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An unruly roadside bouquet picked hurried after supper, sandhill cranes swooping and calling nearby. 

At the end of a heartbreaking week, we are still holding our breath, accepting slowly that things will never look the same but wondering if we will, as the optimistic cry, “come back stronger.”

Coming back does not have a timestamp, and perhaps it is true but not true for us. Perhaps it is only true for our children or our children’s children. It is good enough that we are preparing a way for them, but I too want to reap in song and dance what we sow.

The destruction has been horrific, almost unreal. After the initial burning and looting, I went downtown to volunteer for a couple of hours and saw dozens of people just walking around taking photos, videos, pointing with blank faces from cars with the windows rolled up like a dazed tourist. I did not want our city on display in its grief. News trucks came in and cameramen filmed a woman sweeping, filmed the mayor standing outside in a park surrounded by lights, hands in his pockets, filmed a man washing the sidewalk. The embers smoked for days. Men in suits sat in chairs behind their cars, laptops propped up in the open hatchback, editing their photographs and audio. Men and women in the streets called for prayer, revival, defunding, death.

But most staggering has been the sheer number of people who literally do not grow weary of doing good. They are tireless, cheerful, creative. Restoration and rebuilding are playful to them. All of the somber boarded up windows become alive, works of art, mothers taking their children to paint hearts and handprints all along the streets, artists painting the lake, the lighthouse. There is too much food, too many people to hand it out. “Does anyone know how to use a saw? I need to cut this board to fit my window.” There are several volunteers. I thought from the headlines and the photographs that our city was full of only anger and division but here – they are reaping joy and hope and there is enough to go around for anyone who comes with their hands extended.

conceal

In the thick of summer: Jack asks for more of everything: more airplanes, more food, more sky, more music, more tickling. He knows it — there is abundance. He is not afraid to ask for it.

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In summer there is always more to be had, more to be done. Summer is all ablaze, a parade, summer keeps no secrets. Jack, too, is always on display. Every emotion unchecked, bountiful, growing growing growing. I hear him now, well past his bedtime, singing in his crib, awake with the hum of the evening. There is so much I love about summertime Jack, when we went from saying “he’s just over one and a half” to “he’s not quite two,” and it felt like a great leap.

Summer keeps no secrets, but I do. I keep a growing secret of my own, as tiny as a lavender bud. Cell by finger by toe by heartbeat by heartbeat I am quietly cultivating.

It is a strange time, a strange world to try to plant and grow and protect and unleash a body, a soul. In darker evenings when the summer sun is set I wonder, will you forgive us if we bring you here and the whole world is undone? But often it feels so good, so necessary to have this richness. To grow roots and wings, we are doing a marvelous thing in love and hope.

Hollow

I grow increasingly sentimental in my old age. On a run (I don’t like to run, but I like to move my body and I like to be outside) I realized I have an absurd amount of photos of the same path, the same sidewalks, the same stretch of beach. And now I think of desperate parting gestures – hugging trees and skinny dipping and leaving notes for the people with the lovely garden I appreciate on every walk.

It has been a long while since we’ve had to say goodbye, and never to a place we’ve known for so long. I’ve grown accustomed to the light, the way the shadows thin in winter with the leaves falling off the tree, the way Jack chased the branch shadows in the morning light in the kitchen, or the west light coming in at end of day nursing sessions. I’ve grown familiar to the circles of light through the blinds, how they softly illuminate Jeff’s shoulder and neck in the early, bleary morning. I know the way the moon peeks through an open corner of the blind at 2 a.m. as bright as daylight, rousing me.
I know some of these creaks, though new ones always sneak, alarming me in the middle of the night tiptoe trips to the kitchen for more water, a glimpse at stars, checking the chain on the back door.

This is to say nothing of the solace of the sound of the waves, the train through our east windows. This is to say nothing of the brief, beautiful walks from the car to the back door, always unexpectedly just what I need. I think even more than these walls I will miss what’s outside of them – the walks and runs down to the beach for a quick swim, the nights I find Jeff reading on the front stoop,

Now our voices echo off the bare walls. Now the creaks are even louder. Now I feel it, hollow. I would like to say (and perhaps I will, given time and kindness) “how full! how full our days!” and shake hands with former times with gratitude before turning my face forward.

