How Much Like Gravity

Her endeavor was misguided and wrong and maybe plain crazy, akin to someone waking up one day and deciding he’s going to scale Kilamanjaro because he can’t stop imagining the view from the top, the picture so arresting and beautiful that it too soon delivers him to a precarious ledge, where he can no longer turn back. And while it’s easy to say this is a situation to be avoided, isn’t this what we also fear and crave simultaneously, that some internal force which defies understanding might remake us into the people we dream we are?

Chang Rae Lee, On Such a Full Sea

The spirit buckles your knees even as you grip the rung of disbelief.

Brain, Things I Can

82. Things I Can Watch: Dream Reels from the Projection Booth

Sleep. . . knits up the raveled sleave of care.
From Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 2

I follow him along the circumference of the earth. The globe bends under us. A rusted iron chain strewn out loose on the ground guides our hands, our feet. We walk near the shore then into the surf which licks our ankles as it rises. Soon it sweeps us up, the surge, and I clutch at my father’s back while he swims hard for a distant city on stilts. It is all that is left of our land.

Dazed and shivering, we climb to the rickety boards and look for a place to rest. A man squats against a corner of railing and hisses out the rates. Six to a room, he tells us. Fifty cents extra to use the loo.

All night and into morning, the brine clings and the heat swells. My father gives way to the other one, the who knows me as equal no matter much I long to be less. We have to find a place for our children on the sick earth. We have to fashion them a refuge, even if we are its only walls.

These choking and sumptuous images careen across the terrain of my imagination. I have seen such places only in glimpses, only when far from home. Kissed by spray from the Zambezi, I leaned over the precipice of Victoria Falls. Two decades have failed to dull the breeze lifting my pink skirt, to damper the white roar slamming geysers upon arrival.

I made a vow then: If I ever choose to die, it will be here. I will soar from this arcing explosion.

I have kept few promises in my life. This one holds, at least so far: I am allowed an escape hatch only of extraordinary proportions. I know that the effort involved and the miles covered will force me into new life.

Now, the stone edge of that Zimbabwean river is etched into a vein of recollection where the cliffs of Cape Breton gather around the New Forest’s scraggy tangle. The faraway place is memory, which means now I travel in dreams.

Sleep is a ticket to a steady body and a capable mind, but it is also a free ride to the outer limits. Just four bouts of it now — four dead zone nights following four decaffeinated days — have spun me along gilt-edged galleries and coursed me through sea caves, then pulsed me back out into the clutches of grinning dystopian warlords.

Through glass walls of a time-warping rocket, wrapped safe in a cloak of gravity and linen, I see worlds that maybe were and those that maybe will be. My soft spine arches as I clear the next mountain rising between the two. From both above and below, I watch as the laws of physics clash and spring against spasms of turbulent time.


Children, Learning


“Do you ever have nightmares?” He is soaking in a too-hot tub and hasn’t yet worked up to dunking his head under.

That’s easy. “Yep. Rising water.” I trail the washcloth across his knees.

“What was the worst one?”

I remember it too well. His blonde mane disappeared under the surface of a brown lake and I couldn’t get to him. My hand plunged down and I tried so hard, his hair slipping out of my fingers. “It has you in it. Do you want to hear?”

He shakes his head. “No. The worst one about you.”

I describe leaping off the bow of the ship into the open ocean before realizing my folly. “It’s not really about drowning,” I say. “Drowning is a metaphor.” We’ve talked about analogies often enough but he still gives me a blank stare.

“Remember? You and I rushing out the door in the morning is like stepping on firecrackers.” He nods and returns to poking his fingers up through bubbles. I try to explain that the dream of water probably has something to do with feeling like I have too many chores and I can’t keep track of everything.

The shampoo is a blue jewel in my palm. His hair a gold fish slipping past. He buries his eyes in a dry towel. “What’s your second worst dream?” He mumbles through the terrycloth.

