When Denial Is No Longer an Option

1. In the beginning.

Innocent. Exciting. Naive. Pulsing with possibility. In the beginning, the promise and potential, the envisioning, as if it were up to us how things would unfold. In the beginning, sheer determination, make it happen, new and novel. in the beginning, hope.

In the beginning, disbelief. This can’t be happening. What’s happening? In the beginning, confusion, chaos, upended, uncertain. In the beginning, a hint of the ending, a knowing. In the beginning, denial, burial, eyes forward. In the beginning, if we talk enough it won’t be happening.

In the beginning, sincerity. So earnest. In the beginning, youth that doesn’t know it’s young. In the beginning, leaning hard on old models and seeking out new ones, wide-eyed if not quite bushy-tailed. In the beginning, follow the rules, do the things, sleep without cold sweats or questions. Sweep away the questions.

In the beginning, discomfort tendriled around intrigue. No name for it yet. A woman in a room. A leather cuff. A nuthatch in a pine tree. In the beginning, distance. Othering. I’m not like you. In the beginning, something else was unraveling. The ability to contain myself any longer.

In the beginning, everyone had my all. In the beginning, there was no stopping me. In the beginning, angels braided little flowers into my hair. In the beginning, I finally knew I was here.

2. I finally knew I was here.

It was a homecoming, the kind of religious experience you hear about but don’t often, or ever, experience firsthand. Finally knowing I was here felt like birth and death in the same moment, a shattering of self that was at once devastating and liberating. If I told you it was pouring rain, and there was thunder and lightning all around, you’d think I was being dramatic. But it’s true.

What’s also true is that life sometimes tears us wide open. And this is not pretty but painful, the kind of pain you don’t know if you’ll be able to endure. I didn’t know. I was crazy with energy, as if someone had plugged me into a light socket. That electrified, that bright, and that dangerous.

This morning — nearly eight years later — my child was looking at pictures from his early childhood. A few years before the moment I’m describing, we were, by all appearances and even our own accounts, a happy family of four. That was before, before, before.

But the truth is, even the before is a kind of middle, because nothing happens overnight, not even the things that seem sudden and shocking that change everything instantaneously. Like anything that grows or dies, there is a process made up of an uncountable number of micro-moments. The truth is, I was listening for this. I listened for it my whole life.

Sometimes the listening made me feel lost, disconnected, frightened, and depressed. Other times, it was like a call at a frequency I couldn’t yet decipher. One thing is for sure: It kept getting louder.

3. It kept getting louder.

I look back now, on things I wrote during the years leading up to that week, that day, night, that instant, and it’s so clear. I was digging for the landmine.

I was sitting.
I was running.
I was making dinner and doing bath time with kids.
I was making lunches.
I was doing dishes.
I was coaching clients.
I was writing blog posts.
I was mapping out the book I couldn’t quite write.

The book was my life. The book was me.

The book was my sexuality and my being burning an exit route through the middle of my body.

My fear was so big. My fear of losing what we had. I held on for dear life. So dramatic. I also loved. Blah blah blah blah.

OK, so what really? What kept getting louder? Not a sound, so much as a knowing. A knowing that had lived in a bubble way off to the right or left of my consciousness, above and over a bit — if you were here I would show you.

The container thinning over time like a cervix until there was no choice — the truth would not leak like amniotic fluid; it would burst forth, like labor that comes on hard and fast and shakes the foundations of your house of cards.

And then I was there, holding my newborn self, weeping for what could no longer be, and observing the rubble.

God has a way. God has a way of insisting. You can fight it but in the end, not really. And also, fighting it will leave you exhausted, injured, soul-sick.

Mary Oliver knew, when she wrote: “Listen. Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?”

I gulped the night air, texting frantically. “What do we do now?” She asked. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” I replied. But I knew. I was just terrified to say it out loud.

4. I was terrified to say it out loud.

It had been one thing to tell her how I felt, another to tell my husband, “I am gay,” and ultimately, the hardest thing I’d ever faced for us to make the decision to separate. Finally, though, after a summer of tension, lies and truths and tears and hours of talking and impossible distance, it was clear. I was already gone. Staying together was not an option. Once I came out, there was no putting me back in.