But they come heaped up at once, the things I’ve taken for granted and now I’m realizing how much I will miss it. 

He looks to us for an explanation, for assurance.
Even now the world must be quite a lot for him. He is cognizant, aware of very tiny changes, very tiny events. He still stares at a single beam of light that comes from somewhere, hovering on the wall. He still stops at the sound of a helicopter, a loud truck, the train whistle in the distance. A single dry leaf skitters over the dusty rocks on the beach and he is transfixed, the whole world suspended except for the leaf, moving endlessly.
Being in his present makes time expand just slightly. It burgeons the seconds.

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Linear

Pregnancy was a faint line on the cheap test.

We upgraded to the expensive test, sold to me by Jayde who said, “I hope the results are favorable” which seemed a tactful way to acknowledge the weight of sending a stranger home with a pregnancy test.

Then it was quick, conspicuous. PREGNANT said the digital test. From that moment on, pregnancy was a long, clean line from start to finish. I was pregnant. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but it was true.

I don’t mean to make pregnancy sound tidy, but there is comfort in the slow and steady progression, the growing, the symptoms. There is a consistency, a regulation to the size of the foods our baby became – sesame seed, blueberry, avocado, eggplant, pumpkin.

Motherhood is the opposite. There is no more arrival. We arrived, briefly. We all held each other and wept for joy and exhaustion and relief. The arrival was a breath.

Now is the sundering. Now he splays like a starfish in his sleep, and I can remember when he still curled up on my stomach, trying to fit back in the space from which he came.

And I will never arrive at his departure. When he is gone I’ll still miss him, still think of him. Pieces of him will be leftover, the way that Jeff has boxes of his things still at his folks and comes to visit and knows where to look for food, for empty boxes, for tools to borrow.

The progression is bumpy, inconsistent. He sleeps, he doesn’t, he does. He does not eat. He eats a little. He eats a lot. He throws his food on the floor and waves his arm “all done.” I eat the leftovers.
He crawls, scoots, crawls again, steps, scoots, runs. “Mama,” he says, and then not again for months despite my earnest coaxing, calling my own name.

Quick now, here, now, always–

We end up at the lake. Many morning or evening walks or spontaneous afternoon drives end at the beach for a quick swim, a snack, a curious finger in the water to see just how cold it’s become.

We return to it as if we’re looking for something we lost, as if repetition will mean redemption.

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I am thinking of returning. We come back here often, this stretch of beach. We have lived in this apartment longer than we’ve lived anywhere. We have the same jobs, the same family nearby, go to a church. I am more tethered to a place, to people, than I have been.

I have loved the solace of anonymity. I have loved new places, exploration, adventure. I have craved them. I have loved to be somewhere where little is expected of me, where I am not needed.

I am learning a new lesson, one of arriving again and again at the same destination, of turning around and once more opening my eyes to sameness, to the beauty of renewal. All things, every day, new. I am learning the importance of returning to an upturned face or lifting my own.

I was thinking of these things and read Lewis and his exploration of contemplation and enjoyment, looking at or looking along. I have looked at for a long while and enjoyed the impersonal space of observation. But now I am more often immersed, inhabiting, looking along the beam of light.

September

We walk the narrow path down the beach, grasshoppers leaping in and out of the grasses. I am carrying Jack in the car seat.
We are down by the water – it is so cold now even though it’s only early September. I wade in, take a deep breath, jump in. It is so much easier than it used to be. Jack flails delightedly from his car seat on the shore, beaming as I reemerge.

I feel guilty for doing something for the pure enjoyment of it. If the doing is its own reward, why spend time on it?
Writing is one such thing. It is an audacious thing. Sometimes even reading seems audacious. Who am I to spend my time in these ways? To clean a house, perhaps to take a walk, to make food, these things are sensible. Relaxing is also acceptable, and occasional laziness is forgivable. But to write? Nothing will come of it. Audacity is shameful.

