I was 18 when I began keeping vigil with all that was lost; which is to say, I began writing.
My youngest is 18 now.
His older brother was home this afternoon for a quick half-hour, just in time to hop in the car with his father and head south to my husband’s family home 300 miles away.
I waved from the mudroom as they pulled down the driveway and then Aidan and I turned to empty the dishwasher. As I was bent over the silverware it hit me. “All three of you share something I don’t,” I said.
Turns out, it’s hard to give your kids something you never had, and not for the obvious reasons.
While it’s been healing to offer the kind of upbringing I needed, it’s also surprisingly painful, especially now that they’re the age I was when there was hardly a home or parents to turn toward.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about moving. Far away. By myself. Like the time I lived in London or the time I backpacked through Europe or the time I went out to the Rockies. At 18 and 23, my boys are like bookends of the age I was then. It must be time.
Integrity is one of several paths. It distinguishes itself from the others because it is the right path, and the only one upon which you will never get lost.
I came across this passage in a framed print at the second-hand store years ago, and slowly it wove itself into our family fabric, especially as my boys entered adolecence and I asked them to recite it again and again.
I leaned into that instruction myself, intuitively, 30 years earlier, after a miscarriage, as I prepared to leave my first teaching position. A colleague remarked on my diligence with the end of the year paperwork. “Why bother,” she said. “You’re leaving for Vermont.”
It was something I would hear echoed, again and again, each time I left a job, a rental, a relationship.
Tonight I looked for jobs across the ocean.
What must it be like to have a home to which you can return? I wondered this as my older son sat beside me on the stairs before he left with his father. “I’ll be leaving right away when we get back on Sunday,” he said.
I marveled at how he could “drop-in” to the familiar sights and sounds and smells of a lifetime, and then be on his way again, securely rooted and released, without any need to grasp or hold on or catalogue the memories before they vanished.
The restlessness I feel inside is almost unbearable. UPROOT, it says, UPROOT!
I don’t want a house or a husband or a community.
But I’ve cultivated a lifetime of tools that enable me to stay with what hurts and what is uncomfortable and what makes me want to run.
I was fourteen, ”14 and a half,” to be precise, at the cusp of everything—body, mind, emotion, soul—coming together—in full expression.
I aced each of my Regents exams, had friends from the Rockies to the Hudson to the Atlantic, cultivated a deep connection to not only my “personal savior” but to nature, and self (all of which I now call Spirit); and to top it off–as I walked by the deep end of Delafield Pond in my bikini on my way to the high dive (which I’d done countless times the previous summer)–the cadets, face down on their beach towels, lifted their heads.
Not mine, Silly. I was only heading for the 10-foot dive (to jump no less.) The 30-foot dive isn’t even there anymore which is something I discovered two summers ago when I returned to the base for a visit. (And let me tell you, returning to the place where you used to live isn’t easy in post 9/11, USMA.)
But back to Tragedy.
Enter: Stage left.
Have you ever noticed how Mack Trucks dominate the road? They’re either going too fast or too slow, or they’re crossing the line or coming too hard into a steep curve that’s icy with snow; or they’re tearing up the backroads because the highway is closed after another one tipped itself on its side; or maybe, it’s simply a gorgeous summer day, like the very one when I was at Delafield Pond with the cadets lifting their heads, and 150 miles south a Mack Truck is climbing a bridge while the sun is high in the sky, and the visibility is prime, and still, the Mack Truck, being a Mack Truck, doesn’t even notice a broken down car up ahead with 4 women inside.
Come to think of it a Mack Truck is a good metaphor for something else that oppresses and destroys.
To this day, I grip the steering wheel or I hold onto the handle above the passenger seat or I press my feet up against the dashboard.
This was especially true in those first years, and exponentially so when crossing over a bridge; and then again, in the past handful of years once I began time traveling to rescue that 14-
& a half year old girl whose soul was left behind in the debris spread the length of a football field across a multi-lane bridge outside the city of Philadelphia.
Come to think of it, those guys from my highschool days, the ones who have been trolling my Facebook wall with their support of #45, are a lot like Mack Trucks.
