It seems, then, that motherhood is uniquely universal/universally unique. Dependant on mother-infant interaction, and the parallel-perpendicular-oblique personalities of both subjects, with additional inputs besides. And while at this stage – infant internal – the only aspect of experience is vicarious, it is useful to be informed. Simultaneously outformed. Psychologically embracing the squirming distention of a formerly singular body. Now dual, soon to be several and returned to its informal former state. Separately connected on the shifting foundations of self. Perpetual destruction and re-creation of the no-longer-sacred and never-profane. Despite all this, unknowable.
I had a summer of life and death. It sounds melodramatic, but that’s how it was.
For the first two weeks of August, I said good-bye to my father-in-law. Amid numerous complications of numerous illnesses, he chose to discontinue treatment and meet death on his own terms. The family spent those two weeks (and longer) drifting back and forth from the hospital. I experienced a mixture of the reluctance to let go and impatience to move on that I understand is common in these situations; the days pass slowly and there is never enough time. And in the end, I am grieved as I cherish the memory of that very special man. I loved him for all the quirks of his personality, and for helping to make my husband the man he is.
Through all that, I was in the first trimester of my first pregnancy. Trying to find food in the hospital cafeteria that didn’t trigger intense nausea, and anxious under the influence of the first hormonal waves. But excited sometimes guiltily, sometimes purely. The timing felt wrong and right at the same time. Everything changes so monumentally the moment you find out you’re pregnant. Yet for so long, it looks like nothing is really happening. The whole situation was exhausting, but I was able to find the reserves of strength that allow you to move as necessary through each day.
This all adds up to the feeling that I missed the summer of 2012. Besides the four or five weeks of overturned routine that surrounded the death, I’ve had to forego the patio ciders, gin & tonics, and wine that punctuate lazy summer days. There were few hikes, few long bike rides, few camping trips, few evenings on the beach. No fireworks. And now fall is settling in with its slanting sun and crunching leaves. I’ve always looked forward to fall. But it seems that turning inwards is less satisfying when you’ve had none of the hectic inside-out of summer.
At the same time, regret is pointless. The situation can’t be different, so I won’t waste (too much) time on wishes. A summer of life and death leads to profound moments for the soul. You can’t buy that with 100 perfect summer days.
“Don’t touch me, you stupid cunt!”
“That’s right, you feminist whore! I will fucking beat you.”
“Quit looking at me, bitch!”
“Get out of here, you moron.”
The man – I haven’t seen his face; eye contact seems injudicious – hurls the worst epithets he has at his disposal towards the woman who unthinkingly reached out to steady his body, lurching with a combination of bus breaks and alcohol.
The tirade lasts the span of two blocks. At the back of the bus, we – mostly women of the upper middle class – exchange flickering, uncertain glances. I am struck with the man’s language. Not the vulgarity, but the tone and nature of the words. All feminine and derogatory or implying a lack of mental facility. I am sure the rest of them, like me, feel the impulse to act and not to act. But what could any of us do?
At the next stop, the man decides to leave rather than wait for whatever enforcement service the bus driver has contacted. Despite his departure, we troop as a flock to the next bus that vaguely follows the route we need, trying to escape the malodor of echoing memory. But before we go, I see a young woman offer a tissue and some reassurance to the target of the man’s hostility.
Two days later, I am walking home from work with a friend. We pass a panhandler. I’ve seen him before. Sometimes I offer change; more often I walk past with murmured apology. This time I am absorbed in sharing an anecdote. His legs are stretched far into the sidewalk, so I must pay oblique attention to curve my path and avoid stepping on him.
His scream truncates my story: “Shut up! You talk too much!”
While my friend is startled, I am puzzled. Alarmed and detached. This may be the first time in my life I’ve been yelled at by a stranger. But two incidents, however unequal in threat, so close together begged analysis. I was in no danger during either event. The only thing ruffled was my sense of untouchability – which ought to be ruffled now and again.
You see, I love this city. The last time I fell in love with a city I didn’t know how to love with open eyes. I loved what I thought I saw – loved the products of my imagination. And perhaps this is what breaks love. The slow dissolution of fantasy. Perhaps that is why I left.
I have less theory, more experience this time. I know my love will not change the way this city moves. Will not weave small bridges between all the worlds trying to occupy the same space. This city will break my heart and mend it and break it again. I will allow it to create and disturb my comfort. Because loving a perfect space no longer satisfies me.
September had the best of intentions. But then she was swallowed in large chunks, mouthfuls of days. All she could do was dissolve in the acids of memory. Settle into the slimy folds of a cerebral cortex.
I found out about a death. A very specific death of someone I knew obliquely who was nonetheless important. He supported me in ways I didn’t know I needed and didn’t understand the value of. I would like to find motivation in this subtle regret. Somehow use this as a catalyst for courage. How many years can I lie fallow instead of tossing a few seeds to see what happens?
I sometimes think I don’t challenge myself enough. Don’t surround myself with people who push my limits. It’s leading to a strange mix of fear and complacency. Too much self-satisfaction is bad for the soul.
I was feeling chatty before I sat down to write. If you were here, you’d know what I mean. I miss you. In every sense of the word.