“The test,” I answer without a beat. That endless, infernal, always-on-the-brink-of-failure test. Exam time, class I forgot to attend, no studying, clock ticking, panic mounting. . . How many decades of this? How many millions of us? I laugh as I describe the dream. “When you get older, I bet you and your friends are going to talk about having the exact same dream.”

“What’s the test?” He dunks his washcloth all the way to the bottom and lets it float up under his knees.

“Algebra II. Always with the Algebra II!”

“What’s that?”

Damned good question, my son. Here is the sound of evasion: “Well, it’s a class I failed and had to take over. Get this.” I reach back to a basket of magazines by the door and pull out an old Harpers. “This guy Nicholson Baker has a whole story in this famous magazine that even your grandparents read. It’s all about how hard Algebra II is and how it’s taught so badly people all over the world hate it.”

I open to page 31 and start reading about the elegance of mathematics lost to a global loathing for the subject. Baker sums up the misery and bafflement of generations of students by quoting a middle-aged college professor who admits to taking algebra unsuccesfully three years running:

I have no idea, to this day, why I find math, and algebra in particular, so excrutiatingly hard, but I do. I admire those who can learn it, but I could no more master algebra than I could leap off a roof and fly. The experience of being made to reenact your inability, over and over, is deeply warping. . . If you continually ask a one-armed man to play guitar, he’ll either come to hate himself or hate you.

The piece goes on to explore curriculum reform of the early 20th centry, the rise of New Math, and the push to place even stricter requirements on schools and students. Baker implicates the arguably misguided, myopic advocacy of such “Standardistas” as Arne Duncan and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Instead of making math more accessible and enjoyable, they support the expanded reach of such texts as the Algebra II Common Core which Baker describes as a

highly efficient engine for the creation of math rage: a dead scrap heap of repellant terminology, a collection of spiky, decontextualized multistep mathematical black-box techniques that you must practice over and over and get by heart in order to be ready to do something interesting later on, when the time comes.

Baker makes a strong case for revising the standards and adapting instruction to make math simpler, more applicable, historically richer, and fun. Introduce everyone to the basics, he argues, and allow those students who are so compelled to explore it further. Stop requiring Algebra II for college admissions.

Forcing every child to suffer the Iron Maiden of an advanced mathematics they are very unlikely to need doesn’t create a numerate citizenry. Quite the contrary. It produces one generation on top of another of innumerate citizens who despise and fear all things quantitative. They will assiduously avoid all through their long lives any endeavors that may require math, no matter how compelling or lucrative those endeavors, because of a firmly planted perception that they are genetically incapable of understanding it.

This issue of Harper’s has been in the loo for months but this is the first time I’ve given it more than a cursory glance. As I flip through, a flood of relief rushes over me. Their bellies may have had stars, but I wasn’t the lone Sneech with no stars upon thars.

The tide goes out just as quickly as it had come in. All that’s left is a little eddy of regret. It’s far too easy to become blind to the elegance of mathematics because of some noxious residue that clings even decades after clawing out of that 10th-grade hell.

The road to math conversant is a rutted and unmarked. It is especially tough when you’ve bitten your tongue raw trying to shape a grammar the blackboard neither translates nor palliates. But I’m not mute yet. Defiance and a little luck has created a world in which Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea resides on my bedside table. On a good day, I can almost hold up my end of a conversation with an engineer who happens to be smitten with the Fourier Series.

I realize now you don’t have to suck at something or master it completely. You have every right to mess around with any art or science that strikes your fancy. Knitting? Tantric poetry? Give ’em a go. History of fertile crescent? Read up. Hydroponic tomato farming? Dig in. It is possible to enjoy a subject as a dabbler without dragging six extra tons of emotional baggage into every encounter with it.

Which is why at this moment I stop reading out loud.

I glance over the steam-wilted pages at my son who is now regarding the whorls in his fingertips. Bug really doesn’t need to hear about a mass aversion to any area of human experience. My job is not to help close doors. Bug’s fondness for the puzzles of mathematics has pretty strong roots. I hope they are more stubborn than mine.

Into the pause he asks, “What is algebra?”

