She walks the line; a curb separating pavement and grass. Her feet dance along the ledge clumsily, shifting weight in merriment and stupor, catching her balance briefly, only to throw it to the side – to throw caution to the wind, over and over and over again. A wine glass, loosely grasped between her index and middle finger, spraying liquid joy over the edge, a seesaw of celebration; a cigarette in the other- the sweet stench of toxic wholeness and the burning rush of a habit fulfilled. There are no wants in this moment. The feverish voids have been iced over, even if just for the second.
She was once a daughter. Something more and nothing less.A glimmer in her daddy’s eyes and a swell of pride against her mother’s breast. Someone else’s dreams poured into the hopes and failures of their sovereign heart – a daughter. But then reality happens, doesn’t it? She wasn’t successful at being a daughter nor were they particularly competent at being parents. But they had choreographed a dance many years ago – no words ever needed to be spoken as long as the motions were executed – well enough anyway, they whispered to themselves just loud enough for the other to hear. The closest strangers you’ll ever meet. An unconditional love threaded through the words left unsaid. A twisted cord.
She was once a lover. The frantic grip of different calloused hands that at one point had all caressed her neck and grabbed the curve of her hip. Some rougher than others, some invited and some not – but all fell victim to the fragrance of her skin and the dimpled arches that would move so purposefully. Not a woman but not a girl either – somewhere lost between timid and recklessness. Hands grasped – Now, catch and release. A beautiful symphony of potentiality and euphoria gone
awry. The notches in the belt and the swift slice across the neck.
She was once an idealist. A career and a dream – a hope that burned underneath her rib cage, bursting at the seams of all the possibilities. What happened to our fire, honey bun? Was it the slow drip of adulthood? Age breeds complacency and the need to burrow into our lives. We work for something – yes, this is acceptable. The more we have, the more we can loose and that makes risk too risky. The more we gain, the less we care outwardly. The more we age, the more we realize that there is no good as there is no bad. The blackest of black nor the whitest of white – nothing is pure. All there is is grey and everything else become naivete. And of course, money, mortgages and credit.
She was I and that once was me- and I was… once. But now I am the crumpled folds of a mother, like a whiteboard erased yet still marred by the memories of ink. A sweet inhale of the cigarette burns the back of my tongue. I shouldn’t be doing this, I muse but swiftly take another haul.
Motherhood dissolved me. I am no longer here. Instead I am a movement – a hand that wipes and a shoulder that burdens the weight. I am a sound that whispers encouragement and tiptoes against silent snores. It is a fog that silently swelled around me and oh, I so welcomed it. A sweetness that became intoxicating. I am an addict, giving everything to motherhood as it robs. So here I am – a silhouette of a person that I am writing a eulogy to.
That glimmer and that swell? I was settled in my distaste and that was as much of a dwelling as any that any military brat could call home. I was my role and it was my script in which I was supposed to proclaim myself as. Salute and curtsey, I had a certain footwork to adhere to. We all had our waltz, our sugary sirup of discontent that we learned to slowly digest.
And then I got pregnant. She said, “Are you going to keep it this time?” This time… I held the chalky smoke twisting between my teeth. She couldn’t have known about the befores… could she?
Yes… no… And yet the words pig-tied me into a shame. If she knew… To her, my hidden blood-soaked panties lay absent and dismissed, discarded like a tossed napkin at a buffet. But I am haunted as they gently tug at my neck with each firework of my daughters’ laughter and grasp me at every milestone we achieve as a family of four.
The ghosts, those times. But we are at this time. A silent 5 minute car ride after I had choked out the words. “I’m pregnant” had danced on my tongue until it just vomited itself up.
“Are you going to keep it this time?” Pause… and exhale.
Who was I to try to build a castle out of ash? And yet there I was. I convinced myself that as long as I didn’t use the same grout and mortar as them that things would be okay. I nodded and things unfolded. Nothing was said but here we digressed into new motions – I had revised our dance. No longer the waltz but we were dizzying into an uncoordinated tango. Excitement and disappointment wrapped into polite conversations and homemade shivs that we sharpened on holidays and birthdays.
“Oh fuck.” She murmured, barely audible but sharp enough. We locked eyes for what felt like the first time but only she knew- I didn’t. She knew. In retrospect, I truly think she mourned for me. Inhale.
