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

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