I don’t intend to fall apart. I don’t intend to be standing by the sink, putting dirty plates into the dish washer one minute, and then falling to shambles the next, but this is what I do.
We’ve just watched the King’s Speech. Movies in general have a way of getting under my skin; I soak them up in the same way I soak up the emotions of strangers in a car on the subway; or at a bar, or a party where I know only a half dozen acquaintances by name. And so I’m scraping sauce off a plate and within seconds I’ve dug myself into a hole with T. I’ve made some flippant chiding comment I can’t defend or match with reason, and he’s putting silver into the drawer with unnecessary vigor, his voice raised.
I try to say stop, let’s not go here; hormones are making unsteady tonight, but it’s no use. He doesn’t hear me, not yet, not in the way I need him to. Things escalate. Whatever the words are that pass between us make me suddenly crumble. I run to the door. Drive away, sock footed.
The road is quiet. The air smells like snow.
I am the only one leaving, the only one with headlights making circles in the night. At the edge of the road there are deer. With the cold they come closer now to human dwellings; finding the last sweet fallen apples; the scraggly lawns still nearly green; the last frail petals of climbing roses, petals faded like pink paper tickets from the county fair.
I leave knowing that if I stayed whatever I’d say would wild and unsteady. I leave because I know that what I need is just to lean into the feeling: of sobbing, of yelling things out loud into to the dark, until the things I yell are the things that maybe feel true. I leave so that I don’t actually have to leave, though I can imagine every detail of the way I might: just a small bag, my laptop, wallet, jacket, passport, boots. I’d go somewhere cold and far away, with wheat fields and Tim Hortons and I’d get a room in a roadside motel and sob until I couldn’t, and then I’d sleep and wake and try to be in the realness of what it feels like to be anonymous.
I leave because hormones are making a short circuit between heart and mind now; I leave because this is what my body does without thought: fight or flight.
There are potholes in the road and I hit them harder than I should, and above is barely any moon, the shyest of slivers.
I drive down to the end of our dirt road and then I back into someone’s drive, do a K turn and retrace my way until the bridge, where I park at the waterfall, and listen to it thunder, under a sky full of gathering snow clouds. I turn the engine off and feel the cold start in at my extremities.
And then I cry I know that the only thing I want is to return, though even then, even when I do, I say the opposite of what I mean:
“I just want to be alone.”
Why do I say that?
I walk to the boy’s rooms and find each of them uncovered, arms flung about like rag dolls. I rest my head on Bean’s mattress and feel the way the thought of him fills me up with sunlight. I inhale Sprout’s sweet sleeping breath. I tiptoe out. And then I pace back and forth in my studio until T comes to my door, sits with me, lets me sob, says only enough, finds the tense muscles between my shoulder blades and begins to work on them with a steady, warm hand.
The whole thing catches me by storm: The way I fall apart, as though my bones and heart and ambition and love and determination were all bricks and mortar in a dam so fragile that the dislodging of a single stone might cause the whole thing to slip and tumble under a sudden hormonal torrent.
It’s humbling and devastating and incredibly powerful to find the outer limit of my capacity.
And I’m sharing this here because sometimes people email me and say, “How do you do it?” Meaning the ALL of it part. And the answer is that I don’t always; the answer is that I’m still getting the hang of it. The answer is that there is a vital choreography here that I will always be learning: a dance between generative and productive; between producing and reflecting; between doing and taking enough damn space to remember how to just be silly and pretty and playful.
I tend toward overachieving; toward flat-out sprinting; towards burning the candle at both ends. I tend towards this because I love to be consumed, engaged, invested, at work. I love to work. I love to create. That’s the simple truth. But I am not nearly so graceful in the learning to reel myself in bit. The taking things easy part.
The part where I just take the day off to paint my nails aubergine and tickle my boys and trawl petfinder.com for the dog that my heart keeps whispering for.
That’s the real of it. The ALL of it. I’m good at going full tilt. Less good at coming to a full stop.