i haven’t written here in over a year, but i want to come back. maybe someday i will write about the past year and maybe i won’t. but i do know that i will start blogging again with books. because, really, it all comes back to books and stories and words.
i just finished listening to “the hiding place” by corrie ten boom and read by wanda mccaddon. i know i’m late to the party, but, oh my, this book. i usually listen to a book when i’m cleaning or sewing or busy-ing about. but this book was so arresting i had to stop in my tracks, sit down, and listen.
what i love most about this book is corrie’s gratitude and steadiness: she wrote this book with such love, she is remarkable. i want to be like her when i grow up.
if you haven’t read it, don’t waste any time. go get it. it will restore your faith in humanity, at the very least.
i was playing at the park with v today. i got sand down my shirt. i got a hot dog. hung out with a whole bunch of preschool parents and their kids. for a minute anyway, i could look away from my own problems to the more immediate need to police a tiny horde going down the slide over and over.
i have been so sad over the last two months that it’s easier to draw in, to keep looking in and down and down until all i see is myself. i was at the park with dozens of people that i should have known but didn’t. my own sorrow has kept me buried so far in the sand that i haven’t looked up and seen the people around me.
it makes me wonder at the private grief hiding behind every face. makes me wonder what we are all hiding or pushing down out of the way so we won’t cry, won’t fall apart.
it makes me wonder about empathy. i wish that i could have a rendezvous with true compassion, with someone who really does know and has known all that i have traveled through the last ten months or so.
i wish i was less afraid of strangers, that i could more readily share stories with people i barely know.
in the end, all this wishing is like sand in my shirt. i end up uncomfortable—wanting to be someone i’m not.
when i was curled on a hard chair in the mental hospital, the TV blaring, trying block out some sort of tiff between the other patients last august, i thought my life had plummeted to the bottom of the bottom. it was the first day of school and any time i pictured someone else putting backpacks on my children’s shoulders, i cried tears that i wiped away with the cuffs of my sweatshirt. it was some sweet agony to be away from my family. to be in a building full of strangers. to have all my movements restricted. to not feel exactly safe, even though i knew i was some sort of safe.
i would have given anything to have my own pillow.
and, i hate and apologize for ambiguity, but now here i am even lower. it’s amazing how the heart expands as easily for anguish as it does for love. that it can accommodate pain the size of texas, with room, i expect, for more. i feel like i am crawling up a mountain, treeless and covered in cactus for cinematic effect. the sun blazes. the spines poke my knees. but i know that if i stop crawling what little i have will be taken away from me.
as i crawl, i slowly learn that being hurt does not make you immune from being hurt again — it doesn’t give you a divine pass, one year off from stuff that sucks. instead, trials can come thick and mighty, piling on top of you until it’s hard to breathe.
and what do you do when you suddenly discover that instead of being the princess, you are actually the pea?
V told me the other day that i should have three more boys so that H wouldn’t bother her. then she thought a moment and threw in two girls to the mix so she would have sisters. i laughed. but it was an empty laugh.
i always shuffle around the question of kids. it’s not that i ever imagined that i would be driving around a special van with twelve little munchkins in the back, but i admit i imagined a family more like the one i grew up in: as in, more kids than two.
i’m definitely not claiming to know how it would feel to want children and have none because i wanted children and got some. but sometimes i feel like the universe lied to me a little bit. i had postpartum depression with H and then postpartum psychosis with V and so there was never a whole lot of holding and loving babies for me. i held them, and i loved them, but it was all under an umbrella of panic so fierce i couldn’t see the sun. (we were in cleveland, so there wasn’t much sun to begin with…. ) having babies is really hard on me physically, emotionally, mentally.
from where i sit now, i know i could never have another baby. it would take as many people as staff downtown abbey to get me through it and even then, i might not make it. my doctors have all advised against it. my own logic and reason center sees that having another baby would put me over the edge and it would be a fall so fast, i might not ever climb back up.
but even so, i watch my friends having babies. i see the tiny fingers, the eyelashes, the squishy faces and i wonder why my family got stopped at four. i try to tell myself that i’m glad i’m not changing diapers or getting up at night or bouncing back and forth in the kitchen. but am i? my mormon culture comes with an unspoken (so far, in my experience) pressure to have children. and sometimes i can’t separate it out. am i sad i don’t have more children because of me? because of what i see around me? i don’t really know.
