On love and pain and time: I had birthed a death
Thursday, August 23, 2018
I am sitting in a Starbucks off of Main Street. It is Sophie’s third day of preschool where she will spend 2.5 hours every Monday through Friday for the next 10 months or so, and just like that, it is the first time in nearly a decade where I will spend some consistent time briefly alone. Let’s just say that that gives me 2 hours to myself, given that I will need time to drop her off and pick her up. So that's 10 hours a week. 40 hours a month. 400 hours over the next 10 months, give or take. 400 hours to write, if I let myself. I can do a lot with 400 hours, as long as I do not succumb to the never ending piles: plates, dirty socks, clean towels, papers. Though there is one pile that, if I get lost in, will actually help me as a writer, which is, of course, books.
I often tell Matt that I can’t concentrate at home with all the commotion usually around me. Which is true, but then I wonder what I am doing in a busy coffee shop. Shouldn’t I be in an empty room with no windows? I wonder what the man with the goatee is working on. The barista reminds me of someone. It’s cold, I should’ve brought a sweater. How do I not know by now to bring a sweater to every every coffee shop and grocery store, especially Trader Joe’s, as it is the Tundra. Water drips. I look outside to my right to see a white moth struggling against the sandstone wall, seemingly unaware it is flapping in vain. You have to go through most things, little guy, but you can’t go through that.
And yet, despite the distractions, there is a distinction between the coffee shop and my home: it is the concept of availability. Here, I am not available to all these humans. No one will climb all over my chair with sudden and avid interest as soon as I sit in it. No one tell me that they have snot in their nose or ask for help on a math problem. The sink that lives here is not calling my name. I could care less if the counters are sticky. I am here, but I am not of here.
Still, cars whiz by, the wind moves the leaves. It seems nothing is still. Least of all my mind. It is jumping from cue to cue, visual and auditory and mental. But that jumbled energy is also exactly why I try to write. I think, for me, writing is an endeavor to freeze something in time: a feeling, a memory, an idea, a place in time. It is an attempt to carve a face in a block of wood, to organize and flush out my pregnant thoughts, to control, to slow down.
Time, I mean. Slow down time. But it can’t be altered, at least not in a meaningful, perceptible way (I’ve got Interstellar on my mind and in my headphones.) I can’t force a second to be longer or shorter than a second. A second is a second is a second.
Whenever I think about the concept of time I inevitably end up thinking about the certainty of death. I think I have always been aware of time, as well as intrigued and confused and wary of it for varying reasons, but chiefly because the passage of time signals change, the loss of what I know, and, ultimately, death. Death of seasons and friendships and lilacs and yes, people. And when I became a mother it added a new dimension to time--I had birthed a death. We're all living, but if we really want to get morbid about it (and clearly I do,) we're all also simultaneously dying in varying degrees of severity if you think about it. I've wondered, and I bet you are too, why do I even think about it? I can't fully say, but I think it might be a desperate and irrational attempt at a defense mechanism in a weird and primal sort of way. One thing is sure though: I may have birthed these lives and these deaths, but this is one thing I do not want to see through to the end. This is my most terrifying fear.
In Mother's as Makers of Death by Claudia Dey, she writes beautifully about this very thing and when I read it I felt validated and understood regarding the dark corridors that my mind sometimes travels down: I thought no one else had these thoughts, but it appears I am not alone. She writes:
No one had warned me that with a child comes death. Death slinks into your mind. It circles your growing body, and once your child has left it, death circles him too. It would be dangerous to turn your attentions away from your child—this is how the death presence makes you feel. The conversations I had with other new mothers stayed strictly within the bounds of the list: blankets, diapers, creams. Every conversation I had was the wrong conversation. No other mother congratulated me and then said: I’m overcome by the blackest of thoughts. You? This is why mothers don’t sleep, I thought to myself. This is why mothers don’t look away from their children. This is why, even with a broken heart, a mother will bring herself back to life.
If I were someone else maybe I'd only see the life and not the death of the seasons and friendships and lilacs and people. But they are intrinsically paired, like bees and flowers: you can't have one without the other. So why focus on the sad part, right? What is the point? I've been thinking a lot about this, and I think it's less about focusing on the sad and more about acceptance of the whole. A nod to the complexity and weirdness of the human experience. In my attempts to feel a sense of control through writing, the writing itself forces me to realize that acceptance of some things as they are is, paradoxically, perhaps the most liberating truth.
I used to have an inkling, an ugly voice in the back of my head, telling me that my writing about motherhood is not serious enough, not varied enough, too simple and too niche of a topic. But lately I've been thinking otherwise. What could be more universal and intricate, more fundamental and vital, than blood and tears, screams and laughter, beauty and sorrow, birth and death. Love and pain. That's what this life is. To accept love is to invite pain. A mother knows this immediately upon touching her baby's fragile and still forming body which just exited her own.
It is true, all of it, inescapable. But it's also true that after the fleeting two hours expire, I will have almost written this piece. I will pick Sophie up and she will gift me her smile and I will, in that second, think of nothing else.
*Illustration credit: Roses and Bee by Gail Schmiedlin