The Multi-Colored Womb

A Thousand Voices – Donald Saaf – 2011

Winter brings the return of the dream state, or maybe it’s too much or not enough or my broken-up sleep that explains the day to day watery-immersion of otherworldliness.

Last week, I dreamt of a womb-like container, belonging to another. She placed it on the shelf beside my single bed and then she turned to leave the dormitory-like space as it began to fill with others claiming beds and counters.

I never saw her face, but I continued to marvel at what she left behind–a multi-colored, beautifully-beaded container which served as a water bottle.

Each time I left my bed, however, I was consumed with frustration, because yet another new arrival made claims on the bed that was already mine.

One man, in fact, went so far as to lift my mattress off the frame and take it to the other side of the room–the men’s side, I suppose.

I crossed the space between us and protested. “This isn’t how it works,” I explained. “My things were already there.”

Apparently, the unspoken rules of the Kripalu assistant dormitory (of which I was readily practiced) didn’t apply here.

But where was here anyway? I looked around at rows and rows of beds that I hadn’t noticed before as the space approached full occupancy.

Were we some type of refugee?

I retrieved my mattress, but then wondered if perhaps others needed it more, and then I caught sight of the beautiful container again and smiled, making a mental note to find one for myself.

Days later, that beaded womb bled through my waking hours, speaking a language that I couldn’t quite understand.

Waking between the worlds like this, especially in the dark, wintry months, is welcome, even while it is disorienting (or perhaps because it is), leaving me bobbing in a soupy sea–reality flooded with dreams—where the constellation upon which I’ve relied no longer directs the course, forcing me to find new markers, inside and in other realms, obscured from reality’s view.

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Christmas Heartbreak

If not the sobriety of Menopause (2 years this past Thanksgiving), then the house guest for whom the holiday was a foreigner, or perhaps the alchemy of both together accounted for the way Christmas was tilted, like a snow globe, and shook loose of all of its accoutrements–gifts & food & music & ritual–until it was seen, if not for the first time, then at least anew.

The build-up.
The expectations.
The arbitrariness.
The absurdity.
The excess.
The holy?

One could say, as many do, that it’s the absence of the Christ Child that hollows out the holiday like a cheap, chocolate Easter Bunny.

But what of our rich personal traditions, steeped in soul and meaning?

Each Christmas Eve we read aloud the Nativity story, and each Christmas Morning, we read this stunning excerpt from Little Women:

Jo was the first to wake in the gray dawn of Christmas morning. No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she felt as much disappointed as she did long ago, when her little sock fell down because it was crammed so full of goodies. Then she remembered her mother’s promise and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book. She knew it very well, for it was that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived, and Jo felt that it was a true guidebook for any pilgrim going on a long journey. She woke Meg with a Merry Christmas, and bade her see what was under her pillow. A green-covered book appeared, with the same picture inside, and a few words written by their mother, which made their one present very precious in their eyes. Presently Beth and Amy woke to rummage and find their little books also, one dove-colored, the other blue, and all sat looking at and talking about them, while the east grew rosy with the coming day.

“While the east grew rosy with the coming day!” Gush!!! And each and every Day in December we read from the National WIldlife Treasury…

December may be the last page on our calendar, but it belongs to no single year… ruled less by time than by age-old traditions…

But is reading meaning?
What of the heart?

My late mother’s birthday is Christmas Day, as was my great Aunt Doll’s.
Certainly, that’s enough heart for a single day.

Let your heart be light…

My youngest, and his maternal and paternal grandfathers before him, dismiss the traditions of faith as if religion is a personal affront to their God-given, white-male sovereignty, and at least in my son’s defense, this is accompanied by an abiding passion for all things scientific.

Lesser beings, like myself, of smaller minds and opportunity, oftentimes rely upon magic and soul. Alas, my capacity for the former, carefully attended since childhood, is almost extinguished, for which I can barely muster concern which in itself is alarming.

At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them…(Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express) 

First thing Christmas morning, my youngest led his older brother in a brief yoga practice, sounding through the chakras, the two of them flanking me on my mat in front of my bedroom balcony doors as the sun rose above the trees in the East–their Warrior Threes on each side of my Balanced Tree–a morning practice to better prepare ourselves for the extraordinary self-connection required of the day’s togetherness; which on sons’ part was no doubt an effort to humor their mother so that the gift-giving could commence sooner.

