I stood outside tonight and closed my eyes and called them in again. It was incredibly dark behind my eyelids. I leaned against the house and I called to them: to my guides, my angels, God himself. “You gotta get me through this,” I told no one in my head. “You have to do more. If you want me here, you have to get me through this. Stop piling more shit on and get my head above the water. You HAVE to help me. You aren’t doing enough.”
I opened my eyes and crashed back into my life, realizing that darkness and quiet, that time calling out to whomever in the universe might be listening, was a momentary release from this debilitating anxiety, this constant and renewed existential crisis, these endless fearful stories playing in my head. I’ve started crashing back in again, like in early grief. Upon waking, as soon as my client leaves, after a movie with a friend, it all comes back: the dead baby, the impending surgical sterilization, the cruelly broken marriage. I opened my eyes, crashed back into my life and a future that now seems riddled with tragedy and hardships with moments of joy instead of the other way around.
I went inside, changed the laundry, emptied the litter. Vesta heard me moving around downstairs and brought her chocolate chips, the ones I gave her along with crayons and paper to distract her long enough to go outside and try to gather myself, for the umpteenth time today.
“What are you doing, Mama?”
“Emptying the litter,” I say. Trying to get myself together, I don’t say. Trying to not let the heaviness of my grown-up troubles squelch your little spirit. Trying to make some space so my rage and fear and grief don’t consume you, too.
“Can I help?”, she asks.
“”Of course”, I say and hand her the scoop. She scoops and shakes and dumps and then sits on the ottoman of the rocking chair I nursed and rocked her to sleep in for years. She looks right in my eyes and says, “I appreciate you, Mama. I appreciate that you bought that mat for Ziggy’s litter.” Tears well in my eyes as I look down at this mat with a cartoon cat scuba diving on it that she begged me to buy weeks ago at the pet store.it was $12.99, about $10 more of the money I’m trying to save than I wanted to spend. we didn’t need it and I didn’t want to buy it but I did anyway, knowing it felt important to her in the moment but it would be soon cast aside with the myriad of other toys and nick-knacks she has to have when we are at the store.
But there it was, there it all was: That stupid mat and this gorgeous little girl, sent to me by my guides or my angels or God himself, and my tears of pure joy, of pure gratitude.
“That means so much to me that you said that,” I tell her and she rocks back and forth awkwardly on the ottoman, not sure what to make of the sincerity between us . “Want the last chocolate chip?”, she smiled.
Later, we crawl into bed and she picks the new “Frida” book to read, placing it on the top of the pile. Frida Kahlo, who I’ve been slightly obsessed with since college. An interest and love for her and her work that I never understood because I don’t even really like it but I would study her paintings and I read her biography several times. This girl, stricken with polio, this teenager, nearly killed and severely maimed in a bus accident, who couldn’t keep a baby in her womb no matter how many times she tried and who painted grotesque images of her losses, who’s one true and undying love couldn’t and didn’t love her back in the same way, who unrepentently lied and cheated, including with one of her sisters. It wasn’t until after Harvey died and I saw “Henry Ford Hospital”, her painting of herself lying bleeding in a hospital bed, tethered with ribbons to medical equipment, a snail, her broken pelvis and her most recently lost baby, that I understood. I understood that there was some knowing in me back then and through these years that I might suffer similarly. That I might begin to know chronic and debilitating pain, grief and loss and betrayal and fucked up love. That I too would see the world as both grotesque and beautiful and make some art, mine with a pen and her with a brush, to try t make some sense of it, to try to move the overwhelming sadness out and into the world where I might be able to better bear it. I never understood my draw to her but now I do. I wore my Frida socks just yesterday as a talisman to get through the day. If she could do it, so can I. We have different tragic stories but tragic stories nonetheless and she painted in her bed when she couldn’t walk, and she painted on the cast that engulfed her whole torso, and she painted as she died and she painted on my very soul before I even came to be.
The kid’s book “Frida” by Jonah Winter touches on her illness and her accident, how she drew and painted her way through her pain and her sadness. How she painted like no one else ever had. It’s final sentences are: “She took her pain and made it into something beautiful. It is like a miracle.” I close the book and Vesta asks to see the pictures of Frida spinning on clouds in a blue and white dress. She gazes for a minute after I find the page and says “can I get a dress like that?” And I say “yes. We can try to find you one like that.”
“I’m Frida”, she says as we close the book and she runs her five year old fingers over the embossed letters F-R-I-D-A on the cover. “Look at how she paints that bird, Mama.”
“I see”, I say. “Do you draw and paint when you feel sad?” She does, she says. “Does it make you feel better?” I ask. “It does,” she says. “I write when I feel sad and it makes me feel better, too.” I tell her.
“I’m going to draw her dancing in that dress when I’m at school,” she tells me thoughtfully.
“Okay,” I say. ” I have a book with all of Frida’s paintings in it. Want to look at it in the morning?”
“Yes!”, she exclaims as she grabs “Courdorory” from the top of the pile and stuffs it in my hand, ready for the next. “I’m that little girl, Mom” she says as we read, pointing to the girl in the pink dress and shoes who wants to buy a little teddy with a missing button but her mom won’t let her so she goes home, counts her money from her piggy bank and returns the next day to buy him herself, “and you are Courdorory.” Yes, I think, you are the little girl who loves that bear no matter his imperfection. You are the little girl that saves that bear. And yes, Vesta, I am Courdorory.
And I breathe. For the first time in days, I can breath.