If We Do This, Then We Really Did This.

alt: www.whitedoewoman.com

You’re Doing Just Fine.

moon

love is the voice under all silences,
the hope which has no opposite in fear;
the strength so strong mere force is feebleness:
the truth more first than sun more last than star
-e.e. cummings


__

Maybe you’re reading this and it’s three a.m. and you just got the baby back to sleep again, and your sheets smell like slightly sour milk and they’re damp in places and you know you should probably change her diaper but there’s no way you’re disturbing her when she just drifted off, so you scroll down the screen, and you keep catching a slight scent of ammonia on top of the weirdly familiar smell of your own sleep-deprived desperation, but instead of turning off your phone and letting your eyes close, you use the light to stare at the way her lips form a perfect rosebud and her forest of lashes paints a world of shadows on her cheeks until your dreams take you in spite of yourself, and when you wake up in two hours, or one hour, or thirty-seven minutes to her sweet kitten sounds and softly searching hands, I want you to remember this: you are doing this with love, and you’re doing just fine.

Maybe you’re reading this and it’s six in the morning, and you’re rummaging through the dishwasher, looking for the clean bottles and nipples with bleary eyes that still have sleep-crusted corners, and your hand knocks over the can of formula and it spills all over the counter, and the water is taking forever to heat up, and over the monitor that has batteries that need to be replaced but you keep forgetting to buy them, you can hear the crackling sound of your three month old starting his day, and you really just wanted one cup of coffee with only yourself for company and you know by the time you get back to it it will be tepid and taste terrible, but it’s okay, you’ll go in and get him and the warm, sleepy shape of him curled into your arms will feel like the best and most important thing you’ve ever done, and as you hold him close while he greedily gulps down the four ounces that are inching towards five, remember this: you are doing it with love, and you’re doing just fine.

__

Maybe you’re reading this and you’re reminiscing about the beautiful birth you had at home, the way time flowed exactly the way you’d pictured and the energy in the room was just right, and your contractions were the kind you could breathe through and your visualizations worked the way they were meant to, and everything was an ocean, waves crashing and water receding, and the light wasn’t too bright and the voices weren’t too loud, and everything was suffused with the kind of love you can taste on the air, and then came the thundering between your thighs and the high wailing that accompanies crossing a veil, and there he was, everything and nothing you expected, and as your mind wanders down a path lined with warm memories as thick as flannel, remember this: you did it with love, and you’re doing just fine.

Maybe you’re reading this through tears soaking into your pillow, remembering a hundred times over each part that went wrong, each time you felt alone and unimportant and ignored, each time you were let down, led astray, and left with all your emotions flipped inside out, shrinking back from the exposure, and every minute felt as though you’d lived a lifetime within its scope, and you feel like you gave your power away, you feel like you let them take that primal part of you and excise it, neatly, impersonally, and you feel like you never had anything to bargain with in the beginning anyway, and sometimes you can’t sleep at night because the bad dreams fill up your room and seep into your skin, and you’re doing what you can to put the pieces of yourself back together because you can’t go on being this broken, and you know it might be the hardest work you ever have to do, but you’re dedicated to the doing of it, and as you cry and you contemplate, please remember this: you did it out of love, and you’re doing just fine.

__

Maybe you’re a stay at home mom, reading this at your kitchen table, surrounded by grocery lists and meal plans, and maybe you’re trying to keep everything as clean as possible – the house, the kids, the food, the car that seems to attract stray hair and mountains of crumbs like a magnet – and some days it feels like you were made to do this and some days you want to pack a bag and get the hell out, and you love your kids so much it could crack your ribs in half, but you’re pretty sure it’s not too much to ask to be able to poop in peace, and maybe even have a bath once in a while without someone coming in and asking can I have a cracker? can I have five dollars? can I make a battleship out of the brownies you burnt and sink it with the fireplace lighter? can you tell me why god doesn’t like Harry Potter? and sometimes you wake up with a mouth full of thankfulness for the moments you aren’t missing and sometimes you lie in the dark paralyzed at all the moments you are missing and as you count your concerns disguised as wolves in sheep’s clothing, just remember: you are doing all this out of love, and you’re doing it just fine.