Having sped through the chakras with a pose for each one, they left the room, encouraging me along, while moments later my youngest returned with his old, golden & gem clad, Egyptology book in hand.

“Eylem pulled this off the shelf,” he explained, “Look at this,” he said, pointing to an excerpt from the Book of the Dead, beneath an illustration of Horus which read:

My heart, my mother, my heart, my mother, my heart, my coming into being! May there be nothing to resist me at my judgment… may there be no parting of thee from me in the presence of him who keeps the scales!

He went on to explain that at death the heart is weighed. And only if it is lighter than a feather may the dead pass on to “heaven.”

Let your heart be light…

It’s not just the heartbreak of my mother’s absence, or the Christmas Eve fire that destroyed a neighbor’s home, or the tsunami on the Sundra Straits of Indonesia sweeping away a pop band while it performed for concert goers on the beach, or even the impending separation between two lovers in my livingroom, star-crossed by timing and culture and place of birth (not to mention visas) or the heartbreak of disappointing yourself, like my youngest, in your first semester away at school, it was the revelation that came with the lightening of my own heart as we sat around the fire on Christmas Eve, while the Gospel of Luke was read aloud with a Turkish accent, followed by the spontaneous singing of carols, giving rise to bouts of laughter, particularly my own, which led my oldest to posit that his mother must be very, very tired, or the moment earlier in the day just before we left to skate on the Retreat Meadows when I stepped toward my husband’s in an embrace, not weary, but full of love, which is how I realized how very tight and parsimonious I’ve let my heart become.

ps: best ever illustrated book of the Gospel of Luke/nativity story, Julie Vivas (of Australia):

Ode to August 15th~The Blue Lady

 

I became a mother this week on a 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. (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 as we approached the town where I’d moved to teach school two years earlier; but I don’t remember much else except for the mountaintop.

As we bounced over Hogback, I looked out at the three-state view, while the young EMT, fearing a delivery, attempted an IV into my 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 at dawn, I hadn’t experienced a single one 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 to visit us and I had promised not to go into labor during his stay. “First babies always come late,” I reminded her, 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 wait to examine me, so consumed was I by contractions.

When she finally did check, there were three surprises.

“You’re 8 centimeters already,” she said. “And something else.”

The something else was what resulted in several phone calls to area hospitals and then the ambulance ride.

“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 heading out the back door, I pointed to the doughs on the counter. “Will you put those back in the freezer,” I asked, feeling a pang for the meal we would never share with our 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 and would be a girl.

She 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, 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 had been deposited.

I looked these women up and down too and had thought them ordelies, 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.

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, 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.

All gone.

“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 grandchild was apparently arriving on the Assumption of Mary, two weeks before he was due.

I opened the bathroom door to bright lights and urgent faces, remembering my bare feet on the soft pine floors, Mary kneeling in front of me, pressing her thumbs into my shin, lending exquisite relief during a contraction.

“I’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 this week within 48 hours of the other.)

“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 surgically.

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 holding the baby until the anesthesia wore off.

I’d only had anesthesia once before. Wisdom teeth. I had barely come to at the end of the day when the same day surgery room was set to close. A friend arrived to drive me home while I continued to doze, and she nursed me through the night, ice on, ice off, so unable was I to rebound from the drugs.

Casey called the next day. I was furious. The restaurant had given him my home number. He was calling for a job.

Now Casey accompanied our baby to the nursery while I was sewn up on the table and wheeled over to recovery where just like before my rebound was slow.

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 blankets. (To this day the last two toes on my left foot are numb.)

When I finally did meet Lloyd, he was wrapped tightly in a blanket with a knit cap on his head. I put up my hand as the midwife approached. I wanted to see Casey first.

We had become parents, apart from one another, instead of at home in on our own bed. Casey 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 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 Lloyd’s return to celebrate his twenty-third.

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 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 for his birthday.

It’s unfathomable 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 as the sun set over the waters of the Retreat Meadows.

We were deep in conversation 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 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 could no longer focus, despite the company of my son and my oldest, dearest friend.

I stood up and crossed the space from the fire to her table beside the waters.

“The Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa,” she said, pointing to the medallion that hung from her neck.

“My sword,” she said, 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, including Casey’s birth on the Feast Day of the Mother, and my mother’s death on the same day.

“You are a Marian family,” she pronounced, and I smiled, thinking how some people enjoy certainty and others the 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, asking: Is this the one born on Assumption of Mary?