Sometimes spending time with Jack is pure enjoyment. I should be cataloging it, should be photographing it to share. How many hundreds, thousands of minutes did we have just the two of us that I have no record of? How many thousands of moments have I watched him, not directed or instructed but observed, enjoyed quietly?

The morning swim is its own reward. I have nothing to show for myself. Writing is its own reward. Worse than nothing, I have something to show but it is not yet right. Being with Jack means I have produced no tangible expression for the passing of time in a day, only the burden of a fading collection of moments I’ve witnessed.

morning

He is hungry at half-past five in the morning. I have a headache. I go in to feed him. He is so big, soft. His body curls, settles.

I cannot go back to sleep, though I lay down and try. The sun is bright coming through the window and I’m suddenly glad I moved the books into our bedroom because for a moment, looking at them, I feel surrounded. Is it strange to say I feel protected? As if they were a number of friends who would do battle for me.

But I cannot sleep and I keep thinking of the beach. I put on my swimsuit and grab a towel and drive down, a craving for the grip of the waves. The sun is already high, high, the day this far gone, the distance from the sun to the lake.

The water is cold. I love the cold because it is simple, my mind uncluttered. It is a quick swim, the sun is dazzling. This moment is clarity, it is pure light. I run out of the water and instantly feel warm, all the blood moving to the surface of my skin. I am an ember. I am alone.

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Oh, Sandman

I want to reach out when he is sleeping, touch the lines on his face. I am comforted by his breathing next to me, his peace. I love the morning light moving across his body – wrapped in blankets, a corner tugged over his eyes against the sun. He is so removed. I want to rest my hand on his chest and feel his breath, his heartbeat.

And: I want to reach out when he is sleeping, pull his tiny body close. He is so heavy, so little.  He is so removed. There is a dim light in the nursery, a single beam across the crib. He would chase it if he was awake – he loves to move into the light.
I want to rest my hand on his back and feel his breath, his heartbeat. We talk about him when he is asleep. “Let’s wake him up,” one of us will say. “I miss him.”

It is all a miracle, for I have never loved warm bodies close to me. My sister would fall asleep on my shoulder, my lap, and I would stay awake thinking about how awful it was to not move. My body would fight it. I did not ever feel the desire to curl up next to someone, I only felt the desire to desire it.

Already I say, “When he was a baby…” Already I can remember a time before now. Some days I turn to Jeff and say “He seems older today.” In his face, there is more knowing. He joins us, day by day, in our laughter or words or gestures. He joins the world, certain, inhabited.

I remember when he was a baby and he’d sleep on my chest, or Jeff’s, he’d sleep in our arms. He would fall asleep – I mean to fall the way he fell into us, all his weight and trust and knowledge was in our warmth and breath. I mean to fall the way the burden of him would nearly crush me in the first few days after he was born, my back still so sore from the strain of bringing him here to my chest. Heartbeat to heartbeat to heartbeat we are only used to this.

They sleep and wake a little older. It is banal, unfair, and I want only to grab hold of them as they move from day to day.

A former state

Sound is a wave, like a wave on the ocean
Moon plays the ocean like a violin

The spring soundtrack has accidentally been Break it Yourself by Andrew Bird. Though the CD has been in our car forever, I’ve probably listened to it only once or twice (as evidenced by the fact that it is still relatively scratch-free).

I listened to it on a drive back from Milwaukee, the windows down, the air perfect. I was alone.

Pushing and pulling from shore to shore
Biggest melody you never heard before

I have loved listening to it with Jack in the car, seeing his fingers raised, catching at the notes.  But I had forgotten what it was to enjoy music on a solitary night drive. It was a reclamation. What would you do if the night was yours? If you were briefly your own?

If I were the night sky
Here’s my lullaby
Lullaby to leave by
If I were the night

Here is what I did – I drove down to the lake and ran to the shore, ravenous, with head back and arms open, to catch what I could of the night sky. It is, of course, too big to hold all at once. The tree behind me is a giant, is laughing softly at my fervor. In my throat, a laugh or a cry or a holler. The water, the horizon, beckoning. We are the only ones and we are wide awake.