Too often we craft a narrative for our own lives. We convince ourselves it’s true. We take stock and look around at the world. Perhaps we tell ourselves that our own discontent is self absorbed, a First World problem.
But look at all you have they say. Blessed. They like to throw that word around, blessed.
There are tiny moments in which I see my good fortune. In the early morning light, golden, streaming in behind her blonde hair, all ethereal. Her baby breath in my face as she whispers, “Here Mama, you cuddle with my blankie.” She strokes my arm and crawls under the covers. My lips find the top of her head and I kiss her hair, soft as silk. I run my hands over her little warm body and rub her cold naked legs. “Stay under the covers and warm up,” I whisper back to her. She does. I try and memorize this moment. I know she’ll only lay silent next to me for a few moments. I wish we could stay like this all day.
She is perfection at three.
The last nine months I have been lost in the woods. I have avoided, burned bridges, failed to maintain friendships. When a mother of small children decides to take care of herself, like really take care of herself, well, some things will suffer. I hadn’t realized that I’d barely kept contact with my own mother, until I flew alone to see her and she choked back tears while she asked me to just “Keep in contact.”
I hadn’t realized.
I sat in my son’s room the other night and listened as he explained in great detail the Lego world he’s endlessly crafting. I looked around and for the first time saw that he really is a boy now. His artwork hung everywhere, his Legos arranged meticulously. His creations positioned painstakingly with Scotch tape, miles of Scotch tape. I listen, really listen to him for the first time in too long. I wonder when I missed it, the transition. Where have I been?
I’ve been here but not really here.
I hadn’t realized.
I’ve been here, pouring the morning cereal and barking orders, packing lunches and loading backpacks, filing homework, getting into my workout clothes while I yell, “Put on your shoes! We’re leaving in fifteen minutes.”
“Get in the car. NOW! Your sister’s already in the car!”
“But Moooooooom!” He whines refusing to leave whatever project he’s currently working on in his room.
The tiny voice in my head mutters, “Stop calling me that.”
And then I am gone.
Off on a plane, again. Other mothers I know see pictures of me on a beach and comment, “Another girls’ trip?”
It is not a girls’ trip.
I sit on my mother’s patio and drink coffee. We debate the election in circles. We try to make a game plan. I watch she and her husband bicker in an adorable fashion. I tease them mercilessly about being old retired people. I envy them. We all laugh. They drive me to lunch in their old Subaru.
We eat Cuban food. Walk the beach. Run errands. Commiserate some more.
At night after they’ve gone to bed I stand at the mirror in their guest bathroom. I brush my teeth. I stare at myself in silence. The weight of it all finally hits me.
I push back. I shake my head side to side in denial. “No,” the little voice whispers, “put your arms down and let it in.” Grief comes up behind me and wraps her arms around my middle. “What if I’m just going to have to live with this?” I ask her.
She doesn’t answer.
Days later I sit alone in a fancy hotel room in Clearwater. I watch the sunrise over the white sand beach. If you squint, it looks like snow.
“How’s your day?” a friend texts.
I sob into the phone unable to speak. They listen.
“Are you writing? You need to do the damn thing! Get down to the beach. Have you been in the water yet? Get in the water!”
“I have. I was. I had to go back to the room….” my voice broken.
I spend the next twelve hours in that room. I never turn on the TV. I cry until the front of my shirt is wet. I write. I talk to friends. One friend makes me laugh until my belly hurts. The kind words of another make me cry even harder. I hang up the phone and feel surrounded by their love. I cry more. I lay on the bed and stare out the window as the sun slowly dips behind the ocean, families in silhouette playing on the beach. I open a bottle of cheap drugstore wine. I sit in the chair and start drinking on an empty stomach as the room grows dark. I order room service and eat a $30 cheese plate with my $8 wine. I finish the wine and leave the rest of the cheese out in the hallway.
I crawl into bed without brushing my teeth and pass out, exhausted, spent.
The next day I drive to the airport. On the bridge while stuck in traffic the biggest dragonfly I’ve ever seen keeps pace with my car. She stays right outside my window.
For miles and miles.
She guides me home.