my inventive little people still manage to have all sorts of shenanigans together even though they’re only two of them. they play duck, duck, goose with two. they play musical chairs with two. they build forts. they lay on their backs and listen to ramona quimby on tape. they build legos. they fight. they scream and hit each other. they write each other notes not to enter their respective rooms. in short, they manage all the same sorts of things me and my siblings did, on a slightly smaller scale.
i suppose, in the end, it’s a matter of coming to terms with an adulthood that doesn’t look the way you dreamed it when you were dreaming it. and that’s something we all have to get used to, one way or another.
in the bible, ruth gathers sheaves: leftover bits from the harvest. i imagine her stuffing bits into a turned up apron—though i’m hardly a biblical scholar and wouldn’t know whether she had an apron or not. i see her scurrying behind broad men with scythes, sweeping down the wheat in one smooth motion, and ruth in her hunger ducking in to scratch the bits left behind off the floor of the earth. and ruth is hungry. not just for food, you can see it in the way that her ribs jut out and catch the fabric of her smock, but for friends, companionship, belonging. she’s a widow. a widow who has followed her mother-in-law to a different land and a different religion. no doubt there are physical signs that mark her out as a newcomer, as someone who certainly doesn’t belong. the story in the bible is slight, but the shunning from the other women is implicit. you can’t help but feel sorry for ruth because no matter your story, we’ve all felt that moment: the moment when we are the stranger, when we are hungry for something, be it food, or friendship, or reason.
there must have been a moment in my life when whatever genetics play games with my brain switched on and i went from being a child to being a woman who would carry a diagnosis on her back, an anvil wrapped like a child in long fabric swaths and tied round my waist. it’s a moment i don’t remember. my decline has been quieter, subtler and perhaps more terrifying, as one bird after another comes to roost until one day you look up and notice thousands.
that’s the day you drag yourself in for professional help and spread open your innards for someone else to examine, prod at, and then nod when it’s all right for you attempt to stuff them back in. and somehow they never go in as easily as they came out. for me the first time was as a 19 year old, sitting in the office of a career counselor (because he was the only one available on short notice at my college—all the professionals were busying themselves either with grading or everyone else who was feeling suicidal near exams). we sat together in his office. i remember he had big ears. he balanced the DSMV on his knees, a tremendous volume used to diagnose everyone with brain palpitations of this or that sort. we stared each other down. and after listening to whatever it was i had to say that day, the doctor ran his finger down the list of diagnoses, a moment’s hesitation, and then i could see determination play across his face. yes. “i think you have bipolar disorder. i think you should be on lithium. how do you feel about that?”
i was still mentally gathering my soul and trying to stuff it back in my torso where it belonged. bipolar disorder. the words slapped me with their emptiness. it meant nothing to me, except the word “disorder” which carried such a heavy connotation of having done something wrong. i messed up somewhere. that’s all i could hear.
i gathered my backpack onto my lap. i looked at his ears. “i don’t believe in lithium,” i told the doctor, mostly because i had no idea what lithium was or what it would do to me. i still lived in a world where drugs were supposed to be avoided—they were an external force that acted upon you instead of adding to your brain’s necessary chemistry. but it would take me so many years to realize that.
so ruth gathering her leftover sheaves might not seem to have much to do with mental illness or the story i just told you, but i have this little suspicion that her story has more to do with my story than farming would seem. she’s gathering sheaves like the lost little bits of her brain. and then there’s that moment that she goes to talk with boaz.
and after gathering what she can of her reason and clarity into her apron she says to him, “why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?”
and he says to her, “the lord recompense thy work, under whose wings thou art come to trust.”
and at this point she is probably feeling how i felt earlier this week when a dear friend just showed up at my house and hugged me and helped me gather my reason and clarity without me saying a word.
and that’s when ruth says this: “thou hast comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto thine handmaid, though i be not like unto one of thine handmaids.”
do you see how this connects? this stranger lets this unknown, afflicted and bedraggled woman come to his garden and gather her sanity. he speaks friendly to her. he comforts her. and he does all this, even though she isn’t like all the other girls. man, i love ruth. that woman is brave. she’s not afraid to walk in front of everyone with her differences and gather what comfort she may from whatever is leftover. here’s a woman who never flinched.