I show him one of the equations on the page. “Like that stuff your granddaddy is always writing.”

“But what is it?”

Geez. Fine. I close the magazine and punch through the wall of resistance into the place where learning cobbled together some kind of a permanent residence.

“It’s like this: the letters are called variables. They mean something else.”

This is also that.

His hair is a silk drape caught on a current. His eyes are the wall of a cresting wave.

“The letter stands for a certain number. Let’s say X equals 2. What’s 2X?”

Bug thinks for less than a beat.


“Exactly!” We both break into wide grins. “Baby, you are on it. If X is 2 and Y is 3, what’s X plus Y?”

“Five,” he says. “Duh.” He tries not to smile.

“Yes it is.” I hold up my hand and he slaps me a wet high-five.

I help him from the tub and wrap him in a turqouoise towel he’s about to outgrow. I used to lift him to the mirror after baths and we would look together at the little pointy hooded face peeking out. “You are a blue fairy. A red caboose. An ice cream cone,” I would murmur.

“What else?”

“A butterfly. A galaxy.”

“What else?”

“You are a kitty cat. A mountaintop. A blind cyclops. A book.”


Every time, we ended there: A kiss into his damp hair. A whisper, “And you are my beautiful little boy.”

This is that.

Solve for X.

Math is magic. Algebra is pain.

The variables do not remain constant.

You are your story.

Metaphor is fate.

“Wrong Answer: The Case Against Algebra II” by Nicholson Baker can be found in the September 2013 issue of Harper’s Magazine.


Wind like a Whetted Knife

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied

from Sea Fever by John Masefield

In the dream, I lean over the bow. Something doesn’t fit. The water is too distant and the progress slow and I feel landlocked. Maybe the ship is smaller than my wandering feet. Maybe it’s bigger than anything I could possibly steer.

Or it isn’t wrong at all and I am just too impulsive for my own good.

In any event, I jump.

And then I am plunging into an upside-down and roiling sea. Momentum carries me further in than I had anticipated and deeper than is safe. Kicking hard up, up, my lungs try to wring the last bit of air from that last scanty breath. Light wobbles. With a surge, I break the surface just as the white plates of a looming hull flash past. This angle resolves all distortions from my upper deck perch. They don’t call them cruise ships for nothing. Keel slices water. Spume and churn.

Uh oh.

Did I think I could go out for a dip and then just mosey back on board? Did I bother to scan the horizon for some other fitting shore?

Did I figure I’d grow gills?

Is it too late for a do-over?

Hollering is useless. My voice bounces across waves and ricochets off the unblinking steel scales. Now the only thing is to swim harder than ever before on the slim chance of closing the growing distance. If I make it (and that’s a mighty big If), then what? The slick walls offer no peg, no crack.

Defeat has no voice here. With every stroke, I force behind my eyes an image of a handhold and a body still surging with the strength to climb.

I have exactly one shot.

Questions boil in my waterlogged throat:

Is he the ship or is he the ocean?

Which is courage?

Which is home?

Divorce, Parenting

Cause and Effect

Waking up is relief even if it is to the dull edge of January dawn.

He is there, a red T-shirt and splash of white stripe, resting at the bottom of the swimming pool. It is too late. I know this but I dive in anyway and haul him to the concrete. Pressing air through tiny lips. The taste of chlorine. The taste of silence. Over and over and over. No tears. Breath. Press. Breath. No pleas. Just this single determination. Pushing out water, pushing in oxygen. He stirs but it is only me, my desire, my exhalations inflating the sodden puppet.

Then he turns. Just a little. Eyes crack, lips part. What are you doing, Mommy? Concern bends his brow. Wariness, too. Before he can resist, I tuck him into my arms. Gather him like fallen limbs. He is only three and still so very light.

Just taking you home, baby.

I stand with my son bundled and dripping against my chest. Warming him. Warming us. I step away. Up the passageway, past the closed doors and towards ours which must be somewhere that way. Somewhere else.

