I said, â€œWhat?â€ Not really listening, caught up in the replay of a Teri Gross interview with the late Kurt Vonnegut on NPR.
â€œI yuv you,â€ he said with a rosy, jelly-smudged grin.
It felt, then, like summer sunlight. Like lightening bugs flitting about the lawn on a late August evening; like standing at the top of a very tall mountain, above the clouds and suddenly breathless; like finding ten perfect unbroken sand dollars in a row at the beach;
â€œI love you too,â€ I said. â€œSo much.â€
In my chest, I suddenly felt the fluttering of a thousand mariposas.
Itâ€™s bizarre sometimes, how things you were sure you were set on, when they donâ€™t come to fruition, make room for other things to come into focus, unfurl, blossom. Every so often I feel like I get the chance to pan out and see the full three-ring-circus that is my life. The rest of the time, Iâ€™m there in the midst of it, too close to the action for perspective, twirling with the raspberry stain of my love smudged across my sleeve, and a thousand fragile things gathered up in my arms: my child, my work, my many foibles and distractions.
Finding the small envelope in my mailbox gave me this unexpected opportunity for perspective. It made me step back and really admit for the first time, how utterly overwhelming the past year of my life has been. Iâ€™m a chin-up kind of girl, and Iâ€™ve been trying to tell myself a hundred happy-ending stories, but painted over the stress of raising a toddler and renovating our own home, has been the pale hue of trauma after the shooting that took place at the school where I work in the beginning of the year. Terror pressed into the supple limbic portion of my brain that cannot speak and only feels, with sudden abrupt urgency, and altered the certain fundamental aspects of the way I live and trust and respond in the world.
Iâ€™ve been navigating my way out of that maze of reactions the entire year, and somewhere in the process, when I applied to grad schools, I entirely forgot about the school Iâ€™d researched last year that really belonged at the top of my list. Forgot, entirely.I was so shocked to realize this, it made me no longer sad about the small envelope bearing the word regret. Instead I finally gave myself permission to slow down a bit. Permission to have the summer here, with my family and a box of mail-order chicks, and watermelon seed spitting contests and writing workshops, and to take out West to run a half marathon with my sister.
Permission to not compete with the peers in my life who are at different places in their lives, because in the end, our lives are tangled up with entirely different sets of stars. Canâ€™t you picture that? All of us, like marionettes with fragile golden strings stretching up into the dark indigo bowl of heaven. Have you ever looked up and tried to count all those stars?
Like dislocated limb, Iâ€™ve been dangling on the peripheries of my life all year. Iâ€™ve spent many months trying to find that groove where the cartilage of necessity and the bone of loving and dreaming meet. It has been painful. My senses of safety and inner equilibrium have been precariously balanced amidst a heap of responsibility and guilt and worry. My days are scribbled with the irrational ink of worry. Iâ€™ve burst into sudden shocked tears when a glass breaks. Iâ€™ve had entire fights, painful and raw and startling, that midway through, I can no longer recall the initial provocation.
Somehow, receiving that letter didnâ€™t shake my belief in my writing at allâ€”the way I imagined it would, before it came. Now, from this vantage point I donâ€™t think my writing was the reason I was rejected at all. I think instead it was because my readiness to be there wasnâ€™t self-evident in my application, or in my hurried recommendations from professors I hadnâ€™t worked with in years.
I donâ€™t know if I would have been ready, honestly. It would be a little like jumping off a bus moving at full speed, and because Iâ€™m that chin-up kid with a big ego, Iâ€™m sure Iâ€™d make it work somehow, despite the inevitable scraped knees and broken arm. But this way Iâ€™ll have some time to really find my footing, rather than plunging blindly into a new stream with flooding banks, which graduate work in writing invariably is.
So Iâ€™m looking forward to summer now, more than I was. (Also because eight inches of sleety frozen crap is in the forecast for tomorrow night. Somewhere, some very drunk weather gods are having a hell of a good time at our expense.) Some part of me feels like hugging this other part of me that has reached out and offered permission to just be here right now; at the beginning, instead of rushing pell-mell ahead. I know how that sounds, but I canâ€™t think of any other way of describing how my drive to accomplish things can a perilous and ruthless taskmaster, who crowds my days with post-it notes and plans, and forgets life is happening right now, and how relieved I am to have to slow down.
Life is happening right now.
He said â€œI yuv you mommy,â€ and he was beaming.