I have written this post six times since Monday and it comes down to this:
I have had twenty-one years (give or take) to drive over the App Gap on Vermont 17 as many times as I'd like in any season I'd like and by my reckoning I've been over it exactly twelve times and two of those times happened the first year I was there.
There's no point in writing how I feel about that. That this is take seven ought to about sum it up.
So I can tell you this instead. I can tell you that Elizabeth took the photograph because we stopped. I took it into Affinity and traded the evening sky for the light to bring back what remains of the autumn color that is just past peak in the North. I did it for Elizabeth; I'm not sure why but she received it as if she needed the light. There is another photograph taken by a couple at the pullover which is striking. No matter what I do, I cannot pull the light back into that photograph. It is taken from the same angle but pulled back quite a bit and that shouldn't present too much of a problem but I think the two humans in the middle of the shot anchor the fact of the evening. I should let it go because I need it because of her face. She is wearing her typical Elizabeth face, full of light and joy, reflecting back the world as experienced with all gazillion of her extraordinary Elizabeth senses. She is one of God's greatest creatures. We all are. Ain't that a smack in the gut of our sensibilities?
When I deposited her at the curb in front of her dorm twenty-seven hours later, that face was gone. She was grieving maybe, or just processing, overwhelmed and sad. I asked if she was glad she came and she nodded her head up and down vigorously. She loves her grandpa and she loves S and she is very happy to have made S's mother's acquaintance. Finally. I'd forgotten how long it has been since she has come east.
It is the middle part I can't get right because there is too much or I am still struggling or I'm not sure how exposed I really am or all of the above or something I can't see. Or it is too important to not get right, this thing which is just as profound an experience as childbirth, this epiphany of mine. It is a window or a door and you are either aware that these things exist in theory or in fact or you are not.
When I write that the epiphany is as profound as the birth of my first child, this not hyperbole. It is fact. I hope I don't lose it.
Let's see if I can manage to give you the end without the beginning and the middle. It will be a declaration without substantiating evidence. Truthfully, when you bottomline a thing, all declarations stand or don't stand on their own anyway. You don't need my backstory to hear this; what you need is your own.
I am looking at my children very differently these days. There is a thing that opened for me shortly after the birth of my first child and I wanted to scream it from the mountains but I could not make myself heard, or at least I didn't think I could. I don't know if my parents could hear me. Maybe they were too damn wounded at that point. My father seemed to balance on the edge of his own universe, sorting out what was right and what was wrong, looking for his definition of the Honorable Man he needed to be (he just needed to click those heels three times... but everybody has a journey). My mother was shattered. My brother had stars on the soles of his feet and not in such a good way. My husband was sweet and I do think he understood but his body wasn't full of hormones and he came from a family that was so normal and so stable that they had a check list of emotional things that were OK to feel and talk about and a check list of absolute unmentionables. I still hit landmines with that bunch.
I don't know where I found the book but I found it; it wasn't given to me. It was written by an older woman who must have had grandchildren by the time she wrote it and now I am thinking about her motivation. I think it was poetry and if I could find that book or remember her name I could have the whole thing again. But the message is fresh...
'...I did not know how much my parents loved me until the day you were born...'
Except I was only one standing in the audience when the mic dropped.
I nearly came unhinged. It is a very hard thing to suddenly understand how much your parents love you when you are at war with them, at least in your heart. I walked around with that hole open and bloody and glad for it for a couple of years and then it started to close because I couldn't figure out how to talk about it. I think if it isn't shared it's hard to keep open.
I have listened to people tell me how much they wished they had made peace with their parents before their parents died.
I have listened to people raise loved ones to sainthood after the fact, in compensation for making peace before the fact, leaving the pain in the ground and cycling every year or every month or week because there is no peace. I think when this happens it enters the realm, it doesn't come close - how can it? - it enters the realm of the grief a parent feels when they lose a child. That shit can never be cleaned up.
