Word Winding

attempting to spin cacophony into sanity

Archive for the tag “friendship”

With love for duct tape

During library time in the fourth grade, a close friend and her new friend said they didn’t want to play with me anymore, and I sat there behind them on the close-shorn carpet, my heart in flames.

That was the first time.

One evening in fifth grade, while my mom was at book club, I walked blithely into my sister’s room and stopped short. Our father sat next to her on the bed, clearly in mid-sentence. Her face was blotchy, tear-drenched. At his direction I went to take my bath. Sitting there, staring at the familiar friendly face of the faucet, I tried to imagine what could make my sister cry like that, and an answer immediately rose from nowhere: divorce. I quickly banished the thought. But later, once I was snug in bed, my dad came in to say goodnight. In his preoccupation he sat on my legs and before I could do anything about it he told me. They were separating.

That was the second time.

In sixth grade, my best friend abruptly stopped hanging out with me. As neighbors, we inevitably trekked similar paths to and from school no matter how many detours I took, her with friends, me alone, and within my preteen mind all of their giggles spotlit flaws I hadn’t owned before. Our history ran back to toddlerhood and so I stood holding the severed threads of our friendship for a long time, never sure why.

That was the third time.

In seventh grade my mom told us she had cancer. We were in the kitchen. She had been to the doctor to see about a persistent cough. I remember nothing of what she said. I think I was at the table. I think she was standing. I do not remember the time of day. I do not remember what her face looked like.

That was the fourth time.

In eighth grade, again in the kitchen, my mom gathered me into her lap, coltish legs and all, and told me she was dying. And then she comforted me while we cried. She lovingly, selflessly, bravely answered childish questions like where will I live and who will take care of me while I buried myself into the solidity of her flesh and tried but was unable to fathom a world without.

A month later, she was gone.

That was the last time.

For many people, I imagine their story of the word “heartbreak” begins at that age where mine ended, conjures up images of their first failed romance and continues on, perhaps for decades.

But not for me. Everything from that point on, no matter how devastating, has landed with impact but without shattering. Her last gift was an explosion that taught me where center is and how to piece myself back together around it with love for duct tape.

Because after your heart splinters into shards, living becomes a choice instead of a default. You meet your strengths and your weaknesses both. You learn their exact contours, how to identify them in the dark. And in reassembling them, you claim them all.

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Open Heart

Things are shifting.

They always are, of course. I am fairly intolerant of personal stagnation and have been known to prod things better left alone for the sake of change. But most of my growth lately has been specifically as a mother (and when I say lately I mean for approximately the last four years nine months).

This past month or so, however, I’ve gone back to growing as an individual, in ways that may inform my parenting but are not so firmly welded to it.

There are surface changes, of course. Easy enough to describe. I have carved out room for music making and dates with Thor and time with friends. I am crocheting and plotting creative things for my students and exercising regularly. I am more forgiving of my own mistakes and those of my kids. I am even learning how to talk to strangers.

But those feel like symptoms. At the root is something that makes all of the above suddenly more manageable.

We need to rewind and begin further back. Picture child-me. I am half bookworm, half gymnast-dynamo. Shy shy shy in new places with new people, but incorrigible chatterbox with those I trust. Deeply drawn to animals and the outdoors. Always a spiritually inclined atheist. Prone to spend whole weeks in one continuous imaginative play. Incredibly resistant to teeth brushing and sleeping. I crave balance in all things: food, art, belongings, my own footsteps. I get goosebumps and that delightful tickly-spine-neck-shiver feeling constantly — while reading, watching movies, or listening to almost any kind of music. I cry easy as breathing.

Teenage me is much the same, plus the maelstrom of losing my mom and a definite reduction in visible shyness.

But college me does something new. College me learns to say what I mean on the first try, to close doors, to draw clearer boundaries and stick to them. I stop taking everything so personally and finally figure out how to allow friendships to settle naturally onto the many different levels between best friend and acquaintance. I find a career and a life partner hoping but not knowing either is as permanent a choice as they turn out to be. And without conscious intent, two things happen: my imagination gradually begins to confine itself to realism, and little by little I abandon my endless pursuits of philosophical truth and gut-level soul-baring emotional connection.

Late twenties me continues down this path, developing wonderful life skills like eating healthily and exercising routinely. I bear a child and apply my intellectual ferocity toward raising her. I do an incredible amount of nursing. I nearly cease composing. I bear another child. I begin to drown slowly in “isthiswhatmylifeisnow?” because I feel the lack of something I cannot name and my brain is leaching out with my milk and there is never a break in the action for more than the bare minimum of recharging.

I begin this blog to light my way through the fog that is mothering small children. A few weeks later, my friends’ son is diagnosed with JMML.

I am so well-protected by this point, my crybaby heart sheathed in such tough stuff, that even as I weep and hope and grieve and hope some more, I am suddenly forced to see how I now keep the world at arms length. Unnerved, I begin to poke, to goad myself to the level of feeling I remember from childhood. But my barriers are strong enough to keep me out, too.

I turn outward, toward the practical assistance my hands can offer, but all the while I chip and chip and chip away at my own tough shell.

As I do so, I don’t truly think it is still in there, the overly sensitive soul I remember having had once, but I feel compelled to try.

Eventually I can tell I am making headway. The goosebumps, the shivers, they never went away, but now they are multiplying. I am living less in the safe, boring middle and more in the highs and lows. I feel ever so slightly more awake.

My friends’ son dies.

I feel the choice, as clearly as though I hold one in each hand. I can reshutter the windows, rebar the door, shut my eyes, and hum. Or I can become a ground wire for unbearable grief. There is never any question of which I will choose, of course. I am pulled to emotional midwifery like a crane fly to a pouch light; always have been.

I form a handful of true friendships, deeper than I dreamed was possible to do as an adult. And, like honey that has been resting on the shelf for awhile, I slowly begin to ooze from my jar. A year or so passes and I hover in limbo, jar open and tipped upside down, heart ensnared for the moment by friction alone but moving oh so glacially toward freedom.

And finally, suddenly, out I fall.

And here I am. Maybe it was a song, or a hug, or just the right words that finally pulled me all the way out, but regardless, here I am. Willingly vulnerable. Writing prolifically, intoxicated by music, by love of family and friends, finding that mythical center-amidst-chaos that previously seemed an impossible goal plastered on a Facebook meme.

At first it feels a little like being in love, complete with fluttery abdominal butterflies. But even when that initial glow fades, my cracked-open heart remains. Oh, it still gives half-hearted attempts at closing up shop, but I think it’s just teasing, and I am wise to its ways now.

And I have my best people on the job to keep it that way. Owlet and Platypup’s incessant shenanigans and impossible heaps of love. Gertrude and Alice’s craftiness and laughter in the face of sadness. The immeasurable treasure of Rapunzel’s mirth and wisdom. And Thor’s steady, ever-loving presence offering a perfect counterpoint to it all.

Things are shifting, and my heart is open to whatever is coming next.

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(Owlet gave Platypup her old violin for his birthday. He is thrilled.)

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