I’ve written this story so many times in different ways. Sometimes I think, why am I still writing it? It was so seminal. The fault line between one life and another. And like a gaping wound, fault lines close and heal but they leave scars and memories.

Will I close the door once and for all and forever on those days, or will I keep writing these snippets behind closed doors, even as I look out at the life I have now — my beloved napping in the bedroom, my brand new puppy snoring in the kitchen, my daughter who turns 16 this year sitting here in the living room with me, my son entering middle school next year.

These kids were four and seven then, when we said the thing to them out loud that changed their worlds irrevocably: “We’re no longer going to live together.”

I know more than half of American children grow up with divorced parents. It’s not that unusual. But I was raised to think divorce was one of the Most Terrible Things Ever. (Along with debt. God forbid.)

In this moment, my house is peaceful. I am learning, layer after layer, to let my insides be peaceful, too. The kids are alright.

5. The kids are alright.

In this moment, my house is peaceful. I am learning, layer after layer, to let my insides be peaceful, too.

In the end, that’s so much of what this life is. Returning, again and again, to what it feels like to be fully myself. It’s so easy to drift, to forget, to get hyper-focused on that which causes anxiety or simply on the revolving needs of keeping a household humming.

In the end, it’s a quality of being honest that is liberating. For so long, I wasn’t fully honest. I lied outright about some things, like smoking, and in a more subconscious way about deeper things, things that I didn’t have names for, things that were so big I was afraid to expose them.

In the end, coming out was freeing, but it wasn’t the end. It was really the beginning of a whole new book, so many chapters of learning and unlearning how to be myself without slipping back into the shadows. I slip up — I remind myself everyone slips up and that I am not exempt from this being human thing. But I come back. I come back to the courage to sit down and say: I’m scared. I’m angry. I’m tired. I’m not sure. I’m sorry.

In the end, there is this: Sitting here in the living room with the windows open, glancing up every minute or two at the newly budding trees along the side of the driveway. The smell of summer rain and a wind picking up in the pines. A family changing and growing, and not in the ways we tried to cling to when the old family came apart.

I had tried to keep it together even after the ending, and what I’ve learned is that sometimes, you have to let a thing go all the way. Not just partway, just newly configured, but just… done. This has been hard for me, a keeper, a holder-on. But it also delivered me here. And here is beautiful. Here is real. Nothing buried, nothing burning a hole in me.­­

I am so grateful.

Free Associating and the Analyst’s Couch

Photo: Jimmy Bay

I’ve been clicking away from this screen on and off for a while now, maybe half-hour or so. I’m reminding myself of a moth — the way it will flutter and bang up against the same light over and over again. What is it trying to do or get, anyway? And why is “The Moth” storytelling show called “The Moth”? This, my friends, is what we call free associating.

I had a great therapist back in Burlington. Well, I had a few great therapists back in Burlington, but the one I am thinking of now was actually an analyst, with a couch for lying on facing away from her and everything. After my initial self-consciousness faded, I loved it. I loved her disembodied voice behind me, and how I could lie down there and just start sobbing, or be quiet for a long time. I loved how we unraveled some things that have remained deeply instructive to me, some fundamental ways of relating to myself and life that I came to see, during that year or so, I no longer needed.

Free associating has its benefits.

Friends with benefits, for example, is the next thought I have. The woman I launched into relationship with when I first came out — we tried that for a while, as a way of tempering the fact that being in a capital-R Relationship kept not working, but on the other hand we couldn’t seem to stay away from each other, either. But it was too murky for me, that territory. Turns out I didn’t much want to have sex with my friends — and that she and I weren’t really friends at all.

Stretched out on Jeanne P.’s couch is where I began to understand that I was deeply conditioned to look inward. All my life, I’d had the sensation that my internal landscape was something of a kaleidoscope; you could look and look and look and get lost in there, always more hidden, more to seek, and an inherent sense of something being missing. In a way, this was my safest place. I could maintain a focus on relationships with other people, but at the end of the day, I was alone with myself. Life with someone else, truly being seen and met and known, felt wistfully impossible.

It’s no coincidence that one of the poems I related most to was Emily Dickinson’s #640, which begins:

I cannot live with You –
It would be Life –
And Life is over there –
Behind the Shelf

The Sexton keeps the Key to –

I wanted more than anything to be alone, or so I thought.