I stand knowing this is me leaving me. Me walking away from the woman on her knees bent over her drowned son. Me choosing madness over truth. Myth over pain.

The unutterable facts:

He is gone and I am the one who lost him. I turned my back. Let him leave the car at night while I hefted grocery bags and backpacks. Forgot to give him the key. Me. I am the one who saw the door was still locked and he was not in the corridor waiting. I felt the fear rising; I did not run for him then and there. I took 30 seconds too long dumping the grocery bags and backpacks. Another 30 seconds trying to find a warm coat to put on him because he hadn’t brought his home. I was the one who wasted those fateful, final 30 final looking with widening eyes down the dim hallway and up the shadowed stairwell of our complex instead of hollering his name at the top of my lungs because of. . . Decorum? Pride?

The unbearable facts:

I lost my son. The blow of awareness is sudden and blinding. My negligence is the cause, I am the cause of his death and so the blame for my suffering falls on me alone. This knowledge is itself a source of staggering shame. It seems I care more about my role in the loss than the loss itself. Me, me, me. It’s always about me.

Then, back around around again.

The impossible knowing:

A life without this boy in it.

Too much.

So I gather him up. Forever now three, complete. Just his light boyhood, his lift, his easy willingness to be carried without protest. I carry him close and walk in great strides away

from sincerity. From courage. Poised at my moment of choice,

I abandon my moment of truth.

The one closest to me wonders if he should fear my break with reality. I do not say out loud yes you should. That it is not a possibility but a certainty, but in any event, it is far from a clean split. It is a spiderweb. A slow shatter.

I wake in the dark but it is close enough to light. The house is quiet but for dog on her pallet by the sliding glass door. Cracks at the seams expand as temperatures contract, peeling back the illusion of solidity. Out there in the space between, my son, like my sanity, straddles dimensions. We are Schrodinger’s cat. Both of us are completely intact. Neither of us is entirely home. We cannot touch

and I caused this.

Divorce, Growing Up

Mr. Sandman

O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbor
With your crooked heart.

–  W. H. Auden

I do the worst harm to the one I love the most. The dreams crafted with crayon and glitter begin to crack. His flavor sours. His voice slips off key. I fidget under my sheets and try to sink back to the breathless place. I lift my eyes to the receding ceiling, carve a hole, and slip out without looking back.
Flight and stars. I careen over rooftops. This works until it doesn’t. Gravity always wins.
Nearing the middle of life, only now I am waking up?
In the half-place where I still squeeze my eyes shut and cling, I feel the grit against my shoulder, against my scuffed shin. I finally achieved flight, and yet I lay there with my wings limp on the earth and think, That’s it? That’s all it is?
He will never be better than the man he is right now. I am what I have become. It is this, not the next thing. Not the up there, out there, over there. Not door number two, three, or four.
This. Right here.
The moon does not bend to us. The night is not a swelling sea. He does not tuck jewels under my ribs. I do not hear the choir sing.
Does anyone else here hate the lover for this betrayal?
The abuse of disabuse. We are all battered. Notions no one ever named out loud (silver sprites and dappled light) reveal themselves as a worn felt hat. A trick deck. All face cards, an overabundance of Queens of Hearts.
Enchantment lingers, the coin tossed 100 times until the bets are off. Until the game is over. Forfeit? No, just bored with it. The aged ones are ready to move on. Their loves are pedestrian arrangements. We believed ourselves so much better. I will never speak so cruelly to my beloved. We will never sit in opposite corners of the house chasing down our solitary pleasures.
We believed ourselves truer.
At least I did.
Do I admit it now?
I hid the third dimension. He was satisfied with the point and line and didn’t lift the corner to feel around underneath. I tilted. He failed.
The angles were off. The roof gave way.
I re-wrote history. I razed the love I must (surely) have once occupied. I used a wrecking ball. Then an x-acto knife.
I claimed it was the wind and poor calculation.
How could I have possibly believed it would be easier without the lean-to we had erected? What did I think would be here outside our feeble shelter?
The fantasy fulfilled? Dreams in flesh at last?
Foolish girl. It is just exactly what was there before only without the micrometer of certainty to keep the storms at bay. Only with a lot more toil. Only truth (for what it’s worth).

