The Year of the Rabbit

This morning my car wouldn’t start. The 2011 minivan, it wouldn’t turn over. Then as I sat, talking to my boyfriend on the phone about what it could be, I looked out the window to see a bunny had found his way into the garage. He sat there right outside my window, nestled between my bike, a stack of folding chairs and the ladders in the corner. We just stared at each other. My kids, they love rabbits. It started when Oz was nearly two and began twirling his hair while I nursed him to sleep. He was starting to develop a bald spot. So, that summer I buzzed his hair down too short to pull. From the bottom of the toy box, I pulled the little rabbit that had been in his Easter basket that spring. It had a fluffy white tail of synthetic fur. That night as I nursed Oz to sleep I put the tail into his hand. He twirled that instead. Six years later he still carries around ‘Rabbit,’ his tail nothing more than a limp little string. His once shiny, black eyes have been banged up, covered in cataracts. His fur, threadbare and matted. I’ve sewn his arms or legs back on many times, needle and thread in hand as I watch TV late at night. Oz is eight now, he’s past the age where he should need to carry a lovey around. He should be starting to realize that Rabbit isn’t real. He cannot truly protect him from harm.

Rabbit, had been an occasional obsession for years. One Oz would play with at home incessantly, then would suddenly lose interest in for months at a time. Once, when he was four, I was out running errands and received a text from the nanny. It was a picture of him holding Rabbit proudly in the air. We’d thought he was lost, but they’d found him, shoved into a doll house in the basement playroom. Oz’s affection for Rabbit was fickle.

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Then the divorce happened.

My boy clung to his lovey the way his little sister had always loved her blanket. Rabbit now had to come with us everywhere. If he disappeared, even momentarily, panic and tears would ensue. I tried to enforce the old rule that “lovies don’t leave the house.” But we were in a different house now. I soon learned there would need to be different rules. When asked why Rabbit needed to come everywhere with us, my boy would answer sweetly, “because he calms me down.”

Oz is eight now. Rabbit is always crammed at the bottom of his dirty backpack or tucked into the pocket of his old leather coat, the expensive one I bought big when I still had money. It’s part of his signature look. The shaggy blonde hair, the sleepy blue eyes, the skull T-shirt, the second-grade angst, and the old, worn out bunny in the pocket of his “Rock N Roll” leather jacket. Oz tells me he’s sleeping in there. On the way home from school he pulls him out and he and Lids engage in secret childhood conversations with Rabbit. It seems he speaks a language only Oz understands. “Oz! Oz! Ask Rabbit if he wants to play with me when we get home,” she says to her brother. Oz whispers to Rabbit and then lets out a series of squeaks he claims is his language. “He says he wants to play with you upstairs,” he tells his little sister. Then he allows her the great privilege of holding the ratty, old, dirty toy. I see her in the rearview mirror. She beams.

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Today they’re at their Dad’s house. The house he bought as the final nail in the coffin of our marriage. I was on a beach somewhere, having the 57th performance of my early mid-life crisis when my phone range and he coldly informed me, “I bought a house.” I asked what I was supposed to do. He said he’d continue to pay half the bills until I sold our home. I sold it four months later. I never should have. I, of all people, should have understood the magic a child’s mind imparts upon their first home. Mine was taken from me when I was five. At times I feel as if all I’ve ever been striving towards was just to get back there in some way, to get back home. Nothing’s ever felt quite right since. I remember when I bought my first house at twenty-two, my father asking me if we were settled in yet. “Does it feel like home?” he asked. I didn’t know how to answer.

My parents are divorced too.

Is there anything that ever really feels like home after divorce, other than the smell of your mother’s neck? I always tell my babies, “You are home when you’re with me, because I’m your Mama.” My children, they came from me. They are an extension of me. They are safe wherever I am. And yet, they are no longer physically with me 50% of the time.

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Do you know how odd it feels to pick your children up from school and find them in clothing you’ve never seen before?

Or when after five days with their father they call you Dad instead of Mom, or at times, they call you by the name of their father’s fiancé. I never flinch when they do this. I never correct. I just reply, “Yes, baby?”

Or the time you had to take your daughter to ballet while her father was out of town. The instructor asked who you were, because ballet falls on Tuesdays, during Dad’s custody. You want to look at the woman and say, “Look at her face and then look at mine, and tell me who this child belongs to. I’m her mother!” But instead you smile and introduce yourself.

And your son, at times it feels like he’s slipping away from you. He’s nearing nine and has so much in common with his father. You can tell Dad’s house is more fun for him because they work on projects in the garage together, watch Marvel movies late at night while his sister sleeps, and play NERF guns.

I’m not jealous. I’m just sad that I’ll never get to watch the way his relationship with his father unfolds and matures. My handsome boy who looks just like me, but ended up with the same engineering brain as his Daddy. I’ll never get to watch that beautiful dance of father and son.

These are the things no one told me I’d sacrifice. I suppose I’d envisioned it differently, the divorce. Most my friends who are divorced, they thought it’d be different too. I remember when I told someone our divorce was amicable she snidely replied, “Good. Hopefully it stays that way.” It did stay that way, just not the amicable that I’d originally imagined.