I still love being alone. As I write this, my wife is sitting across the room. Her back is to me; she’s at her computer, too. We are in the same room, breathing the same air. The kids are at my sister’s house with their dad, celebrating the Jewish new year with a potluck feast. I got sick this week and had to forego services and gatherings.

Our third anniversary is in six days, though we’ve been an item for closer to six years. In those six years, I have learned how to maintain my relationship with myself AND to wholly give myself to another. To get to have room for my needs, my experience, my desire, and my emotions AND be present for hers. That these aren’t mutually exclusive was a learning curve for me.

Bottom line: We all have real lives. There is no greener grass. And for the first time perhaps ever, I am not locked up inside of myself but rather right here. I’m free associating and giving myself permission — to to write, to free associate, to ramble, to see what happens when I explore the connections between things without an agenda. Permission is cool that way, isn’t it? And even cooler is that we get to give it to ourselves. Thanks, self!

Much of my writing about my kids these days happens behind closed doors, i.e. in secret spaces where I can write freely about my experiences as a parent without risking my kids’ trust or betraying their privacy. It’s such a huge part of life, and yet not one I write terribly much about publicly at this point. I know this is true for many women who started out blogging years ago when our little ones were, in fact, little. Now, they are not little. They are big. They are 11 and nearly 15, and there is plenty I know I don’t know about their complex inner lives and their day-to-day experiences. I try to be present to and available for them without hovering or smothering, though the latter can be a challenge for this Jewish mama who favors hugs and sharing.

See? That was a complete non sequitur. The inevitable has happened: I don’t know what I’m writing about. Kind of like towards the end of the therapy session when you can’t quite track how you got here, what you came in thinking about. I stand up and pop my sternum — it’s sore from so much sneezing and coughing over the past couple of days, but I’m on the mend.

I’m getting hungry. I glance at the clock. There is no billable hour here, no astronomical fee, and no analyst sitting behind me taking notes, nodding, occasionally making an observation or asking an insightful question. There is just me and the sound of the keys and the quiet in the room and the acceptance that this is it. This is not only what I said I wanted — it’s actually what I want.

Bigger, Better, Different

bigger-better-differentNine years ago, I wrote these words:

This is why a regular writing practice matters. So much gets lost without one. So many moments, funny or evocative or upsetting or insightful, occur every single day. (Each day is a life.) When I don’t write them down, they join that grey matter of daily life; they become like dreams vaguely remembered but essentially gone, fragments down the river. That might be just as well for the most part, but I know that some jewels go by, too, that would be better caught in a sieve of words.

At Noyes Camp, where my sisters and I grew up dancing in the summers, there was a wide gravel path where we would search for garnets. We would walk slowly, straining to distinguish the gems from the pebbles, but the effort repaid us when we brushed off rocks to glean that slight ruddy gleaming. Same with daily moments. Lots of pebbles, gravel, rocks, dirt and debris – and some jewels, some gems that require a little work on our part. For me, writing is the act of slowly walking the path, walking the daily path of paying attention. Or maybe living is that act, and writing is what happens after I pick up the garnet, slip it in my pocket to bring home, then later, when I’m finally alone, take it out to examine it, to polish it, to rub it between my fingers like a talisman.

Nine years ago, I didn’t know where to start. I wanted to write, and was bursting with ideas and images and feelings. But they overwhelmed me. I felt like I had to figure out how to make sure ALL of them, every last one, got top billing. I hit “publish” over and over, as a way of forcing myself to write and share and live with the discomfort of now knowing it any of it was any good. This was before Facebook, for me anyway, and a new blog post literally went out into the ether. I knew my sister read my blog, and my mom, probably (she’d call if I said I was having a hard time). Beyond that, though, for the first 11 months, I think I got one comment. Maybe two. It was squirmy. But it was also saving me.

I called that original blog Bullseye, Baby! The tagline was, “A place to practice.” And by practice, I didn’t only mean practice writing. I meant practice as in writing and sharing — without allowing myself to succumb to the self-doubt and perfectionism that plagued me. I meant practice as in write and share and then sit on my hands, resisting the urge to read back over my words and fix them up, just a little bit. I meant write and share and sit on my hands and move on with my day because life was happening and by then, I knew this much: I didn’t want to miss it.