Maybe you’re a single mom, working endless hours, reading this as you hurriedly stuff a sandwich in your face on what’s left of your thirty minute lunch break, and you’re barely making enough to get by most months, and you can feel their eyes on you in the check-out line, eyes that spark small fires in the back of your head and flame the side of your face, and you know they’re silently calculating how much that box of Cap’n Crunch costs you, and you can see your basket through the filter of their judgment, weighing up the ten boxes of generic mac ‘n cheese, the store brand pizzas, the value pack of chips and the dented cans of mixed vegetables and the distinct lack of fresh fruit, and you wish you could tell them how you work until six every night, and your kids have to be in bed by eight so they won’t be monsters in the morning while you get them ready for daycare and school, and that you can make a week’s worth of meals for what two pounds of apples costs, and you wish they would listen, but you just swipe your card and walk to your car with your head full of hornets, and as you sit there with your hands on the wheel, willing yourself not to care, I want you to remember this: you are doing it out of love, and you’re doing just fine.

__

Maybe you ate sushi while you were pregnant. Maybe you abstained from caffeine the whole nine months. Maybe you elected to have a c-section. Maybe you wanted an epidural the minute you showed up at the hospital. Maybe you never wanted to breastfeed. Maybe you wanted to breastfeed, and couldn’t. Maybe you pumped exclusively for a year. Maybe you work from home. Maybe you work sixty hours a week. Maybe you are trying to straddle that old, worn out fence between “mother” and “artist.” Maybe you are happily married to a wonderful man. Maybe you are happily married to a wonderful woman. Maybe you are happily married to the idea that you are all you need, and all the parent your children need. Maybe you share a family bed. Maybe you don’t want a child in your bed. Maybe you spank your kids. Maybe you have a time-out stair. Maybe you have a nanny. Maybe you do everything yourself.

Maybe you’re fulfilled.

Maybe you’re lonely.

Maybe you’re never sure you’re doing it right.

Listen to me. Remember.

Are you doing it out love?

Then you’re doing fine.

A Love Letter To Scotland

“Stain not the glory of your worthy ancestors, but like them resolve never to part with your birthright; be wise in your deliberations, and determined in your exertions for the preservation of your liberties. Follow not the dictates of passion, but enlist yourselves under the sacred banner of reason; use every method in your power to secure your rights.”
― Joseph Warren, American patriot

arbroath-abbey-statue

Declaration of Arbroath statue, located at Arbroath Abbey in Angus.

I am American, but my heart belongs to Scotland.

I was born and raised thirty-one miles from Graceland, brought up on the blues; I cut my teeth on sweet tea and Shakespeare with a southern drawl. I’ve been fascinated by the Civil War and civil rights, I have walked barefoot in the Mississippi and waded knee-deep in the mud. I have fallen asleep listening to the whisper of the wind through fifty year old pines, and I have shared a patch of clover with a hundred buzzing bees, and I have truthfully named this place as home.

But still, my heart belongs to Scotland.

I married a Scottish man almost eleven years ago. It rained on our wedding day. It was November, and it was cold, and we were piped in on a wave of bright tartan. Within 14th century walls, we said we would and we did, and just like that, it was home. For six years, I worked, lived, and loved in Scotland. I fell asleep with the faint glow of the Grangemouth refinery lighting up our open window. I wandered through Callendar Wood and sat with the smallness of myself under trees with too many rings to count. I learned to navigate the buses and trains and took myself to art exhibits in Edinburgh and special screenings in Glasgow. I found foxes in our garden hedge and watched deer disappear in the thick fog of early morning. Our first child was born into the waiting hands of an NHS midwife, her neat uniform wrinkled all over from my clenched fists. We ordered takeaways, we got drunk on McEwan’s, and we made an almost impossibly good life in our little number 7 terraced.