Spreaders, is that what they’re called on public transportation?
“What? What’s the big deal?” says the Patriarchy, “This is how it’s always been. It’s never been a problem before.” or “I was just joking. Don’t be so serious.”
What the Patriarchy fails to understand, doesn’t even begin to understand, and is apparently uninterested in understanding is that it’s always been a problem for the rest of us. We’ve just been too afraid to say too much or to say it too loud or too often, because. Mac Trucks.
I stayed up too late on the night of the Mid-Terms. I over-used my eyes and my heart and my brain and my patience, but surprisingly I fell to sleep with ease.
Still, I must not have slept well or enough because I dozed off on the mat this morning, and each time the teacher spoke into the savasana meditation of air and bliss, I stirred, wondering where I was, only to fall back to sleep again before I fully came to, until she said those dreaded words:
“Make small movements with your wrists and ankles before coming up to a seated position.”
I could hardly move off my mat but I had to move because the class was over and my mat was partially in the doorway because the class was unexpectedly relocated to the basement where there wasn’t enough room for so many women, all of which I took personally on behalf of women, given the election.
I mean the whole reason I drove an hour south into the Berkshires for this series of 4 elemental yoga classes (earth-water-fire-air) at the Clark Art Institute was the glass room upstair with the stunning view. Still, last week the water pool had been emptied and filled with rocks so that was already depressing.
But the basement? Relocating a group of aging women to the basement for the “Air” element on the morning after the election is hugely symbolic but I’m too tired to figure that out right now.
I got off my mat and dragged myself to the bathroom, where I noticed that my eyes were exceedingly small and puffy. They’ve been this way for days. (This happened once before, didn’t it? When was that?)
My mind flashes to something my therapist wrote to me last winter. We were talking about #metoo and the report I was making about a man who rubbed his hands across my ass in a public setting. She noticed my eyes that day right away, and I received this email from her when I got home:
These processes of going public with violating men ask you to be so reasonable and reasoned. Where do the anger and vigorous pushback go? Is it expressed in a safe place for you? Is it getting stuck in the windows of your soul, around your eyes? Such dilemmas–wanting to be of service to move consciousness along but… where does our vigor go? STOP to the violators or stopped up in us?
I postponed my post-yoga working lunch in the Clark café, and dragged my weary eyes outside into the woods and up the hillside.
I left home for the Berkshires early this morning so that I wouldn’t get caught up in election news (particularly Texas or Florida or Georgia) or be distracted by volleys with the Jersey boys from highschool who were gung ho about their guy Trump.
The drive through the Green Mountains was surprisingly trafficky for Vermont, but then I remembered that my earlier departure meant I was traveling during the morning commute.
Just after I passed a utility truck and returned to the right lane to prepare to climb one last hill before turning south into the Berkshires, I saw a Mack Truck in my rear view mirror.
Crap, I thought to myself, and then I sped up a little, wanting to avoid any proximity, particularly with the high winds we were experiencing as the morning temperatures rose.
The Mack Truck sped up too.
I looked in my rearview mirror once more, prepared to let the Mack Truck pass me, but then I noticed that it was losing ground in the climb.
My small car, so low to the earth was less buffeted by the winds, and my engine remained steady and strong.
I watched in the mirror as the Mack Truck lagged further and further behind, and for the very first time in the 40 years since my grandmother and my aunties and their golf clubs were crushed under 18 wheels, I felt something else instead of consumed by fear.
More than 123 women were elected to Congress last week.
I became a mother this week on a rainy day much like today, but I don’t remember getting wet. What I do remember is my acute embarrassment.
“Please don’t use the sirens,” I said to the ambulance driver.
(Doctor’s daughters don’t do emergencies.)
I don’t remember if Casey rode up front, but I do remember asking if Mary could join me in back. It turns out they were relieved to have a midwife on board.
I watched as the farmhouse and the barn and the Deerfield River feathered from view and we approached the village where I’d moved to teach school two years earlier; but I don’t remember much else except for the mountaintop that we climbed on our way to the nearest hospital, thirty-some minutes away.
