Gram.

Today, one of my best friends on the planet turns 90 years old.

Once, when she was just about my dad’s age now and I was a teenager, she sat on the steps by her front door and told me she was tired and getting old and didn’t feel well. It struck me for the first time in my life that my grandma was also doing this life for the first time, was also trying to figure out how to navigate it, that this life was a new experience for her, too. Up
Until then, I thought she had all the answers, that she understood what was happening. Instead of falling from a pedestal I began to love her wider and deeper in that moment. I wasn’t alone in this confusion even though our struggles were generations apart.

I come from one of the strongest women in the world.

She has taught me how to live. How to laugh about it. How to care about others, to be interested and curious about their stories. She has taught me about connection and how we can always find one, even with strangers.

She has taught me how to work. How to do it anyway. How to be resilient and strong and selfless, sometimes to a fault but so important nonetheless.

She has long beautiful fingernails that she tends to regularly. I always loved that because it never occurs to me to tend to mine. Her short, black hair didn’t start graying until her 80’s and then, only at her temples. She looked amazing in a bikini as a young woman on a boat in the lake.

She buys us too many Christmas presents. She remembers what we love. She sends me clippings from the local paper about a HS friend done good or my favorite hometown restaurant. She checks the Giants standings, even though she could care less about baseball.

She took us back to school clothes shopping every year. Once, I wore perfume in her car and she got pissed. Possibly the same time, she closed my finger in the window and didn’t realize it despite my yelling and then we laughed and laughed. She bought is gigantic sundaes and then sent us home.

She bows her head and puts her hand to her forehead and says “oh, I don’t know, Monica”. She calls me every name from her daughters-in-law to my cousin to her friends until she gets it right or just says “oh whoever you are!” She always has.

I’ve never had a meal that she’s cooked that wasn’t delicious, even food I don’t normally enjoy, like cooked bell peppers. Even cheese sandwiches. My grandpa used to sit at the end of the table relishing his meals, eating his salad right out of the serving bowl when everyone had had theirs. He loved her cooking. He loved her big, beautiful heart, the home and family she created for him. When he rolled his eyes at her, something she said or did, it was the most loving annoyance I’ve ever seen, to this day. Like he loved even the things he didn’t love about her.

She took exquisite care of my Grandpa their whole marriage, even when he didn’t deserve it, even when he turned off his hearing aid, even when he was gruff and dismissive, even when he lay dying and she held his hand and patted it with her other.

She lost her mom, so young, and made an incredible life with her dad. When her husband died just after the war was over, so young, she made an incredible life with my dad. She lost her beloved daughter-in-law, so young, and yet she kept our family afloat when we didn’t know how we’d go on without her.

I can’t imagine how she must have felt when I went into the hospital after trying to kill myself the third time. Or when she heard about Harvey and watched me nearly die from that too. She told me sometimes she wakes up calling for her baby and realizes it’s me. She didn’t lose her son but she’s lost enough to know.

She worries.

She’s got a friend like I have. A life long friend. 8 decades now. They don’t see each other enough anymore but I’ll bet the farm they know each other’s secrets.

I’m sure she has secrets. Truths she’ll never tell, experiences she keeps tucked tightly in her heart. I’d like to know all of them, except the ones that are precious and sacred to her insides. Except the ones she pulls out and basks in when she’s alone because they are just her’s and she’s had so very little that’s just her’s in this life.

I come from a long line of strong women. A long line. She told me the other day how amazing her family is and I said “you started it!” And she did. And she’s kept it going. And she’s taught us everything we know about family and love and work and how to do this life with heart and laughter and courage. She keeps on teaching us and she’ll teach us for the rest of our lives, long long after she’s gone.

My only regret is that we won’t grow to be old ladies together. That when I am her age, I’ll wish I could pat her hand and shake my head and say “oh, I don’t know, Gram.”

I love you Vesta Marie Kilmer Welty Scarano. The eldest and the youngest of my family, you and Harvey, you are my heroes. Thank you for being my Gram and helping me through this treacherous, beautiful, messy, wonderful life.

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Asshole II.

Now is the time of the body

After all of this time tending to the soul.

Now is the time of scars, tightening around themselves, calling in reinforcements, over doing it along a weak edge.

Pulling myself into myself.

Now is the time of bone and muscle and fat. Of fluids and elasticity and spaces between.

Now is the time of reentry. Back into this body that betrayed me and saved me.

She is not the only one.

Forgiveness is a deep gulf. It must be invited in.

Like a virus. It is a bitter medicine, a sour pill once swallowed that comes in to destroy past and start from where we are now. It is chemotherapy.

The depths with which I hate my body, with which I cannot stand to be in it, continue to reveal themselves. How I feel like I am in it until I see how I stay just outside of it.

The health guru full of toxicity and adding more. To stay away.

I understand addiction. The covering up so as to move away.

But it is false. There is no escaping this flesh. Torn and repaired. Life and death and life again.

There is a part of me that has given up.

And it’s with my body.

So the work now is to reclaim that space. To find a way to live inside this failure, this empty womb, these absent tubes. These many deep abdominal wounds, torn and sliced, healed and stitched and stapled.

And so the experts change my constitution, work on the scars, find that he is still in there, taking up the space that is mine.

Taking up the space that is mine. I was afraid of that. I regretted the space he would take up when he was in there, readying to come out.

I never knew what real regret was. Nor forgiveness.

We can expunge the assholes from our lives but not the ones inside us. We must search for their kindness, their humility, their sincerest of apologies should we be able to hear them. Should they become a mantra, screaming out from the scarring. For our forgiveness, our mercy, our love and care and presence.

The final frontier of the deep work.

Now is the time for she and I to learn to live with each other again.

To learn to live again.

Happy.

Dear Harvey,

I never thought that would be a title of something I wrote on here but there it is. Here I am. Happy.

There’s been this living in duality since you died that has been a terrible struggle for me. Nothing felt pure anymore. My joyful, at ease moments always with an underbelly of sorrow and loss and despair, all too often. The pride of watching your sister hit milestones and aquire new abilities always with the sting of what we are missing in you. Even the growing sense of safety I have in the world, how I worry so much less every time I leave Vesta that she might die or I might die or some other tragedy befall us but yet it’s never far from my next thought. The tragedy just around the corner, looming.

But yesterday. Yesterday, I had good day. And not in the way I’ve come to define it. People ask how I am and if I’m able to say it’s a good day, that’s a low bar. It’s a good day in that I’m not overwhelmed, have had anxiety, am not overcome by my worries and my loss. It hasn’t been a good day in the sense that I am feel good and things are going well and I feel like I can manage this life. But yesterday. Yesterday was a good day. Like an old me good day, except better, because it’s the new me.

I have the good fortune to be friends with one of the people in my life who had a huge influence on me, my teacher James, who taught me cranial sacral massage. He brought me one of my life’s passions and the most profound healing I am able to both give and receive. He came to visit for work on the mainland from Hawaii. We took Vesta on a beautiful hike up to waterfalls. She climbed over rocks and up the side of cliff face in the gorge. She scaled across a rock wall to get to the water. She bounded from river stone to river stone and collected rocks for your altar: rocks shaped like hearts. She and James raced all the way down the steep and winding trail on our way back with such joy and ease. Later, I came to work and had an inceredibly fun party where we did our nails and I connected with some wonderful women who support me in so many ways, including just coming to an evening at spa and laughing and talking and sharing in beauty and play together. James and I had a delicious dinner and headed to my favorite dance club and we danced non stop and we danced deep into the layered beauty of the funk/soul music, among other happy souls, dancing and feeling good, feeling alive, enjoying an evening in June. This morning I drove him to the train under blue skies and summer weather. Driving to work with the windows rolled down and music playing, I marveled. I absolutely marveled.