We moved back to the US five years ago, for a number of reasons, none of which include a lessening of love for Scotland. Things are different here, but so much the same, as the UK marches ever onward to a re-imagining of itself in America’s image. Privatisation of the NHS, a growing divide between the richest rich and the poorest poor, a rising backlash against immigration, and a tender concern for corporations instead of citizens — watching this happen from afar has produced a distant sort of depression, a sense that this is simply the way things are now, the dead weight of dreams boxed up and labeled as too idealistic, too romantic, too naive. The thing with cynicism is the way it creeps around the corners unseen — if you’re not careful, it begins to color the world around you. You find yourself saying “no” more often, meeting optimism with contempt, mocking the notion of effective change. You begin to grow cranky and grey. The sweet light you were born into grows dim around the edges. “Yes” starts to feel foreign on your tongue.

But then, something happens. Something stirs under the surface, moving with the heaviness of hibernation, gaining life and breath and limberness as it comes. It is reclamation in slow motion — the coming of age of a liberty long stifled and stood upon. The roots of it reach down through the centuries, and as it begins to break ground, as it begins to gulp down great lungfuls of air and turn its face towards the sun, the self-imposed blindness of cynicism starts to fall away. A silhouette appears on the horizon, and it takes the shape of hope; this is peaceful revolution that goes beyond a ballot box, and it is history in the making.

And so, it is and it isn’t about the politics. It is and it isn’t about the economics. It is and it isn’t about keeping the pound, about the relocation of RBS headquarters, about Trident and Asda and the blatant lies of the BBC. It is and it isn’t about David Cameron and his stupid questions and stupid answers. It is and it isn’t about No Thanks and Better Together and cereal bowls and crackpot campaigns. It is and it isn’t about oil reserves and broken promises and budget cuts and the purring of a Queen.

It is about the momentum of independence. It is about a democracy which insists on the participation of its citizens. It is about the idea and implementation of inclusive nationalism. It is about an abiding romanticism coupled with an almost painful pragmatism. It is about the legacy of free will, a call to arms for cultural autonomy, and a long-standing desire for devolution. It is about seeking out that sacred banner of reason and flying it for all the world to see. It is about being brave in the face of a birthright you have both hidden from and ached for.

It is about saying YES even in the face of NO. It is about saying YES to the unknown, accepting that you don’t have all the answers. It is about saying YES to getting in on the ground level of building a better country. It is about saying YES to our young people, those bright-burning beacons of optimism and purpose and passion. It is about saying YES to what you should have had for hundreds of years. It is about saying YES to being worthy on your own terms. It is about saying YES to governing your own beautiful selves, your own beautiful country, and saying YES because you know you are entirely capable of it. It is about saying YES over and over again, even when you’re weary, even when you’re defeated, even when you’re a minority.

It’s about proving them wrong by doing it right.

It’s about faith in the face of fear.

It’s about bringing our kids home to a better Scotland.

It’s about inspiring the world.

It’s about doing it better than America has.

But mostly? Mostly, it’s about this:

“…for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

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I Was Told.

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I was told she could smell the blood on me, as she circled like a wolf, sniffing out the weak bite of tired iron, the thrill of the hunt cloaked in concern. “You should change your pad more often.” I’m just telling you as a friend, she said. People might notice, she said. The gym lights glinted like twin moons in her eyes and the clanging of feet on the bleachers sprung like a trap in my ears.

I was told to go back to sleep, the monsters aren’t real. But we’re the thing hiding under the bed, we are the thing peeking out of the closet. We are the human faces of the longest fall from grace. We’re still haunting ourselves. We’re still falling.

I was told to smile, you’re such a pretty girl, smile, it’s not that bad, smile, it wouldn’t kill you to try, would it? Smile for me I’m not ready to look under the veil I’m not ready to pull back the curtain I’m not ready to face the full reality of your aching humanity. Smile my illusions back into their place.

I was told to stop: stop calling me I’ll call you, stop calling me can’t you see I’m busy, stop calling me don’t you understand my whole life isn’t you. Stop acting like I did something wrong. Stop acting like I hurt you. Stop acting like you own me. Stop acting like a person who feels things. Stop acting like a person.