As we bounced over Hogback Mountain, I looked out at its three-state view, while the young EMT, fearing a delivery, attempted an IV into my right hand. But she needn’t have worried. I had already told the baby to wait, and although my contractions had been steady and strong since my water broke just before dawn (a good thing since my husband was heading out the door to go fishing for the day… before cell phones), I hadn’t experienced a single contraction after stepping inside the ambulance.
“How far along are you,” my sister asked when I called that morning to apologize. She’d sent her 9-year-old on a plane from Florida to visit us for two weeks and I had promised not to go into labor during his stay. “First babies always come late,” I reminded this mother of three, so eager was I to see my nephew.
“Well, it must be early labor,” she said, “You’re too calm.”
When Mary arrived shortly after that call, I asked if she’d would mind waiting to examine me, so consumed was I by contractions.
She made the same assumption about the progress of my labor given my steadiness.
When she finally did check my cervix, there were three surprises.
“You’re 8 centimeters already,” she said, astounded. “And something else.”
The something else was what resulted in several phone calls to area hospitals and then an ambulance ride down the river through the village and over the mountain toward the big town.
“I am not going out on that stretcher,” I told the EMTs when they arrived in my kitchen. “I don’t want to upset the neighbors.”
Casey had just come in from hanging the diapers on the line, and before we all left out the back door, I pointed to the doughs on the counter. “Will you put those back in the freezer,” I said to him, feeling a pang for the meal we would never share with our home birthing team.
“I bet this is a boy,” I’d joked to Mary in the ambulance, given that I had been told by more than one intuitive that this baby would arrive “after” my due date (not almost two weeks before it) and that the baby would be a girl.
Mary later told me of the third surprise, that instead of a head, she’d felt testicles.
And although I hadn’t experienced any contractions on the ambulance ride, coaxing the baby to wait, she later told me that my labor had indeed progressed. I was fully dilated by the time we arrived in the emergency room.
“She’s in labor?” the front desk nurses said, as I was wheeled past them.
“She’s still in her street clothes,” two others said, as they looked into the examining room where I was lifted onto a bed.
I looked these women up and down too and had thought them orderlies, but one would turn out to be the surgeon, who did her own examination.
“Small,” she pronounced.
“Adequate,” Mary countered.
“Unproven,” she said.
They stood at the foot of my stretcher disputing the capacity of my pelvis.
“Calm,” Mary offered, of my demeanor.
“I’ll give it two hours,” the doctor said. “But the results could be tragic.”
They looked from each other toward me.
“Can I have a minute?” I said.
I motioned to Casey to join me in the bathroom. I closed the door. I kept the lights off.
I had miscarried twice before. Bled through the early months of this pregnancy too. Had Braxton-Hicks beginning at 5 months. Had planned a home birth because I’d fallen in love with a midwife named Mary who told me that she took my little baby home with her each night in her third eye, each and every night.
I had felt so peaceful there in our little farmhouse beside the mountain. The morning’s cloud cover created a cocoon as I labored at the edge of our bed, the skylight overhead where we watched the stars at night a comfort too, the door to the balcony over the brook open to the air, and this blissful feeling between contractions that my mother told me I’d find if I paid attention to the spaces in between enveloped me.
“Remember, you and the baby want the same thing,” my mother said, having birthed 9 children without a single miscarriage or epidural.
She was a Christmas baby like my great aunt, while I followed on the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and her grandson was apparently arriving on the Assumption of Mary, coming early to do so.
I opened the bathroom door to bright lights and urgent faces, remembering my bare feet on our soft pine floors, Mary kneeling in front of me, pressing her thumbs into my shin, lending exquisite relief during a strong contraction.
“We’ll take the c-section,” I said.
And then I remember the very last contraction I experienced.
“This will sting,” said the anesthesiologist who arrived in the operating room with a nurse and his long needle while the surgical team scrubbed like I had once done with my father and to whom I had just recently said, just as he had said to me: I never want surgery. (We would each have surgery within 48 hours of each other this very week.)
“Can you wait a minute,” I said to the anesthesiologist, laughing at the absurdity of his warning about the epidural. “I’m having a contraction.”