Humans are amazing creatures. What we can adapt to, adjust to, heal from. I don’t see a day in my life where there is not a Harvey shaped hole in it. I don’t see a day when I will ever stop missing you. But yesterday, I had a day that shown so brightly through my dark cloud that I saw a day or days in the future, the not so distant future, when I would feel at home in myself again, at home in the this world, at home in this human condition.

My thoughts about you these days lean more and more to gratitude. I have these qualities now that I find such value and solace in. My heart has expanded far beyond its borders because you were here and because you are gone. I can live into moments like yesterday and feel some purity, feel some ease, even forget for a little while how everything has fallen apart. I am courageous and unashamed. I have left behind so many relationships and situations that were inauthentic, drama-laden or just plain burdensome. Since you left, I have been led down this path of incredible self discovery and healing. I am sitting more surely in myself. I am stronger than I could ever have imagined. In comparison to your loss, all save but one event in this life, I am unafraid of or, at least, I know I can survive nearly anything.

What I wouldn’t give to have you here with me to share this joy. To see you smile, hear you laugh, know the color of your beautiful eyes. But it can’t be. So instead I feel you all around me, I look for your signs and the magic and miracles you have created for me. Instead, I let you be my guide, I let you show me the way of the world as I would have done for you. I think you are doing a better job of it, son! My heart aches as it will throughout the ages. The primal scream of my grief is never far, always accessible, and still sometimes surprising when it rears up with it’s depth and intensity that brings me to the floor. But it eases if we let it open us, if we let it nearly destroy us. I would do it all again, my boy. Just to hold you once more and kiss that soft, pink nose.

Here I am, now, Harvey. Happy. Thanks to you.

Always and forever times infinity,

Mom

th

Yoga.

Dear Harvey,

I found a second full term pregnancy to be so much different than the first. I spent a lot of time with your sister when she was in my belly. I thought about her all the time, I would rock back and forth and sing to her in there. I made a playlist of music of songs that made me think of my daughter who would be out in the world In a few short months. I went to yoga religiously, are well, taught my Nia classes, asked questions, did research. I laid in my bed most days for forty-five minutes or so practicing my hypnoborthing, relaxing deeply and sensing into my little baby.

But during your pregnancy, I would often forget I was pregnant. Days would go by, filled with taking care of little Vesta, parading around the city with J and M, getting my business going, taking care of our home and eking out alone time with your dad. I didn’t sing to you or rock you or connect to you by any comparison when Vesta was taking up the space you now were.

But eventually I found prenatal classes and I started going once or twice a week and these were our times together. I would move my body gently, surrounded by other mothers doing the same, to bring some relief to aches and pains but mostly to have some time with you. To connect with you and think about you and just be together.

I met other moms there that had kids Vesta’s age and expecting their second. We confided in each other our fears of managing a second child with our toddlers. How different this pregnancy was, how unknown the reality of a newborn and an older sibling would be. I express these concerns to your midwife and she offered to host a second time mom group for us. I invited these women who quickly agreed. We exchanged contact information, we got rounder and fuller and closer to delivery. The teacher would announce the arrivals of babies whose mom’s had been in our classes and we would smile and feel happy for them and our anticipation for our own babies would increase.

I was gave birth first out of the women who would join the group with your midwife. And, of course, you died instead of staying here to reveal the challenges and joys of parenting two living children. I forgot all about those women and thy potential group in my grief, in those early days when everything was so excruciatingly painful. Until I got an email from one of them: asking about you, telling me about her baby and her new parenthood and asking if we could get the group started. I wrote her back with the news, she wrote me back with kind, stunned words and I never heard from any of them again.

The yoga studios I went to were such painful reminders, I wouldn’t even drive by them for a long time. I wouldn’t go to Williams street with its wonderful restaurants and shops, nor use it as the thoroughfare it had become. The hospital you died in was just blocks away so the whole area became painfully off limits. That eventually eased and I began to drive past but never stop, never park, never walk the street. Eventually, I would drive by and smile some, knowing that it was one of the few places you were, one of the only places you and I had our quality time together. But I would never enter. Yoga classes were recommended to me at the studio, there were special events and workshops I wanted to attend there but I never went again. I could never bring myself to enter that space again for fear that I might die from the weight of it, from the loss of you, from what was now a sacred, unbareable space.

In May, I attended a massage training. Eight students, thousands of massage therapists in this town and coming in late, a woman I recognize. I cannot place her. I know her but from where? And why do I have a sense that I don’t like her? The teacher begins the first day introduction as we sit in a circle on the hardwood floor. I am almost completely distracted by her. She has something to do with babies. Is she the doula I met when I first moved here? No. Was she in our childbirth refresher class when I was pregnant with you? No. It takes almost an hour before I remember and my stomach clenches and my heart skips and I stop breathing. She’s my prenatal yoga teacher.

She was there. She was there with us. She led us through the poses. She talked about using yoga principles during childbirth. She read poetry and yogic scripture. She created the space for you and I to have our precious, York time together. She knew you in this removed, but since you died, profound and sacred space. Perhaps if you were here I would be excited. Perhaps I would hardly be able to contain myself as I waited for the opportunity to show her your picture. Here he is. Here is the baby I carried in your class. Perhaps I would thank her for that time with you. Perhaps it wouldn’t even occur to me to do so, had you lived.

I want to run screaming from the room. How could it be? So few students in one workshop among thousands offered every year to meet our massage licensing requirements for continuing education. Thousands of massage therapists in this city and here she is. In my class of eight. In the class it took all my gumption to attend, not feeling ready to advance myself, not feeling ready yet to learn anything new. This workshop I chose because I imagined it was close to what I was already doing. It was a vestage of my leftover anxiety and fear, of my lack of hope and vision for the future. But it had to be done. So I did it. I signed up, I paid, I figured out childcare for Vesta, I got myself her. And now I can’t do it. I can’t spend for long days with her. I can’t touch her and have her touch me. I can’t listen to her questions and hear waht she shares. She was there with us. And now you are gone. And yoga is the final frontier of brick and mortar, of avoidance and fear, of sacred, unattainable, unallowed access. Not this. I want to throw up.

But as usual I sit there. I don’t run screaming, I don’t throw up, I don’t even start crying. I begin to manage. Again. Always. Always with the managing of myself. Always with the impossible, uncomfortable, unnavigable terrain of my inner life, of the real me overtaken by grief.

I avoid her all morning and my skin crawls and I pretend. I smile and chat and try to avoid anymore interaction than necessary in a massage class. Cards are drawn to choose partners and by some mercy, some miracle, I don’t get matched with her, though I am sure that I will. We learn, we practice, we break for lunch. I go to Starbucks and get a giant mocha with whipped cream and I smoke cigarettes. I forget to eat. I take a walk. I start to breathe again.

We come back together for the afternoon session. And here it comes again. The wave of ease and peace that now follows my crazy episodes. They are miraculous and though it always astounds me, they seem to come with the same unpredictably and merciful randomness that I mirror the episodes of grief and terror and anxiety that proceed them. I do the work. She was there. She was there with us, with you. So few people shared space with you on purpose. I have to eek them out. I can count them on my fingers. She was there. She knew you as well as anyone ever would, really. I listen, I learn I practice but I continue to avoid.

At the end of the day, I leave quickly. She is right behind me as it turns out and parked right next to me. I walk over to her.

“You teach prenatal yoga, right?” I say and begin to cry.

“Yes, I do”, she says smiling through concerned eyes.