The Bullseye part? You can read that very first post, where I wrote about the significance, for me, of missing the mark and getting another chance. Hint: It’s a Jewish thing. And a Buddhist thing. And a me thing. And a life thing. As for the baby part of the name, it was literally in the middle of the night while I was nursing Pearl (who was nine months old) when I decided to start a blog. This blog.

I’ve thought about the fact that this January — the 7th, to be exact — will mark ten years of writing here. And true to life, I could never have connected the dots forward or known just what those seeds I was planting then would grow to become. I was a mama then as I am now, with kids ages 4 and 9 months. I was a week shy of 33. I was working part-time as a career counselor at the University of Vermont, rediscovering my work as a life coach, and missing writing. Desperately missing the writing. But also not sure where and how it fit into my life or my life fit into it. Like so many other things that whispered to me around the margins of my life, I was determined to listen hard.

And I did. I listened by showing up and writing. A lot. And posting, a lot. And not knowing — a lot of now knowing — whether any of it mattered. Every now and then, I’d bump into someone in town or at Aviva’s preschool, and they’d say they liked my blog. I found this shocking. Encouraging, but shocking.

At first, I read every new blog post to my then-husband. I did this so eagerly, with the earnestness of a novice (a quality I hope never to outgrow). He’d listen and tell me nice things. At some point, as I began writing more and more, I think I stopped doing this; I remember once him joking that he didn’t need to read it; he was living it. I don’t remember if I laughed at the joke.

It’s true, that what I wrote about was simply real life. People would ask, what’s your blog about? And I’d be like a deer in the headlights. Um, practice, I’d say. It was never a “parenting” blog, though I did write about my kids and how being present with them was its own practice. I returned to the mindfulness practices that had first drawn me in during college. I sat with so many questions.

Am I a real writer? How do I write a book? What would my book be about? Who am I in the world? How do I align what it feels like to be myself with the work I’m doing? How do I reach a lot of people with my writing? How do I support and empower women to be brave and to take up room in their lives? 

Just like when I took cello lessons in high school and wanted to play Vivaldi right away (I quit after less than a year, out of frustration and impatience), I jumped ahead — way ahead — to the idea of writing a book. My life felt like a puzzle I couldn’t for the life of me quite put together. I wanted so badly to be able to see the whole of it, and I couldn’t. I could only see what was in front of me — dinner, dishes, work, walks, neighbors, Netflix, yoga, a run, closet smoking, Shabbat candles, an insistent need to be alone, a loving marriage, friends… and something that was missing.

I was missing. I was, in some way beyond my own peripheral vision, the missing piece. The hub on the wheel. The heartbeat of my own life was somewhere else, and I was longing to be able to hear it.

So I wrote and kept writing. I worked and loved and read books to myself and read books to my kids. I wrote about them, I wrote about showing up. I wrote about depression and the layers and the falling apart.

Eventually, I wrote my way right into my life. Which also meant right out of my life. It was nothing I expected and everything I’d asked for. It was open heart surgery without anesthesia. It was grief and rage and elation and disbelief. It was sex and lies and that gmail account I hadn’t told him about. I became someone I didn’t recognize, and yet for the first time, I saw my own reflection and thought: There you are.

There was a long stretch — two or three years maybe — when I thought my blog would become a book. I printed out hundreds of posts. I categorized them and labeled them. I used different color pens and sticky notes and hijacked an entire wall of our then-house. I was on a first-name basis with the guy at the UPS store on South Winooski, where I went to print draft after draft. But that was all before. Before my life showed me what only life can: The story I was so diligently trying to write was way, WAY bigger than a bunch of blog posts. It was me. It was a life.

There are a million other “parts” I could include here, but instead, I’m asking myself: Why am I sharing all of this tonight?

It has to do with the jewels, the ones I shared with you earlier, from one of those early posts. I wrote that in the summer of 2007. Pearl was two. Aviva was racing towards five. I was trying, trying so hard to “find myself.” And writing — showing up here — was one of the ways I knew how to do that.

