What I Haven't Got

Winter's change is the cruelest of all, for me. It is frozen and dark and offers no glimmers of hope, except those that twinkle reflecting off the frozen tundra, mirages in the desert of our lives holding out the distance sparkle of solace where the reality is that there is none to be had, and it is cold, and there is a long way to go before there will be warm, golden light.

Everyone is writing their end of the year posts this week. The best books they've read, the coolest places they've traveled to, the best pictures they've taken, the best goals they can think of for themselves in 2013 - this is the week that pretty much everyone looks in the rear view mirror, checks their blind spot, and changes lanes along the highway of their lives. People woke up on Tuesday - maybe refreshed, maybe hungover, maybe pregnant, and stared down a new day and a new year with the determination to do/be/write/love/act better.

More. Bigger. Differently. Something. 

These are the moments for which I hold my breath and wait for time to pass. These are the days I pray for forgetfulness or distraction. These are the times I wish I wasn't, and didn't, and won't. 

My year isn't ending yet. My year ends on January 7th when my entire world did. It ends again on January 25th, when the new house of cards I'd spent 17 years meticulously building up came crashing down. My year isn't restarting yet.  It begins anew on January 9th, just like it has every year since 1992 when I was shoved headfirst through an airplane jetway and into a brand new life. 

January marks the days of my mother - the day I lost her, and the day I left her forever. January marks the day I lost my husband and decided in my heart, if not my head, to leave him forever, too. January is not the month I reset or recharge or realigned; it is the month I die over and over again. January is a month of resignation, of giving in - letting go and letting whatever the hell will make this easier


But I am trying to change that. 

This year will be the first calendar year that I live start to finish intentionally, for myself, not in a way that I feel like someone else is making me live but in the way that I chose to live. I ended this year entirely too far over the edge of the precipice to let anyone pull me back into that old cycle, that old life that I keep setting myself up to live through and die from over and over again.  

I'm learning - no, I've always known, I'm trying to accept - how much of everything that has transpired is my own fault. I didn't make my husband drink-and-everything-that-comes-with-it, but he certainly didn't make me stay, either. I perceive requirements that don't always actually exist and customize my life around them, because I am a highly skilled, professionally groomed enabler, and that is what we do best. I've been so afraid of change that I found a near exact replica of my relationship with my mother and entered into a legally binding, contractual, lifetime relationship with it. 

Every January I mourn these losses that are in fact gifts. Twice in my life I have held my nose and stood tippy-toes-over a precipice, waiting and hoping for something, someone, god will anything just come shove me over? because I certainly have never had the courage to leap on my own accord. Twice in my life I have been given exactly that which I have wished for. 

And it is a gift. These weights I cling to are actually disguised wings. I just have to figure out how to use them to fly.


There is a stray cat prowling my neighborhood, desperately in the throes of a reproductive cycle that it cannot understand or control. I've listened to to it - shrieking unseen for the baby it know it wants but can't find a way to create - for over a week now, and I keep silently whispering to it, "Sister, I know."

This morning, that cat was in my house. 

Before it was time for the light of dawn to nudge us out of sleep, it began. It wasn't merely thunder somewhere in the sky, the air itself became the raucous clapping of the gods and slammed into us and around us and through us and shook each of the bricks that make up the house while the floodgates of heaven opened up and attempted to drown the city in its sleep. 

My children let the cat in, to save it from the rain. Not for a moment did they think about their allergies, or their dogs, or anything other than the fact that the cat was screaming and they were not. 

This is how it begins, for people like us. 

And then the sky screamed us awake and the dogs screamed themselves dominate and the cat screamed itself free and tore the chest of the child trying to save it wide open and none of this is coincidence. 

We puttered about in the darkness of morning, listening to air screaming from pressure it cannot understand or control. I made the coffee and ironed a shirt while they ate their cereal and he trimmed his beard. We have never had a morning like this, not ever once in the thirteen years and eight months and twenty five days since we have been an us. 

We put medicine on the tears in his chest, to stop the hives which always follow, and I reminded him that not everything wants to be saved, and sometimes the only choice is to let go. He smiled the way children almost never smile at you once they are old enough to believe in a different god, the way I never once smiled at her.

      quiet in so much chaos. Exactly like I had wished for this day, twenty times over. 

I watched the flood warnings and tornado sightings and tried to find words that I am certain do not exist and then my glasses broke in half right here in my hand and as soon as I couldn't see it anymore, I could feel it. 

All of it.

I can feel

       something other than the cold on my face when I walked out of that door, the cramps in my legs from crouching in a phone booth, hiding for hours, the pressure on my chest when the plane took off and the hollow space left in its wake when I landed 2000 miles away from the last moment I will have ever seen my mother's face. 

Twenty todays later so many things matter more than everything I didn't get to know that about the woman inside of my mother. Twenty todays later she may be screaming over my head or shrieking at my backdoor or shaking the walls around me but we are inside here, together, and I am letting her go.  

The boarding pass that I kept, inexplicably, all of these twenty years is here.

Some background is here. There is more here, and at every other January 9th in my archives. Some on the 7th, too.


Children are wretched secret-keepers because they haven't yet learned to detach themselves from the rest of humanity and live solely in their own heads. This is arguably their greatest attribute.

My sons told my daughter about my mother. It was an accident, an off-the-cuff like duh remark made one day in passing that she zeroed in on and has been hunting since.

Your mother hurt you?

Your mother doesn't... ...love...you?

She cannot grasp the concept of a mother not loving her child and I thank every god I can think of for this gift.

