There are over 7 billion of us humans here on Earth, but how often do we feel as though we are entirely alone? Right now, I am sitting on my comfortable couch in my second favorite room of the house, and it’s the kind of grey misty day I love, and it’s an unbelievably cool day for mid-July (I am wearing long sleeves! On July 18! In Memphis!); one kid is two feet away from me, yelling at the Playstation 3, and the smaller kid is methodically dumping out on the floor every single small toy she owns, but my heart — today, my heart feels small and shriveled, all drawn up the way my skin gets when I step outside in winter, and it’s like there’s this giant bubble all around me, and it’s made up of loneliness, and a quiet ache inside my chest, and a persistent sadness. Everything in my life has to pass through that bubble to get to me, so the day takes on a muted quality; words come wrapped in cotton wool, touch comes through a tunnel, and at the center of it all, I sit with just myself, both unaware of and acutely tuned in to the world happening on every side of me.
But this is the thing – we’re not alone. I’m not alone, and neither are you. The internet has the capability to bring us closer together than ever before, so why do so many of us feel stranded on these islands of inhibited emotions? Why are so many of us afraid to admit to the very things that bind us together, the flaws that make us human, the unsaid stuff that could provide a safety net of shared experiences if only we would give it a name, a voice? What if we shook all that isolation off, what if we let it collect in our fingertips and on our lips, and then typed it all out in a stream of relief on a stark white screen, or spoke it out onto the wind, or into the ear of a listening friend? If you knew it wasn’t an island, but a clearing in a forest, with small but brightly burning fires all around you, just past the trees? I’m not alone. You’re not alone.
You’re not the only one who has stared down at two lines in wonder and fear and excitement and dread, who has had to eat two crackers before moving out of bed in the morning just so you don’t throw up in the shower, who has stretched and bloated and bled; you’re not the only one who has had cramps in between the emptiness on the screen and the kindness and cold hands of nurses at the end of their shifts, who has curled up in a ball under the covers and and wrapped your arms around breasts that are no longer sore or heavy, who has stared into the black eye of the night and seen infinite possibilities snuffed out by one bright red mark on the toilet paper; you’re not the only one who has had cramps in between the soft flickering of the screen and the matter-of-fact reassurance of a midwife in shining armor, who has marveled at the head-down hiccups at midnight and the rolling waves of elbows and knees, who has stared into the black eye of night and roared one body into two, everything you know condensed into an armful of messy wetness and a single breath.
You’re not the only one who has tried to measure formula by the microwave light at 3:14 in the morning, eyes almost crossed from lack of sleep, spilling powder onto sticky countertops and an unmopped floor and leaving it until morning or for the dog to lick up, and you’re not the only who has fumbled with the flap of a nursing bra at 4:17 in the morning, the maddeningly small hook just outside your range of sleep-deprived ability, milk soaking through the fabric already and your baby’s miniscule window of contentment shrinking rapidly by the second. You’re not the only one who has been judged for the way you feed your child, why they still have a bottle, why you’re still breastfeeding, why you don’t just do things the way someone somewhere says you should do things. You’re not the only one who has cried because you couldn’t breastfeed, or told someone to fuck off because you don’t want to breastfeed, or rolled your eyes inwardly over shaming framed as mock concern.
You’re not the only one who has walked the floor with a screaming newborn, crying quietly into the blanket you’ve wrapped them in, wondering what on earth you did and what in the world you’re going to do, waiting for things to get back to normal and finally accepting that this is your new normal, who has laid awake listening to the sounds of their breathing and desperately prayed that no harm ever come to them, not only for their own sake, but because you don’t know how you would survive without them; you’re not the only one who has tried for years to become a mother, then sat on the floor in the middle of a pile of toys, dinner burning on the stove, the dog scratching to be let out, the bills you keep forgetting to pay under the diaper bag you keep forgetting to clean out, staring around you in disbelief that this is your life, wanting to simply stand up and walk out the door, to stand on the shoulder of the highway and hitch a ride to somewhere where there’s snow and silence, who wished for this with all your heart but for those five minutes, feels the heart-bursting panic of a small animal caught fast in a trap.
You’re not the only one has navigated parenthood blindfolded and with one hand tied behind your back, each year full of laughter and tragedy and heartache and triumph, each day more certain that you don’t know what you’re doing but that as long as you’re loving, the kids will probably be okay; you’re not the only one who has been on one date in the last nineteen months, who barely remembers what kissing feels like, who hasn’t had noisy sex in like seven years, who takes hour-long baths because it’s the only time you can read uninterrupted, who only gets to take a solitary pee four out of every ten times. You’re not the only one who finds most of your nine year old’s jokes entirely unfunny, who has days when the only time your two year old is cute is when they’re sleeping, who tells them both to just stop.talking. because your ears have a headache from listening to them for literally ten hours straight; you’re not the only one who has been awake for forty-two hours in a row, who looks down at your screaming newborn like a foreign object, who abstractedly thinks in the smallest inner voice “I hate you” and immediately regrets it because you know it’s a lie and you’re horrified you could even think it.