“I just have to tell you something.”, I say, breathing heavily and trying to speak through my tears. “I was in your classes. And. And. My baby died. My son died. Right after he was born. But you gave me time with him.” I pause and ask her if she has two children, which I know she does form her stories in class, but I need a break. I tell her she knows how it is then, the second pregnancy. How fast the time goes, how much less time we have to connect with our babies. She nods. Yes, she knows. “Well, you gave me that time. That time with him, just he and I. It’s all the time I had.” I bumble out.

She is stiff but she touches my shoulder. Says she is sorry. Asks if I know this other mom who lost a child and went on to have two more kids. I ignore this.

“We don’t know what we do for each other,” I say and she starts to say something that is not what I meant. “No.” I say, “You don’t know what you did for me. You just taught your yoga classes. You studied and practiced and dedicated your career to helping new mothers. And you gave me one of the biggest gifts of my life. The only time I had alone with my son.”

She softened: her face, her body, her eyes. She hugged me. “I’m so sorry” she said quietly.

“Thank you.” I said. And we parted.

We ended up working with each other and she kept that softness around me. She laughed with me and we compared notes in class and practiced on each other and worked together practicing on others. You know, of course, that she turned out to be the person I most conencted with in the course. The person who helped me learn, who asked questions I didn’t know I need answers to, who brought insights to the class that I never would have gained without her there. We did one exchange of neck work, during which we both had very profound experiences. The last day of class, I stood next to her, as a professional, in my body and unfraid, and said “We should work together. I think we are a good match.”

“I think so, too.”, she said.

And even the thin sheeth of skin between the onion layers of this grief, of this insurmountbale, impossible expereince, even those begin to heal. Even those soften and ease and repair themselves. It’s not just the big stuff. It’s these little things. These little leftovers of painful pockets that you send me people to release me from them. Like your saying, “It’s okay, mama. In fact it’s good.” Like you brought me all of these people throughout your time here on Earth on exact purpose, to bring them back to me, to let me thank them. The only one left now, that I can think of, is your nurse, Carrie. Send her to me. How I would love to see her again.

I love you, Harv. Thanks for making me into one brave, vulnerable, superhero mama. I am who I am now because of you and I love who I am becoming.

To the moon and back,

Mom

Monk.

So she lifts her chin and squints at me To assess what I think I know She says, my heart has some dangerous neighborhoods So beware where you try to go

They say that the truth will set you free But then so will a lie It depends if you’re trying to get to the promised land Or you’re just trying to get by

– Ani Difranco, Promised Land

When I was in college, my girlfriend and I drove forty five minutes into Rochester, NY, the closest city to our tiny college town to see a Tibetan monk speak about his time as a prisoner to the Chinese. He was a small man, though we were at a distance. The classic bald head and the red and orange robes draped ceremonioulsy around his body. He was an elder. He walked and spoke slowly. He sat the whole time and there was a penetrating silence between his words. He chose his words carefully and spoke in his beautiful, soft, native tongue. An interpreter relayed his story of truly unimaginable torture. I remember few details except for the instruments.

There was a table set up next to his chair and microphone with rolls of fabric sitting atop it. As he described in detail the particulars of his torture, he delicately and lovingly unwrapped each instrument: wands with electric ends, whips with burred ends, stone balls at the end of chains. He held each up for us, the audience, to see as he described in detail how each was used on his body, on the very body that sat before us. With the same delicacy and care, he would wrap each one back up in the fabric and return it to its place on the table. I have never forgotten the care with which he held these tools that had brought him the most repeated and excruciating physical pain a human can experience. How could he love them like that? How could he hold them and wrap them and describe their purpose with such care and presence? His way with those instruments left an indelible mark on my consciousness. I think about it, I see him in mind’s eye, more often than I would have ever imagined I would on that night of my junior year of college, over 15 years ago. I will carry it with me for the rest of my days, I am sure of it.

I met your dad’s girlfriend the other night. They have been together for a year and half, a significant portion of which overlapped with our marriage and not quite three quarters of a year after you died.  She wasn’t the first, I now know too well, but she was the last. I found out, for certain this time, that he was sleeping with other women when I was in the hospital after my uteran repair. We went to therapy and agreed to be monogamous as we navigated your loss and rebuilt trust in our relationship. We spent six months in therapy working on it, or seeming to, and five of those months he was sneaking off with this woman from his work. He lied about it until the bitter end, even after I told him I knew about her. Even after he essentially led me to finding out.

They are moving in together soon. She has met your sister and sees her occasionally on the weekends when she is with your dad. Vesta seems to enjoy her. I assumed the relationship wouldn’t last long considering its origins, the timing so close on the heels of our life without you and how she seemed to be the key out of a marriage he apparently didn’t want to be in. The key I handed him, saying it was over if he cheated again during that time. But she has stuck around and I know why, because so did I. That woman who I was, only a year in the past, who would tolerate a “good enough” relationship, who would excuse his excuses because he seemed so dedicated to and in love with us, that woman I was who I don’t even recognize anymore. Who, now, on this day and all the lessons I’m learning in light of it, would stand for none of it, knowing now what a nearly lethal weapon it could become.

I wouldn’t send my kid to childcare without meeting the caretakers first, so I certainly wanted to meet this woman who will be living with my child on the weekends, becoming part of her family, doing things people do with kids on days off, together as a family, being in the bed she crawls into at night when she wakes and doesn’t want to be alone. I had to meet her. I had to get a sense of her. For myself, I couldn’t allow the space between Vesta’s life at our house and her life at her dad’s to grow so cavernous. So, I arranged it through email. She agreed in her reply. I tore apart nearly every word she wrote, finding self-righteousness and defensive sewn throughout. And then I balked. I spent the day after getting her reply angry, sad, mournful and anxious. Wanting things to be different. Wanting him to be who he said he was. Wanting to go back to good enough. Wanting to not have to welcome this particular woman in to my daughter’s life, into my family’s life, by so concretely acknowledging her existence and legitimacy through meeting her.

But I’m a mom. There are too many broken homes in which the child gets caught in the middle, creating strategies in their little minds and hearts to make everything okay, to smooth out the tension and awkwardness between their parents and their parents’ significant others. My living child has been through enough. Losing her brother and navigating a house and family weighed down by grief, then the tension that was palpable in our home before we broke up, then the negotiating two homes and not being able to see her dad as much as she needs and wants. All before the age of six. All between the ages of three and a half and five. She doesn’t need my bitterness and hurt and their awkwardness and tension around me upon our eventual meeting. These grudges are harbored for lifetimes for some and, despite my strong desire to be rid of the whole situation, I don’t want her to have anything like that. I want her to see grown ups being grown ups and dealing with the hands they are dealt with maturity and if I can muster it, even a little grace.

But I balked and had all these strong emotions and didn’t think I could sit across the table with this woman without revealing my hurt and anger and vulnerability to her. I didn’t want her to see it, to see me.  I asked if we could talk on the phone instead and she also agreed, saying she preferred in person but understood.

I talked to your Papa that day of sadness and longing and he got me turned back right. He spoke to me with his own anger and hurt but also his deep, true and fierce love of your sister and me. He reminded me of who I am, of my values, of my priorities. He plucked me out of the loop of that sick dynamic that I ever so often still fall into. It’s not me anymore. I’m not her anymore. I’m a new version. I’m angry and sad and have my longings but these will not prevail. My devotion to raising a resilient child who learns healthy relationship skills, who is empathetic and forgiving, courageous and with strong boundaries around how she will be treated will endure. I’m raising a child who is watching her mother continually ascend and break through barriers she never imagined she would have to, let alone be able to. And I’m trying to do so with love and grace. I’m trying.