Exhale and a swig of the wine. My hastily painted toe nails flash neon blue in the passing car lights, strobing through the disease-ridden bushes that mark my backyard. I stumble and collapse onto the pavement, my left elbow crashing into the roughness. The wine glass shatters and redness erupts over the grey.
I had been whole once and then was shattered, like that wine glass. I had been a crystal vase of naivety that he threw against the pavement with such fury. Diamonds in the air those late winter nights. Just a tragic display of fireworks leaving behind its remnants of black and blue. The youthful hope that I had was just an itch to his self hate… or then again, maybe I deserved it. Rationality barely wins against irrationality- but that is the nature of his beast and my guilt. Maybe. Maybe not. A timeline that almost stopped time.
Nonetheless I can still see his eyes. A dead stare and cold sweat. A glimpse into an evil that we were told never existed. But there it was, forcing itself upon me as it extinguished something unknown within me. And whatever that thing was, whatever its function had been, I felt its absence. Whatever was there, he had taken away.
And there I found myself after the storm. A twisted tree still standing, bare and naked. I had survived but I stood there as my fruit decayed beneath me, the stench suffocating. Alone yet not alone – I spent many years standing in that barren valley, hoping to somehow regrow what was lost.
But here I do stand, a mosaic. Broken slivers of a previous life, merging together into something beautiful – arguably more bright, more full. The sharp edges that used to cut and reopen the wounds of his uninvited fists now have been intricately woven together. Dusty stained shards now dulled against the vivid shades of red and blue slowly filling the voids. Here I stand, unwavering and firm.
I step on the glass. My calloused feet crush the crystal beneath them. Small rivers of blood mix with the wine and the alcohol begins to burn.
They’ll be awake soon. My beating hearts. They are snuggled in their beds, safe from the complexities of the world. I, their shield. “Someday you will ache like I do,” I whisper out to them, wishing that I could curl up to them and be absorbed in their peaceful dreams. “But not today.”
Motherhood. The most glorious of prisons. You cannot enter into it without it having changed you. I was ripped open twice, a scar I bear with pride and the quiet tugging of a mangled core at each bend of my waist. How precious life becomes when you cradle a heartbeat within your roughened palms.
Us, mothers, know the grim reaper well. It is our mistress. You are never as close to death as you are when you are giving life, responsible for life. We are opposites but connected passionately. I see it always lurking behind every cough and every fall.
So here I am, the shield and the crutch.
A few years ago, I was a business woman. I knew everything and wanted everything. I was a mountain climber, clawing my way to the top of the pile of other desperate career fiends. I bled coffee and needed to be plugged into daily admiration. There was always something more and I was destine to be Great. I was. I knew it. I felt it. Greatness was obtainable. I had my harness on and I was ready for the steep incline.
But then my rope was cut by a pink line. I clung on, telling myself that if I waited it out that I could still be Great. I just had to hold on. Then an incision across my womb pushed me off the ledge
and I plummeted.
Was it all just an illusion- the elusive flag at the summit? Was it a mirage? Was it an neverending slope? The view the bottom here has perhaps allowed me to see the mountain for what it was. A distraction, a quest to fill my missing part… Maybe.
I didn’t want Greatness anymore or it didn’t exist. One of those. It now all of a sudden seemed like a label and not a medal – a Walmart name tag and not the marble sculpture I had attributed it to.
My dissolution of identity had made my previous ambitions seem childish. And what is less childish than mothering. A modern day martyrdom, I giggle to myself. A modern martyrdom that had to have existed from the beginning of time.
We are fragmented – from each other and ourselves. The givers of life as we
skim over the waters of death. And we must choose between identities and roles and masks as if the notion of not succumbing to one would make us disappear. I suppose that it does as I stand faded in the shadows of the moonlight. Just a diagnosis waiting to happen.
I toss my finished cigarette in the spilled wine. It sizzles and sputters as it drowns. The hint of the sun glows around the edges of night. Side by side, light and dark. They’ll be awake soon. Their dreams about puppies and cupcakes will come to a halt and I’ll hold their little hands as they stumble out of bed, ready for all of the promises and adventure the day brings.
That’s who I am and it’s where I’m meant to be right now. I have a new mountain to climb that isn’t my own.
I wipe my feet on the grass and slowly slide them into my slippers. I was once very much a stranger to who I am now. I was something more and nothing less. I was a myriad of stories and experiences that twist beneath my skin as adhesions and move through my breath with grace. But alas, my nostalgia will fade in the stark sunlight like my hangover.
But for tonight…
I will be…
and I was…