In the end, they had to yank the baby out of the birth canal so ready was he to be born through me instead of removed by them.
Protocol would not let me view the delivery, but they did let me see him for a flash before they whisked him to the examining table under the bright lights where they pronounced him healthy. Protocol also prevented me from him until the anesthesia wore off.
I’d only had anesthesia once before. Wisdom teeth. The same-day surgery room was set to close and I still couldn’t wake. My roommate, a nurse, in fact, arrived to drive me home while I continued to doze, and she cared for me through the night, ice on, ice off, so unable was I to rebound from the drugs. I was managing a seaside restaurant then, and a guy called the next day for a job. The restaurant had given him my home number. I was furious. Now that same guy accompanied our baby to the nursery while I was sewn up on the table and sent alone to recovery where I strived to wake and feel my legs so that I would be taken to the 4th floor to be with my baby.
I woke this morning feeling similarly drugged, to the sound of rain and a heavy cover of clouds, and although I wanted to rise and write before walking up to Sunday scones at Whetstone Ledges Farm, the absence of light made it difficult to stay afloat, and so I slipped back down under the surface of consciousness again and again.
“Do you feel your legs yet,” the nurse asked, as she covered my shivering body with more and more blankets. To this day the last two toes on my left foot are numb.
When I finally did meet my son, he was tightly wrapped in a blanket with a knit cap on his head as if we had never been one. I put up my hand as the midwife approached with him in her arms. I wanted to see Casey first. We had become parents, apart from one another, instead of at home in on our own bed. He held our baby first, for more than an hour, after I had carried him inside for 8 months.
I don’t remember if the rain lifted that afternoon when I held my son.
I remember feeling that this was Everything.
I remember knowing that nothing would ever be the same.
When I fell back to sleep this morning, I dreamt that most of the tomatoes on the vine in our garden had ripened, just in time for son’s return to celebrate his twenty-third birthday.
His name was meant to be Lila, after my grandmother, who died tragically at the age I am now.
I don’t know when it occurred to me that Lila and Lloyd share two L’s.
Twenty-three years old.
The twenty-third psalm was her favorite and read at her graveside. I think of it every time I walk the road past the silent repose of the Whetstone.
I like the version Bobby McFerrin sings.
“Beside the still waters, She will lead.”
Lloyd has surprised us lately, wanting to be home each year for his birthday after a couple that he spent away with girlfriends.
It’s unfathomable to me that he doesn’t live with us anymore. That the flesh of my flesh is not mine forever. That neither of us would want it to be so.
He was here last Christmas too, for an extended stay, during which we joined with old friends around a fire overlooking the Retreat Meadows as the sun set over the water.
We were deep in conversation with friends when I felt a swoosh past our circle of chairs, and my eyes followed a woman who, with a flourish, removed a dark cloak.
I lifted my phone and zoomed in to capture the beautiful blues and creamy whites of her wimple and habit but I couldn’t make out what hung from her neck and around her waist.
Her presence seemed to rivet me alone, and I’d lost the conversation, despite the company of my son and my oldest, dearest friend.
Instead, I stood up and crossed the space from the fire to her table beside the waters.
“The Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa,” she explained, pointing to the medallion that hung from her neck.
“My sword,” she said standing, of the beaded rosary that dangled from her hip down her left side, “To fight Evil.”
I shared my family’s Mary connection with her, my mother’s Christmas birth, mine on the Immaculate Conception, my son’s on the Assumption of Mary, and even my husband’s on the Feast Day, upon which my mother died.
“You are a Marian family,” she pronounced, and I smiled, thinking how some people enjoy certainty and others questions.
I returned to the fire, taking a seat across from from my friend with whom I attended the same Catholic Highschool. She had recently given me a nightlight that had belonged to her dear mother, and I almost thought to discard this plastic statue of Mary when after plugging it in, the bulb sparked and went black.
But upon removing the plug from the statue, I saw three small words under its base:
House of Lloyd.
Later, as the light faded in the sky over the water, the woman in the dark cloak stopped by our circle on her way out, asking:
“Is this the one born on Assumption of Mary?”
