the turning


When your life is suddenly emptied of children, you discover things you once knew, like quiet and simplicity and space, or that you never knew, like the way you and your husband, brought to tears in the kitchen while listening to a story, turn away instead of toward the arms of the person with whom you chose to share a life.

How had we never come upon this before, this mutual turning away? Shouldn’t it have been revealed over the course of thirty-something years, or at least in the decade before children?

I certainly knew that he turned away from me–think of the year my mother died during which I wrote the poem about the wallpaper and my wrist and the color red while the new baby nursed in the crook of my arm, and he went ahead and enrolled in that Masters Program after I’d asked him to wait. `

We have slept apart since the late August afternoon when we took that same baby to college. Most every night for more than a month now (after never before). Mainly because I’ve been sick. And Menopause. And the string of unusually sticky September nights. And the way he sometimes wakes to pee, not once, but twice, the floors creaking, me waking, at 4 or 3 or 2, up for the day no matter how much night remained.

Today was a bad day, a new regimen of treatment making me feel worse to feel better, and the heavy cloud cover with no promise of redemption of sun in the forecast; and when he arrived home late from work, he fixed himself some dinner and brought it to the couch where I had given up trying to write into that year with the wallpaper and was instead watching a documentary about Joan Didion who wrote into just about everything.

Her words brought us to tears from time to time and there it was again!—this turning away—this hiding our grief?—and yet didn’t we cry at the same places, and weren’t our hearts moved in the same way, and isn’t it unbearable to think that one day, he may be slumped in my arms, or I, in his, like her husband (and then daughter), forever. gone.

Little by little, in the empty spaces, we are finding what we once knew. Our two-ness.

It’s sprouting up like spring seedlings, promising something that is almost too painful to receive. This turning toward one another again, like this turning toward self again. In love.

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33 birthdays

53

This whole marriage & a house was your thing, and now with the kids both gone, I resent you like I resented falling in love so many summers ago.

But just like your first birthday as a father, I feel a tenderness well up in me on this first birthday from the other side.

It’s taken me by surprise, like the way I look at this photo that I zoomed in to take last weekend at the pond while you were deep in conversation with another guy.

Living with 3 guys is a lot of work. I mean it provides huge swaths of independence, and I’ve relied upon that, but it’s also lonely in the realms that women invisibly tend and upon which society depends even while it infinitely dismisses our humanity.

Which is to say, I’m tired. It could be the president. His party. It could be menopause. It could be the caretaking that began when I was a girl like it does for so many born female, especially older sisters. It could be the weight of my mother’s and grandmothers despair, dismissed as an inferiority of gender instead of the societal tragedy it was. it  is.

This untethering from our boys leaves me wanting to lighten more, like a hot air balloon lifting into the sky, while you seem to have the opposite inclination–to dig deeper, to enlarge, to ground.

What will come of us in this next chapter? This new book?

I fell in love with a 20-year-old guy who had an easiness about him; who was kind; who always pitched in; who was comfortable around women; who was capable of celebrating them and sharing the lead; who was gutsy enough to persist in asking his boss out on a date.

What is it that I love about you at 53?

…the way your chest still beckons to my head I suppose. The solace of your arms around me…
I delight in the ways you rediscover yourself… Your sudden capacity for self-care and deepening interest in self-knowing… Your courage to be vulnerable in this regard. Your decision to chaperone a trip to Italy. (Italy!) Your growing certainty of all that you have to offer, just as you are.

For now, I can barely love you because so much bandwidth is taken up by loving and letting go of our boys; but I can sense a seed of return on the horizon, and your steady presence is promising, as is the mutual deepening of our personal paths.

To another shared circle around the sun!

What I wrote to you on your 21st birthday still rings true:

I. am. so. lucky.

From Mint to Tulsi Rose

My mothers cup.

Just after my mother died (about the age I am now), my husband began placing a mug of tea beside the bed while I nursed our second son. Mint. A herb that’s been with me since before my First Bleed.

This waking ritual went on for some time. From the single bedroom we all crowded into on Ames Hill to the sprawling house atop Cow Path to the cozy post & beam raised by friends on MacArthur road where we’ve lived ever since, and where Motherhood gave way to Menopause and Mint to Tulsi Rose.

Every morning for an unfathomable… 18 years.

Until yesterday.