We can’t always see what’s working, just as we can’t always see what’s not working. We can only keep showing up and paying attention. Around the same time that I started blogging, a wonderful supervisor, Ada, gently pointed out to me that I seemed always to be needing something to be bigger, better, or different. “Bigger, better, different” became a kind of shorthand for me — part hunting trap and part lighthouse, first stopping me in my tracks, then pointing me back to safe harbor.

The thing is, Ada (thanks, Ada!) was right. That restlessness had become so synonymous with my being that it has taken a long time to get to know it well enough to not be its prey. Writing didn’t change that. Coming out didn’t change that. Getting divorced didn’t change it, changing jobs and states and homes didn’t change it, and getting remarried didn’t change it. And it wouldn’t be true to say I don’t still get that urge — in the same way I still get the urge to smoke. The difference is that I don’t act on it, at least not consciously. And when I see that I’m slipping down that slope, I can usually grab onto reality at least a bit more quickly than before.

All of this is to say: When I write things here about practice, about showing up, and about “keep going,” this is where I’m coming from. Years and years (and years) of “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Epic meltdowns (and I don’t mean the kids’, though there have certainly been those, too). A stunningly beautiful love story that started with falling in love with myself — just as Mani predicted, quite some time before she and I had any inkling we’d wind up sharing the rest of our lives.

You don’t have to know. Just keep listening. And if writing’s your way of picking up the jewels, please keep writing. It doesn’t have to good, you don’t have to write a book, and you don’t need  zillion readers. Just one or two who really, really fucking care will do.

The Thing I Thought He Should Know

Unfurling Tattoo

It is morning and I am writing
about a book from 1940 about sex
and men and women and the rules
that no longer apply to me
and maybe never did.

And suddenly it’s 1997, July:
I’m remembering that first time
he and I swam across the pond
together — my 23 to his 31.

How right about in the middle
I stopped to catch my breath
and, treading water, looked at him
and said, gravely,
“There is something you should know.”

He waited, eager to know
all the things about me
that would seal some agreement
we didn’t even know we were making.

(I look up from the writing
for a moment at my wife,
who is stretching side to side,
her naked body soft and mine,
the undone tree inked on her back —

a reminder that
we don’t always finish what we started
in the way we planned way back when.)
I swim at this pond all summer long,
and sometimes, when I am floating

on my back in the middle,
I remember that moment
when I told him I’d been bulimic.
I shake my head in such a way

that you wouldn’t even notice,
marveling at the way life
unfurls and we, with it, as if thrust
from the unfolding itself

into the thing behind the thing
that I didn’t know yet
and so didn’t say:
“You’re really nice,
but I’m really gay.”

Want / Need

Easy Love1. A New Idea

What we want is never simple. – Linda Pastan

This morning, I read you a poem by Sharon Olds called “Topography.” Earlier, I’d snoozed the alarm – 10 more minutes, 15 more minutes, 5 more minutes. Pressing my back and bum into your rib cage and bowl of belly, our bodies sealed together just like the bodies in the poem forming one country: I am east, you are west, and we close the space between by remembering the dream that remembers us and living it together, even on days when one of us is off-kilter or ragey, hormonal or achy.

We take turns holding and being held, and I wonder if what we want, in some way, is simple. Maybe it is time for what Mary Oliver calls “a new idea.”

What I want is something that for so long I trained myself not to want, as if I had an “override” button and pressed it so many times that it stayed in a permanently depressed position, no wanting allowed, only gratitude for what I already had. But that wasn’t the whole truth, never was. I wanted so much and it was bigger than the container I’d contorted to. No wonder I ached.

But I do not want to write about the past. I think I did dream the dream last night, where if I ached it was for so much stillness and spaciousness, the kind I still clutter with too many tasks, too many physical objects and things that want me. Our bedroom is cluttered and what I want once again is a kind of emptiness. Empty room. Empty time. Not empty as in meaningless, but empty as in space for meaning to actually arise in its own time, space for feelings and new ideas and long, slow breaths I don’t realize I’m desperate for until I stop and allow emptiness to fill me.

What I want is to live from the center of a dark summer pond. To float, to feel resistance as delicious, as my own strength pushing though water, the water that is me meeting its environs and a meeting of bodies and a meeting of minds and a meeting with time that’s unhurried, where I’m not holding my breath in my upper chest but taking it into that hollow place and following it through windpipe and nostrils into lungs and belly.