I was told my body belonged not to me but to the hands that cupped my ass in a crowded subway train, to the pelvis pushed against me on a crowded dance floor, to the eyes slowly sliding my clothes off from across the room, to the honking horn of a passing truck at 2:45 on a school day.

I was told to stop crying, it’s just a book, stop crying, it’s just a movie, stop crying, it’s not you kids it’s just that we need a break, stop crying, it doesn’t mean I love you any less, stop crying, you deserve somebody better than me, stop crying, you’re such a goddamn baby nutcase lunatic psycho drama queen attention whore manipulator.

I was told my consent meant nothing by the neat parting of my thighs by knees like knives, by the hot breath on the back of my neck, by the short sharp fury of his fucking, by the whispered pleading he left hanging unheard over my head, by the way he never said a single word.

I was told to be quiet by a boy who was almost a man, his breath like beer and barbecue, his weight looming over me like an asteroid, shhh, he said, shhh, what is wrong with you, why are you crying like that, why do you keep saying his name?

I was told I was so beautiful by the light of my own crazy moon, so beautiful in the shine of my submission, so beautiful in the way I just lay there and let them do things. So beautiful in my desperate need to be divorced from my own body. So beautiful in the separated way of a refugee.

I was told to get on my knees, to wash the feet of Jesus with the tears of spent virginity, to set the altar on fire with atonement for Eve, to leave humanity on the floor in search of the Holy Spirit, to swallow the blood and eat the body, to pray away my own purpose, my own person.

I was told there was nothing there, which I already knew, because I knew my womb. In between the bathroom and the waiting room, before the pamphlets but after the blind eye of the ultrasound wand, it had transformed into an empty tomb, from which nothing would rise from the dead, nothing would rise from the ashes.

I was told I didn’t need second helpings.

I was told to shake it, baby, work that ass, but I was only working that ass down the street to my minimum wage job, or to the bodega to buy bananas, or to the free clinic that told me there was nothing they could do, but work it girl, went the words from the men in the stained undershirts in the folding chairs, work it girl, you slut you dyke you bitch you don’t ignore me I’m talking to you.

I was told I couldn’t go to the funeral.

I was told to breathe into a paper bag.

I was told withholding nourishment was a kindness, a killing made soft by its compassionate corners, but our instinct is to feed and water, and watching her die by the smallest degrees forged a steeliness in my spine, made molten rock of my heart.

I was told “I’m okay” in the last lucid moments.

I was told she didn’t suffer.

I was told to hold my keys between my fingers, don’t take candy drinks rides from strangers, never walk alone at night, keep your skirt below the knee, but no one ever told me how to protect me from myself.

I was told it wasn’t my fault.

I was told you can never come back, but I did, again and again, I stood in collapsing doorways, crawled through open windows, curled up in empty beds inside emptier rooms because there is never really anywhere that closes itself off completely. Someone always leaves a way in, if you know what you’re looking for.

I was told I would be left behind.

I was told I talked to angels.

I was told I had a crooked nose and flat lips but I could still smell lies and speak the truth.

I was told to close my mouth but this stubborn mouth stays wide open.

Freedom danced for us with bells on.

Mom/Me

When I got my two year old out of the shower this morning, her teeth were chattering with cold. Once I had her dressed, I wrapped her up in the big blue blanket. She let me hold her there for five minutes or so, not moving, not talking, just looking up at me with the thousand mile stare of a soul who’s still closer to wherever they were before than where they are here. She’s never so silent for very long, never so content to simply be with me – she moves like the sun on the sea, like dragonflies in August – and it was an odd and unexpected gift, the weight of her like a world in my arms, light like pearls, heavy like love.

There’s a picture of me that looks like the ghost of my still living mother. It’s dark, and there’s a fire, and I’m wearing a white dress. The lines of my body are a map of her terrain – the gentle hill-like slope of shoulder, the lush jungle of hip, the oblong glow of moon across the plain of my face – and I follow them, an intrepid explorer of familiar foreign lands. She used to lay in the bath for hours, my mom, sweating in that steamed up room with seven kids’ worth of laundry smelling up one corner, and I would always interrupt her at least once; I think it was because I had to make sure her head was still above the smoky water.