And surely in time we will start to confront the failures of understanding and the disenchantment familiarity brings. In time we will face the knowledge of what we can never, never expect from one another.

– Judith Viorst, Necessary Losses

Waking up is not without pain. Nevertheless, raw skin and all, it beats the alternative.

Choices, Outdoors

Found and Lost

In the dream, I leave Bug in the hands of a busy child care center in the city and head out for an afternoon walk. The water is close. Just a few bold steps off the unmarked edge of a road carry me down to a quiet beginning.
A river snakes along sand and volcanic stone. As I stroll along it, the buildings disappear behind me. Soon, the path opens out onto breeze-rippled silence. The sun is bright enough to blind me and I have to pull my narrow-brimmed hat low over my eyes. I pause and take in the impossible pitch of the rimed stone jutting up from the surface of the confluence. Is it ocean or river, this aquatic jewelbox? Sapphire and emerald stand shoulder-to shoulder with opal, all of it turning in luxurious circles under the glittering sun.
The riverbank calls me closer. I shed my shoes. The water is clear enough that I can peer down into the caverns below the rough stone. White sand is a warm powder massaging my soles. No one is anywhere. I want so badly to slide into the aquamarine shallows but I am alone and it could be dangerous. I do not recall where I am. Is this country home to alligators? Piranhas? No one would hear me call if a hidden barnacle sliced my skin.
Just on the other side of the large stone, a pool spills into the cool silver below. The bottom disappears into deepening dark. It could fall all the way to the center of the earth. It is not a swimming hole per se, yet it is wide enough for my body even with my arms outstretched. The hunger to immerse is powerful enough to make me quiver but caution stills my descent. It is better to be safe, yes?  I only have a few hours before I must return for my son. I settle for submerging my feet up to my ankles. The cool brine makes me shiver. I bend and splash it over my calves and shoulders. The sun is so very warm.
Footfalls behind me rend the silence. It is Tee. He is jogging, waving hello. His pink skin is flushed and he has that goofy grin on his face he so often wears. Hello! Hello!
I ask him why he is not with Bug. He tells me he stopped into the child care center for a visit but he decided to go for a run. It is my night with our son anyway. He has all the time in the world. Nearby, up a low slope of grass, the balconies of apartments overlook this riverside trail. Tee strips down naked and I remind him that people live close here. He seems surprised to find he might be exposed. He dons the shorts again but ties his shirt around his waist and makes as if to join me on my stroll.
I’d really rather walk alone.
He shrugs as I go ahead. Instead of turning back, though, he picks up the jog again and passes me. He plods on just in my line of sight along the soft and sandy path. My path. The waving reeds and sea-grass are obscured by his sunburned back. He is going in the direction of what I had thought to be my solitary exploration. Now I know I must really remember Bug because Tee will be too far ahead and cannot be relied upon to take him home if I lose my sense of direction.
The wild path is no longer wild, not with my ex pounding along it before me. I don’t want to share this with his noisy presence. I turn off and wind through the neighborhood there. It is a place with rental apartments, playgrounds, a crumbling community pool. The swimming families squeal and chatter. Women with thick thighs and thinning swimsuits snap at their children. There are so many girls. They tease in a screeching playfulness that shimmers with latent violence. The yellowish-blue does not look inviting at all. I walk on past feeling crowded, heavy, a little desperate.
When I find my way back to the water, the river has grown to a surging froth. It runs below a road bridge built high on concrete girders. A footpath descends a sharp cut of rickety stairs down to the place where a culvert spills foaming debris out into the current. There is no place to cross. I cannot make my way on foot up to the pounding, traffic-dense bridge, and anyway, it seems to go the wrong way. I have somehow come out on the side opposite where I need to be.
I am so confused. My wild place, that aquamarine pool and the waving sedge, has all given way to boat launches and drawbridges. Roaring vehicles tow rivercraft. There is nowhere to walk. I carry a small inflatable raft. It is red. It is tucked under my arm. It is too big to carry but too flimsy to use for crossing. I stand near the edge of the road where it falls into this sea. I look across the choppy black. It is far too wide for me.
Somewhere over there is the city I just left, my son, and the home I don’t yet know is my own. The place I need to be is there. This awareness is a knife in the gut. I feel miserably unsatisfied. For as long as I’ve been gone, I never took that quiet stroll on which I set out. I never did find out what grew along the edge of the wet lip of the bay. I wish now I had simply let myself in to that dangerous, lonely deep.
Had I called upon the years of swimming in mountain lakes and relied on my own strong arms to keep my head above water,  I could have immersed the whole sheath of my being in that jeweled and quiet embrace. If only I had trusted the body of this wet earth and this mighty self to hold me, I could have whetted my appetite for solitude.
Now, I have to ask for help.
A man hauling cables barks commands at drivers. I am quivering, on the verge of tears, but I do my best simply to state my need.
Can you help me get across? How does this all work?
He is brusque. All business. He points me to a dinghy. Another man clips my raft onto the bigger vessel. I pay six dollars and board. He whirs the motor and speeds across the water. None splashes on me now. It is an opaque and impossible substance. I do not look down. My eyes trace the smooth line out to the west or east, if only I knew. The open horizon has room enough but no map. I have no compass to carry me to it.
The emptiness recedes. It is so very far never to go.
The captain, if he can be called this, deposits me on the asphalt launch opposite along with the other passengers. I scrounge my raft from among the anonymous craft and make back towards the road. The city thrums in the distance. I am late. I have miles to retrace. My son is waiting.

