Please enjoy this piece published in elephant journal today.
It wasn’t easy telling her how I felt used and taken for granted,
all the while fighting self-judgment for sounding needy and guilting.
Do I tell her how I feel, even though there’s nothing she can do about it,
especially knowing that she will feel she has to do something about it?
Do I just silently accept our condition–she not relating to me, not
wanting to be with me, me wanting to be with her but not knowing how
to reach her, make her happy, engaged and connected?
She needs my money, advice and time.
She needs my permission, approval and signature.
I pay for whatever she wants and requires.
I take her where she must go, pace the sidelines and cheer her on,
encourage her, give her feedback and teach her how to live now and beyond us.
We make each other laugh and share sharp wit and sardonic smiles.
She seems appreciative for us, for all we are and do.
No one writes a more heartfelt loving, grateful text.
I don’t doubt her love, she not mine either, I hope.
She’s neither unhappy nor oppressed, just disinterested.
Tied in obligation knots, we–without violence, anger or volume–co-exist,
each with our silent confusion, angst and helplessness, resentment perhaps.
If she could only speak her mind.
Is it bullying to speak mine, a unilateral outpouring inevitably producing reactive
toxic anxiety or worse yet, guilt?
If she would shout, complain and demand, I would know what to do.
But quiet responsibility-assuming aimed at relieving me burden, one fewer needy time-taker,
a sign she’s stepping independently aloof into burgeoning adulthood, leaves me flustered.
No one wins, even when we’re not vying for an upper hand or competing in a contest.
As our relationship gestates, becomes what it will be for years to come, then changes
again, waiting, speaking and abstaining are the hardest parts.
From Mother Goose nursery rhymes chanted to childhood,
Singing me through my days in silly lilting jibberish tolling tales–
Mesmerizing wispy wild figures sticking thumbs in plum pies
Or eating mystical morsels named curds and whey on a tuffet.
Then in college, I pined for the secret to unlock the hearts of
Spanish, French and Russian poets, painters and culture magicians.
I cracked the code to some, forming strained lipped sounds,
Writing winsome words in chipped or open gullet accents or
Symbols to sounds unmade, unimagined and click ticklish
until I could not remember my own tongue.
But after college, language tore at me, ripped me up
And left me dull, licit and languishing in legal triangles,
Endless geometry of angles, degrees and lines.
The law sandpapered language across imagination’s landscape,
Smoothed my edges in deeper, rounder archetypal paths, pregnancy,
Until I lost Octavio Paz’s meter sanded out in childrearing recipes
Swapped with Guatemalan nannies.
Pellucid sentences peeled off like shredded wallpaper skin,
Their luster gone with a youthful jaunt, hop, gleam and trigger,
Flashed in skipping stones, falling in love and hopping fences
Round speedways, parks and wood clearings where music moved
Us, loins and feet to primal noun-less, soundless speech,
Just to see, get a glimpse at lip-sung words beyond the barriers,
Risking liberty and future, impelled by lusty mischief and rush.
Back then, I had to hear them sung in tune-ful missives keyed only to me.
And now, the remaining hash of come and gone, bright and dark, transforms
Acidic intestinal stew to sorcerer’s clairvoyant elixir: my gut tells me.
Among the clamorous hate-filled speeches and cautious creeds non-offending,
Blasted in soldiered lies and political stomps, and on uncivil, anti-social media,
The gurgle steels me listen to us, be your pain, own my heated core as if it were
The world’s sole lingual ignition; the ravenous merging urge to swallow me up,
The kind you write in erotic type and imagery possessing, owning my pulse–
These are mere smoke signals, the wink-less language of I know you as I am.
In the aftermath of lived language, word dross, let us, you and me, tutor empathy,
The Esperanza of human kindness, re-remembered swish and slosh in thickish silent
womb–connected to another’s rhymes and rhythms, as the song.
A word run rough shod over
centuries long rendering it
nearly vacuous, the emotion
contained within reduced to
pithy sayings and pathetic poems,
some I have penned myself,
and pretty memes inspiring
less than more by over exposure,
how can this word be explained,
described and painted accurately?
Perhaps a paragraph filled with
affectionate acts is enough:
a driver slamming the brakes
screeching at a near miss cat kill, or
the 80 year old’s collapse at his sixty
year marriage’s cease upon awakening
to his wife’s motionless body, or
the wide open daddy arms anticipating
embrace at the first steps’ trail’s end?
Too Hallmark, Facebook sentimental?
What about soldiers or police officers
arm in arm in solidarity, peril-pals
undying, or prom dates in wide grins,
shy shoulder-slumped and side glance
photos or sunset hand-holding clips
or tears and aching hearts and darkness
as corollary preceded by its inverse,
heart-pounding, heady ecstasy-like
near nausea and enervating hysterical
joy found only in the scent, touch and
sound of the key to a lock match tight,
the yes to the life-long approval sought?
Too banal, trite, common, overblown?
What is the square root of a 24-hour
day that begins in darkness with a howl,
signaling the death knell to the dying wish
of a martyr–just one more hour’s peaceful
sleep–a howl that electrocutes nerve
endings everwhere, that only patient
tender care will quiet a defenseless being
suckling, emitting the sweet aromas of
new warmth baking mother’s milk like
raisin toast popping sweet and savory,
and a once eyes-for-only lover cum
zombie escaping grey-eyed and sallow
briefcase in hand out the door shut-grunt
leaving only wispy cool air in a dim den’s
stale morning stuffy exhausted eye-burn,
bone-weary sympathy for the life made
and lived now, nostalgia and hope stew
simmering on the stove daily, all repeat,
all gone now the glimmering show in
new leather pumps price-tag clicking
and tailored skirts tucking in silk blouses
hanging dusty in closed closets blear-eyes
catatonically fix on blindly automatonic as
day ends where it began, only now the
briefcase rests against the chair close
to the snores emitted from the dead man’s
sleep craved more than the man who
made this life leaked out exhaled in the
other’s breath and yours, theirs, ours hourly,
daily, yearly and ever so in smiles and frowns,
razored sight and heart, grim boredom and
coffee steam morning’s quiet contentment
and grasping an idea finally that endings
and beginnings are the same and conclusions
are illusions and passion is stillness while
death has always meant living, the chaos of
it the only order ever it was, patterning
a day-long life? The square root of it.