She associated fear with the word 'mother', and I cannot make this better for her. She was thrust, headfirst, into her gene pool and now she will have to learn to swim in it, just as I did. She cries sometimes because she doesn't want to grow anymore so she can't be married so she won't have babies and I tell her that she doesn't have to do any of those things. I hold her in my arms and tell her lies that feel like wishes; you don't have to grow anymore. You can stay right here in my arms forever. I will always be your momma and you will always be my little girl and no one can change that.

Her questions come faster than I can bear to answer them, ruthlessly unrelenting, hashing over old details that taste bitter against my tongue. I sweeten and spice and kneed them so they are palatable to her fragile heart. She asks what did you do, and I answer nothing every single time, as if the repetition will lead to belief. She wonders why I don't call my mother and I tell her that I don't know where she is. She informs me emphatically that I need to tell my faddur and he will tell my mudder that I am sorry, because if you say you're sorry and you mean it then everything can be okay again.

I take her face into my hands and stare as deeply as I can into her perfect big brown wondrous eyes and I tell her that she is right, silly old me; I will do that right away.

The shades of gray that color the excuses I make for what happened - my mother was broken and it wasn't her fault, that it didn't hurt me and I am not sad - give way to the vibrance she recklessly splashes across my past.

She asks me if we can go see my mudder after my fadder talks to her and I say in crimsons of course we can, bugga-boo. She asks if my mother will hurt her and I tell her pensively orange no, my mother will love you so much. The truth in that statement rips new holes in my heart. She asks what we will do and I tell her powder-bluely that my mother will read you a story and you will have tea and you could even brush my mother's hair if you'd like; she always loved that. She asks what color my mother's hair is and I realize that my mother isn't yet a person for her, merely a concept.

This has nothing to do with my mother, and everything to do with knowing that her mother can be hurt.

I keep waiting for her to move on from this but she cannot. So I continue to lie to her, and I will as long as she will let me, because I don't know how to share this truth with a five year old child. I cannot. She tells me that maybe she could grow up, and when she does she can be my mother, and I tell her that would be the grandest thing of all, gosh you'd make a good momma for me. She sleeps easier, knowing she has healed me, while not knowing at all that she is healing me.

Together we paint different pictures over this canvas I drag around with me, flooding the gray spaces of my life with her bright lightness.

{Separate yet equal: we're talking on Momversation about tragedies, and how much you tell your kids.}

The Day I Tried To Live

Yesterday was a day like any other day. The kids went to school, I did some work, my pantry got cleaned and and my kitchen got a good scrub. My son checked the mail and found a package from Bonnie Burton and Lucasfilm in the box. We opened it, messed with all the Star Wars stuff inside, and then had dinner. I sent one picture of the stuff to Twitter and one to my ex, who is arguably the World's Biggest Star Wars fan. He called, mostly to tell me I was a succubus, but partly to catch up, and as I hung up I wished him a happy 35th birthday tomorrow.

Right about then I really realized that today is his 35th birthday. That means it's January 8th. It's also Elvis' birthday and the day that my boss and his wife find out what flavor baby they're having. And if it's January 8th, tomorrow is the 9th. For the first time, um, ever, it just crept up on me like that, when I wasn't even looking for it.

One thing, with sickening predictability, has continued to lead directly to the other.

It's been 18 years since January 9th. 18 years is a long time to be without your mother. 18 years is just enough time, apparently, for that scar to start to heal. January 7th was no less hard, no less frightening, and yet I managed to let the mundane little aspects of this new life I was re-born into 18 years ago drown that hardness, that fear, right out until just about dinner-time. Maybe there's an actual reason that 18 is the year we are considered adults after all.

And while I was thinking about all of this last night, I realized that in two weeks my little baby nephew will turn 18, too. Hello, one thing...meet the other.

I just cannot believe that it took me all of this time to realize that 13 days after everything I ever knew and loved ended, everything he was ever to know and love began. That maybe in some weird way, that boy who was born in a hospital bed on January 22nd, 1992 in Fresno, California is the new version of the child that died on January 9th, 1992 in a telephone booth at the Philadelphia International Airport. That maybe that explains why I love him so much more than is reasonable for an auntie-in-law-by-adoption to love a nephew she didn't even meet until he was seven. That maybe he's the ying to my yang, my balance, my reckoning...maybe he's my Phoenix.

Maybe my nephew is what makes all of those awful years, all of those terrifying hours, okay. Or maybe it's the dishes that always have to be washed and the baby dolls that have to be played with and the newsletters that have to be written and the toilets that have to get unplugged. Maybe it's this new life that is so much more real and consistent and predictable and mundane than that old one ever was. Maybe it's this family which isn't glued together with a shoddy DNA code and the stickiness of fear, but that it's my family, my choice, and we hold each other together with so much more love than I ever thought the world was capable of feeling.

Whatever it is, it's working. I almost forgot that every January has a 9 in it. I was almost able to let it pass my by this year. Tomorrow my husband and I will leave the kids tied to the radiators and go out to dinner. We'll drink a bottle of fabulous wine and eat something with unpronounceable ingredients in it and we will celebrate this life that is perfect and wonderful and all I ever needed, this life that only took the shattered remnants of an old, ruined one to build itself up on. Maybe we'll go to the gym after, maybe we'll come home, watch a movie, and catch up on 9 days of New Year's sexolutions.  Whatever happens tomorrow, well, it just happens.  This life will keep marching on and I will keep living it.

Come what may, I will keep living.