What I want is beach and a long stretch of sand. What I want is wordless. What I want is to listen closely for the sounds of songs that have never been sung or written down.

What I want is trust, to trust time to be long and kind. What I want is to a beauty magnet, a bastion of worldly success, a haven for hurt, and a beacon of light. What I want it to quiet the judging voices with such harsh opinions of me, so discouraging.

What I want is a year under the Tuscan sun, a year in field of barley, of glory, or lavender for miles. What I want is a living painting and a poem that can breathe underwater. What I want is two feet on the ground and a nervous system that’s only rattled by true emergencies.

What I want is simultaneously severing and healing, severed so that the healing can happen, and I don’t know how to be in the between that catches behind my eyes like feelings entangled in nets and frantic to unhook.

Breathe. A slow, steady, bright, balanced unfolding of days.

What I want is peace in my heart, for the water to run so clear in my heart you could drink it unfiltered from clean, cupped hands, you could splash it on your face, cool and awake. What I want is for what I want to be really that simple.

What I want is simple: To be calm. To belong to my life. To love well, to parent well, good enough mother, good enough not to disappear. I want to live inside of the mandala of justice turning wheels, to meet people’s eyes and to speak and write in ways that matter.

What I want is this: Quiet room. Color. Stillness. Books and blank pages. I want to stay and stay and stay until something moves me to move. I want to wait and wait and wait until instinct or inspiration say “go.”

I want to weep and break and then be so loving with myself in the after space of open and exposed. I want to make art out of postcards we collect on the road and to make my letter to the world before I go. I want to die just to see what it would be like.

I always used to say I wanted it all. I still do. The difference now? “Everything I need is right here in my hands, right here in my hands.”

2. Kindred Spirits

“Kindred Spirits” is a phrase that has stayed with me since single digits, on a rock in a field at a camp in Connecticut, where barefoot we danced and under a lunar eclipse a counselor told me what this meant.

“Kindred” is a word I loved right away. Something even in my child self knew this to be my home, sitting on a rock in the night in the company of women. This is how I know life is here with me, has never once abandoned me. This is how I know I am here with myself.

Kindred. All those years of missing in action really not lost at all but seeking the kindred spirits I could know and call my own and call my home. Now I am my own home, an she is my kindred spirit – just look at how in the photograph those two delight in each other’s company.

What I want really is that simple then, like that butterfly there, fluttering around them: To allow myself to change and evolve and transform in the company of another, on a dark summer night in a field teeming with fireflies and cicadas, the pond a flat mirror of moonless sky, the earth a shadow passing over and eventually, morning comes and with it, light.

To be kindred in this lifetime, nothing missing from this moment? I see as if for the first time the gift of taking delight in another’s presence. I hear the truth of it – how this is the answer to the question I didn’t know I was asking. The question I was living and living into.

When you feel lost, come back to this rock, I hear her whisper. And I’ll be right here, waiting for you.

3. A Series of Small Confessions

Confession: I used to be a slacker. I wrote poems at work on hidden Word files and mastered the art of looking busy. Always a good student, I knew how to play the role of hard worker, but secretly I scoffed at anything remotely bureaucratic or institutional, as if I was somehow an exception to the rules. In this way, I learned how to doubt myself.

Confession: The other word I remember learning is “privilege,” on the front porch of 378 Crescent Street in Buffalo from my middle sister, who didn’t have a middle name and made fake homework for me when we were 5 and 9.

Confession: I am afraid to make things. I wanted for so long to make a living by “just being myself,” and now that I’m doing just that, the space between creating and working has collapsed and I am groping again for the space between. The empty space. I know it’s here somewhere.

Confession: I am online almost all of the time, or so it feels. I feel some shame about this.

Confession: My wife keeps offering to help me make a schedule. Taking her up on this would surely open up wonders of psychic and creative space and help me be more, not less, present with the many people I work with. (Whereby I confront the notion of “stuck places.”)

Confession: I have this recurring fantasy that someone will give us a gorgeous house, and we will get to live there, writing and loving.

Permission: To start experimenting more. To write down what’s working and what’s not working. To shake up shitty habits.

A New Idea: Try something new.