I have listened to people tell me how hard it is to deal with their parents or their siblings and I have thought, do this before it is too late: And:
I have come to terms with the fact that I am too fragile to withstand the onslaught of my mother's fragility and what comes out of that. Therefore I do not have a relationship with my mother which essentially orphans me and makes her whatever you call a mother who has lost her child. There is no word for that. We are bound together in mutual loss. I am painfully aware of this.
I don't have the right words to properly convey the gratitude for the time I have with my father because I have time to choose differently, to be conscious. There's a voice in my head that accuses: Heather, are saying you're glad your father is dying? (yes, I did that on purpose) That is my guilt speaking. Guilt is useless. Shame is useless. Feeling bad is useless but it doesn't matter, we all feel these things because our culture supports it. I'm not going there today; I'm struggling with the juxtaposition of gratitude and shame because, as I said to my guy yesterday - I know that underneath all this great stuff that's coming to the surface, I still have to deal with the other stuff and I'm really scared.
And that's ok.
The truth is, this makes it easier. Not the dying part, the getting to the clean part. When you take a sieve and you fill it with stuff from the creek bed and you shake it back and forth in the water, the small stuff washes away. If you leave everything as it is and you just dig without water, I think it is a lot harder, sorting through all that stuff. You have to deal with all of it when good, clean water will just wash so much little shit off by itself.
Assuming you aren't attached to the shit.
Brings me to my kids.
Everybody's stuff is valid. I have to keep reminding myself because sometimes I want to shake them and say: REALLY?! You really think your life was all that bad? Seriously?
And that's not fair. Life is subjective. The hard part is watching the attachment to pain. We hold it for a lot of reasons but mostly we pull it up over ourselves to keep it from happening again. It really isn't that simple except when it is. And I'm not talking about the toxic waste that sits rotting in sealed memory boxes locked away in caves and attics and garages. That's a whole other thing but it still counts. It still matters. We still get to choose. I'm getting to that.
So I look at my children and I am speechless because I want to say something. It isn't for me (trust me, it would be much safer for me to just not go there), it is for them because I'm having this feeling again the way I did almost 32 years ago and I think if that woman was still alive maybe her daughter might have written it; something like this:
I did not know how fiercely I loved my father until the day I looked in his eyes and saw his comprehension of the truth of his mortality.
When he showed me the raw vulnerability of his knowledge, asking nothing of me (and even if he had), I chose to walk through the door that allowed me to go home.
Gratitude is a thing that wells up from the earth, spilling up and over from the deepest canyons and flooding deserts. Most of the time we turn and run for high ground. It is terrifying, those feelings. They are bigger and stronger than any of us, how can we survive that sort of shock?
That is a justifying question of the sort that gets us where we are in the world today. And that is the truth. Pick at it some. The question we should be asking is, how can we survive without that lake in the desert? How can we have come so far so long without? I'm hearing Dana Carvey doing Church Lady in my head and you should take a break and just watch one of his videos because irreverent laughter is water right out of that lake. You know, when laugh at ourselves. Right. Back at it.
I look at my two oldest children and I have no idea how to tell them that they can come home now or they can come home later. Or they can come home not at all. I live very close to my children. I might as well live in Maine. I understand. I also know it is very, very hard to lose a parent. It's like cutting off a limb even if you have no idea you're doing it.
We all have two biological doorways. Some of us have a whole bunch of doorways. Some doors get slammed shut (see David's exit from Elizabeth's life). But Biological doorways, we all have two.
If they are living and they are standing open - pay attention:
We are at choice. Always, it is we who are at choice.
Not all doors are standing open. Be grateful for the open doors. Even if you cannot go through them, be grateful that they are open.
That is all. What? Not enough words? Eighty-one words is enough words.
(be grateful I didn't tell you to grow the fuck up. I'm a little cranky at the moment. I didn't tell you to grow the fuck up because no one has been telling me to grow the fuck up and I think I should extend the courtesy. Now. Now that is all.)