If I add up all the minutes and hours and days and stitch them together into years―more than fifty now―I would say on balance there has been more sweet than bitter, more joys than sorrows.
Of course, I’ve lived through loss and unwanted change. People I loved died. I lost pets and left houses that bore the imprint of my life. I moved thousands of miles from my childhood home, leaving my mother and sister behind. With a bit of luck and the romantic optimism of youth, I survived terrible early relationships until I found safe harbor with my husband the year I turned thirty. I bore children late―in my early forties―embracing the bone-tired days as an older mother of a toddler and an infant. My body changed, heavier and closer to the earth, tattooed with the scars of surgeries and the passage of time. Like every woman, I felt both melancholy and content, hopeless and full of vigor, depending on the circumstances. My teenage son fell ill with depression and we had to send him away. Somehow, I endured the black hole of his absence, until he returned home after five months, and I could be his mother again.
But even when I spent days in bed, anesthetized by grief, drinking chamomile tea and reading in my pajamas through until evening, still I knew time would carry me along whether I wanted it to or not. On those days, I let myself be carried. I relinquished control and trusted the universe to take care of me, mostly because I felt I had no other choice. In the unpredictable currents of that dark river, it was clear: You float or you drown.
Live or die, but don’t poison everything. The words of Saul Bellow’s epigraph open one of my favorite poetry collections by Anne Sexton.
Life always rose back up within me and all around me, immediate and insistent―in sunrises punctuated by birdsong, walks with the dogs along the quiet morning streets, the taste of ripe strawberries, a cable of notes unfurling from beneath my hands on the newly tuned piano, crushed lavender swirled into a pot of steaming tea, the Pacific rolling and receding, and rolling back again to the receiving sands, the comfort of my husband’s home cooked soups and stews, my daughter’s unfiltered laughter breaking the silences, the shy tilt of my son’s head upon meeting someone for the first time. It was not too late, after all.
Live or die, but don’t poison everything. The words of Saul Bellow’s epigraph open one of my favorite poetry collections by Anne Sexton. For me, it was a choice I made when I stood outside my son’s doorway the morning he returned home after almost half a year away. To take up again the mantle of life. To decide to live.
To be his mother, I had to be the change I wanted to see in the world, the change I wanted to see in my child. If he was to survive and thrive outside the protective bubble of residential treatment, I would have to do so beside him. If I wanted truth, I needed to speak truth. If I wanted him to live without the buffer of substances between him and the ragged edges of the world, I had to take the first brave steps into that uncharted territory myself. I had to live without escape hatches, distractions, excuses or crutches―no net, fallback plan, or seat as a flotation device.
The endeavor called upon me to do but one thing above all others: Give everything. Pour from my cup without reservation or hesitation. As well as I was truly able. Against odds and uncertain outcomes, even now. Renew my efforts at the start of each day, knowing how little I control the outcomes. Of how the stories will end.
In some ways I believe my son and all that we suffered as a family gave me back to myself. The way I move through the days now―on the far side of fifty―reminds me of when I was ten or eleven years old, before the world began to tell me who I could and could not be. Before others dictated what was important. When my girlhood intentions and enthusiasms were pure and free of artifice. When my heart was open and I followed my instincts. When I felt everything. Before cancer, divorce, estrangement, addiction became words whose meanings I knew.
I am that girl once more, sure of myself in some new, essential sense.
I rode my bike on the country roads where I grew up, under a sheltering canopy of green, the only sound the wind in the spokes of my wheels. When I was tired, I stopped. When I was thirsty, I drank. I would pull over at a meadow miles from our house and lie down in the long summer grasses itchy against my bare legs, watching birds wheel overhead, quilted clouds passing slowly across the blue expanse of sky, willow trees swaying by the riverside. I felt my heart beating in my own chest, strong and steady. I was at home in the world because I was entirely and precisely myself.
I am that girl once more, sure of myself in some new, essential sense. I know how to do what matters most and let the rest fall away. In the end, it comes down to this mandate, the universe’s exhortation Sexton heard in her mind, but was herself unable to follow: Live, live, because of the sun, the dream, the excitable gift.
I have come to find out you can travel a long way with the truth on your side. All roads converge to a single path―the one we all tread―towards whatever is before us. Blooming through storms and sun, taking shelter alone or with companions, pilgrims through all the ten thousand moments of bitter and sweet, the journey rich with the alchemy of tears shed both for our joys and sorrows, so that in the end we can no longer tell the difference. We know only to have one, we must bear the other, in equal measure.
I learned it is never too late. To love, and let go. Live each day with open hands, receiving what is given, and giving until my palms are empty once again.
I live in Northern California with my husband, two teenage children, two dogs, and seven chickens. I am lucky enough to pursue my creative writing full time, working on a new novel, poetry, and memoir. I spend my free time taking care of my family, tending our flock of hens, taking long hikes in the hills, and practicing daily yoga and meditation. I’m looking forward to the next steps in my life as my children leave the nest. My wish is to live by the ocean, my favorite place to be.