To My Husband the Phoenix, I Could Never Forget

Remember that Christmas when we were really poor?

We lived in that tiny crappy apartment on the second floor. There was a tree out the balcony with a newspaper caught in its branches. It was there the day we moved in, Valentines Day.

One time Shauna and I threw shoes at it, trying to knock it out of the tree. We really wanted to know the date, how long it had been up there. We never did get it down.

Sometimes I wonder if the person living there now gazes off the balcony at a tree containing a newspaper and a shoe.

That Christmas we agreed not to buy each other anything. There was no money. On the night of the twenty-third I got stupid drunk with a couple friends. I distinctly remember because it was one of the few times that you didn’t drink. I also remember pouring the last bit of Sailor Jerry into a shot glass while sitting in the living room. Jon and I both looked down at the shot sitting on the rotted old coffee table and then back up at each other like a couple of addicts. I pulled two dollars out of my back pocket, slammed it down and slurred out, “You can have that shot or you can have two dollars.”

He took the two dollars like I knew he would.

He was poor as shit too.

drink

 

A week earlier we’d gone by his apartment to discover a fridge that contained nothing but a giant tub of margarine, two loaves of white bread and three packages of American cheese, all generic store brand.

“I like grilled cheese” he said.

And frankly when you’re twenty and practically homeless this makes total sense. His girlfriend at the time was currently between jobs and didn’t have a driver’s license. She lamented to me that her days were spent sitting in the living room, trying to get reception on an old TV while smoking cigarettes and drinking tap water.

That night after the rum was gone I made us all two boxes of macaroni and cheese. They thanked us profusely and kept apologizing saying, “Are you guys sure this is ok? We don’t want to eat all of your food.”

I don’t remember how the night ended, but I do remember that I woke up the next morning with the most severe stomach pain I had ever experienced. I tried to wake you and told you it felt like I needed medical attention, or at the very least could you go to the store and get me some Pepto and Gatorade.

You refused.

You slept another three hours.

I was sure I was dying. Eventually you went to the store. But I never ventured out of that apartment until Christmas Day.

Christmas morning, over coffee and raspberry Toaster Pastries (a splurge) you gave me a silver bracelet with tiny little chip diamonds and a heart on it. It had a locking clasp and was totally not my style. But it was so very sweet, so unlike you to be romantic. I felt horrible that I hadn’t gotten you anything.

bracelet

 

Later we drove downtown to the little apartment my father and brother lived in at the time. If I remember correctly, he had cooked a nice roast. I could only stomach a few bites. I was still in quite of bit of pain.

I gave my brother a Beavis & Butthead DVD set I’d ordered off an infomercial. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. I thought he’d see it and be nostalgic, remembering all the times we watched it together. But in the moment of him unwrapping it I realized what a shitty gift it really was. No one in that room had much at the time. I sat there wishing I had given him something nice, something that would have brought him actual joy, something useful. I was left with a deep sadness that permeated everything about that particular Christmas. He gave us a set of kitchen knives and some floor mats for your ’92 Chevy Blazer, the one with the broken driver’s side door.

We were married ten months later.

That was a lifetime ago.

Yesterday our son found the bracelet and brought it to me saying, “Look Mama, it has a heart on it because I love you!” Later I made him a sandwich using those same kitchen knives.

The memories are vivid to me, tangible. There have been times when I couldn’t move past them. For you the past just vanishes. We have discussed this, your lack of long-term memory.

Everyday you awake like the Phoenix.

You rise from the ashes and look upon me with new eyes, upon yourself. How I wish I had that power, but this photographic memory is a curse.

My past always feels present.

The children have helped because I’m too busy to dwell. But in the tiny flickers of stillness it’s there. I am there, the old me. The old you. And then the babies are there too. Their cherub faces and suckling mouths, their balled up fists and breathy first sounds. It’s cruel how well I can still see them, smell them, hear them. The memories all blend together, the booze, the fights, then the calm, the joy, the babies. Those beautiful babies, how they’ve destroyed me.

kids

They killed me.

I died and was born again, left with my heart beating outside of my chest.

It’s ok that you forget. It keeps you moving forward, always forward. That’s how this works. I remember for the both of us. Someone will ask you a question and you’ll turn to me and say, “When was that?” When I answer you don’t argue. You take it as the truth because you know it is. On the rare occasion that you say, “Wait, are you sure? Because I thought…” I’ll reply, “Do you really want to do this with me?”

You stop, you concede.

It’s a joke I often tell people. The way our marriage works is that you remember nothing, and I forgive everything. It’s a joke, but it’s true.

You awake everyday and see me anew. You give me a fresh start. I awake and I see every incarnation of you.