Time marches forward. Wounds heal. Thick skin forms over where we used to bleed. We find new people to share our time with, ones who judge less and sympathize more. And when we’re ready we’ll allow the right person to run their hand over the scar as we lay there in bed together and they’ll say, “What happened here?” We’ll tell them the story and say, “It nearly killed me. I’d tell you I’m stronger for it, but that’s a bullshit lie. The truth is I can never survive that again.” They’ll pull you tighter and say, “I know. I don’t think I can either.” So, you’ll promise to continue forward together, and life will start to feel normal again, little by little. This isn’t to say that you couldn’t continue forward on your own, it’s just to say that you’ll come to see the hole in your heart is shaped like a family.

And then one cold winter morning, while he’s at work, you’ll find the car battery dead. He’ll call you having Googled all possible issues it could be besides just the battery. “Have you tried this?” he’ll ask kindly. It will feel good to not be alone. Then as you sit, the phone pressed to your ear, a little rabbit will hop into your garage to stay warm. Later, when you return to remove the battery you’ll find the rabbit sitting on top of the engine. You’ll also discover that the socket wrench your father gave you on your eighteenth birthday was one of the things you lost in the divorce. As you approach the car slowly, hand outstretched, the bunny will wiggle his way deeper into the engine unaware you’re only trying to help him. In his fear and confusion, he’ll only make his situation worse.

You smile knowing the kids are going to love this story, when they get back from their Dad’s.

 

*Oz is nine now. Sometime over the last six months Rabbit stopped coming home from Dad’s house. I’ve asked when we’ll see him again. Oz has informed us Rabbit is resting.

What Does Not Kill You

I don’t want to do anything. I want to go to a sweat lodge. I want to do peyote. I want to fly back to the old country, alone, and throw my phone into the ocean while the early autumn leaves rustle through the sidewalks of the pier shops. I want to get into my car, no, a different car. I want to burn rubber in any other direction than my house and drive far far away. I wouldn’t even listen to the radio. I would just drive in silence and let my brain try and sort it all out.

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My thoughts rattling around inside my head like a pin ball.

I want to go to sleep. For a long long time. Lately I have days where I feel like perhaps I could sleep forever. But then I’d miss my babies growing up. I’d miss the rest of my youth.
I want to run away, then I see my babies and I remember. I remember the knobby kneed seven-year-old girl with the missing teeth and the scraggly hair. The way she sobbed, hyperventilating in the living room before school. Her father unable to calm her. Her mother had to come home from work and hold her in the recliner, stroking her hair and calming her nerves.

Years later when my mother asked me why she had to come home, why I was so anxious, why my father couldn’t soothe me, I responded, “Because a father is never a substitute for a mother.”

The last few months this echoes in my mind. It haunts me. It reminds me that time is fleeting with my sweet sweet whiny babies. They need me.

They.

NEED.

Me.

There is no substitute for a mother.

And in the midst of my self indulgent existential crisis, a madman with a gun tried to murder my Daddy. So I flew to California just to hold him.

A text message no one should ever receive.

A text message no one should ever receive.

My father's bedroom door.

My father’s bedroom door.

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When he squeezes me and cries, thanking me saying, “You don’t know what it means to have you here. To have you here,” I reply, “No Daddy. I do know. I have a daughter.”

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He cries a little harder.

There are moments alone in a hotel room that I welcome like an old friend. But there would be no sorting of thoughts, no solace. Only pain, confusion and hot itchy sleep.

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I return home after midnight. Everyone is asleep. I leave my suitcase in the mudroom. I walk into the kitchen a little drunk and flip on the light. I set my purse on the counter. The kitchen is clean. The counters wiped down. “He’s trying to show me up,” I think to myself. I’ve been gone five days and he and the nanny worked diligently to keep the house tidier than I ever do. They also caught up on the sixteen loads of laundry that mock me on a daily basis. I should feel grateful, loved, but I do not. I feel outdone.

I feel useless.

I hate that my self-worth is measured in piles of folded laundry and spotless dishes. It is an affront to my feminist sensibilities. In that moment standing in the kitchen I hate my existence. I think about other mothers I know with careers, real careers.

I hate myself a little more.

Then I look down, and right in the middle of the smooth granite surface sits a tiny plastic trophy. I pick it up and hold it in the palm of my hand. A slow knowing smile creeps across my face. I’ve never seen it before. It doesn’t belong to my children. Was it at the bottom of some birthday favor goodie bag? I’ll never know.

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Perhaps an angel put it there.

Perhaps it was the devil.

The devil, he showed up in my kitchen one winter afternoon while my baby napped and my son was at school. He brushed my hair from my face and hissed hot breath into my ear. He walked me to the mirror and pointed to my face, then tapped his watch and laughed.

A general uneasiness invaded my body, a malaise of my soul. Control slipped through my fingers, so thoroughly that even when he showed himself to me I refused to believe he was real. I laughed in his face. I told him, “That’s ok. I know you’re the devil. We’ll be the devil together.” He laughed at me, at my bravado because he knew he owned me, knew I was powerless.

And like a fool I laughed harder.

