My brain is total mush. The night is a wash of panic & exhaustion. Is the baby alive? Did she fall off my chest? Will she ever stop grunting in the cold, hard box that is supposed to be a bed? It occurred to me the other day that perhaps I depend on other people too much for my happiness. Perhaps the echo logic of my mind: should we move back? should we stay here? what should I do with my life? Has to do with this common human problem of existential emptiness. I’ve been eating cookies and bagels and my second son is hounding me to make mini-waffles with the tiniest waffle maker I’ve ever seen, which was a Christmas gift from a student.
In college I studied philosophy. I wanted to major in everything. I was obsessed with esoteric knowledge — which felt like magic spells made of words and power. I was desperate for approval, survival, and love. After I graduated with a BA in English, I took a French Literature course (in French) and got my first C. I had planned on applying to graduate programs in Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, a specialized study of modern philosophy and language, but I never did. I moved to Vermont in January of 2005, migrating to creative writing while firmly establishing myself in what I considered an extremely male-dominated sub-culture of not-yet-woke, pre-hipster hipsters invested in music, literature, drugs, art and womanizing.
That chapter of my life remains ensconced in cold early mornings mopping the floor of a coffee shop bar, listening to the same CDs on repeat (Lenard Cohn, Bonnie Prince Billy), windows fogged or frosted in ice, the smell of stale beer and fresh brewed coffee stuck to my clothing like a fragrance. It was cozy & extremely cold. I loved when the sun set at five and I lit the candles across the room and the hippie-hipsters came in with their huge boots and woolly hats and mittens– long skirts over pants, and sat down to sip mulled wine or hot totties, leaving behind a puddle of melted snow. It felt like I had found a home. But always, the edge, the empty parts remained tender and untouchable.
I drank enormous bottles of beer upstairs in my cousin’s apartment where I was staying until I found a room to rent on Greene Street. Beer that I can still taste in my throat, bitter, dark and delicious. Eventually I turned to wine and that, thankfully, led to an ending.
The baby doesn’t sleep well at night. The snow makes me feel claustrophobic, but also joy when the sun shines and the light is amplified. I’d prefer to give the baby a bottle, a sort of parenting equalizer, but I cannot.
All this time since she was born at the end of October, I have missed home and now that it’s Christmas, when we normally visit, I feel the ache of that longing more than ever. I miss the cold of Northern Minnesota, the crunch of snow under my feet; the long, cold runs passed snow covered evergreens followed by the hot sweat of the sauna. I miss sitting in the living room drinking coffee with my siblings and parents, while the kids binge watch TV in the basement. I miss the large Christmas Eve gathering, the chaos of so many beloveds in one home– a place and family built by my mother and father.
The tiptoe dance of one against the other–which place will love me more? will I love more? Perhaps its the curse of having choices to want other than this. Also, the current and pulse of my life–anxious wanting, getting, and feeling the curse of disappointment. But perhaps this isn’t a thing to change, to eradicate with meditations and chants and picked over Buddhist insights; perhaps, it just is, and this wanting, this pulse, is me–fully alive even in this haze of sleeplessness, doughy minded and soft.
I resist the urge to write anything cathartic or merry. I don’t feel those things. Though I feel pockets of joy. Catharsis is to nonfiction as plot is to fiction. Necessary but overwrought.
I’ve become waterlogged in self help-y, self care pause and smell the roses shit and long for the hard edges of logic, which I took instead of algebra or basic math in undergrad. What part of our human brain seeks the cold, controlled contours of this life? Nothing in nature is this way and yet I feel the imposed strictures of commerce and time pushing into everything, pressing and pressing until the skin breaks. The doing-ness obsession. One cannot just sit and look at a baby as she nurses, she must scroll or read or eat or drink more water; she must make requests of her husband, children, mother; or mentally list the tasks she’ll complete afterwards when the baby finally sleeps.
For a moment after the baby was born, a reprieve. The dewy womb of afterbirth, love-panic-exhuastion-love covers everything, a stained glass window / breast-milk squirting out like a hose over everything / the lure of cookies. But then, around six-weeks, its shimmer slips – the feelings of tender hollow angst, the old neuroses and anxieties and lists of things undone returned, and with it the emptiness–the huge God-hole as they say, the enormous crater of abyss, the crying over beauty and death and love and loss and longing, followed by the mean edged desire to win, to get ahead, to be the drone they’ve trained you to be since birth. Don’t pretend you’re above it all, your culture.
But the light pushes through, soft and ever-present, unassuming, self assured. There are other worlds. Worlds upon worlds always, their fingers reaching like the tiny hand of the baby tickling your skin–your sagging, mottled, old skin, well loved, ever so well loved.