You asleep in my arms at sixteen with your perfect lips and long eyelashes.

You at twenty with the ponytail, combat boots and whiskey breath.

You at twenty-three headed off to work, early in the morning wearing a tie and khakis.

You at twenty-five making cold calls out of a phone book in the garage of our first house.

You at twenty-nine crying (finally) while you look upon the face of your newborn son.

You at thirty, on your knees for days installing the hardwood floors in our big new house.

You at thirty-three with those tired eyes, and the way you still look at me.

 

I remember them all. I love them all.

Dear Old Friend, Some Things I Want You to Know…

Dear Old Friend,

Our mutual friend, she knows you better than I do. I’ve known you longer, but she knows you better.

I’ve loved you longer.

Although there were years where we didn’t talk, years where we lost each other’s phone numbers, a span of time in which our lives may have been too different to align . . .

I still loved you.

We were little girls together. We got our periods together. We practiced gymnastics routines in my backyard together. We gossiped and fought and got drunk for the first time, together. We refilled the bottles from the liquor cabinet with water so your Mom wouldn’t notice the levels were lower. We went jet skiing and purposely sent some asshole kid out into the water on a ski we knew was broken. We laughed from the shore. We stole hair dye from the grocery store and fried our hair in my bathroom. We got boyfriends. We lost our virginity. We went with each other to Planned Parenthood for birth control. We were smart girls. We were strong. We got in fights with our parents and showed up on each other’s doorsteps crying. We wore matching dresses to homecoming. We sat on the floor of the bathroom together for hours painting our nails, deep conditioning our hair and listening to Da Brat. We got driver’s licenses and drove around downtown smoking weed.

We grew up.

We grew apart.

dear_old_friend

And now you’re about to have your first baby. A baby that for most of your life you were unsure you’d ever have.

We’re talking again. I don’t want you to think it’s only because of the baby.

It is because of you.

I’ve missed you, but I knew up until now you probably couldn’t relate to me. Maybe I’m wrong about that. If so, I’m sorry, I should have been there.

I know how hard this is going to be for you, because it was hard for me. I longed for it, and it was still hard for me. I know the ways in which it will rock you because I knew you as a girl.

I know you, even after all these years. I’m here for you.

You know me too, by the way. In a way no one else ever will. Because at one point in our lives we told each other everything. Everything.

I have been warned not to “scare you,” not to overload you with information. I have anyway, I cannot help it. It’s in my nature to talk too damn much. I have a compulsion to share information. Yes, I know what an annoying personality quality this is. But you already knew that about me, now didn’t you?

I’m sorry if I overwhelmed you, but shit’s about to get overwhelming and I’ll be here.

When we spoke on the phone the other day I told you there was no possible way to prepare for motherhood. I cannot tell you what it will be like. I can only tell you what it was like for me. You probably don’t really care about what happened to me, about my experience. You will have your own. But incase you’re wondering what it felt like, well, this is the only way I know how to explain it:

You will think back to when you didn’t have kids and your brain will insert them into memories. You’ll remember a trip to Mexico and for a split second you’ll think, oh where was he? Then you’ll remember, Oh, he wasn’t born yet. And this concept will seem impossible. The idea of a time and place, a universe in which they didn’t exist. You will feel deeply as if they were always with you. And this will feel spiritual and cyclical in a way that will make you believe in the possibility of fate, reincarnation, God, whatever. You will look at their face and it will seem familiar in a way that transcends place and time.

I look at my children and I see my parents, and grandparents and old worn out black and white photographs of relatives that died long before I arrived. I look at my baby girl frown and I see my husband and I, but I also see the corners of her mouth turned down the exact same way her grandmother looked on her deathbed. I see them all in their faces. As my father once said of my son, “I look at his face and I feel like I’m looking at a face I’ve seen everyday for my entire life.”

I would often rock my son to sleep as a baby and gaze upon his face and have the vivid feeling that my grandmother did this same thing with this same boy. I felt connected in a way that I never thought possible. As my Mother once told me, “Having children will make you understand that you are truly just one link in a very long chain.”

It gave me compassion for my parents and all the mistakes they made just trying to do what was best with the tools their parents had given them. Sometimes they didn’t have the right tools. Sometimes I don’t either. I wept, flooded with a love I now understood they felt for me.

At night I rock a baby girl that looks like me. I put her blonde hair up in pig tails and look in her giant blue eyes and I know how my mother felt about me. Loving my daughter is loving myself, but it is also loving my mother, and her mother.

This is the thing, mothering your babies will drain you of everything. But the love for one’s child is a form of self love. I love them. They are me.