That day, after taking to Papa, I had an amazing massage with my beloved massage therapist. She did amazing work on my neck which is so tight and knotted and locked down. I left there feeling like a giraffe, a long, strong neck floating up to the heavens. I left there feeling on top of the world, my spirits inexplicable lifted so much so that L thought I was drunk upon my return home! I checked my email and saw that your dad’s girlfriend, S, had written me back suggesting we could talk that evening. I replied and said that actually, I would rather meet in person. She agreed and told me what she was wearing so I would recognize her. It took me a back that I wouldn’t recognize her, that I have never seen this woman who has taken up so much space in my mind for over a year.

I drove to the restaurant and called you in and called in all of my angels. I asked for guidance to keep with my intention during our talk, to stay true to the reason for this meeting: Vesta and the highest good for our family. And you came, of course, in an instant and you stayed, of course, through the whole evening.

She was there when I arrived. I walked in and sat down as my best self. I was relaxed and at ease and completely untriggered. She told me she was nervous and I became the one putting her at ease. I asked her to tell me about herself and she did: her education, her travels, her family, her job. My imaginings about this meeting all had me being on the defense, not saying much and letting her talk, staying stoic and guarded, perhaps even intimidating (though I doubt I  much of an intimidating presence!). But in real life, I found myself sharing about me, too. We talked about my career and nutrition, about growing up in small towns and dealing with crazy weather, about school choices for Vesta. To my astonishment, I found that I liked her. I found that I liked her a lot. I found that she seemed like she could be a wonderful addition to Vesta’s life. As we talked, I began to identify with her. I think we look alike: brown hair, prominent eyebrows, my pre-babies figure, except of course she has many inches on me (who doesn’t?). I found her to be intelligent, well traveled, thoughtful, present, ambitious and passionate, a type-A, she said and I identified with all of that, as well.

Perhaps because of that indentification or how much I was truly enjoying her company, I began to worry for her. I began to feel protective of her. I began to project. After an hour or more, we started talking about the hard stuff. I said too much about my relationship with Danny, about how he treated me, about his relationship length lies and cheating. She took it in and asked me questions and rebuffed at my continual apologizing. I hadn’t planned on saying any of this. My concern was Vesta and doing what I could to drive home the point that this is a traumatized child, who at year two of incredible tumult in her family, will have yet another transition to a new home with a new woman living with her on the weekends, who will not need nor deserve another transition and loss should they break up, the two of them entering into a relationship that began in secrecy and infidelity, that I was telling her was nothing new. But it morphed. I held that intention but it also grew to encompass S. That she is all of those things I describe above but also naive and vulnerable walking into this relationship, as I was all of those things not that very long ago.

I recognize within myself that I know nothing of their relationship, that there is the possibility that it will be different for them. I find that that is my hope. I find that I hope that he has found he love of his life in this woman and that he will step up to that and be the man I always hoped he could be. I also recognize that there could be some sabotaging on my part. That it makes sense that I would be vengeful and meddling under the guise of trying to protect my child from another upset in her life. Perhaps there is truth in that but if so, it is not a truth I am aware of. I have not been vengeful. I have not acted on my baser impulses but let them burn up inside of me. And truthfully, sitting across from her, enjoying and connecting with her, I felt relief. I felt relief to not be a part of that dynamic anymore. To not be in the crazy-making confines of a relationship with fog for a foundation. The freedom I have now in my life to live in trust and honesty in my relationships. To have found a place in this mess of a life I never would have found had I stayed in that marriage. 20/20, as the say.

I also felt relief around Vesta. He’s a lot of things but dumb is not one of them. This is an awesome woman. She already has concern and love for Vesta. She is choosing a relationship with a man who already has a child. It seems to me that she embraces his child, too. Having met her and learning a little about her, I had 100% relief about her being in Vesta’s home with her dad and being in Vesta’s life. I can imagine her presence being an enhancement for Vesta. That is a relief. That is a burden lifted.

Our meeting also put me solidly in my role as a parent. I have spent all of Vesta’s life trying to shelter her from hardship and trauma. Even this meeting, with my grasping for some control over Vesta’s fate in her life with her dad, was the pointless exercise of trying to protect her. If anyone knows that life throws you devastating and impossible curve balls, it’s me. If I have learned anything in this 26 month journey it’s that resilience is the most important skill that we can hand to our children. It’s not the avoidance of pain and suffering and uncomfortableness: it’s the ability to weather it, to get ourselves through one step at a time, and often, one breath at a time. The actions of those we love have consequences on us that ripple out beyond us to our family and friends and communities, whether joyous and loving or hurtful and tragic.  My job as Vesta’s parent is to help her identify her emotions, to feel them and notice them and navigate them. To plunge into them to find out what they are telling her about the situation, about another person and most importantly, about herself. My job is to help her find her voice and to encourage her to use it. My job is to show her that, actually, everything is not going to be okay, but eventually, with tears and talking and going inward, we make everything be okay. We find ways to not be beaten down by life despite its pummeling. We find hope and love where there is none and then we make more of it and let that ripple out from us. I know all too well, I know it viscerally and undoubtably, that despite our best intentions and efforts, we cannot protect them for hurt, disappointment, trauma, not even death. But we can give them tools. I want to teach Vesta that being true to herself is what matters. That building a community of family and friends who love and support her to the end of the Earth, like the one I have, is the best defense against this often brutal world. I want to build in her the reserves she needs to be authentic, honest, vulnerable, strong and brave. I will fuck her up, I already have. I’ll do it wrong and miss the mark and cause her the very hurt, disappointment and trauma I have so wanted her to avoid. But I will also do my best to prepare her for that. I will do my best to teach her to protect and care for herself and those she loves and those who hurt her and those she hasn’t ever met. I will do my best to heal my own wounds, my own disfunction to be able to provide her with all of this.

I told S that night that she is a gift to me and I meant it. I have felt that way all along really, even in my worst moments. But before it was shrouded in hurt and anger and hatefulness. No longer. After meeting her, I see that she was also my key. That I wouldn’t be the woman I am becoming now, I am now, without her. I would still be okay with “good enough”. I would still be in the dynamic of mistrust and suspiscion with the person I should have none of that for. I have been freed, in a way. I thought for a long time that she just walked in a replaced me, took over my life, stepped onto my path with her child free life, healthy uterus, youth and beauty. Unmarred, unburdened like the mess he left behind. But sitting across from her, I realized on a deeper level than I have so far that I don’t want any of that anymore. I want this new life that I have. I want more from myself and more from my relationships. I want to be well and staying in a sick relationship would only hinder or even make that impossible. I love him still and probably always will. I loved him deeply, profoundly and whole-heartedly and I don’t have any regrets about that. He was my person for a long time and I accepted and ignored his shortcomings to stay together because I wanted him in my life more than I wanted to see the trouble underneath. That’s what we do in relationships, or so I thought, I don’t know anymore. I acknowledge and own that I had my part in our dynamic. That I have my own shortcomings, blind spots and unhealthy ways of relating. I did my best, especially under the circumstances, and what else can we do but our best in each moment? And now I am free to build my own life based on this stronger, more secure, braver and bolder person I am becoming. Sometimes the gifts we need in our lives come in the ugliest packaging. It’s hard to know at the outset what is a blessing and what is a curse and it’s rarely as black and white as that as time unfolds, anyway. It’s a mystery how it all happens.

I have the best step-mother on the planet. I have been saying that maybe we will get a Kathy out of this deal and Vesta will have another mother who loves her to no end, who loves her like her own, like I have, like we have in my step-mom and Vesta’s Nona. I want Danny to be happy and whole and fulfilled. I want him to be able to be his best self for his daughter and all the women who love him. I want Vesta to be surrounded by grown ups who love her and teach her well and support her. That is the vision I am holding for our family, whomever we welcome into it.

