The air here is heavier. It holds scents and feels almost wet on the skin. The houses are set far apart, with aluminum siding in white, pale yellow and green, each with a sun porch and a mowed, green lawn and multiple cars in the driveway. There are crickets instead of crows serenading my midnight writing.
My heart has been broken here before. I have been lost here. I have wandered these streets asking myself these same questions. I know it was heavy then, but it feels heavier now. As a depressed, frequently suicidal teenager I never thought I belonged anywhere and certainly not here. I felt the black sheep. I found kindred spirits and we struggled along together and then we moved on and away and some of us, back.
I asked Danny, “Will you move back to San Francisco?”. He said no, he couldn’t afford it. He said, “Will you move back to New York?” with fear in his voice and I just said no.
I came home to find some comfort. In my family, in the food, in the familiar and I find myself more like myself as a teenager than I ever imagined. I healed myself from my childhood’s confusion and sorrow. I moved to Portland and found a place where I felt like I belonged, among its like-minded people, its trees, its quirky ways. I fell in love. I started eating meat again. I found Nia and danced my way into happiness. I learned massage and took a coaching program that finally transformed my thinking, my feeling, my way of being. I built my toolbox on how to be here, in this world, that I have always felt slightly off key in. I found happiness. I created it. In my late teens, I had resigned myself to the fact that I would never be happy. I reasoned that there are happy people and there were sad people and I was a sad person. I would just have to get used to it, just live with it, just make it through. But I learned how to be happy. With the help of teachers and friends, I found my way out. Killing myself slowly stopped entering the list of possible solutions to whatever major troubles arose. I loved and married a man I thought was my match and I learned a lot from him, most importantly, that I was going to be okay, everything was going to be okay. He has that confidence in the world that I never had and he taught me to believe it, by saying it over and over again, by living his life with that knowledge, by being an example. I have everything I need, he taught me. We fell in love, got married, had our first baby. We stumbled and bumbled and worked out kinks and even passed through road blocks. I was happy everyday: to joyfully teach Nia and see how it brought joy and healing to others, to practice massage, one of my life’s true callings, a space I always feel connected and present and whole. I looked forward everyday to coming home to our simple life of “okay”, having dinner together, watching TV, a kiss goodnight and a kiss good morning while I slept and before he left for work. Our daughter came and we cared for her well and together. We took the photos and made the decisions and thoroughly enjoyed our life as a family of three, patiently awaiting the time we would become a family of four. We saved money and invested money and set up retirement accounts and bought life insurance. We were together. I had found my wing man and everything was going to be okay. I was happy. Finally and fully happy. I had met my demons and then left them behind.
Except that my teenage suffering was just the dress rehearsal for what awaited me. It was the workout scenes in the Rocky movies. Somehow, I thought I’d won. That I’d done my work and went on with the rest of my life. And then our baby died. And then I was left barren. And then my marriage ended. And now I am home.
I came home seeking comfort and I find myself adrift again. I feel the heavy air and age of these old homes and the melancholy that comes with the economic downturn of a once booming little town. And I match it again. I am not here to visit and then go back to my happy life. I am here with two gaping holes in my life that reveal themselves so deep, dark and empty in this old, familiar context. I am with my family, it’s oldest surviving members and it’s newest by marriage and by birth and the absence of the two most recently lost becomes a great burden on me. I am overwhelmed again by the weight of it all. The impossible heaviness of absence.
I have been heartbroken here before. I have gnashed my teeth and wailed the cries of the lost love. I have not known how to keep going without my loves. This time, before I arrived home, my heart has laid low while my mind has gone about the business of trying to make sense. How I could have been so foolish. How I could have made endless and tiny bad decisions. How one person can be two so brilliantly. How time seems to have gone by so quickly. How all of our plans and dreams coming true and okayness could just evaporate and I could find myself lost again. Back home, back where I started. Back here, feeling the brokeness of my heart. I have been here since Harvey died, we three came together and held babies and saw everyone for the first time and talked about how our confusion and grief was here before crying ourselves to sleep. After Vesta was born, my dad and stepmother would give us their room. A bigger bed for the the three of us, space to spread out diapers and wipes and changing mats, toys scattered all about, piles of clothes, clean and dirty. When we came here, pregnant with Harvey, I wondered where he would sleep or where Vesta would sleep. I wondered about two car seats and needing another car and how we would arrange sitting together on the plane, how we would eventually afford another seat on each plane. Now, we are down to two and share the guest bed. Her car seat has transformed into a light and manageable booster. She picks up her own toys and the diapers, wipes and mat are a memory. There was nothing to worry about, as it turned out. No longer even the guilty feeling of sending my parents out of their room and exploding our stuff all around it. This time, I feel my heartbreak more fully than I have. This time we plan our meals without him. WIthout him planning them, shopping for them, preparing them and sharing them. Now I put her to bed alone, buckle her in alone, listen to their peels of laughter while I sit on the couch and cry. Now, I feel for the first time the full impact of losing the male members of the family I created, here, at last, amongst the family I was born into. Now, my heart is broken.