She looked directly at Lloyd saying:

“You are consecrated to Our Lady.”

It was he who saw the Blue Lady shimmering on the land alongside the Whetstone Brook upon which we would later build our home.

“The Blue Lady is here to help you,” my therapist said, years earlier, after the birth of my second son, when I arrived in her chair riddled with grief over my mother’s early death from cancer.

“It’s blue like the light over Uncle Lenny’s bar in the barn,” Lloyd said, of the place where he was almost born and where he watched his little brother come into the world.

He hadn’t known the word: fluorescent.

I hadn’t been sure about the purchase of the land upon which we stood together, until I was told to whom the land just across the pond belonged.

The Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

topless

the author, fifty years ago

After walking the dirt half-mile from the highway, he arrives in the house, drops his backpack and removes his shirt, saying that the temperature was higher today than it was supposed to be. (In the chill of the early June morning, he chose to wear a long sleeve shirt to school.)

“Lately, I resent men going topless,” I say.

“Do you want me to put it back on,” he asks.

I don’t.

I remember my mother’s scoldings as a girl: “Put a shirt on!”

And later, about the age my son is now: “Put a bra on!”

The accumulation of shame.

As the temperatures rise in these Green Mountains, I feel anger rise in me when I see men walking the road–aged men and young men like my son–each one topless–as if all the space in the world is theirs, without a care for who might rape them.

the author, 30 years ago

Mothers Day Nightmares

On Mothers Day night, with both sons at home, I wake to the sound of my youngest vomiting in the toilet, and I realize that I have had a nightmare. “A dream about the Patriarchy,” my husband offers in the dark.

In the dream, it is daylight, and there is this charismatic man who I find attractive and then threatening as I watch Him weave his way through homes & classrooms & workplaces, alternatingly charming then murderous. Slitting throats, dividing families, orphaning children.

Each time I get wise to Him, I sense the great vulnerability of going against such cunning, and something else–I see how willing others are to oblige this power and destruction in blindness; and so I become absorbed with protecting myself whenever He appears, until I see Him follow a family into the loft over the Great Room, and doesn’t He kill the young father and then the mother, as their child toddles unprotected toward the open railing.

Terrified, I dash past a bureau and a hutch and sweep the child up into my arms, where she becomes an infant, and with little time to spare, I dangle her through the bars of the railing thinking I could drop her to safety if only someone would appear in the Great Room below.

And then I see him! My father! But although he hears my calls, he cannot see the child, even though I direct his attention toward her again and again.

I consider dropping the infant to the floor, but just then my youngest son enters the room, and seeing the dangling child, puts out his arms to catch Her.

And with that, the Patriarchy disappears.

an infatuation or a love affair?

I’m in love. Or at least completely infatuated.

You know those movie scripts, the ones where there’s this colleague or neighbor, and the main character dismisses her, forever, and then something happens, say some kind of crisis, and she steps in, and he finally sees her, and then little by little, she begins to color in his days, until he wakes one morning and realizes he’s head over heels with her?

–With that musty girl that he never liked much.

That’s how it is for me, and Rose.

At first, it was just a framed print. I bought it as a present for myself when I graduated from Yoga Teacher training. I wasn’t sure what it was about the photograph –the way she gave herself to opening, I suspect–and although I dismissed her again and again, she kept tugging at me, and so I surrendered.

That was the year I would turn 50, and now, in the past 5 years, little by little–first the livingroom, now my bedroom—repainted; and then into my closet–a scarf, a sweater, a bag; and into the bathroom: new towels, a basket, a shower cap. And then in my toiletries, and in the soap in the soap for the downstairs bathroom, deodorant; and in the essential oils for the woodstove.

Have I forgotten anything?

She’s everywhere.

And yet this morning, I woke wondering how I could get even closer to her, so that when I fell back to sleep, I dreamt of eating her, not just the petals (and not the stem or thorns of course) but the leaves, dried and crumbling on my tongue.

on belonging

One of the hardest parts of being born female is this matter of belonging.

As a girl, I saw that my mother–for good or for bad–belonged to her tribe of sisters; and to all of us children; and most demandingly of all–to my father.

HE, on the other hand, (like all he’s) seemed to belong to himself, to his work in the world.