I don’t include the story of the monk to make comparison to pain or saintliness. I certainly wouldn’t change places with him and I don’t believe I have any where near the enlightenment he has come to. I include that story because it speaks to me of possibility. It speaks to me about tenderness. How we can hold gently and with love that which has hurt us, damaged us, even nearly destroyed us. I, too, can unwrap my instruments of pain and share them gently with others in the hope of making connection and deepening empathy in this world, of creating some change, some deeper peace in the people who I come in contact with. I, too, can wrap them back up with care and presence and put them aside and leave them there until it’s time to pick them back up again. To find what new lessons for me time has brought them. Ani Difranco also wrote “Any tool is a weapon if you hold it right” and I think the reverse is also true: every weapon is a tool if you hold it right. If we hold it with tenderness, if we hold it with love, if we hold it with forgiveness. If we transform our defensiveness into lessons and growth. If we lay down are armaments and open our hearts, especially when it feels like the last thing we should do. Every weapon is a tool if you hold it right.

Swift.

It has to be swift, say the Fates.

One after the other

So that she just gasps for air in between

And feels as if she is drowning.

She must be certain.

It has to be swift, say the Fates.

Though it will feel like forever.

She must live a whole lifetime within a lifetime

She must learn the sensation of time travel.

It must be swift, say the Fates.

The way we lift her up

And reveal to her

The true opening of her being.

She must feels as the lotus flower does.

Floating and infinitely unfolding.

Brave.

Dear Harvey,

Your birthday is a new year of sorts for me. I notice that I’ve made it through another year, the last two being particularly traumatic and challenging. But here I am.

Something happened to me two Sundays ago that I can’t shake. I have been moving through my life suddenly and inexplicably feeling human again. Like an actual, real live human. I’m sure it’s been gradual, all the work I have been doing, these steep lessons I have been learning, my life continually demanding I go deeper and deeper into myself, but it seems sudden. I went to therapy that Monday and cried and cried because it was if I had left the forest, as if I could look back at the treachery I had emerged from and I my tears were a marveling. I cried purely for myself, which felt new. It wasn’t my circumstances or your absence or my heartbreak. I felt so much empathy for that woman who navigated that nightmare, those nightmares. I’ve made it to a point where I was able to stop for a minute and see from a short distance how excruciating and horrible it’s all been. How I became a shell and slowly but surely refilled that shell with an even better version of myself. I feel now, with tentativeness and mistrust, that I have made it through the worst. And I have done so with grace and presence and vulnerability and truth. I thought I was living with an open heart before. I thought I was compassionate and empathetic and loving and accepting but I had no idea how much deeper all of those rivers were flowing. I have access to them now in ways I never could have imagined. I am living into my truth, into my humanness in impossible ways, having endured the impossible, again and again and again and in short order. And I venture to say that it’s all because of you. You didn’t cause the infertility or the surgeries or the break up and yet your life and death seems to have been a catalyst for changes I never wanted, never would have chosen in a million years, but that, it turns out, I needed more than anything. 

Can you see what’s coming next? It’s gratitude. For you. For the life I have been given to live now. And for the first time in two years, I can actually feel it. It’s not all convoluted with wishing it different, with willing you back, it is not twinged with grief and horror and disbelief. It’s pure, unadulterated gratitude for you, that came here, that you moved into the world from my body and that you died in these very arms. I want you back. I have regrets and deep yearning but they seem to have separated themselves, untangled themselves from each other, become both recognizable and manageable. I guess it’s a new level of acceptance. A new level of understanding that you are gone and your dad is gone and any future children that would have come from my body are gone. I see that now, in moments, just as it is and by some miracle, it is okay. It is divined and destined and I will live into those realities, too. I will integrate them into this new version of myself. This woman I like and love a whole lot better than the one who was not yet Harvey’s mom.

So let me tell you about it. Let me say to you what I know from this moment, from the end of two weeks, which included your birthday and anniversary, that I have returned to being human again. Here is what you have brought me so far. And so much more.

I am courageous. I am unashamed. I have cried in the grocery store and the children’s indoor play area and at drop-off at Vesta’s school, with every parent, teacher and child in 8 grade levels there to witness. I have refrained from acting towards your dad and his girlfriend in the angry, spiteful and vengeful ways I have imagined I would like to. I have kept hateful words to myself. I have told anyone with access to a computer honestly and uncensored what my experience has been. I have written and spoken my inhumanness. The thoughts and feelings and beliefs that are hateful and angry. I have exposed myself as vulnerable and raw and broken. I have done these things despite nearly all of being telling me to do the opposite. Don’t cry in front of those people, lash out at those who have hurt you, hide yourself because your pain is too much for anyone to bear, just give up, it’s not worth it anymore, what’s the point? 

Out of utter and complete heartbreak, I went to your dad’s several weeks ago. I just needed a break. I just wanted to feel normal again for a minute. I just wanted to sit next to him, the person I was with nearly every day for 13 years. To talk to him and listen to him and laugh together again. I just wanted to pretend for awhile that everything is as it was and take an evening long hiatus from my longing and sorrow. I didn’t want to talk about anything hard or process anything or even acknowledge the chasm that is between us. So I asked if I could come, after several false starts and he agreed and I didn’t back out this time. We sat together for hours and talked and drank. And we did talk about the hard stuff. And he brought it up. We talked about you and how we are grieving now, how we are getting along without you and with the aftermath of navigating a life with a dead child. We talked about our relationship and what happened and he acknowledged and apologized in ways I didn’t think he ever would. But the point of this story is that he told me several times how courageous I was for coming there and each time I thought, and probably said, “this isn’t courage. This is desperation.” I’ve thought a lot about him telling me that in the weeks that have followed. I’ve thought a lot about the million times I’ve heard from loved ones about how strong and brave I am and I have scoffed every time. What I’ve realized is that courage doesn’t feel like courage. Bravery doesn’t feel like bravery. Strength feels like absolute weakness and on the brink of giving up. Courage, bravery and strength are external, they are what other people can see that the person exhibiting them do not feel. Courage feels like desperation. Bravery feels like terror. Strength, in the moment, feels like surrender. When I stood in the shower begging God to give you back to me, negotiating and promising Him that I would be and do things in exchange, offering my own life in exchange for yours, the very last thing I felt was strong and courageous. But from my new vantage point, just outside that nightmare forest, I see myself as those things. I see that I was strong and brave enough to stand naked before God and pour my heart out to Him. That that was all I had in me. That that was how I got through those first days and weeks and months without you. I was pushed into a corner, I was broken into a million pieces on the ground and I kept going anyway. I did it anyway. I didn’t stop myself from believing in their moments that He might change his mind, that I might be able to do or say something that would land you alive and well in my arms at any moment. I let the crazy making of grief engulf me and I kept going.

I am not fearless now, but I am invincible. My spirit, my will to survive, my very being, are invincible. I am brave and strong and courageous and I know now that in the moment, when I am being those things, I will feel nothing of them but I’ll just keep on going. I am resilient beyond all measure. The tragedies of this life, the ones that plague each and every one of us are about endurance. And if we can dive deep down into them, the tragedies, the terror we feel facing ourselves, the moments when we are sure we will die from the intensity of our experience, we learn that deep down there or at least when we get our heads above water for an instant or more, there is also grace, there is also forgiveness, there is also and always love. The trick is not to collapse. The trick is to keep going. To invite it all in with incredible levels of resistance even and find something else, and make something else out of it. The trick is to let it burn you into ash until you stand over your remains and find that the important stuff stays. 