Co-Parenting, Growing Up, Happy Days

Happy 100 Days: 44

Rest comes easily now. Finally, after all these years, the dreams are sweet.

This weekend, I met a new someone deep down in the valley sleep. He was a young man with red-blonde hair and a curious, distracted gaze. He clutched a hardcover book. Maybe he is Bug in 20 years, maybe the whisper of a companion I will someday greet. Maybe he is just that friend of mine I am learning to be.

We sat near each other on a deck built over a creek and the water burbled just beneath our feet. He opened the and the corner of it touched my knee but he was too absorbed to remember to turn it towards me. We spoke our breathless dance about a text neither of us quite understood. I let my fingertips fall on the back of his hand where it grazed the page. He did not reach back for me. I was happy regardless. He turned the page. We talked on.

Proximity can sate hunger. So, it seems, can distance.

I woke up smiling even though he was gone.

Continue reading “Happy 100 Days: 44”


If a Tree Falls

We climb to the top. He hangs on my arm and wraps his hands around my thigh. “Mommy, I’m tired.” He drags at me, trying to make me stop. He has no idea. Gravity has no effect on me. I am stronger than he can imagine. His fifty pounds are a ball of cotton, a cheesecloth sail. I can carry him to the top. Down the crevasse. Hoist him back up. I can lift him into the branches of an oak. I stand below him and know he will not fall because I will not fall.
I will not fall.
The hands under me are not visible. Are they any less present? Are they any less real? I have skidded and tumbled but still, my body is not broken. I rise every day. The smile comes, even it is forced. Music whispers at my throat. The legs walk on.
A good job, a good living. All there is? No, I still believe. Maybe that makes me a romantic idealist foolish idiot. Maybe small minded and smaller hearted. Maybe unable to accept the world as it is. Maybe? Maybe not believing in this one approach to things. Maybe ready to welcome the self that is becoming and not just the self that has already become.
It could have been beautiful, but then it was not. I left one when he was as ugly as I am now. When he could not get up and out of himself. When he got stuck. This is karma. It shows no mercy. It is a pitching machine. It hurls its force at a guilty spirit. It is deaf to the pleas. It is blind to the body, curled in a ball.
Get out of the cage. Just get up and out. It only hurts if you stay inside.
What is this jail? I built it. I put myself in it. The key might be right here in my pocket, but all I find is an ID card, a mobile phone, lint. I find the inside of the pocket. But there, a tiny thread, a small tear in the making, the skin of my thigh there, warm. Alive.
Who will come if I wait here? A chariot? A winged horse? Icarus, maybe? I would dare him to fly even closer to the sun just to feel its heat.
Up, away. Through the rent fabric, I feel my own leg. I feel the possibility of rising by my own volition.
This is what’s begun. The end. We unravel. We fray. The edges were never bound. It was all just us pressing the hems into one another, holding it up. The thread was not real. It was spit and prayer and no sudden moves. As soon as the twist was 180 degrees, the whole garment split and fell away. We were as naked as the emperor.
I could have gathered up what was left. I could have brought it to our naked breast, covered the soft place there before the broken branches had their chance to pierce
Our poor torn heart
There were three there, inside that one body. Three bruised and busted creatures in need of a gauze, a soft wrapping and an untouched room with a curtain at the window to soften the glare.
