Some people think of today as a day for lovers, but I think of it like I did in 5th grade when I put a homemade valentine in the construction-paper decorated shoebox on your desk while you put one in mine.
Happy Valentines Day Friends!
Another last day of February, and with March comes thoughts of my mother, because shamrocks; but of course, then Valentines Day brings her too. (Aren’t shamrocks made of hearts!)
When Casey fell in love with me, I was as I am now. This is who I am, I said. My heart has been broken. I have already loved deeply and lost tragically. I don’t want marriage. I am afraid of surrender. I am on guard. Always.
That seemed okay for him.
“I’m lucky,” I wrote at the end of our first month together, the very first words I wrote to him in a card.
And then I added: “You’re lucky too.”
Maybe he lacked higher expectations. Maybe I did.
Or maybe what we had in common was our sense of Love as something higher.
We had two boys by the time we came upon this tune. It was winter. It was dark. There was darkness inside and between us.
The way she says: Pain. Tears. Heart. Met ours. Even our boys wanted to listen again and again.
The forgetting is the hardest part except that in the forgetting we don’t know what we forgot.
The forgetting makes it hurt less. Helps us surrender into day to day life without the extremes of love, promise, passion, wildness, hurt.
But what about these tears? A piece of good music. A painting. A play. A film. A passage. The light. The silence. A certain smile. Even the air.
There must be, beneath memory, beneath thought, beneath recognition even, a deeper current of being, reminding us of what we once knew.
The moment beckons, but we turn away, anesthetized from what it is to be whole.
Or maybe that’s too high an expectation.
Maybe showing for these moments is what is most true.
This is not the first darkness into which we have descended as a couple, and like our previous encounters (albeit much briefer ones), there is nothing visible on the surface. No convicting offense. Nor the absence of love.
What is different this time is time. We have it. To spend. To see. To feel. To open into something we’d never quite allowed ourselves to open into before.
The Provocateur: The Empty Nest.
The Invitation: The Heroine’s Journey.
The challenge is to allow the descent into darkness without turning back or trying to change it so that out of the liminal space something new might emerge.
But what if this emergence does not include us as a couple?
Our willingness to sense into this possibility is, in my mind, a promising sign even as it terrifies us. And it does.
My practice in this darkness has been to remain open-hearted. This sounds like a noble endeavor, but what it really means is that I’m feeling pain instead of numbing or distracting.
I never realized how often I armored against feeling. How my attempts to make things better, to coach or cajole, to remain ever-vigilant, to overdo disappointment, overwork anger, and overextend resolution were mechanisms of defense, as were the tiny release valves of criticism, mockery and superiority.
WIthout such protection, I am open to my heart’s conveyances.
But what if my heart conveys a new beginning?
And what if that beginning is far, far away?
And what if it is alone?
It’s not lost on me that our boys are the age I was when my parents’ marriage fell apart, and it’s not lost on me that my boys are the age I was when I left the heartache of my broken family for a semester abroad, for a season backpacking through Europe, for a year in Colorado, and finally for a life in the mountains 300 miles away from the sea.
While I feel into the heaviness of my heart, my husband is engaged in his own practice. Feeling into himself. Finding himself. Knowing himself. Recovering himself. Which is as much a journey of the past as the present, just as mine is with pain.
We spent last weekend together at Kripalu Yoga and Health Center, sleeping in different dorm rooms by night while assisting a writing and meditation program by day.
There were a hundred participants between us as we each wrote into our past.
I wrote into all the red flags that could have redirecting my course.
He wrote into how his life might have unfolded without me.
In the evening, we came together on a couch outside the performance hall, my feet in his lap, and we took turns sharing what we had written, surprised to discover similar veins of exploration.
In times like these, the darkness is parted, but then it returns like the sea, and we drift away again into self-revelation, further and further from the shore of the familiar and easy companionship of thirty-three years. (The lifetime of Jesus. Just saying.)
It’s not lost on me that we are opening into new aspects of ourselves, dusting off old identities, trying out something new. More individuation for him. Less filling in the gaps for me. It’s not lost on me that this is disorienting.
It’s not lost on me that we had a particularly steep and jagged holiday season which had nothing to do with us as a couple and everything to do with our role, our heart, our ties, as parents.
The summer before last, when we still had a child at home, we encountered a familiarly patterned relationship crapstorm that left the household raw and ragged. Afterward, I checked in with our youngest and asked how we might better consider his feelings in the future. His request was tender, and directed toward me: “Check in with me sooner.”
But what of your father, I asked, don’t you have a request for him?
He shrugged, and offered in consolation, “Dad just needs to stay connected to himself.”
Was our offspring, practically grown at the time, parroting, or clearly reflecting the discrepancy in our relationship, the gendered discrepancy of all relationships?
I am so tired.
Women everywhere are so tired.
So much of women’s work–relationships, families, communities–takes place unseen, underappreciated, unpaid, and often in the shadows, frequently secretive and shamed.
It’s not lost on me that after each of my children left for college, I came down with acute infections.
It’s not lost on me that since meeting me my husband’s professional life has increasingly thrived while mine began to contract, and especially since motherhood, is forever gasping for air.
It’s not lost on me that with this particularly toxic President, it is a difficult time to be a woman (and a difficult time to be in relationship with a woman) as this rotting, stench-filled Patriarchy uproots everything.
My husband is afraid of this darkness, of what lies ahead.
I am afraid too, but for me it is necessary. Life or death. Now.
It’s not lost on me that I am writing from the depth of winter, but I’m not ready for spring.
