I almost flew at dawn to be with Mani. To be another adult in the house so that she could take a long bath. To bring three weeks’ of dirty clothes to the laundromat. To cook a few meals to freeze. To spell her so she could take a nap. To hold her so she could maybe, finally, cry, let down for a short while upon endless moments, minutes, hours, days, weeks and months of constant vigil, research, phone calls, blood pressure cuffs and barely detectable pulses and arrhythmic heartbeats and electrolyte drinks through a straw, like feeding a weak baby bird.
I wanted nothing more than to do just that and more. So last night, when I found a surprisingly decent fare for a 48-hour trip to Phoenix, I lined up a pet-sitter and bought a ticket.
Then I called my girls at their dad’s to let them know. And I knew–before the phone even started ringing, before the words even came out of my mouth, before she even began to cry that she had wanted to do something for me, with me, on my birthday Monday–that it didn’t feel right to go. Scared for Asia’s life, worrying about Mani’s physical and emotional exhaustion, feeling my own hopeless missing of her, and then hearing my daughter’s voice on the other end of the line, my body got hot, the kind of hot you get when you think you might throw up.
I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t be in two places at once—a bare truth both as physically impossible as it is emotionally wrenching. As I was talking to Mani, the call waiting beeped. “You should go. I want you to go, as long as we can come pick you up at the airport,” she said, still teary but sounding resolved and bowling me over with her big giant heart.
“There is nothing more important to me than to see you and your sister on my birthday,” I told her, feeling a rush of disappointment and relief. If someone demanded I choose–it’s-me-or-them–that would not be love at all. And this is exactly what I have assured my girls again and again about as they—and I—integrate new people into our hearts and lives.
So I called Expedia and cancelled the ticket. And this morning, my daughter called to say good morning, to tell me about their plans for the day, and to ask, “How do you know if an egg’s gone bad?” Her dad in the background said, “When it starts robbing banks.” Our ensuing elaborate idea for a comic strip about Evil Eggs and speakeasies made us both laugh–and filled me with gratitude.
We live with many contradictions that are only at odds when we’re on the defensive—something I have not once experienced with this woman whose heart and words reveal time and again spaciousness, wisdom, and respect. I am slowly learning to trust that truly loving and being loved have nothing to do with fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. Love does not tear us apart. It makes us whole again and again, one exchange at a time, and has everything to do with being honest and present–be it physically or not–and truly tuning in.
To every one of you who has given a dollar or uttered a prayer here, I thank you. And I have a request: please let the people who love you take care of you, celebrate you. If my own sweet girls want to eat birthday cake with me on Monday, that is too precious a gift to miss.
And so I will be here to blow out the candles and start a new year, just as I blow kisses across the country where my heart also resides. And anyway, isn’t 39 that age some people repeat year after year? Hopefully for the next one and many, many after that, we’ll all be together. Me, her, and all five of our girls.