I watch the way I float now, how much more of the tub I take up, the melted butter spread of belly and thigh. The lapping at the soft fat folds, the unapologetic overripeness, a split plum in the palm of a summer-warmed hand. The sweet unfurling of hair, the way it sways in the underwater wind. An abandoned Venus at the bottom of the ocean, blooms cracking open the place where the ribs would lay, a skeletal staircase to the first floor of the heart. I lay here, expanding under one missing light bulb, the empty buzz of it skipping across my skin like a dying fly; this is an altar, this is a pyre.

In the family records my grandma kept, there’s a notation about a girl on fire in the fields. I think about her all the time. I wonder when the flames made the leap from the arid earth to her fertile flesh; I can see her run as her brother’s shout hangs helplessly in the air between them, I can describe the detail of that last snowflake ash settling on her skin. I think her sigh must have sounded like September, a timid candle lit up like a comet against the backdrop of October. I think, did it rain as she lay there, a black lash wet on her cheek? Is this the hot ache of a dying star?

Freedom danced for us with bells on, her breasts spilling from a corset laced with lies, her eyes bright with knowing. We looked away, down at our shoes, up at dirty old cracks in the ceiling, into our drinks; we left wet rings on the tables, wet spots in the dark places we went to forget the way her face was fire, to forget the way it burned on the backs of our eyelids, a velvet revolution we tried to press into submission between our bodies. I saw her behind the building after everyone had left, the collar of her coat buttoned up at her throat, her hair shining under the streetlight. She was sitting on the steps, breath collecting above her in the fog, and I guess I must have made a noise, because she turned toward me and winked.

The Bare Minimum

 

“You can’t even do the bare minimum, can you? You can’t even do that.” She looked at him, tears rising into her eyes.

“Yes, I can,” he said softly.

“What?”

“The bare minimum. That’s what I can do, Claire.” Once he spoke the words, they exploded in his chest, so true he almost wept.

—- “Torch” by Cheryl Strayed

I always wondered what I would do when my dad died. I imagined various scenarios over and over in my head, through the years where we didn’t talk, and the years where we did, and I could never quite get a clear picture of it. Would I even cry? What would it feel like inside? Would it overwhelm me, the kind of sick grief that feels like being pushed over the edge of a cliff? Or would it just….happen? Would I feel anything?

What happened was

I walked into a room that smells like every hospital room, except this was the one they kept for dead people, and I saw him there, still and cold and stupidly small, and I collapsed inside, folding in and in and in on myself, until I was the size of a speck of ash, until I was as invisible as a solitary atom, and the room around me and everything in it grew to giant proportions, and his feet, his arms, his face, his face his face his face

What happened was

Time didn’t just stand still, it flew backwards, and I was thirteen and wore a ridiculous belt buckle with my initials and had a cheap cowboy hat made of felt and he took me to hear live music and we took a road trip somewhere anywhere and the windows were rolled down and country music twanged and popped from stations we could barely pick up and we were singing along into the wind and constellations caught in between my fingers as I held my hand up to the moon, waving hello, waving goodbye, and I was sure for one brief, shining moment that there would only ever be good things but of course in the end

What happened was

He looked like he was carved from old gray rock, unearthed and ancient, faded from centuries of sun and snow and starlight brighter than we’ll ever know, and my purse fell to the floor and I touched him, tentatively at first, because dead people always feel so terribly wrong in the first moment your skin meets their skin, and then I pressed my forehead to his, so hard that my glasses left an indentation, a scar of my sorrow across his brow, and I cried so hard that it hurt my face, an explosion of exhausted emotion pushing at my cheeks and jaw, splitting me down the middle, surprising me, shocking me, and over a thousand tears was a broken litany of brute honesty, a meaningless collection of words that meant everything in that moment, i’m so sorry i’m so sorry i’m so sorry daddy i’m so sorry i didn’t hate you i didn’t hate you i’m so sorry i did love you i did love you i did love you i didn’t hate you i’m so sorry daddy i’m so sorry daddy oh daddy oh daddy i’m so sorry daddy and I couldn’t breathe because it hurts because it really fucking hurts and I cried for so long and so hard that at the end of it, my body felt feather-light, like I could float up and away from what this was, from my dead dad lying dead in front of me, but instead I picked up my purse and I got in the car and I drove us home.

