Where have I been? To be honest, I’ve been busy taking myself too seriously, with an enormous cold sore on my lip, that’s where I’ve been. I’ve discovered that I’m quite prone to becoming rather preoccupied with the outcome of my life and days. It’s foolishly easy to sit in the dark in a rocking chair with my baby attached to my breast, wondering, is this the sum of now? Is this what I intended when I was twenty-one, more sleek, more plump, more inflamed with ideals?
The truth is also that the cold sore on my lip caused quite a rash of vanity. I didn’t want to go out of the house, stupid as it is. I could feel it prickling up on my face last Friday night, the irritation starting at the thin pale line between pink and cheek. It bristled, as cold sores are wont to do, into an enormous festering thing and quickly I felt felled by my lot. Seriously. All week I’ve had this thing on my face and I had to go about my life driving Bean to and from school, attending meetings, meeting deadlines. A friend said, unthinking, “Oh my god what happened to you?” and I wanted at once to weep with self pity and also to laugh hysterically because dear lord, it’s just a fucking cold sore and I should get over myself. I almost have.
And also: how seriously we take ourselves in our small lives. And still there is a wild striped stampede in my heart rocketing towards whatever is still out there to be mine.
Even in the dark I feel it as I am rocking my second baby, my last one, who is nursing with gusto, his little hands moving about, clutching at my skin, my shirt, my hair, my lips. There is something utterly elemental and mammalian about these moments that we share. He’s drinking me in, his hands memorizing my soul, my teeth, the slack skin at the backs of my elbows, my hair which has grown long now, down below shoulders. I need to remember to sink into this, to let go, to let things be more. The imperfect has never been something I sought after; now it is always mine. Each day bridled with the bittersweet of knowing all that my heart knows.
Life is the wild startling flight of chickadees, the softness of my boy’s cheeks, the salty smell of my husband’s skin against my lips, the dishes in the sink, bread dough soft and punchy in a bowl rising by the wood stove, icicles, each one sharp and glittering, dripping as the temperature warms. And life is also knowing that I have this while someone else is hungry; and also that I long for things I do not have; and also that each day is short, too short, and sleep still consist of fragments torn from the blurry cloth of night.
Someone said in the comments awhile back that I don’t seem to be happy, and when I read this I was struck by how narrow the perimeter of that word is. Happy. It feels neither big enough, or small enough to contain all that is in my heart.
Still, its true that it’s been one of those weeks, and in fact it’s been one of those years—and by that I mean that I’ve been preoccupied a great deal here with the day to day, and also with a pervasive feeling of not getting as far as I need to with my life; not doing as much as I should or whatever. The thing I kind of keep forgetting and then bumping into again and again is the fact that I had a baby this year, and really, that is a big fucking deal even though its something that happens all the time to nearly every woman, and most of them are not nearly as lucky as I am with their lot, if you think of all the women in Iraq or in the Indian slums or in China or Sudan. Having a baby is derailing in the best and worst ways. It splinters your heart and your objectives. It makes you become, and also destroys small (and possibly shallow) parts of who you once were. (Who was I at twenty-one anyway? What did I want?)
How we measure our lives is so strangely, imperfectly, foolishly, relative. My life this year has seemed particularly small to me some days, and sometimes I want to sob because of its smallness. On these days my dreams become thunderous and sharp against my ribs inside my heart. But who am I, really, to feel anything beyond the gift of this life? So I have a fucking cold sore and spent a year raising young boys under significant financial stress. So. Fucking. What. It all seems small when you think of Haiti. Or Afghanistan. Or what life must look like behind the crazy political and literal barbed wire curtain of North Korea.
So that’s where I’ve been: feeling kind of sorry for myself because I’m turning thirty-two in another week and I’m not sure about the whole success bit—what it means, or if I’ve achieved it, or if it even matters.
I know I get caught up in this a lot—even with just simply posting here. I trick myself into this mindset that I always have to write something relevant, and this year has been one of many quiet moments and a lot of angst about making ends meet, and so without meaning to I’ve stopped noticing the small things, stopped writing about how the world makes me feel full to the brim with it’s beauty, always, nearly every day.
This makes me sad: I’ve recorded less about Sprout by a long shot than I did about Bean, and I wish that it weren’t the case since I’ve loved his babyhood so entirely—even more, in a way than I did Bean’s because it wasn’t fraught with the same angst about each phase of babyhood. I want to get back to writing down the simple things because for one, my short-term memory is shot, and also, because it locates me in my life in a simple and wholesome way that I love. Writing down the day is like finding myself on a You Are Here map, even if the map is small and crumpled and only consists of a few shaky lines delineating the floor plan of my kitchen.
When the decade started I was twenty-one and eager and I didn’t actually put much thought towards concrete goals. What did I expect? If I were really honest, I’d have to say that I didn’t have a fucking clue what I to expect from my twenties. And in the end, maybe it doesn’t matter much at all, because as Kurt Vonnegut says, “Be patient. Your future will soon come to you and lie down at your feet like a dog who knows and loves you no matter what you are.”
And also, even if I did have expectations, they wouldn’t have included heartbreak or shock (expectations never do account for such things.)
I couldn’t have imagined how aching and pell-mell and urgent my twenties would be. How life would hit hard and fast, with loss and surprise, each event following closely upon the heels of the last. I became a teacher. My father died (as I sat with him.) I had a baby boy (unplanned.) I got married. I helped to gut and rebuild a house in a unfamiliar city in an unfamiliar state. I was in a school related shooting. I began working with an author I admire immensely. I was nominated for a pushcart prize. I was accepted to graduate school twice and derailed both times because of topsy-turvy life events. I had another baby boy (unplanned.) I quit teaching. I couldn’t have put my finger on any of it, really, which leaves me reeling. Bracing. Shit. Tomorrow I’ll wake up and be forty-two and what will I be saying then?
Now I feel wide-eyed and tenuous. This is my life. These moments, fragrant and tender with my baby’s soft head against my breast. He slips into sleep, and I look into the dark towards the pale outline of the window where snow falls outside.
+++ PS: I'm having fun painting the zebras. (This painting is for sale, by the way...) PPS: What did you expect? How has your life measured up?