And so, I set my sights on his horizon, only to discover, ever so slowly, that his choice wasn’t available to me…

At 15, I fell in love, and at 16, I offered up the gift of my body, and then it became my lover’s, increasingly so, demandingly so, guiltingly so, not only sexually, but also with regard to appearance, just as my father had evaluated my mother’s appearance and mine until the very last remark I can recall, just after I became a mother myself, the second time:

“You look good babe, but you need to lose some weight and get some sun.”

We were standing outside the hospital where he worked.
My mother, his ex, lay riddled with cancer inside.
The baby in my arms was 3 weeks old.
I was still bleeding.
I smiled.

I so wanted to “look good” to my father, but I felt pulled to surrender my body to these babies, this fleshy/messy/earthy life of womanhood, and so I did, until one day, my husband asked, when I passed him on the path to the outside shower:

“Would you mind shaving there?”

He explained his awkward request, recalling the sight of a much older cousin at the beach with hair poking out of her bikini bottom and down her legs when he had been a teen.

At thirty-five, he still recoiled at the memory.

I said: No.

If not for the pimples and the pain and how quickly the hair grew back and rubbed between my legs, I might have accommodated his discomfort.

It’s a risk this saying, No, isn’t it? At home. In the office. On a date. Among sisters.And specifically in a romantic relationship.

It’s always risk this being less beautiful than you are able, less attractive than those around you, less willing, less accommodating…

The threat of rejection is woven into our landscape, unspoken.

“Never let yourself go,” my father told me as a young woman. “When your husband arrives home from work, you want to look good.”

“…And don’t be too smart, or too demanding, or too (fill-in-the-blank)…”

And so, I was afraid.
I am still afraid
Only the voice of belonging to self grows louder and louder, overiding the other voices, the ones who still shout:

You are mine.

“Aren’t you afraid he’ll have an affair?” a friend asks when I admit how many weeks we’ve gone without sex.

Like winter into spring, the hormonal changes rock back and forth, so that sometimes it’s less painful and more pleasurable, and I could be sure to “keep” my husband, until the crescendo of Menopause, when the pain became unbearable like it had that first time–at 16–my head arched back, biting my lip, so that I might be desirable first and foremost.

It’s been more than 2 months now, and not without desire, but desire doused with fear. Not fear of pain. I was a home birther. Fear of despair, of no longer being… what?… I’m not sure…

I could take hormones, fool my body into thinking I was younger, like those who dye away the gray, but just like labor and menstrual cramps, I want to be present to what it is to be me in each moment, even aging, and isn’t this physical separation from the man I love and long for offering me something too?

I was never much for foreplay. I preferred it hard and fast, but as I’ve aged, I’ve opened myself up to more and more surrender, less forcing, more delight and awakening and slower unfoldings—in every part of my life.

He is exceedingly patient and kind and without demands, like those I once tolerated from him, back when I was nursing babies all night long, afraid of being left alone, afraid of being one of those wives.

In this new space between us, I am afraid that we will dissolve, and yet I am also finding something precious, recovering something precious, claiming something precious.

Belonging.

To myself.

When I listen and tend, my body is such a friend.

He draws me a bath afterward to soak my tender tissues.

I soften in the water, less anxious about the changes wreaking havoc in me; and when the water drains, I look down to see my pubic hair, full and bushy with the humidity, a dark crescent moon, smiling over creamy fleshy rising toward my belly.

“Remember when you asked me to shave?”

He shakes his heads, disappointed in the man he once was.

“I think it looks so pretty now,” I say, mostly to myself, remembering how I once took scissors to the hair between my legs because it wasn’t supposed to be there. Even men do it now I hear. (I should feel vindicated; Instead, I’m sad.)

After a week of vacation, I am softening into his arms again, but I am also pulling back, uncertain if I was ready to share my body.

When his fingers graze the side of my breast with the permission renewed after love-making, I see myself flip him over and press both my hands around his throat.

I am shocked by this violent vision, and curious too, and even amused–I am half his size.

I’m not sure if it’s Menopause or #45 or #metoo or Climate Change that has unearthed so much anger inside, not only for all the ways my body was claimed by others but for all the ways the body feminine–including Earth Mother–is raped, pillaged, sold, purchased, scorned.

It will be some time before he can touch me so freely again, maybe after these wild bodily transformations have subsided, or maybe never again, unless I have explicitly invited him in, an access pass which must be renewed, and is always, in all ways, worth the wait because a woman sovereign is desirable beyond praise.