Tonight, I lay in the bath, and I read and read and read, over a hundred pages, finishing up a beautiful book on life and death and life after death, and the last twenty pages, I could feel it building behind my eyes, deep in my chest. I once watched a video clip of a tsunami wave as it approached and then crashed into the shoreline, and that’s how this felt – magnificent and terrifying and mesmerizing. I held out until the next to last page, and then the wave pummeled into the shore and I was knocked over by the force of it; I sat up in the bath, half in and half out of the tepid water, and I sobbed the kind of sobs that have no sound, just ugly faces, the kind that make you hold yourself around the waist to keep from breaking in two, and if I’d been alone, I would have howled to get through it, but I wasn’t, so I didn’t, I just cried the way you have to when you have children.

And still, my son, my sweet, empathetic son, he knew: he came into the bathroom, saw me there, hunched over, my eyes small and swollen, and he asked me if I was okay, and I told him I was, that I was just sad about some things and needed a good cry, and he said, sometimes we think we’re crying because we’re sad about something, but really we’re crying about nothing, and he said, sometimes the world can be good and sometimes the world can be not good, and when he left me alone again, I cried even harder, because that is the kind of wonderful shit I have in my life, and what a gift, what a surprising gift to have children who are so special and so funny and so exactly everything that is right with the world, and what a gift to know this now, while I am still here, while I can still kiss their sweaty heads that smell of sea air and sunrises, while I can still thank them for existing, for just being, and I saw my face in the faucet, distorted and bloated and sad, and in that place after grief has gut-punched you, where the air is too thin and everything is just far too real, and just far too much, I know that

what happened was

my dad could only do the bare minimum. That’s what he could do. And maybe that just has to be enough.

 

The first day of thirty-six looks like this:

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It looks like 174.4 lbs, twenty pounds heavier than the first day I was thirty-five, but it also looks like no more calories counted, like moving my body when I want to in the ways that feel good to me, like feeling the hard expanse of my thighs after a long run and the pull in my calves when I stretch down to the ground. It looks like eating meat again for the first time in a decade, feeling strong and content and full, like not craving sugar anymore and sleeping better at night, and it looks like pastures and henhouses, like eggs with real butter, like eating as meditation and muse. It looks like a two-babies-belly, seven years apart, expanding out into the universe then shrinking back into a soft sky of wrinkled stars. It looks like linebacker shoulders that can carry the weight of the world on them whenever it’s my turn to hold it there, and it looks like knees gone slightly to seed that still support me when I kneel in supplication to the spaces I’ve created to exist in.

It looks like hands that hold a hundred tales, each scar a punctuation, and it looks like birthing hips that know the kind of divine writhing change bodies can make when they meet, and it looks like arms that have held books and babies and a grown man’s sweet head to my breast. It looks like the gentle cup of collarbone, catching light and shadow, and it looks like flesh that responds to the warmth of a hand, rising and falling and rising again with the expert kneading born of a dozen years spent studying each other. It looks like stretchmarks and birthmarks and my first silver hair, and it looks like the ghost of my father’s smile on my lips. It looks like eyes tired from reading until 2 a.m., from middle of the night nursing sessions, from an old mattress and a flat pillow and from insisting on sleeping with some part of me touching some part of him. It looks like new tattoos and old tattoos and the retelling of stories through the medium of my skin.

