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.

beach

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.

wall

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.”

daughter

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.

hotel

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.

trophy

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 . . .

kinder

I want to tell you about Maui . . .

I want to tell you about Maui. I really do, but I just can’t.

sand

It was just too much, all of it. Too much. The resort. The water. The waterfalls. The locals. The fantastic coffee shop where we had breakfast everyday. A spinach frittata topped with soft feta cheese served with fried potatoes and thick white toast, the butter still melting. More bread than toast. The only real meal I would eat to soak up yesterday’s alcohol before I started drinking Mai Tais again.

If you're ever in Kaanapali go to Java Jazz. Best coffee and food, ever.

If you’re ever in Kaanapali go to Java Jazz. Best coffee and food, ever.

The family from our hometown that we met, that took us in as daughters and bought us drinks at the pool. They offered us their paddle boards and stayed up late with us until the sun set over the pool and we all wandered off laughing hysterically to our own rooms with dinner plans that never materialized because we’d all pass out. The palm trees. Our room, a giant two bed, two bath suite with a dining room, kitchen and wrap around deck overlooking the ocean. How I pulled all my bedding out there and would nap to the sound of the ocean.

nap

The sushi. The fish. The Mai Tais.

Cafe Mambo in Paia.

Cafe Mambo in Paia.

happy_hour

The early mornings watching the sunrise on the deck together drinking coffee and laughing. Always laughing. I swear I had a different laugh in Maui.

The view from our room. Yeah, that one still hurts.

The view from our room.

The sunsets every night, replace the coffee with wine. The way that my hair looked so amazing on that island. My hair, it wanted to live there. My skin, a perfect golden tan.

The fruit stands on the side of the road where we bought banana bread, too buttery and good, feeding it to each other and laughing while we drove down the road. Every few cars getting honked at by Hawaiian men who apparently have a thing for blonde women.

 

Iao Valley

Iao Valley

The cab driver named Kioni who wouldn’t accept payment because “spending time with two beautiful girls” was enough. He looked like a twenty-five-year-old Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He was forty-seven. Showed us his license to prove it.

If you ask me what we did there you’ll be disappointed. You’ll expect me to riddle off a long list of tourists spots. Did I see a volcano? Did I go snorkeling? Did I go surfing? No, no, and no. I’ve done those things before. You know what we did? We laughed. We laughed until we cried and then we laughed some more. We drank. We laid in the sun and perfected our tans. We had so much fun we forgot to eat. We woke up at dawn because of the time change and found our clothes were too big. We put on bathing suits and went to breakfast.

Ho'okipa

Ho’okipa

 

We.

Did.

Nothing.

We discovered what kind of friendship we have when we’re together without kids around. Everyone on the island thought we were sisters. We let them think it, because we discovered that we are. We hiked three miles down the beach to look at some sea turtles that were being shy that day. We marveled at the turquoise of the water then called a cab and got sushi for lunch. We ate the sushi while repeating, “This is like the best day ever. This is the best vacation ever. How will we ever go home after this?”

I’ve been home a couple weeks now. The guy working the desk at the gym daycare looked at me and said, “I’m jealous that you’re already rockin’ a serious summer tan.” I tried not to let out a deep sigh. Because that’s the thing about a break. It rarely leaves you refreshed and ready to get back at it. It just makes you wish for a longer break. Every few days one of us will text the other, “So when do we go back to Maui?” Some evenings she just texts me a picture of the sunset over the water. The view from our deck. We wonder how we could buy that condo and spend one week out of every month there. And of course, I want my babies to see it, to run in the sand. I also want to go there alone with my husband so he can watch the sunset over Molokai.

But I’d be lying if I told you that being there with my girl wasn’t the greatest damn thing ever. She and I, we’re dynamite. We vibe. We laugh and laugh and laugh. We felt young again. We didn’t talk about our kids. At all. We didn’t discuss motherhood.

We pretended we were other people, or rather we were the people we were before we became mothers. At the gym today I overheard a woman explaining to someone that the most difficult part of motherhood is that you’re “always a mother. Even when your 2000 miles away on vacation without them. You’re still a mother.”

I used to believe this too, but she’s wrong. I wasn’t a mother on that trip. I was me, separate from everyone else. 3,424 miles separate. Me calling to check in at 2pm as happy hour started because it was already 6pm at home and I knew by the time the alcohol took affect my babies would be safely sleeping in their beds and I could actually relax. Slipping into a warm fuzzy haze as the Hawaiian sun disappeared behind the ocean.

 

When Trying to Write a Novel . . .

I am held together with butterfly stitches
Pulling at the seams

Starving, striving, bone tired, ragged

I swallowed a piece of bread and grew two sizes

I awake to the skin peeling from my breasts
My dream of you interrupted by a little boy who is always whining
Ill tempered
I get cruel
I need black coffee

I need the Atlantic air
Silence

to climb into a dark cave and pull the covers high up over my eyes

To cover my eyes like it was all a dream
A most beautiful nightmare

I want my old skin back
The skin that didn’t require so much maintenance
The skin I rarely had to think about

My skin
it is getting older
It droops down my face like a sculptor ran his hands over soft clay
Thumb and forefinger
Pulling down down down, from the corners of my mouth
Gravity sculpted me angry and sullen
He pulled hard on my thighs and made my flesh dimple
He played tug of war with my breasts

He laughs

He thinks he’s funny

The sink overflows with dishes
The counter produces more paperwork to ignore
To feel guilty about, always tugging at my brain
Boxes to ship
School paperwork to fill out
Laundry that reproduces like rabbits
Exercise
Children who need to eat something, anything other than refined carbohydrates
Novels that beg to be written
Words that whisper themselves into my ear when I’m driving, or yelling
When I am always a million miles away from pen and paper
I sprint to find some
I hold it in my hand trembling and ask inwardly “Now, what was that? Please tell me what you said?”

But the bitch keeps silent

She is temperamental

I am enveloped back into the velvety folds of whining, crying, demands and more laundry
I fall backward into it

I pull the dirty covers up over my eyes