Even if we should end, as we heartbreakingly will some day no matter our trajectory, our love has been a fertile place for growth and for that I am forever gratified and humbled.
It’s not lost on me that this is what scares me most, the inevitable parting.
What buoys me is the fact that our names, both Casey and Kelly, are Celtic for Warrior, and that we are a Marian family–born as I was on the Immaculate Conception of Mary to a mother born on the Birth of Christ, and a husband born on Her Feast Day, and our firstborn on Her Assumption.
Darkness is holy. Presence to the darkness is feminine work. And like everything, it too shall pass. But first I want to claim it.
With thirty-three years between us, it would be easy to abandon the heroine’s journey out of fear or habit or lack of fortitude.
I am writing into the gift of this darkness tonight. To honor it. To allow it to be rich and fertile, not just for us, but for all those who courageously dwell in the unknown becoming.
When I met my Valentine, I could only wink one eye.
That all changed when we drove across country.
We celebrated our first Valentines Day together in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, 1987.
The waiter of the bistro invited us outside to watch our cork fly toward the full moon…
“How did we get here from there?” we ask.
Or: “How do we get there from here?”
Some say there is no there. Only here.
Is that true?
Doesn’t every beginning embody its ending?
Don’t love and hate, union and dissolution, copulate?
Maybe our job is not to arrive or transcend but to…
That it is all here.
And to understand that right here is where we decide:
How to coincide.
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.
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.
We met and fell in love (and later celebrated our marriage) on this narrow strip of land between the ocean and the bay, long before our hairs were gray and gravity & weight had its way.
Moved by a song, we stopped the car and danced there beside the marsh, undisturbed for a precious few moments, before the hoots & hollers & honks interrupted our flow.
“GET A ROOM!” someone yelled from the line of traffic inching toward the drawbridge or was it from the steady stream of cars heading toward the island?
“WE HAVE A HOUSE!” I wish I responded.
“You made a lot of people happy,” said the guy behind the camera, as the song ended and we got back into the car. “So many people were smiling.”
At 18, our youngest was surprisingly unembarrassed by the new waiter who would become his father and the manager who would become his mother–as they danced across from the sea-shelled driveway that led to the Crab House where they became—us—in 1986—as the sun set over the intercoastal waterway–on the way to Cape May.
SUMMER BREEZE LOVE-TOUR DATA ROLL:
3 states, 6 siblings, 5 siblings-in-law, 6 nieces, 4 nephews, 2 cousins, 1 aunt, 1 parent, 1 stepparent, 1 sister of my grandmother, 1 second cousin and 3 cousins once-removed, one circle of lifetime friends from highschool (celebrating the life of one passed), 2 four-legged friends (only one who bites)…
lots of storms, 1 beach afternoon, 1 beach morning, 1 solo sunrise walk in my pj’s (because I’m 54 and men go topless), several sunsets, one timeless Cape May – Lewes Ferry crossing with my sister’s family (who made a round trip just to ride with us)…
2 different pies from 2 different sides of the Delaware Bay (Grotto Pizza & Sam’s Pizza Palace), Dolle’s popcorn, Laura’s fudge, Dogfish Head (shout out to Flesh & Blood!), West Side Market (for the best cheesesteaks!), Kohler’s Bakery–3 minutes after opening (with a line already dozens deep), one blissed-out hour at H&H Seafood picking crabs and swallowing steamers, mussels, shrimp & scallops…
1 Beach Creek Oyster Bar & Grille happy hour, 2 breakfasts with sisters including eggs benedict at Congress Hall, Cape May with a side of several winks from our late mother…
One 6-seated bike ride in fierce conditions (thanks for the off-roading & laughter D R Bradley’s Bikes Rentals), one niece on guitar & vocals, one starring at Cape May Stage, one dancing at the YMCA…
one rescue pause of chardonnay with my Aunt Ann on her porch in West Cape May…
4 different beds, too many steamy nights, too many latte rebounds…
lots of ocean breezes & soft conversations, 3 attempts at a sandcastle, 2 surf immersions on the beaches of my childhood (Wildwood Crest Beach!!), 1 getting too old to jump in the waves neck injury, 1 parting moment along the awesome Angelsea Seawall…
1 dance beside the marshland where we met & fell in love & married
1 more attempt at reframing these micro-visits as heroic acts of LOVE & DEVOTION instead of never enough or too much.
Casey does a gazillion things for me, like bringing me tea or a glass of water or covering me up or turning off the lights; the accumulation of which, over time, fills my empty childhood cup, parched dry from neglect, and early parentification, and a lifetime of tending all those who were abandoned after me. The thing is, it’s been 30 something years, and my inner child shows no sign of satiation.
Is she spoiled?
Or simply, finally, deservingly loved.
A shop keeper in Donegal turned me on to Yeats (and wool),and some time later, I copied down this verse so as to lure a lover back to me whose passion I mistook for soul.
I’d found a four-leaf clover on the day that I told him that I had to go.
“You’ll miss my graduation,” he said, and I did, after I extended my time abroad.
I suppose he never forgave me even with all the letters I sent and the Aran sweaters I brought home.
But this poem and I remained forever close.
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,And nodding by the fire, take down this book,And slowly read, and dream of the soft lookYour eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;How many loved your moments of glad grace,And loved your beauty with love false or true,But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,And loved the sorrows of your changing face;And bending down beside the glowing bars,Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fledAnd paced upon the mountains overheadAnd hid his face amid a crowd of stars.