Here, for my memory and your pleasure and empathy, are a series of vignettes from my life of the last two weeks. I wear a different hat in each one.
1. Village Maternity
Walking into Village Maternity, I smile at the lettering on the door, "Born in 1983." "Like me," I think as I picture a bald-ish baby soon to erupt in blonde curls, a female version of my Bran. I make an immediate left into the sleep-sack section. Running my hands over the thick, soft, minky-fabric, zippered blankets, I press my body into them a little more closely than is probably normal and get a surge of oxytocin that makes my milk let down. A feeling that sometimes makes me wince, I let it come and enjoy it. I won't get to feel it much longer. Bran needs to be weaned soon (if only because now he says, "oh, wow!" every time he leans in to nurse, and there are some things a mother doesn't need to know). I want to buy one last sleep-sack. He could do without it, but only a baby needs a sleep sack. I'm determined to have a baby a little bit longer. Turning right, I am faced with a shelf full of knotted baby beanies with little woodland mushrooms or hedgehog toile in country blue and overpriced, adorable, organic baby sleepers, size 0-3 months. The wistfulness is knotting in my chest like the tops of those hats. I have no use for such tiny clothes. Inventing a need, I start determinedly digging through the beanies for a hat that might fit Bran. Out of luck, I go to the sales girl (I've always liked her); "Do you have any of the beanies in a 12 mos or bigger?" "No, we don't really carry toddler sizes." The air rushes into my lungs, and I have to pinch back tears by making jokes.
2. Pipe Bomb
3 weeks. 3 whole weeks, or maybe even more, I have not suffered any of the more uncomfortable symptoms. I took a friend to the ER: no tachycardia. I walked 10 blocks: no throbbing limbs. I stayed up late: no debilitating fatigue. But now? Right now while we are on Whidbey Island, my favorite place this side of the Pacific, I'm struck. I felt it sneaking up last night. Well, truthfully, I felt it sneaking up all week. I've been more emotionally sensitive; it's been hurting to walk up the stairs; I've been seeing stars. I was so hungry. I know I ate too much pizza. And, of course, I should NOT have had caffeine this morning even though I saw every hour on the clock last night. (Poor Bran- this cold and the strange environment. It's no wonder he didn't sleep.) So, here it is. I'm standing in the Kalakala Mercantile in Langley. It's dripping with cool. I literally just sprayed a sample perfume on me that's called "Pipe Bomb." Oh, those adorable, crafty hipsters. I guess they think they can get away with anything. I do really love the smell. I like it better than "Broken Glass." My heart wants to enjoy this big family weekend to the hilt, but my body just gave out. All the symptoms hit me at once, like a truck. I text Brendan from the bathroom as I hear them call out our pour-overs again ("One regular and one decaf ready to go on the bar!"). My thumb types out: "I'm stuck here being sick. Come get these coffees." Finally, I manage to get up. On the way to the house, we get the text that the photographer is waiting to do our all-family photo. "We are on our way," I write back. "I'm having a dysautonomia attack." As I sip water and breathe deeply to try to calm my body, I get a big whiff of "Pipe Bomb." "Yep," I think. "The bomb has definitely gone off."
3. Tiny Things
I feel a little better, but those flares leave me so exhausted. If only nothing ugly was ever allowed to happen in a beautiful place. At least there are all these loved ones to help Brendan watch the kids. I don't have to feel bad being out here for a long time alone. I don't even have my phone! The balmy wind rushes over my face and through my hair. I face into it, close my eyes, and open my chest up to it. I feel clammy, and it's cold but not too cold. I am refreshed and challenged by it. "Come!" the beach says. "Come and look!" I watch the water, buffeted by the wind, and see how the seagulls are enjoying the currents in the air. The expanse of the Saratoga Passage begs me to come again in Spring to see those whales. The sky is dark grey, white, and purple. I wish for a funnel cloud. The repeating whoosh of the surf washes through my body like an Om, and I feel connected to the largeness of God. "I love you!" he says, and I keep saying it back. "Oh! I know you do, and I love you too!" All this as I stand face to the wind. Kneeling down, I search for more love, more precision, more oversight, more provision, more predestination. If I wait, search, and dig just a tiny bit I always find a hundred tiny, perfect shells and am comforted by the contents of the sand.
4. Dear Mary Karr
I wish it were easier. Confidence eludes me these days. What is the point? Why should I write anything down? Is it all vanity? I hope all writers feel this way. It would be so unfair for someone to just feel sure that the whole world needed to hear what they want to say. When I struggle to write, or to even be motivated to write... No, that's not it. I'm deeply motivated. I have books (yes! plural!) that I want to set down; it's not a lack of motivation or content, it's a surplus of insecurity and discouragement. Anyway, when I find I can't write, I read. The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr meets me like a mentor at a coffee date every time. "But I just can't," I whine. "I know that," she says. "All these bad feelings are normal, and I get it. I even think they can help." I'm not quoting her, mind you. I'm just telling you how she makes me feel. I'll write her a letter. I can't seem to get my feelings out well for anyone else I talk to, but maybe if I make her my audience, I'll find the answer or at least the next nudge that I need...
It helps, and then I hear that same old line that floats through my head like a (holy?) ghost every time I doubt: "Prepare knew honors for his name and songs before unknown."