You catalysed a series of events that have irrevocably blown my heart open.  And you continue to. I asked you one day “what do I about your dad?” And you told me to open my heart and I thought that was insanity but I did it anyway. I opened it further and I let him back in and do you know what I found there? Forgiveness. In the newly opened spaces I created for him, I found forgiveness. I didn’t need his acknowledgement that my lot has been so much worse than his. I didn’t need his apologies for things he should have been brave and strong enough to not do. He has looked at me with such sincerity and lied through his teeth with beautiful words and promises and solutions, so much so that I believe almost nothing that he tells me, including what he said that night. But even that doesn’t matter. Even that is unimportant on this journey, on this reshaping. What I learned that night is that forgiveness is not for the other person. Forgiveness is for the self. Is so the fire goes out and the important stuff doesn’t get burned up, too. Forgiveness has put an end to my anxiety and my anger. Forgiveness has given me hope, it’s given me back my future. Forgiveness has given me freedom. I don’t condone or accept how he behaved but I have been able to step away from it. To see more of him, the whole of him, his depths and his peaks. Forgiveness has allowed me to create boundaries around him. To have the good of him and not the worst. To remove his power over me, to remove my fear of him. Forgiveness will allow Vesta to have both of her parents, in the same room, without her having to manage our awkwardness or our anger. Forgiveness will show Vesta how to open her heart in such a way that every hurt she endures will dissolve into that vast space or will be incorporated into her being or, in the best cases, will roll off her back like so much water.

I have so much more to forgive. Which brings me to my new year. To the entering into my third year without you. The forgiveness I have begun to feel around your dad will deepen and smooth, possibly over my entire lifetime but hopefully less. In this new year, I go about the business of forgiving myself. This year I will forgive myself for not being able to save you. For doing my best for my child not being enough. For disappearing into my grief. For allowing myself to remain in a relationship full of secrets and lies. For settling for “good enough”. For the malfunctions of my body. For the tearing open of my womb with no warning signs. For the shame and loss I feel of being infertile at 35. For letting the life I planned be utterly devastated and transformed. For not being the mother I planned to be. For all of the events and experiences I can no longer give Vesta because her family is split. 

I am not ashamed, Harvey. I stop before I say or do or write something because shame tells me that I will be judged or hurt or blamed or dismissed if I do. I stop now in the face of shame and I listen to my heart. I ask myself, “will I regret this? Can I endure the consequences of this?” And that is how I known if I am being true to myself, if I am going deeper or just swimming in shallow waters. I do and say and write things that feel shameful but are not because they are true to me. They are often, perhaps always, flawed and imperfect and messy but I do it anyway, if and only if the answers to those two question are “no” and “yes” respectively. I can endure a lot now. Nothing will be worse than losing you. No shame or judgement or blame. But being real and true and vulnerable? Because of you, I can no longer stop myself.  

  

Pills.

It’s not a bitter pill. It’s tiny. A salmon pink color, dull. In a huge bottle for such a small gathering of powerful, receptor opening chemicals. One little thing to create big changes. To help my brain work again. Or to give me some false sense of hope or balance. The ability to return to the illusion that everything’s going to be okay. On a physiological level. We are part animal and we are part angel and we must attend to both. To both biology and belief. To both instinct and intuition. This little pill should help me stay alive, help me get to the grocery store, help me to accept that life just keeps going on.

I have never been on anti-depressants. This kind that allow the seratonin to hang out a little longer between synapsis. Beyond microscopic chemicals in spaces in the brain that just a touch larger. Mine aren’t functioning like they should anymore. There is a depletion. There has been a rewiring. The brain has adapted to accept the circumstances, believe the thoughts, allow the flood of chemicals that make up my emotions to do their dysfunctional dance. Somehow, through out a young life plagued with clinical depression and suicidal attempts and thoughts, a hospitalization and years of therapy, I escaped medication. Until now, I have escaped them for the last 22 months. The doctor seemed astonished that I was just now showing up for this help. She told me I was brave to have gone this long using holistic and alternative approaches to deal with all that has befallen me. She told me my brain is not working as it should. It has been physiologically altered by floods of cortisol and adrenaline and hormones. It has been structurally altered by shock and traumatic experiences so that, while a normal response to my circumstances, it is functioning abnormally. Through this drug which will, or a least should, support me through managing my now diagnosed major depression, anxiety disorder and PTSD, the phsysiology will be balanced or at least leveled out, the chemicals will begin to function approriately and I will, in the coming weeks, find that I can function on a more basic level. That getting three meals a day in while not feel like an accomplshment but just an afterthought. That I will begin to sleep and when I do, I will have normal cycles that will rest and rejuvinate my body and mind. I must also address the way that trauma has changed my brain, too. I will have therapy that is not about talking and thinking and managing emotions but that reaches deep into the brain where the trauma is stored, where it is hiding, where it’s unique effect on the brain can be accessed. It is not to be revisited and discussed in therapy. It is to be coaxed out. We will move around it’s edges  through eye movements, imagery and tapping on the body to retrain the brain to not be afraid all of the time, to restore clear thinking, to be able to recall what happened yesterday and two days ago and last week without very much thought. The words that I have lost will begin to flow again. The physical and nutirtional information I used to know about the bodies of my clients will be accessible. The waiting for the next tragedy to arrive will disappear or at least feel less impending.

Is it true? Have the experiences that kept knocking me over in a year’s time changed my brain? Can I not think my way out? Or eat the right foods to find my way back? Or meditate or do yoga or write or dance or get massage and acupuncture? I have felt like I have a hidden disability since Harvey died. Like I just don’t function the way most people do. I can’t have too much stimulus around me, like I don’t listen to music anymore while driving or puttering around the house because it’s one more thing to process and it overwhelms me. Like I can’t be filling out a form while the well intentioned receptionist gives me instructions and be able to take in a word of what she is saying. Like every time I go to the doctor and part of my brain shuts off and I can hardly remember a word they said and certainly not in which order to do this or that that they instructed. Could it be true that all of this is not my inability to recover but my altered brain, on high alert for the next terrible thing to arrive so it must be vigilant, it must taken in only what is essentially important, only what is right in front of me, right now?

It’s not martydom, or at least, I’m not aware that it is. Especially now, I have exactly no judgement of other people who have taken these drugs in hte past, for decades, currently or in the future. It is a lovely thing to take a pill and feel better. The side effects may be worth the loss of the symptoms and often are. It’s that despite my struggle in early life and now in my mid-30s, these medicines have never seemed like they were right for me. I have a profound trust in the human body’s strong tendency towards homeostais, towards balance in all of it’s functions. When you learn about physiology, you learn that the body, at base, is trying to keep things in appropriate ratios. I have believed, more before than now but still now, that with my help and commitment to wellness, that my body will work with me. That it and I will eat, exercise, sleep and thikn our way to balance and proper function. But, the body will also kill itself to achieve this balance. It will sacrifice one part to save the other. If the body doesn’t have enough calcium from the diet to preform the plethora of tasks calcium is required for, it will start leeching it from our very bones. So that our muscles will contract efficiently or at all when we ask them two millions of times a day, it will begin to tear down the structure that hold those very muscles.

And my animal brain will do the same for my spirit. It will try to hold my spirit up, to keep me looking forward, to help me search for meaning and purpose and joy again against the stark and sure experiences that have removed them, at it’s own detriment. It will keep on trying to do what it is supposed to do with not enough of what it needs and too much of what it doesn’t. And all of those things, the stress hormones and the feel-good chemicals that send their signals to the brain to create an appropriate response, they are there because they are supposed to be. They are there to allow us to survive. We need the stress hormones to deal with the stress and we need the feel-good chemicals to make our lives worth living. But it is the imbalance, it is the excess and the lack, that will take us down as, all the while, the body fights to keep us up.