That, my dear, generates, defines and
encapsulates the engine and caboose.
Happy pledge, notice and honor to what makes us, us.
I’ve looked into the eyes of this movingly tender and beautiful photo of my daughter fifty or more times since discovering it. She allows me a glimpse of her social media life in but one place: Instagram. I am grateful for it. There I can peek just a little to see what others see of her, what she allows to leak. I know her and don’t know her.
But this picture is poignant for several reasons. It is the one picture I believe I have a leg up on all of her friends, acquaintances and public, maybe even a significant other. I know the look in her eyes. I have been fully immersed in the practice of recognizing what lies behind the surface of her expression since she was born. It was a method of survival for both of us. Is she hungry? afraid? frustrated? Anger was always obvious. But differentiating between shy and reserved took some deciphering, some investigative study, and close observation on my part.
I had to discern between what I read–over-read really–in books about personality traits and behaviors from what my gut told me silently, wordlessly. Motherhood is the scariest ride at Disneyland times 100. It’s often a matter of life and death. The twists and unexpected turns cannot always be calculated or anticipated.
I have grown to recognize by an unconscious alarm in my head when my daughter is sad or slightly afraid or both by nuances. Her veneer always seems collected, polished plain and emotionless when she is settled into herself. When she is playing or performing, her face is a farcical mask of glee or humor or goof. She lets it out all hang out.
But this subtle look behind her eyes is sad sorrowing pain, one from prolonged stress of doubt and fear, standing on the edge of the fall balanced to the very brim of standing it. She abides. But she slides down into the “feels” of it sometimes.
I never set out to steer her into college sports. It took me along as it took her. One day I was her coach among all the other six year olds, trying to entertain and teach, and the next I was helping her decide whether to accept a college offer to play the game in another state. Recreation soccer blossomed into a competition that could only be sated by club ball, which always sold parent hopefuls on the steep price of a scholarship.
I cannot say that a scholarship was the lure for me. I figured out the math early on. For all the years of paying for trainers, club fees, equipment, travel and this and that peripheral fees, I could have paid her and her sister’s college by investing the money in passive income yielding ventures. But the lifestyle of soccer promotes health and the outdoors, hones the coping skills of competitors and educates the athlete to her own limitations, desires and nature.
I don’t regret the time and expense of it all. What else would have driven us as a family to places we visited–together–from hotels in deserts to hell holes to luxury digs in gorgeous cities? The drives alone provided family time we would not have scheduled otherwise. And I often ask what will bring me to lay myself down on the grass of an open field on a Saturday sunny afternoon in the breeze, imbibing the disparate smells of trees, wind and turf, when my children no longer play?
But watching my determined, ebullient, driven and light-hearted child-woman as she steps through her days of doubt and illness, waiting for her brain to heal, I wonder why I–we–wanted this. Of course, no one picks a course thinking something terrible will happen, something will go wrong. And even if we ever think about the possibilities of injury, failure, or loss, we gloss it over with a deferment and hope: think about it if it happens. Such is life lived as us.
She will survive a concussion that has driven the joy out of her first time away from home experience and exacerbated the hardship of that transition (something she has not managed too smoothly since I can remember) in school and life. But will I survive her Instagram pictures that freeze-frame the story of that grief and turmoil? Yes. With the faith and prayer of the priest and scientist, I watch.
When they were little, headless operations I called them,
toddling about with no motion detection sensors,
oblivious to the science of mass in flight against
the immovable object, cause and effect, win and lose,
I feared losing their pristine purity, their soft roundness
drenched in new flesh, irradiant, to rocks and bumps
in the playground grass or sandbox, opening into
split lips or knobby eggs on their foreheads. I feared
losing them to cars in free fall, driven by madness
up on my lawn, taking my children with them, like
the newspaper clipping in the local Starbucks report.
I feared flus and asthma, pneumonia, broken bones
and stitches they could contract or suffer with
complication and then die in my arms or in their sleep.
I dreamed of kidnappings and wanderings off in
supermarkets or department store aisles, lost, lost, lost.
I walked them to school the block and a half every day.
And when they were in middle school, I dreaded
the treacherous row of absent-minded, harried
dropping-off moms vs. the brainless, twit t’weeners on
bikes, laughing and careening their wheels into traffic,
caring little for mortality the daily drive threatened
like that boy and his friend on a bike, on the same road,
on the way to school two days before the school year
start, picking up his schedule, leisurely, laughing,
peddling, looking back at his lagging friend just before
the swerve, the truck, the texting driver, the hit–gone.
I never let them ride their bikes to school, not with that.
I did not want to lose them to twenty somethings’ texts.
Just like I did not want to lose them to drugs, drunk
drivers and AIDS, cancer, concussions or accidents.
I did not want to lose them. And I lost them any way.
To friends, trends, music and driver’s licenses, to
social media and idealism, fierce loyalty and pride of
a generation angry in the wake of destruction their
parents have left them to navigate, chlorinate the gunk
of polluted finance and corrupt opinions and falsity,
falsity everywhere. I lost them to independence and
opportunity elsewhere, greener, colder, blue-skyed
distant and lonely, free and home away from home.