“Hello, Scout, I’m your mama.”
And she sighed and squirmed and I knew she understood.Image

*altered quote from Call the Midwife TV series