Have I been brave or have I been stupid? It’s a thin line, I can tell you that. As I learn more about how grief and trauma change the brain, I find it’s quite a bit of both. I spoke to my chosen brother this morning and said “So, I’m on the right path . . . or, I’m on a path. So that’s good. He then quoted to me from Sunday in the Park with George, as he is wont to do, that “The choice may have been mistaken, The choosing is not”. And isn’t that the truth? What if that is what I was guided by? To keep on choosing the best I can. My choices have led me to a lot of suffering in the past. They also have led me to a lot of love and ease and joy. So, the magic is in the choosing, not the choice. Not the mistake or the narrowly missed disaster or the best thing that ever happened resulting. It’s just in the choosing. And this old, riddled brain can still do that.

So, I sat on the edge of my bed this morning and looked across to the bottle sitting on the dresser. I took a deep breath and with great reverence and a sense of ritual, I pushed hard on the bottle’s top and I twisted it off. I took that tiny pill into my hand, into the kitchen and then into my body. As I will do every morning from now until I don’t anymore. And I will hope, that though it may not resonate with my spirit, it just might with the animal inside who is using all of her instint, all of her physiology, to stay alive.

Outside.

i go outside in the middle of the night when I wake and can’t get back to sleep or haven’t been yet. It’s been clear at night, a sliver of a moon shining as bright as if it were full, thousands of stars I’m still surprised to see after so many years in a bigger city. I know three constellations and I identify them each every time I’m out there. I look up into the heavens and I try to feel small. I try to feel my insignificance in this great, mysterious universe. But I can’t. Everything inside me feels so big and blinding. It’s an incredible experience to be in a body, to be a human, who in the same blip of a lifetime can find so much meaning and then none at all and, even worse, the memory of what once help so much meaning, like a buoy, like a divine light shining down, with a full and grateful heart. 

I’m not alone out here in the deep of night. There are other grievers out here, too. The man across the street, so unfriendly and entitled, he’s taken to coming home late at night, parking and leaning over, crumpled onto the steering wheel. It was warm enough one night that his window was down and I heard him cry out. The unmistakably moan of grief. I know it so well. He’s a big burly man, bald and full of attitude. He hates living across from apartments and all of us taking up parking in front of his house. He’ll block you in just to make his point. Marking his territory. I think maybe his wife died. I have rarely seen her in three and a half years and not at all lately. Maybe it’s his child or his mother, but it’s somone. Someone has left him or will soon, I’m sure of that.

A couple nights ago, it was nearly three am and a truck drove up and parked in front of the park. The person got out, an overweight adult in the darkness, another big old grown up. They stood in the trees for awhile. Just stood there. Then slowly, stopping now and then to stand still, made the short walk to the swings, got on one and pumped their legs until the swing flew back and forth at its capacity for both speed and height. They were there for a while, 45 minutes probably, until they went back into the cab and didn’t leave for a long time, either. I imagine that person, the black shilloute in the dark night, is also grieving or tortured in the particular way that brings a grown up to the playground in the early morning hours to swing like an angry, little kid. 

So, we’re out here together and alone, us grievers, us brokenhearted, each in our own way. I pretend to not see them and if they’ve seen me, they pretend they haven’t also. I find a strange and morose comfort in our isolation, sure that we are under the cover of darkness, able to let oursleves cry out in ways we never would under the sun, never outside. Let us do crazy things like swing as high and fast as we can so we can feel something else for a minute. Because we don’t know what else to do with ourselves but crumple and swing and cry out to the cold night, to the moon and the stars and anyone looking down on us, to the uncaring universe who knows nothing of our tiny, unbearable plights.

It’s sacred, really. The nighttime when we are quiet enough to hear what’s happening inside us, to feel all the emotions we’ve been stuffing down all day, to wash away every false smile and look-on-the-bright-side attempts we’ve made that day. 

In the early days, I used to wonder what my “new normal” would look like. I used to wonder what people further along in this grief journey meant when they said it never gets better, you just get better at managing it. I’m beginning to see now and I hope these people out here, alone with me, will see it too someday. It’s true that we are never the same. And then there’s that pesky pain of the ability to remember what it was like. The thing we don’t really know about deep grief until we experience it, is that it colors everything that happens after. All of the coming hardships and joys and loss that we will just encounter by being alive, they are all colored by grief. I long for the time when I felt one, pure emotion and I cherish the few times since that I have. In the past three months, I have felt pure and true joy such that is stops me in my tracks and I stop time for moment. Smelling it, tasting it, feeling it, listening to it. I know it will pass but I have it right there for a moment or even several so I bathe myself in it, I drown myself in it, with the hope that it will somehow sink into my pores and into my blood and into my cells so that I might carry it with me, so that it might make its presence known when the next wave comes and knocks me down. It’s the same with grief. Sometimes I go to group, a space reserved for just grieving our children and trying to find our way without them, because the purity of it is a relief. Because there my grief is not all convoluted with everything else. My questions and what I share and my sadness, they are all about Harvey and just Harvey. Having so many losses all at once, having so much trauma in a short period of time, it creates such a complex and layered internal experience. How it colors and informs every situation that arises in life. There is beauty and ease and relief in just one emotion, or even many emotions, but about just one thing. 

It’s sacred, this time out here, in the darkness, under the vast sky. It’s a time of purity and it brings us closer. To what? I don’t know. I just know it does and it is. Sacred.

Lists.

Why is this a steady process of waking up? Why am I on this bullet train of processing and realizing and understanding? Why am I the last person to see what has happened? Every week I think, “Wow! what a week!”. I feel so much and learn so much and discuss so much and get stuck so much and someone frees me so often and then I start all over again. From a new place, peeling back the layers to find…to find what? What is under there? What am I looking for? What I am getting at? What am I trying to get to?

I have taken to making lists. I am coming to understand that all that has happened is insane. It’s an insane amount of tragedy and grief and heartache. I have thought to myself how self indulgent I am. Coming back here night after night to write down every intircacy of my experience that I can catch hold of. I have thought of people reading this or those who have stopped reading this, imagining them thinking to themselves “Get on with it already.” I stopped going to therapy when we broke up. I just started again, once again thinking, it’s self-indulgent, it’s too expensive, it’s not really necessary. I berate myself for talking to my friends about my anxieties and fears and anger and grief because they have heard it before, they have their own lives that feel heavy and hard and so rarely do I inquire about their situations and challenges and needs. But then all of the sudden this week I realized I have had too much. Too much has happened to me in too short a period of time. Just one of these many things is enough, is too much. A dead baby, for example. That is too much. People die over that, people stop living, people can’t get out of bed anymore. And that is only the beginning for me. That was the just the first thing. Nothing has been worse, by a landside. Nothing is worse than losing Harvey, so suddenly and swiftly and surely. These very fingers that type, these palms that rest on the keyboard, these wrists that move the hand across the keys, these arms that travel up to these shoulders, these very same appendages held the weight of my baby who was alive, they held that weight as he took his last labored breath, they held the limp, lifeless body after he was gone. That is enough. These arms, this body, held life, created it, provided a space for it to grow and develop and then did all of that in reverse. Felt all of that slip through these very fingers. That is just the beginning. That is where my story starts.

And it keeps on going in excrutiating waves. Pummeling me so hard and so frequently that I got used to it.That a divorce after a 13 year relationship doesn’t seem so bad in comparison. But people lose a relationship like I did, folded with years and layers of lies, of half truths and double lives, and they find that it is the worst thing that ever happened to them. That is was the hardest, most stressful time in their lives. That years and years on, they still tend to the wounds, still feel the tightness of the scar tissue, still hold onto to how they felt they very day they found their marriage crumbled at their feet.

Infertility. I have sat with many women who struggle with infertility. Have heard how it tortures them, every bleeding month a painful reminder. How it has sent them into the darkest depressions of their lives. How they feel hatred and jealousy to seemingly everyone around them, easily and often getting pregnant and having babies.