It wasn’t a sea change. I woke up. Or at least a girl I thought had died came back to life. She stirred from a deep sleep and wiped the mascara from under her eyes. She lit a cigarette and put on a pot of coffee.

The bitch is up and ready to go.

Perhaps this is what happens as the children get older. A rediscovery of self. A return to one’s own dreams and desires. Perhaps this is how the apron strings get severed. I remember holding my son when he was a newborn, filled with a deep and crippling anxiety at the thought of him growing up and leaving me one day. I thought of a client who had disowned her adult son. I sat in Oz’s bright new nursery and looked out the window at the trees full in their summer lushness. I nursed my boy in peace and quiet, the sounds of him suckling comingling with a distant lawnmower. I couldn’t imagine how the heart could ever transition from where I was with my little nursling, to a dark place like that.

My boy started kindergarten yesterday, and I’m starting to understand. Not the disowning part, that I will never comprehend. But the distance that grows between mother and child. The part where you release them to the world, that I’m understanding. On the day I was born my father wrote me a letter. On my third day on this earth he boasts that he could thus far chronicle my every move up until that point. Years later he would repeat his parenting philosophy. The idea of a radius of movement that widens as the child ages until the perimeter disappears and you allow them the world.

The circle widens. I get it.

But with it I’ve realized is more joy than I had anticipated. There is a bit more sweet with this bitter. Because as my boy grows, so do I.

As he encounters new fears, mine slip away.

What does not kill me . . .

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For Whom the Bell Tolls: Why I’m Up in Da Club

Lately I don’t want to write.

I feel as if some of the things I’m writing are too personal. I’m supposed to do cathartic writing, let it sit, revisit and revise. But I’m strapped for time. More and more the revision is little to none. That’s right folks, you’ve been reading a few diary entries. Ok, not entirely true. I mean, we all know my diary would be way filthier than anything on this blog. Classy bitch alert, right here folks.

It’s just that lately I’m having to choose between my body and my brain. Do I write today or exercise? And frankly, at this moment in my life sweating it out to dirty rap music feels much more cathartic. I huff it on the treadmill, staring out at the mountains as Missy Elliot chants in my ear, “5’2” and wear my jeans real tight” while Nicki Minaj spits, “All these bitches wanna try and be my bestie, but I take a left and leave ‘em hangin’ like a testi” as Jay Z reminds me “Ladies is pimps too, gon’ brush your shoulders off.”

In my writing I fear repeating myself, repeating themes, and in doing so revealing too much. Like an old man who keeps telling the same three stories over and over. You sit there thinking, “Damn, that really made an impression on him. He’s still talking about this shit.” But that’s the thing, right? It’s not that the story is that important, it’s that he has nothing else going on. He doesn’t have any other stories.

I have other stories, lots of them. Stories I can’t post on the internet.

So I write the other shit. I write about my babies, about motherhood, about marriage, autonomy, the beauty, the everyday drudgery. I write every week and sometimes I feel like a broken record. Sometimes I get sick of my own words. I go back and read my last few posts. I try to make sure I’m not repeating myself. I sit down to write something new. I don’t have the time to fully develop my thoughts. The same old, same old comes out all over again. I close the laptop. I’m done.

But let me tell you, in case you hadn’t picked up on my most recent theme. It’s autonomy.

I should stop here. I shouldn’t keep repeating it. But lately I want to be left alone. The other evening after the kids were in bed I actually heard myself say aloud, “Yeah, I’m kinda over having kids right now.” When my husband brought up having a vasectomy the other day my response was a swift, “Yeah, go ahead and book that shit whenever you’re ready.”

I’ve been scheduling appointments for some, um, (cough cough) cosmetic work (cough cough). I feel old. I feel a different clock ticking. A much louder clock. I look in the mirror and feel like I’ve got a good ten maybe fifteen years of “youth” left.

I’m trying to seize the mother fucking day.

I’m saying weird shit to my husband while he drinks his morning coffee like, “So, we gonna hit the club this weekend when we go out with your friends, right?”

“I hope not,” he says, “you know I hate that shit.”

“Cool, you can go home after dinner and we gonna go get krunk in the club.”

He thinks I’m joking.

I’m dead serious.

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If you’re reading this and you’re older you’ll tell me I’m too young to feel my mortality. That’s the way it always is. We always look back and say we were so young. Maybe you’re my age and you still feel young. Good for you, but you’re not me. You haven’t lived my life. Maybe you haven’t experienced death in the same way I have. How it comes in like a thief in the night, and your security system won’t save you. You’re not special, and you’re not immune. We’re all going to die and I’m at peace with that. What I’m not at peace with is getting old.

There I said it.

So I’m going to do what brings me some sanity and right now that’s a physical catharsis. I start another writing workshop soon. I’ll be writing a novel over the next six weeks. So don’t be shocked if this blog sits stagnant for a bit.

But I’ll be back with a smoother face and a firmer ass. For now, just remember this, Yoko Ono went clubbing until 3:00am on her seventieth birthday.

We should all aspire to be Mother. Fucking. Yoko. Ono.

Rage rage against the dying of the light, and all that shit.

I think that’s how it goes.