It was not in my hands. I did not reach for anything but my own rope. I let the others slip down under, grabbed only the hair of my son.
I am single again. It is sweet nudity. It is defenselessness. He is not coming to get me again. This is not his job, and I must grow up enough to know this is the way it is.
Grow up. Bear down. Bare truth.
What is the thing you still believe even though you know it is false?
You have all the time in the world. You will get there someday. Being beautiful will make you happy. Having things will bring you peace. You can live a halfway life and still be whole. You can have it all. You deserve better. You deserve worse. You are a piece of garbage. Someone will write to you even if you do not write first. Doing more will get you more. People will change. Your criticism protects you. Love is unconditional. The number in your bank account is based on hard work. You can trust your neighbor. You’ll have another chance. You’re out of chances. People forget the words you say. People remember the words you say.
In which myth will I place my faith today?
You can live through your children. You can live without music. You can live alone. You can live without making something of yourself. The way will appear if you keep walking. The voice will guide you if you shut up and listen.
Which myth?
Swallow it down. Choke it back. Squeeze the muscle and contract. The only way to the woman I am becoming is to punch through to her, rip the torn place wider, shape her, make her, smooth her into being, breathe in life life life. Oil her. Wet her. Paint her with a paste of pollen and creekwater, gather the milkweed fluff and tuck it between her thighs. Draw down the branches of the hemlock tree. Weave moss and bough to shape the organs that beat her blood into breath.
Whatever is haunting me, I have to perform this exorcism alone. It is not the job of any man to boil down the sap of me into something sweet. He cannot discern the obscenities of the ghosts. He only hears their echo called back through my own flailing limbs.
A wise woman once told me, do not adore your man. She meant to be cautious of idols. We deify our lovers. We pray to them to shoulder the burden and quiet the demons, to absolve us of our sins. This is too much to ask of anyone. When I left the man I married, I merged into the first one I found waiting. He promised he would come for me. They all say this: I am here. You are not alone. But it is impossible. No one can get as close as would be required to inhabit the place where the dark chill lives. To unfurl the buds. To bring the spring. They would have to press themselves entirely into the skin I call my own. They would have to squeeze me out and become the skeleton of me. This is what the one adoring dreams of. Obliteration. Complete.
Now, here, I release the myth of disappearance. The only story I can live is this one. It is not for me to make this into anything other than what it is. The paycheck comes. The child is fed. He climbs, he runs. The work waits on Monday morning for me to arrive, for me to claim it as mine. This is mine. This is the only narrative, and here sits the only protagonist, inside the arc. I never thought of myself as anything other than an independent woman, but I have lived for 20 years as one who cannot get through a day without fantasies of rescue. This is the cage.
Giovanni will, alas, not be the last man I love. But he will be the last I dream of saving me. No one is coming. I save myself.
Maybe there is nothing to learn from this. Maybe it is the same lesson after all, returning like the first leaves. Falling is a choice. So is growing. So is stepping out from behind bars. So is opening to the sun.