I love me.

I didn’t always love me.

I see so much of me in my babies. I see things in them I used to hate about myself. I realize they were born that way, and I must have been too. I forgive myself my flaws by loving theirs.

I held my infant son and sang “Beautiful Boy” to him with tears streaming down my face. I thought of my aunt (the most loving mother) who lost a son when he was fifteen. I relived his death with my newfound perspective and sobbed in the living room unable to breath as I nursed my own boy.

My heart ripped wide open and there was no putting it back together.

Your heart is going to break my friend, for the most beautiful possible reason.

The World’s a Terrible F@*king Place, and We Have Little Kids

I was having one of those days. Trapped inside the house all week with sick kids. I had a couple phone conversations with a friend that left me feeling raw and self conscious. I was replaying things I said. I was obsessing the way I tend to do, when I have nothing better to do. I was half ignoring my kids while doing laundry and reheating leftovers. I was messaging a friend on Facebook to make sure her family was safe after an attack in her hometown of Beirut. I was thinking about how I really wanted to take a shower. I was missing the point that my kids might be sick, but they were in a safe warm place.

Sometimes we get self-absorbed.

We miss the point.

And then my sister-in-law texts, “I’m so sad about Paris.”

I pull up the news on my phone and can only find snippets of information. A restaurant, a concert hall, men with guns, men with bombs. Sixty dead at the current count.

Damn it! Didn’t this just happen? Yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that? Weren’t we just here?

I have flashbacks of men with guns in fancy hotels and train stations in Mumbai. I remember Charlie Hebdo. I remember bombs in the London Underground. I think of men in my own country wantonly shooting people in movie theaters, shooting bullets into cars driving down the freeway. I see a lifeless baby carried out of a building in downtown Oklahoma City. I remember sarin gas in a Tokyo subway. I remember the morning I awoke in New Jersey with plans to visit friends in NYC that day; the morning of September 11, 2001.

Never made it into the city that day.

I put my kids to bed and I turn on the news. My children have never watched the news. They believe TVs play nothing but Paw Patrol and Curious George. My father comes to visit and asks, “Oh, you guys don’t watch the evening news?”

“No,” my husband says, “because the world’s a terrible fucking place and we have little kids.”

The world’s a terrible fucking place, and we have little kids.

Can you relate?

What’s the worst part of having little kids? Some days I would tell you it’s the drawer filled with plastic drink cups and their multitude of plastic straws and valves that no one seems to be competent at assembling. I could tell you it’s the utter loss of self that comes with motherhood. I could tell you it’s sleep deprivation, or whining, or the God Damn Hot Dog Dance.

But those would all be superficial silly-ass lies to make you laugh, to make you relate, to make you come back and read more of my writing.

The worst part? It’s the harm we do to them simply by creating them. It’s the harm of coming into existence. It’s their extreme angelic innocence, their pure love. Their belief that the world is filled with potential friends and wondrous cultures to explore. Their belief in the kindness of humanity. Their blind trust of adults.

It is sitting front row for the loss of their innocence, that is the worst part.

As a child innocence seemed useless to me. “What can I gain from being ignorant” was my world view. My father did a wonderful job of always being honest with me. During a zoo trip when I was seven the crowd giggled as they watched a male lion pace back and forth, following a little boy in the crowd with a ball. “Oh, he wants to play with the ball,” they laughed. My father leaned over and whispered in my ear, “He doesn’t want to play with the ball. He wants to eat the little boy.”

My parents let us watch the evening news.

As a child I felt at ease with adults. I also knew not to trust them. I knew they were fallible. I remember around age seven, watching the news one night and having to ask the question, “What does ‘molested’ mean?” Another question I asked that year was, “What’s a prostitute.” My parents answered both of these questions honestly. They always answered my questions honestly and I believe those answers kept me safe and prepared me for the adult world in a way many of my peers were not.

But now that I have my own children I only see the harm that comes from that loss of innocence. It’s counterintuitive as hell.

The world I have presented to my children is a very edited one. I know at some point I will have to let them watch the news. I will have to explain that this time the scary thing they’re seeing is not pretend. It is real, and it’s terrifying. At some point I’m going to have to show them the darkness. It was never my intention to shelter my children, but my son is four.

He’s four.

He’s four and he’s lucky enough to have the privilege of being sheltered. Please, please world just let me keep him here a little longer. I don’t know how a mother’s heart can withstand the torture of watching her son become a man. Her daughter, a woman. But I’m sure that pain pales in comparison to not watching them become one at all.

The world’s a terrible fucking place and we have little kids.

This is not a statement for parents. This is a statement for humanity.

FTW