Two surgeries in just over a year. Anesthia and morphine and dilaudid and so many other drugs I don’t even know their names or what substance went into my body. My abdomen pierced, my c-section scar opened again to save my life, and then the same piercing near the same holes on either side of my belly and at my belly button. The bleeding, the bruising, the pain. Also enough. Just that one thing, just those two things in short period of time.

Each one on their own, is enough, is too much. My husband has a girlfriend. My daughter comes home talking about her and I begin to endure that. Little presents she gives her, games they play, outings they take, time they have just the two of them together. It wears on me: the smile I give her, how nice I tell her it is that she is so fun, the questions I ask her so that it seems normal to me, just another person in her lif I wonder about. But she’s like my stunt double, like a younger and fertile (I assume) version of me, taken my place in our family. She is a character to me, and I often think she must be so to him too in some ways, except that she is all too real. Filling in the space that was my space. Stepping into my family like it’s hers. And if she sticks around, it will be. My husband agrees to not get a sitter every Saturday, not because I think it’s best that she spend more time with him but, in part because now that they have been introduced, the 3 of them can spend time together. She and I will have an inevitable meeting. She and I will attend Vesta’s events together, see each other at drop-offs, be the two people meeting to take Vesta someday. My friend said to me last night, “People shoot each other over shit like that.” Just that. Not the relationship length infidelity on top of that, not the stepping out while I laid in the hospital on top of that, not the subsequent and pathological deception of incredible frequency and duration on top of that. It’s too much. Just that.

People tell me how strong I am, how brave, how inspiring. My friends wonder at how I can be kind to him, try to understand where he is coming from, consider what he thinks and feels in the decisions I make about our daughter and our divorce. And I think “what the fuck are they talking about? I am a mess. And how else could I behave around him?” But I am coming to understand. I’m beginning to stand outside of myself and absolutely marvel. And now I have started to make lists.

There is the list of each of the times over 13 years when I knew something was astray and looked the other way, gave the benefit of the doubt, allowed my heart and mind to be convinced despite the screaming from my gut. Love and denial are powerful forces that too frequently go hand in hand.

There is the list of the things I will do to take care of myself: eat three meals a day, go to sleep before ten, remember to take my supplements, stop drinking, stop smoking, get to the end of the day having had at least one glass of water. I need to write that shit down. That’s where I’m at 21 months later, reminding myself to eat and sleep and drink water. Me: little Ms. Health Guru.

There is the list of the things I need to do. Today, tomorrow, in a month, at some point. Everyone’s lists like this one are long and winding and impossible to achieve. But mine include get divorced and figure out a way to mark Harvey’s second birthday/anniversary coupled with the normal things like go grocery shopping, clean the cat’s litter, do your taxes. This list, like the others, leave me feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed and like I am failing. Who can’t get themselves to the grocery store, especially when they have a kid? Me, that’s who.

And then this list. The final list. Only in my head so far, and here, I guess, since I continue to reiterate, but now I just repeat them to myself: Baby dies, hospital stay, surgery, infidelity, infidelity again, marriage ends, surgery again. It’s like a mantra because I’m starting to wrap my mind around it. I’m beginning to understand that all of these things happened and they happened to me and in under two years, thirteen months plus a few more for the second surgery. To this day, I have moments where I forget. Where I expect Harvey to be someone I need to make doctors appointments for, pack a bag for, find someone to watch him. And then I remember again. Still? Really? I ask myself. Yes, apparently. I have not had to take care of his physical needs one day of my life and yet I find myself caught in some alternative reality as if he was here and I did those things for a while and now he’s gone and I can’t break the habit. I finish my work, close up the spa and think about my family at home waiting for me to return, to come to dinner, to do bedtime and then head to bed to watch tv together and talk about tomorrow’s plans and make some decisions. Oh yeah, they aren’t home. Oh yeah, my marriage ended. Oh, yeah. Right. Still.

My therpaist tells me I’m still in shock. My body and mind have not been able to integrate all of this and so they send me to these places where things are as we planned them. This what was supposed to happen, what is supposed to be happening and the brain itself hasn’t integrated yet that none of it is true, despite not ever living it, despite 8 months or more of physical evidence of my husband’s absence from our home. I’m still in shock. I can parent and grow a business and go out with my friends and meet new people and laugh and joke and be grateful on top of all of this because my brain and body don’t believe it yet. Becasue shock allows us (if we allow it) to slowly integrate. It provides us with the ability to function on a daily basis, overhwlemed or not, but keeping the whole truth from us. how about that? How about my own anatomy and physiology keeping shit from me, creating it’s own world that no one else lives in, appeasing me so I’ll keep my other kid alive and not crumple into shaking ball on the kitchen floor.

And what of that? What do I make of my ability to function? You know how I explain that, I type as I laugh out loud, a miracle healing. A literal miracle healing, whereas I walked in to a shamanic ceremony suicidal and enraged and hours later felt like myself again over the course of a few minutes. Healed up that heart in an instant, one instant. Now that is crazy. That is too much. That I was on the brink and whoever is out there saw me about to jump and threw my soul back into my body, stitched up my heart so that the grief that was drowning me would all the sudden become something I could live with? That as surely as I came back to myself, there was no doubt that I was ending my relationship and that there was not an ounce of heartbreak or sadness or doubt anymore. Just pure, unadulterated (pardon the pun!) clarity. Ease and confidence and joy and sensation back in my body and exhileration. That is what explains my still being alive and my narrow escape from a mental institution. Crazy. Too much.

But it all happened. All of it. Life and death. Love and betrayal. Blood and stitches. Miracle and trauma. Each time I almost died last year (read that sentence again!!), I was saved: my son left my body in such a way that the bleeding from the uterian artery was compressed and ceased, the surgeons opened me up 6 months later and found the bleed in time for me to live and not even need to use the blood they had prepared in moments to transfuse me, my soul was retrieved, literally. My soul was retrieved.

I have to make these lists. I have to keep writing these things again and again. I have to start believing and understanding that they happened. I have to start telling the whole truth. I have to start saying out loud even the things deep inside of me that I have yet been able to say. I have to be more vulnerable. I have to break wide open, even more widely open. I have to risk relationships, risk more loss, risk further hardships. I keep thinking I’ve come to the edge of my expansion, I can’t be more honest, I can’t be more authentic, more real but I always can. There is always more to lay out there. I can’t carry this all on my own. I can’t see it if it’s only inside of me. I have to put it on the outside of me, write it down and send it off. It is one side to a story and this story is a prism. It is my side of the story with all of the assumptions I have unknowingly made, with all of the things I remember incorrectly but which shape me anyway, with all of the miscommunications that have led to the parts of this that are not true. But what are we if not our stories? What are if not meaning makers? Putting things into a context so that we might understand them or at least endure them. Some of us make up completely imaginary stories, weave our lives into a dream that only we can see, and live from a fiction. Or maybe we all do. Maybe it’s all just one long dream, one story asking to be written, revised, edited, rewritten again.

My story has become too long, too confused, too many details that don’t fit in anywhere. So, for now, I make lists. I bullet point past and future events so that I can see them more clearly, so there is a starkness, so that the prose doesn’t drown out the main points. The part of my mind not in shock, not dreaming, not making meaning, is trying to convince the rest of me to catch up. To start living in the truth as I know it. Just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts. So that each breath, each putting of one foot in front of the other is it’s own bullet point, it’s own list of the present moment. That’s where I find the endurance. In the moment to moment rhthym of breath and step. In the simplifying and slowing down that overwhelm forces upon us, forces upon me. One step, one breath, one list at a time.