I’ve been going for walks to stem the overwhelm. To have some space to give that mind some time to make sense where no sense can be made. As Anne Lamott posted today, to find meaning even in things that don’t make sense. But I don’t find any. I remind myself I am back. I am back to noticing each breath, to putting one foot in front of the other, to just getting through the sadness and brokenness that engulfs me. It is the resurgance of grief with a new one to boot. I desparately text my best friends back in Portland who say the wisest of words, the most supportive sentiments, somehow they always know what to say and what not to say. I text Danny and tell him I loved him being in our family and he tells me he loved it too. He says “best to the family” and “give Vesta my love” and I want to. I want give them his best again. I want them to have the side he showed us. I want to give her his love but I don’t have it, I can’t find it, I’m not sure it even existed in the way that I experienced it. We have now just the worst of each other: my incessant need to push us forward and get things done and his dragging his feet and avoiding. Silence has replaced our love. We say next to nothing to each other. Thirteen years contain a lot of words, true and untrue, and the silence between us in the last two months goes on for millenia.
My family is alive with new babies, babies just turned two and coming up on one. Their lives are full of the milestones and moments we spend with our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren. They all know each other so well, they see each other, they stay together. I fly back and forth and they learn of Vesta in six month increments. And there is no room for Harvey. No stories to be told, no relating to do, no milestones or moments. Just aftermath. We talk one on one about my dead baby and about this man who became a son and grandchild and cousin and who are both gone. I try to make them understand what I cannot. I try to convey these impossible last 3 increments in my life in stolen moments away from others. I am lucky that they ask, that they recognize what might be hard for me. That is much much more than many and even most people have in a family. But I feel that I bring my acheing upon them. That there lives go on as planned with the regular fits and starts, potholes and speed bumps and that mine is this terrible tragedy, unrecognizable, incomprhensible. But it’s not true. We know divorce and we know death, including out of order death. My parents split and two sides mourned the loss of the person they loved and valued and enjoyed being with. My aunt died way too early after a long illness leaving my uncle a widower and my young cousins to try to live without their mom. My grandfather died, leaving my grandmother to live alone for the first time in her life at 82 and now she must negotiate old age alone, leaving her home and coming to terms with her own inevitable passing, all without her partner. We lost a son, a brother, a grandson, a great grandson, a nephew, a cousin, one to death and one to estrangement. Another family member left the fold without dying and so the gaps in our photographs keep growing and keep getting filled. And we are subject to this life, to this cycle. We stumble through. We hold what’s dear closer. We steal conversations, away from little ears, so that our alone time might not feel so alone.
Yes, I am back here. Some conglomorate of my sad self and happy self finding that neither last. That there is no this or that. That there is no there there. There may be something in between and there may be something else. Something else to strive for. Something besides trying to maintain the happy times and trying to get out of the sad as quickly as possible. There is something in the gaps. There is learning to love this life with all of it’s impossibilities and never-able-to-prepare for losses. There is drawing strength from the laughter to carry us through the tears. In these in between places, there is glue and tape and thread to put our hearts back together with. There is a long linaege of resilience, endurance, and finally, hopefully, possibly acceptance. There is a group of people born and wed to each other who love without condition. Each who would give me a roof, a car, a job, some money, if I asked. And I them. Even if none of us had any of that, we’d give it. We are the family who laugh through our tears, who bear the unbearable together. Who stand in shock and grief at funeral homes and cemetaries. Who stand in front of a sea of family and loved ones as we declare our love and commitment to the newest person we will welcome in with open arms, even if we have doubts, even if we fear they may not be as careful with our family as we need them to be. We stand in hospitals welcoming the babies who come to us, who stay and who go. And there will be more of all of this. There will be fewer and fewer of us left as we welcome more and more new people in. We will share with our new loves the legacy of our old. We will share with them acceptance and understanding, of always thinking the best of others, of always trying our best and most importantly, how to be a family who loves with our very breath, the very beating of our broken and always-more-room hearts, to the very last ones.
When my parents split and sold my childhood home, I felt displaced. My dad said, “Home is where your family is.” I didn’t believe him until I saw it, until I felt it myself. I toss around a lot cliches in my head these days that have brand new meaning: love is blind, actions speak louder than words, do as I do not as I say. But the one I get now, in a whole new way, in a more complete and integrated fashion is “home is where the heart is”. The home I live in inside my chest, where my babies live and all of my loves do too. The home I have in Portland with my most treasured friends who I have chosen as my family. The home, here, where I grew up, where my family is. Home is wherever your heart is. And I have the very good fortune of many, many homes.