It looks like hair I’m growing out and hair I haven’t shaved and it looks like fine lines in the pink light of early morning. It looks like lessons learned and bridges burned and old dead dreams, and it looks like new beginnings and reimagined purpose and the seeds of something bigger planted way down deep in a fertile heart. It looks like invisible wings made up of feathers of loss, a solemn cloak of sad memories that lies against me, even in August, and it looks like the kind of loneliness every one of us knows intimately, the kind of alone that sits right in the tailbone, and it looks like learning to love your own company before you drive yourself and everyone around you crazy. It looks like lines of poetry, and it looks like an unfinished novel, and it looks like a late summer heat wave, like dust motes glowing golden in a silent kitchen that smells of toast and tea. It looks like my mother’s relief and redefining faith, like finding that Sunday morning feeling on a Friday night, and it looks like letting go, and letting go, and letting go. It looks like saying no, and finding ways to live wide open but a little closed off, and it looks the way the word “grace” sounds when you speak it out loud.

It looks like a woman.
It looks like a mother.
It looks like a friend.

It looks like me.

We Get To Remember.

When I was fourteen, my stepbrother shot himself in the head.

When I was seventeen, my youth pastor said that anyone who committed suicide would go straight to hell, and I got up and walked out, and it was the beginning of me questioning everything I had ever believed. What kind of God?, I asked myself endlessly. What kind of God would let someone suffer so endlessly, and then add an eternity of torment on top of it? I didn’t want anything to do with a God like that. I didn’t want anything to do with people who believed in a God like that.

For a long time, I was angry. I was bewildered, and I was frustrated, and I was so very, very sad. We didn’t talk about Scott after he died. We didn’t talk about his shy smile or his warm brown eyes or the way he covered me with his own blanket one night when I slept on the couch because I was too scared to stay in my room by myself. There was a large portrait of him above our TV, and the layers of silence fell on the ghost of his face, day after day. We haunted ourselves.

Imagine, for a moment, if we could see each other inside out: the battered spirits with ropes of twisted scars, the grievously injured souls with dirty tourniquets and torn bandages to hold in the blood and the guts, the fragile psyches just one blow away from a fatality. So many of us are walking wounded. “Suicide is a permanent solution to temporary pain.” But how do you define temporary? How does temporary feel when you are trapped on a battlefield under the weight of your own depression, pinned into the muddy ground by the intensity of your own self-loathing? If I am sitting upright in my saddle, bright sunlight in my eyes, looking out across the injured underneath me, how can I fathom what they’re feeling? I can’t comprehend lying broken when I am an intact observer.

“Suicide is selfish.”

“Only a coward would take their own life.”

“Look at the mess he left behind for others to clean up.”

“How could he do this to his friends and family?”

Have you ever been depressed? Not a little depressed — where you don’t want to get up from the couch and cook dinner or brush your teeth or get dressed. But really, legitimately, medically depressed — where your bones feel like black holes and empty universes span the breadth of your skin, where taking one breath is an effort that depletes you for the day, where nothing stretches as far in front of you as your mind can see, great waving plains of emptiness and ennui. The kind of depression where your heart sits in your chest like a fat useless thing, every beat an unnecessary distraction, a reminder of the pain, or the worthlessness, or the loss. Ba-bump: this is it, all there is. Ba-bump: you’ve never done a thing. Ba-bump: what a giant disappointment. Ba-bump: who could love you? Ba-bump: they would all be better off without you. Ba-bump: if you loved them, you would set them free from you. Ba-bump: fuck you. Ba-bump: fuck you. Ba-bump: this is it, all there is. 

Months. Years. Sometimes decades of an inner dialogue that destroys you cell by cell. Those among us who suffer from depression, from mental illness, from addiction — every day they keep breathing is a goddamned victory.

You don’t get to judge them. If someone succumbs to cancer, we don’t say, “He just didn’t try hard enough.” When someone has a massive heart attack, we don’t say, “If she’d just realized all her blessings!” When someone has a DNR order in place, we don’t say, “Oh, what a coward.”

