The World You Long For

When I begin to make lists again I know I’ve returned, at least in part, to my previous life. During her nap, the baby sleeps in a wind tunnel of fabricated white noise; she swings in the darkened bedroom above a humidifier. She is wrapped in blankets, snuggled and steadied. I am in the next room making lists with a blue pen that I treasure on a page of notebook that was supposed to contain research on the novel I’m writing but has turned into a collage of lists, reading notes, and Wordle diagrams.

PC: Loverna Journey

In the morning when we rise, I get my cold coffee from what’s left in the french press by my husband and the baby and I sit on the couch together. I look at her and think, what am I supposed to do with you? We coo at each other. I show her a black and white board book. She nurses. I sip the cold coffee. I burp her. She lays on her back again. We smile at each other. Then she’s sleepy and I put her in her swing bed and sneak away to make my lists.

Above my desk I hang things. They shift and shimmy and change like the weather patterns within me. I think of the cross-stitch tracks of birds in the snow. I think of blue skies made abundant by fields. There is a slow ache. Like the melting of ice. A trickle of water returning. This is my weather.

Above my desk three post card prints of artists I bought on a trip to Europe twenty-two years ago hang in a silver frame–I no longer remember the names of the artists. A photograph of my sister Hannah and I at 18 and 16 beside a glacial lake in Canada. Written on a slip of paper: You can create the world you long for. I pause.

I have stayed inside too many days. It’s the middle of winter, but still. My body begins to ache. I think of running and picture the road in summer. I can feel my muscled body slick with sweat and heaving. I can run the entire route in my mind.

Today I nurse the baby and think, I will never do this again in my lifetime. This is the last time I will do this, feed a baby with my body. Love of fierce biology. Desire needled through pressed into the brain like a magic braille.

My sons fight. They wrestle and scream and tease and meddle. It goes on and on. It’s exhausting. We eat dinner like we’re escaping. Fast and silent and with very few manners. My youngest son licks pieces of boiled peas and corn from his plate and calls out, “I’m a cat.” He is jolly like a bowl full of cherries; hilariously absorbed in some other universe that the rest of us don’t understand. We are all shocked that a person can be so full of joy and chipper, singing lines from songs on repeat: I wake up in the morning like pee dee… and a bottle of jack cuz I ain’t coming back.

He doesn’t sing the right words. This is not a problem for him. He likes his own version. Sometimes I ask him questions like, who is your favorite friend? Do you want to learn how to ride a bike today? What do you want to do today? Invariably his response is, I’m doing something or I can’t hear you right now.

Once after he spent hours playing in the field with with his brother and their friends, this son reported to me that he had played a wolf with a tattered cape who had a sword. His brother was a chicken with bull legs wearing a tunic; he could pluck his feathers and throw them like spears or perhaps poison darts. One friend was a retired knight with a sword and the other was part leopard and part human–he also wore a tunic and carried a bow and arrow. When I ask them about it again, my oldest son explains that his wings could also morph into human hands and there was a name for the game but he had forgotten it. I wonder why the knight was retired. But I suppose it’s obvious that if he was still a knight he’d have other work to do.

My oldest son is not jolly. Nothing about him is jolly or full of humor, though he likes jokes. He is sleek and muscled with long strawberry blond hair; serious and tender and now at an age where I feel I must be careful not to share too much about him, not to spill his secrets which, to him, are many.

On the wall above the desk, a photograph of me carrying this son three or four years ago in the sand dunes of North Carolina. The photograph is mostly blue sky and frothy white clouds, our bodies tangled in relief against this gift of sky. I carry him on my back.

The lists create a sense of control, organization, cohesion. What to grade, what to do, buy, complete, create. What if the lists were different. If I could let go of the real world of lists and live in the strange lands of imagination, mother country I long ago abandoned and only occasionally revisit. I long to call out, I’m doing something! When asked questions I don’t care to answer. I am aware of the stiffness of my entire body: jaw, shoulders, spine. Even when I’m swimming in the most beautiful place on the most beautiful summer day — the first really hot day when the water is still brisk and delicious, I am making lists and thinking about what I must do later. This ticking off of time, this parcelling of life like packaged meat, creates a toll that I pay again and again, a rage that creeps in.

Written on a slip of paper: You can create the world you long for.

This rage is a surging river, running through the heat of August, thick like the sweat of the saunas in my north woods home. It is the whiskey I no longer drink, the needles I never used but understand why, it is the gorgeous bodies of our youth exhausted by this world. Not the real world that lives at its seams and breathes and breathes; but the one in which the lists are made, the time quartered and sanctioned, the rungs of a ladder wracked up, and human bodies transcribed in a million tiny rules–consume, consume.

My list would be about building things: cabins, a sauna, gardens, trails. It would be about painting and sitting for a long time, looking out at the field or the lake. It would be about growing plants that healed and inviting people to come to my sanctuary and heal from the fabricated world of rules and demands. It would explain my body: part fish, part wolf, fully human–wearing a tattered cloak and a silk robe, red shoes, sparkly sunglasses in a forever summer. I can breathe underwater and run with the pack.

You can create the world you long for.

Photo by Paulina H. on Unsplash

Published by

emilyarna

Writer, teacher, essayist, author of the essay collection Made Holy from the University of Georgia Press (2019). Mother of two boys, runner, and activist. Wife and partner to Kindergarten teacher and singer songwriter, Mr. Martin.

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