She looked directly at my son Lloyd and said:
“You are consecrated to Our Lady.”
It was he who once saw the blue light shimmering on the land alongside the Whetstone Brook upon which we would later build our home. He was just a boy then.
“It’s blue like the light over Uncle Lenny’s bar in the barn,” my son said, not knowing the word fluorescent, and referencing his first home, the place where he was conceived and practically born and where he watched his little brother come into the world upstairs in the little farmhouse beside the brook just weeks before his grandmother died on the Feast Day of Mary.
“The Blue Lady is here to help you,” my new therapist said, when I came to her grieving the loss of my mother.
I hadn’t been sure about the purchase of the land upon which I stood with my son until that day when I was told to whom the land just across the pond belonged.
With SpRiNg comes renewed attention to my insides as I recommit to what I want on the outside.
I’m curious about your relationship with disappointment.
In a New Year chakra clearing, I gained some clarity around the way I linger with and lay disappointment onto the men in my home.
It was a painful visual, but it also leads me into compassion for the disappointment I must carry inside. My sense of my father’s almost constant disappointment in me. The weight of disappointment that my mother and grandmothers carried.
I’m no longer willing to be the legacy bearer for that burden.
This sweetly complements my intention to cultivate satisfaction–inside–with a moment to moment practice of saying “Yes,” to what ever arises–on my path, or in my psyche–as an invitation instead of a problem, as something I greet without abandoning, rejecting or shaming myself as “wrong.”
I suspect the practice will be a daily one for the rest of my days.
I arrived late on the morning of Halloween, 1972, and as I crossed the small courtyard between the primary building and the one in which the 5th grade was housed, I passed a classmate with the attendance slip in hand.
“I’m here!” I said, but he looked at me blankly.
“Who are you?” he asked.
And I remember my surprise, and how unsettled I felt–that I could feel so much myself on the inside, yet be so unrecognizable on the outside.
Most of the time, with adults, it’s the opposite–masked in normalcy, while inside something riotous or hopeless or desperate is going on, or even over-joyed and delighted, though those conditions are more easily rendered into places of connection.
~Age 9. Gypsy. Curly-haired, black wig. Virginia Court Elementary, Aurora, Colorado. (I think it snowed that year for Trick or Treat.)
~ “At Samhain (Halloween), we call the Goddess the Crone. The Crone is the Old One, the aspect of the Goddess that teaches us wisdom, that helps us let go when we need to change and grow.”
I’ve read those words from Starhawk’s, Circle Round to my children, myself, since becoming a mother, two decades ago; and now that Cronehood is on my horizon–23 days–this reading lands differently. Personally. With greater consequence. Understanding. Gravity. Truth.
~ I have an abiding affection for Halloween. Which confuses me. I don’t much like to dress up; and when I do, I prefer to be more of myself than in disguise.
It may be that I lost the ability to play.
It may be that the fear of masks is a companion of my work with memoir.
So what is it then that makes Halloween bubble up inside?
The children I suppose.
The companionship of their parents.
Especially the ones who arrive in costume!
I admire the theatrical families. The fantasy dwellers. The laughter. The delight. I regret my children were born to someone who spends so much time with non-fiction and so little time in silliness.
I suppose my affection for Halloween may be residue from childhood. The simplicity. Just a pumpkin, a costume & a bag. The generosity of neighbors & strangers. No lavish meals. No hours upon hours of shopping & wrapping. No house guests for which to imperfectly prepare. No way to be–but fast & gracious. I was good at both.
My mother served lunch fair on Halloween–tuna sandwiches & soup. The absence of formality (and my father) said: “Be at ease. Be quick. I understand your enthusiasm.”
Even now, it gets the better of me. In overdrive, I shift from the work of the day to making popcorn at the stove. My mother’s recipe. My grandmother’s bowl. My father’s favorite snack. When I was a kid, we gave out store bought candy because anything homemade was suspect–as cheap, as weird, as dangerous.
But not so the costumes.
My mother never let me buy a single one.
I was Princess, Gypsy, Hobo, Doctor.
I am still.
The older I get, the more I just want to be me.
I’ve worked so hard to find her.