“No one really loves me except you,” L tells me one recent night, because he’s mad at his dad for taking away his Pokemon cards at bedtime.
“Lots of people love you,” I tell him. “Especially Dad. You’re just angry with Dad right now.”
He wants me to tuck him in that night. He wants to tell me about the upsetting thing that happened at recess. He wants to hold my hand on the way to school the next morning, for me to head up to the second floor (dragging my 30-pounds-heavier body up the steps) to show me how the guinea pigs in his second-grade classroom have grown. Do I say yes? Of course I say yes. Because I know that I am the sun, and L is the earth. He always knows where I am in the world. I am his?life raft, his?default, the one who really counts.
Luckily, we can also be apart. L is secure without me. He does not, as I did at seven, dread leaving mom for?school or a play date or a sleepover. When he’s not mad about Pokemon, his dad is the coolest?person in the world, his other life raft. When they have “Guys’ Night”?a phrase I came up with to describe any night it’s just the two of them?he’s delighted, can’t wait for me to leave. Once, after B and I returned from being in Hawaii for five days, he asked us to go back. I guess I don’t make meatloaf like my mom does, or indulge quite like Grampa.
I hold onto this?I think they call it “secure attachment,” those psychologist types?gratefully. I feel like maybe it means we have done something right. I do not want L so attached to me he can’t be apart. Honestly, the idea terrifies me. But still I find myself surprised by how true and deep his love is for me, by how fully his understanding of the world revolves around mine, by how, when he comes home from a birthday party or a weekend away with his grandfather it is to me he beelines, his mouth full of words. “I had so much candy, Mom, you wouldn’t believe it,” he says, or: “We went to the zoo, Mom, and out for sushi, and watched a movie, and…” or simply an urgent “Mumma. Mumma. Mumma?” and I await what comes next.
I am his touchstone.
And here at 39 weeks pregnant with his little brother, it’s making me pensive. Early on in this pregnancy, I suffered from an intense depression. It surprised me, and it made me feel really, really ashamed. I had engineered this pregnancy using the best 21st-century technology; I had finally won at the infertility game. I was supposed to be so deeply grateful and humbled to be pregnant I should have been falling over myself. Instead, I felt like I wanted to die. I couldn’t stop crying. I’d walk all over town, sobbing, feeling like I wanted to vomit, my perpetually full bladder pressing into my yoga pants like a reminder of the crazy thing we’d done, the crazy mistake we’d made. Eventually, once the feelings abated, I realized that intense hormones were mostly to blame?but also, and this surprised me, grief: all those long, infertile years, it was just L. There was something so beautiful and redeeming about his constancy that I knew I would finally be giving up. I was terrified of betraying him, and of losing him as my one and only: the inside jokes and the tuck-ins and the way we just get each other.
Because, truth is, he is my touchstone, too, my measure of nearly everything.
That time in my pregnancy passed, thank God, and next week, or maybe tomorrow, or maybe in three days?who knows??our lives will all change forever. It makes me weep a little, to write that (but what doesn’t, these days?). I’ll have a new baby in my life, a new planet for my sun. Maybe this one will want his dad more. Maybe this one won’t get my jokes. With this one, I won’t be able to play the “who’s the cutest person in our family?” game (L: “you!” Me: “No, it’s you….”). Maybe this one won’t be a talker like L. Undoubtedly, he’ll be different. Undoubtedly, in some ways he’ll be the same.
But I won’t be, ever again. And L won’t be, either.?And I’m smiling when I write that, because in the end, you know, it feels just fine.
This happened on the same day that our car, which we had just purchased a new battery for, wouldn’t start in the driveway, and though arguably less crucial to life, and much cheaper to replace, the broken printer filled me with a more terrible sense of loss.?I’ve had that printer for sixteen years. Sixteen years!That’s longer than I’ve known my husband. I bought it when I was in grad school, when I was tired of sending out poems printed all wobbly on my mom’s hand-me-down?ink jet. The HP 1200 LaserJet cost $350, and at the time, that seemed like an enormous amount of money. I remember feeling like an adult, and like a real writer, when I bought it.?It?lasted through countless Apple computers?Four? Five??and has printed countless poems; it’s printed my poetry manuscript and parts of my memoir?and various essays in their draft stages, and many student assignments,?and it was only when I went to print the first forty pages of the novel I’m writing that I mistakenly fed it a recycled piece of paper that was actually two pieces of paper, with a staple between them, and something snapped.