4. Saying “My Wife”

If I knew everything was going to be ok, the greatest sense of ease would flood my body, as if all of life was leading to this moment. I’d live and work slower, not fill all the waking hours. I’d leave some pages blank. Sit. Blink.

In a blink, everything would change again. And again after that.

“Your hands feel nice,” she said this morning as I stroked her hair back from her forehead – not like a cat or a child but like my one and only woman.

Confession: I felt shy saying “wife” when we first got married. Not embarrassed or ashamed, no, it wasn’t like that, but just shy – new – a bit tickled and incredulous. Saying “my wife” was synonymous with saying “everything is ok.” And saying “everything’s ok” was an admission that I could exist and take up room with the signature of struggle I thought was my name.

It wasn’t.

I changed my name then and started trying on a new one: Ease. Easy. It was strange and enticing and a bit scary and wonderfully not-dangerous. In the dark, I’d whisper to her, to my wife, “Is everything going to be ok? Really?” And she’d reassure me that yes, not only would it be but it already was.

Just like that, I practiced believing her. I started leaving this “what is everything falls apart” question at home more and more often. Am I really still afraid of the thing that already happened?

This is my new definition of trauma: Fear of what already happened.

Some young part of me stays scared of getting in trouble, of being scolded or called out or caught. I want to surround myself with beauty and shields and strength and light. I want personal bodyguards. I want to hold hands with the night herself. To be crescent moon and muse and wind and storm and place where ocean and sky touch without fusing.

If everything really is ok in this moment, there’s no good reason to believe it won’t be in the next and the next. Why do our thoughts love catastrophe? I want to be a lover and a fighter – only her lover and only a focused fighter, not flailing and exhausting myself in shallow water, waist-high, where I could just stand up if I knew. If I was new. And if you knew, too. If we stopped with the falsehoods, stepped out from behind the convenient covers of drama. Easy things do not have to be hard. What if we saved struggle for things that are actually struggles? Yes, let’s.

I want to hold knowing and not knowing gently, like I would a small bird, not squeezing or entrapping. Some things fly away and other stay close. Stay close.

It always comes back to this: Your reassuring voice in my ear, my hands in your hair, full circle to sealed bodies, stamped with each other’s new names. You do? I do, too.

Whether we have a week or six months of fifty years to live, what difference would knowing make and where is the pivot point between patience and urgency? Can urgency be calm and easy or is that a paradox?

Would it matter if we knew? It might, it might not. It’s too many questions. My answer is here in the here and now in the now, knowing and not knowing like birds on a wire.

5. Future Self

I am 62. Fully grey. My hair is short again, a halo of curls. All is well.

Little by little then all of a sudden I shed the last layers of living in fear. There is a simplicity to our days here, an easy balance.

I need to know where everyone is, especially my kids. They are 33 and 30. Parents in their early 90s. I don’t know who has died. I don’t know what I’ve written or what Mani has written or what we’ve published or whether there are royalties. I don’t know so many things, only that we are coming up on our 22nd anniversary. We are planning a trip, as we do every year. We love our home. It is the home we dreamed of for so long, but even better.

Money is not a problem; we comfortably give away more than 10% of our income, help all the kids, and skimp on nothing. I teach and coach small groups in our beautiful home and host retreats here, too – everyone loves the pool, and the ocean so close by, and the bliss of connecting and creating. I lead writing workshops in the nearby homeless shelter on Monday afternoons, and thrill every single time someone I’ve worked with publishes a poem or an essay or another book or discovers some new dimension of her voice.

I love this life.

What began as a hustle slowly became as solid and soft and lived-in as a quilt made of so many threads and patches and images and by so many hands, hands from all over the world, hands of people we’ve met on our travels, friends from long ago, and people from so many parts of our lives.

The future started so long ago.

The future was a breath away and then it wasn’t, then it was already gone, but where? We say “behind us” but turn to look and there is nothing there. Noting but memory. And then an idea of what might be, and all along, the DNA of our imagination is unfurling and there’s no way to know what will become and what will decay.

We ache that time is passing and step all the way into its mighty current. We fall asleep and wake up in so many beds, in so many buildings and rooms, always looking straight away for each other’s faces, eyes, lines of familiar songs running through our heads like hands through water, nothing sticks, we are fluid, solid, dark, light, hungry, sated.

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