Sometimes people just can’t go on living. And you know what? It is nothing personal. I couldn’t heal from the loss of my brother until I finally realized and accepted that, years later. In the aftermath of Robin Williams’ apparent suicide, I read one comment that said, “Your life doesn’t belong to YOU, it belongs to those who love you.” No. No. Your life is your own. Your body is your own. Your soul and your spirit and everything that makes up the essence of you is your own. It’s what makes you shine in that particular way you have, it’s how you shed light in your specific way onto the universe around you, and it’s why you are so missed when you are gone — but it’s yours. We can never claim true ownership of each other; we can only share for as long as the other person is willing to stay open.

It is hard to let go when someone dies. It’s even harder to let go when they commit suicide. We can talk about why. We can talk about what-ifs. We can talk about the desperate need for honesty in the discourse surrounding mental health issues, and we can talk about how we all need to talk more when we are struggling. But we don’t get to kick rocks and throw stones and let our confusion and grief become ugliness. We don’t get to name-call and knock someone who is permanently down. We don’t get to preach and point fingers and assign blame. What we get to do is this: live. We get to live. We get to wake up and know that someone loves us, we get to walk out into the sweet muted light of morning and know that we matter, we get to lie down at night next to a lover, or a baby, or a cat or a dog, or maybe we get to lie down at night with no one but ourselves and we’re grateful for it.

We get to remember. We are grief-bearers; we are lamenters. We are wailing women. But we are also the storytellers, the sentinels of memory; we carry the tragedy of all these burned out stars in our pockets and their soft sighs remind us of our wonderful, vulnerable flesh. We get to keep connecting. We have to keep connecting: each one of us is an important light in the immense constellation of humanity, and when we see someone dimming, it is our duty, and it should be our honor, to turn ourselves towards them and share a part of our light.

“Make your lives extraordinary.”

You still exist.

I have been sitting here for five minutes, trying to type through tears, trying to think of something to say that will convey how much my heart hurts to think of how much pain Robin Williams must have been in — someone so universally beloved, someone who had “everything” — to end his own life. And there’s just nothing. Nothing I can say to make it make sense, because depression doesn’t make sense. Hurting so much that death is the only relief doesn’t make sense.

Make someone laugh today. Touch their arm. Look into their eyes, and smile, the smile of connected human beings, not the distracted smile of two strangers passing each other by. Tell someone you love them. Tell them the world is better because they are breathing in it each day. Hug a friend. Hold a hand. Treat each other with unguarded kindness. Be a lifeline. Reach out to someone grieving, share someone else’s joy. Live. Live. Live.

Just keep living.

World Breastfeeding Week — It’s Hard, Y’all.

The tiniest tot, 18 months old.

The tiniest tot, 18 months old.

Most people won’t tell you breastfeeding is hard. In an effort to encourage mothers to try it, to increase our numbers, to raise awareness and work towards public acceptance, we all too often paint a picture of the serene mother with the serene child at breast.

Except, IT IS HARD. Or rather, it can be. Like any other human experience, some people have it easier, some people have it harder, some people sort of fall right along there in the middle. But I think we should tell the truth more. We should TALK about how growth spurts can feel like purgatory. We should TALK about how it really feels when babies begin teething. We should TALK about how bad clogged ducts hurt and how mastitis can make you feel like you are LITERALLY DYING. We should TALK about nursing strikes, and nipple twiddling, and how it’s totally okay to use shields if it’s the only way you can function without pain. We should TALK about nursing toddlers, how they go down to one or two sessions a day then all of the sudden amp that shit back up to like THIRTEEN TIMES A NIGHT for MONTHS ON END. We should TALK about the lost sleep, or the broken sleep, and how we all feel like gross face-eating zombies more mornings than we’d care to admit. We should TALK about how being touched out is an actual thing, when you simply cannot BEAR to have one more finger of one more person touch you. We should TALK about boobs that balloon up and then deflate down into shapes and sizes we never see represented in the media. And we should TALK about the times we’ve broken down and cried like our hearts were breaking because we thought WE were broken, because no one was TALKING about any of these things.

It’s not just you. It’s not just you.

And whether you make it one day, or one month, or one year, or four years: YOU ARE A STAR. Because it’s rewarding as hell, God knows it is, but this shit is hard work. And I’m celebrating each and every one of you this week.

 

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