You’re not the only one who never lost all the baby weight, who rubs absentmindedly at the silvery stretchmarks that cover your belly like a rosary, who has gone up and gone down three bra sizes in the last four years, whose body is traveling ever faster towards middle-age in ever more noticeable ways; you’re not the only who buys jeans a size larger and wonders if you’re still attractive, wonders if your husband still looks at you the same, wonders if you’ve let him down by not looking the same now as you did ten or fifteen or twenty years ago. You’re not the only one who has an abstract plan in place in case he cheats on you, who has a tiny place inside that thinks you wouldn’t blame him, who hates the plan and that voice and fights against both at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night when you didn’t have sex again; you’re not the only one who looks in the mirror and barely recognizes the face that greets you, how she’s you but she’s not, how she looks more like your mom and how your smile is becoming more like your dad’s and how you look like a grown-up, and you’re not the only one who holds in your stomach 80% of every day and who barely remembers what a full breath feels like in the presence of others.
You’re not the only one who sometimes leaves dirty diapers on a little longer than you probably should, who gives the kids chicken strips and macaroni and cheese more often than you probably should, who doesn’t always (ever) buy organic, who gets fast food and then feels guilty for it, who doesn’t sweep every day even though you have dogs and their hair makes soft little piles all over the house; you’re not the only one who lets clean laundry pile up like a wrinkled mountain of lavender-scented laziness, who doesn’t scrub the toilets and the bath tub nearly as often as you ought to, who sometimes simply turns off a light and closes the door rather than look at and acknowledge the mess of a bedroom you’ve asked your kid to clean up at least three times. You’re not the only one who reads another chapter of the book instead of vacuuming, who has a cup’s worth of crumbs in the back seat of your car, who lets them watch TV instead of playing a game with them, who sometimes takes shortcuts because it’s the only way to keep your sanity intact.
And you’re not the only one who is scared of losing yourself in this journey; who hasn’t written a single word in months, who hasn’t picked up a paintbrush or knitting needle since you had a baby, who hasn’t held a pencil in so long that it feels like you’ve forgotten how. You’re not the only one who feels like you’ve been bled dry by the end of the day, like a bleached jumble of bones laid out on your bed in the moonlight, with nothing holding you together except someone else’s need, and it’s all you can do to just stay there in one spot; you’re not the only one who wonders what else there will be for you, what will be left of your heart once they’re grown, how you can sustain yourself in this current space. And you’re not the only one who finds fulfillment outside of motherhood, who needs to move and create and comfort outside the square feet of your home; you’re not the only one who has a wide-open spirit and a need to be just a little bit wild, just sometimes, who wants to drink too much and dance too dirty and lick honey from the fingers of a lover.
You’re not the only one who looks at them with awe, looks at your life with the most profound gratitude, takes in the mess and the noise and the chaos and the sheer scale of it all and feels it like a punch to your solar plexus, all this incredible disarray and the way it fills your body like sunshine. You’re not the only one who thinks you would die without them, or who knows that you would go on living but living like a shadow, or who knows that you wouldn’t live in the shadows but feel them like clouds passing over you, like stars settling on your skin; you’re not the only one who breathes them in, memorizing the way they smell, like warmth and earth and the brine of the sea, like pine trees and the ground right before winter. You’re not the only one who’s helpless in the face of the force of their love, their need, and you stretch yourself around it, mold yourself to fit, shedding skins where you must.
You’re not the only who’s been trying to read this for over an hour, who has to keep stopping to get snacks and drinks and tie a shoe and wipe a nose and kiss a scratched knee; you’re not the only one who’s been trying to write something like this for months, who has to keep stopping to change the channel and make them dinner and take them swimming and run their bath and tuck them in.
You’re not alone. We’re not alone. It’s not an island, it’s a forest — just look for the closest campfire. xx
I should be writing about the importance of feminist theory in the national discourse,
or the sobering statistics of gun violence, the cluster effect of it in poor communities.
I should be turning my hand to the double-fisted punch of domestic violence,
the way women and children are beaten and then ignored, a grim tragic ghost we throw salt at.
I should be pouring ink out over the way we still go to war like face-painted barbarians,
blood and money smelling of muddy greed, settling in under fingernails and behind the ears.
I should be pounding out odes to immigrant orphans, stanzas swinging from the rope of capital punishment, verses making the sign of the cross over the demonization of the poor
the only words that want to come are ones that describe the softness just beneath your bottom lip, an imperfect oval of smooth skin inside the thick bristle of hair, whose silvering is one more subtle sign of our aging.
And the only songs I can think to sing over paper and pencil sound like the music of the muscles
in your throat standing out beneath the stroke of my thumb, and how the world becomes muted
with my ear pressed to your chest, reminding me of the diminishing whistle of the trains, how they grow smaller as they struggle through all this summer growth.
It’s like the exhortations of an earnest young preacher I once knew: be in the world, but not of it. And so it is with the importance of your distraction, the a-bomb of your hand with a fistful of my hair, how I explode outside of myself, looking down on the ruins of me, waiting for my breath to build my body back up from rubble.
This is the world, the heavy weight of your arm across me, and I am in it; that is the world, those stories, and I am too moved by the moonlight on your white skin to reach beyond our bedroom for my pen.