It seems outrageous that after all these years, it was a staple that did it.
But that, I suppose, is life, and if I make too much of the demise of a printer, let?me just say that I’ve had this feeling lately that life is all these concentric circles, these interwoven links, and that everything is connected. So, for me, the loss of the machine that’s helped me put my writing into print for over a decade feels a bit like the loss of an entire era, like the loss of those lovely grad school years when the printer was new, those years when I could spend an entire day working out a poem, bring it to workshop, take it back home and work on it some more. That first year of grad school I lived in a makeshift apartment in a rickety old house in Amherst, and it was my first year living alone in quite some time (I’d had a live-in partner, and college housemates, before?that). I can remember the night I thought drinking?a second bottle of wine by myself was a good idea, and the night I broke up with someone but slept with him anyway, and the night I overheard every word of an argument between my landlords over the recycling bins and whose turn it was to take them out.
And then I moved, to an apartment in Northampton that was as charming as it was noisy, and the printer came with me. My desk was an old door from a house my parents were renovating propped up on two filing cabinets, and the cords for my computer fit through the hole where the door knob would go. The printer was on the far right, and despite this unwieldy late-nineties desktop computer and the large LaserJet, there was enough space for me to sit, comfortably, between them. The desk was in my bedroom, but I’d made a psychic barrier between the bed space and the writing space, and every morning I wasn’t teaching?I’d stumble over to the desk with a cup of coffee and get to work. Some days the poems came like water, trickling easily out of the faucet, and other days they were labored and slow. Always, I’d print them, read them out loud, change a comma, read them out loud again. I drank so much coffee in those days; my anxiety, and my adrenal glands, shudder with the memory.
But was it a simpler time? Of course it was. When writers ask whether an MFA is worth it, I cite those hours at that desk and the feeling of summer camp, like I was writing in Northampton while Leah was writing in Sunderland, with Leslie at her desk in the adjacent room, and the Bens back in Amherst and someone else out in Greenfield, all of us working away like satellites in communication with one another, pausing for whatever; or not working, and pulling our hair out, and blocked?but that was our job, that, just to try to work, not to parent or to homestead or to be married or to publish?we didn’t even worry that much about publishing! Perhaps we should have. But just to do the work. I’ll never get that time back; I’ll always want that time back.
I left Northampton on January 1, 2001. On New Year’s Eve at 9:45 p.m. I’d been painting my blue walls back to white and packing the last of the boxes. Later, I walked over to see some friends. I’d already kissed Laura goodbye, and Leah was long gone, and Mikey vowed to stay in touch (and did). Jim Foley was very much alive. And off I went the next morning, drove out to Portland, Oregon, with my little brother, hitting every winter storm whatever region we were passing through could throw at us. And when he flew back to Boston a day or so later, leaving me to my new life, I cried like I’ve never cried before or since, with loneliness, with anguish, with the deepest sense of loss.
But, and perhaps this was no accident: a week later, I met the man who would become my husband. And then so many things happened that truly feel like fate: us?deciding to travel together for a year, and us getting engaged while we were traveling. And me writing a book about that year of travel, and about my surprise, after always having felt outside of it, to have found a man who truly loved me. That book spanned the next decade of my life. And then we moved?to Norway and had a baby, and when we got back, we tried again, and?again, and again to have another, and I wrote about that, too.
And here I am, terribly pensive of a January morning. L didn’t want to go to school, and his face turned puffy with tears. B tried to rationalize with him about school and its importance, but I eventually just held him and said, “You’re having a really tough morning.” My morning was tough, too: the printer, the car, the muddled-ness, the awful news of the world.
“You’re squeezing me too tight,” he said, but?I wasn’t sure what else to do but hold on.
Couple interesting things you all should check out.
Today’s post on popcorn, by Tara Conklin, is “My Top Five Books for Fall.” Recommendations for what to read this rainy, cool, wonderful season. She distills the much-awaited and much-acclaimed down to five, including the new novel by Zadie Smith. I won’t spoil the rest, but get your browsing self over to popcorn to investigate.
Bay Area folks, put on your calendar the November 3 screening of the short film “Sully Marooned” at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m. (the film is less than ten minutes long; it will show with a bunch of others at the same time). This is the second film by my friend Chrissy Loader, who writes about music, love, loss, and frailty. This one is a hit–I loved it. Looks like you can buy tickets here.
I'm working from the premise that motherhood is not just all diapers, tantrums, and setting limits. It's interesting. Okay, sometimes.