With Aidan off to college by week’s end, I’m ready to find what comes from fixing my own morning tea and curious to see what arises in the space for Casey; though I did have to remind him this morning, so comforted is he by the well-worn routine of tending others.

Rehearsal


Last week, or was it the week before last, my husband and I went to a concert, and over a beer in the courtyard before the show, it occurred to me that this was our first concert without the kids.

Is that possible?

When I was pregnant with my oldest, it was Michelle Shocked, Tuck & Patti, Sara Hickman, The Dead with Bob Dylan, and then once our first was born (and don’t judge me; I lived in the Rockies as a kid)–it was John Denver, then Bonnie Raitt with Lyle Lovett, James Taylor, The Prairie Home Companion, and somewhere in there Yo-Yo Ma (who played a few songs with Garrison or JT), Paul Simon; Earth, Wind & Fire, and I know I’ve missed some (along with a handful of classical ensembles & symphonies and loads of local bands); but I can’t recall a single major concert without the kids.

How is that possible?

And now Ray LaMontagne (Casey’s choice.) Alone. Like we will be. Forever. Time stretched out before us on a blank canvass. Or at the edge of a cliff.

And while I was pleasantly surprised with MASS MoCA as a performance venue, I resented Casey, not only because I didn’t recognize a single song, and it was too loud, but because we had arrived together at—an end—and there was only him—like a slap in the face.

When I was very pregnant with our first, a colleague invited us over for dinner, and she pulled out an album and began to weep as she looked at the photo of her husband with their newborn.

I immediately understood. She was feeling what I was fearing. The way motherhood would separate me from the man I loved, from the sweetness of our couple-hood—which spanned an entire decade—from the Atlantic to the Rockies to a backpacking summer through Europe to these Green Mountains where we settled just ahead of turning 30. (I’ll be 55 this year.)

But I had misunderstood, and my friend’s response chilled me.

She wasn’t grieving her husband, she was grieving the loss of her newborn. Even while the child nursed on her lap!

My breast and my lap are long empty, and soon my house will be too.

What is the point of it without them? What is the point of us?

I hate Casey.

Last night I found myself crying.

I blame it on Mr. Rogers.

We went to see the documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? where afterward they should have distributed warm washcloths—to wipe our faces and bring us comfort–before exiting the womb of the theater for the brightly lit lobby; which is to say–I was primed for feeling my feelings and thus faced with the departure of my youngest for a week at camp (The Engineering strand of the Governor’s Institute of Vermont at a University), I wept into the future, which we get to rehearse this coming week.

We’ve spent a quarter of a century inside this all-encompassing womb of family life. And suddenly the bright lights are on the horizon. A new beginning. Entirely unknown. Barely considered. (Who has time!) As unfathomable as becoming parents once was.

Road Trip, Part II.

(Part I. Oldies R Us?)

Singing along to songs on the Oldies station, my hands go to my throat, noticing the glands are still swollen from the cold I came down with last week.

“It’s a good thing I’m not a famous singer with a concert tonight,” I say to my  husband as he pulls off the highway. “I have no range.”

Casey approaches the traffic light, without any response.

“What would I do if I was a famous singer with a concert tonight?” I prod him.

“You’d cancel,” he says, as he navigates the left turn onto the coastal route.

“But I would have had to cancel the entire past week,” I say, as we come to another stop.

“Yep,” he says, not a bit concerned.

“That would be really stressful,” I say, “I’m relieved that I don’t have a string of concerts scheduled this week.”

Oldies R Us?

I like audiobooks on Road Trips, especially non-fiction.

My husband prefers the radio.

In an effort to lend greater equity, I scroll the stations and discover that the display on his car provides information on each one in the area:

Rock
Rock
Rock
Top 40’s
Country
Oldies

None of the Rock Stations have good reception. The Top 40 is nothing we recognize (or want to recognize.) Country is out of the question (for me), and who wants old people’s music. ‘

But then it occurs to me, maybe it’s our music.
Maybe Oldies is US.

It was.

Echoes

In the absence of direct parenting, our home reaches a sweet stillpoint every Saturday afternoon that continues to surprise me, arriving as it does in silence.

“Listen to that,” I say to my husband. “It’s nice, isn’t it!”

But as afternoon gives way to evening, the sweetness begins to fade.

“What did you say?” he calls from the basement or the backyard or the attic.

I never answer.

Not only because I’m deeply annoyed (no one at all has spoken!)

But because hollering back
would only deepen the echo
of our empty
house.

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