Loneliness.

All day I was busy, working, moving, and momming. The kids were bopping around, alternately playing and arguing, requesting snacks, audiobooks, help with something, and more water. Their father needed help disassembling the rusty metal shed in the backyard, so I helped with that, too. My fingernails are splitting and dry from the work and the clean up. I made dinner for everyone, by myself, as the three of them went on with their lives in the house. No one asked if I needed help. No one offered to help. They complained while I made the salad. But no one offered to help me, so yes, you’re eating green things, I said. 

One didn’t like the red sauce, and her pasta was too cold. It was probably cold because she let it sit for so long. The little one ate plain spaghetti while listing about three hundred new toys he wants for his birthday. We played a story telling game while we ate, which had them alternately laughing and arguing. I sat down with my plate last, as I usually do, and the loneliness hit me. 

It was as if I was two people in that moment. I was mama, reminding my daughter to eat her salad and taking part in the story game when it was my turn, and then I was just me, floating somewhere inside my body, vaguely feeling the food go in as I chewed and hearing the three of them talking at the table as if I was hearing them through water or glass, with a sort of distortion like I was inside a bubble. I was there, but not there. They didn’t notice I was lonely. They didn’t notice if I felt anything at all. As long as the food showed up on the table and their water cups were filled, everything was fine in their world. They didn’t mind complaining about the dinner, because the fact that I may have had feelings didn’t occur to them. And that’s okay. They’re kids. But I felt it from their father, too. I feel it often, that my work and my efforts go unseen and unacknowledged. I usually absorb the complaints and the whining without reacting, because mama reacting upsets everyone, and their father will come back at me with a what’s wrong with you? or why are you always like this?. 

They don’t know what it feels like to have no one consider your feelings on a daily basis. I am four out of four on the priority list. The three of them went to the fancy supermarket to order sandwiches and buy food for lunch. We’ll text you what the soups are, he said, because last time there was an Egyptian red lentil that looked so good. I waited, cleaning the kitchen, loading laundry, and picking up the counters, checking my phone every few minutes so I didn’t miss his text. A while later they came back, with special lunches for the three of them and a six-pack of fancy beer. I set up the kids at the table with their food, and as they sat down to eat, I thought I wouldn’t mention it. It wasn’t a big deal. I could let it go. And then for some reason I said fairly quietly as I looked into the empty paper grocery bag, Oh, I thought you were going to text me about the soups.

He forgot, he said. He would go back. 

No. It’s fine. It’s really fine. And the three of them sat down to eat, while I straightened the kitchen.      

After I got the kids to sleep I texted my mother, a message she likely won’t get until the morning. I’ve been feeling so alone. I miss being with you. I love you. 

Upon realizing it’s all gone to hell around here.

“I’m hitting rock bottom I think.” 

I wrote to my best friend tonight. Our friendship is in a place where I can randomly send such a one-liner and she will know everything I mean. 

I don’t need to say that today I got on the scale hoping to see improvement but instead saw a number I haven’t seen since I had an almost full-term baby growing inside me. I don’t need to say that my oldest child is struggling in school and feels like she’s dumb and brainless and her teacher doesn’t seem to care. I don’t need to say that my youngest baby is almost seven years old and doesn’t seem to need snuggling as much as he used to, and that I am simultaneously crushed and yet proud of his new independence. I don’t need to say how much I hate my haggard, saggy, dull, flabby reflection and how I don’t recognize the woman in the mirror. She is proof of how far I’ve fallen and how much I have ignored. I don’t need to say I am starting to avoid leaving the house because I am so embarrassed about who I have become. I don’t need to tell her that my house is such a wreck that it looks as if someone turned it upside down and shook it. That between the overdue library books, the laundry, the endless dishes, the constant vacuuming of tufts of cat hair and dust, and the cheese sticks I made an extra effort to go out and buy today that are “too hard” and “just not the same as the other ones” and therefore inedible, that I am slowly losing my mind. She already knows there is no new status on my latest job application, that my marriage is in pieces, and that the income from such a job is necessary for my independence. I don’t need to tell her that my husband is still sleeping in my guest bed even though we separated almost four years ago, and that I can’t seem to get away and be happy, even for an hour. She knows I worry. She knows I am lost. She knows I am lonely. I don’t need to say that one small jam jar of pinot noir sometimes turns into three, or that I took the first few quick sips at 4:30pm because I needed it and couldn’t wait. 

She sent me a heart, which burst into lots of little hearts and made bubble sounds come out of my phone. Tomorrow I will make changes, but for now knowing someone is listening is enough.  

Those other moms.

Those other moms. They are so impeccable. They park their shining Land Rovers outside the school and their stylish children tumble out laughing. They have trendy, cool haircuts and time to maintain them at the salon every four weeks. They wear good shoes and expensive coats. They wear blazers and interesting glasses. They walk on high heels through the playground holding fancy coffee and confidence.

They wear absolutely no makeup because it’s toxic and they can’t allow it in their house. Also, because they happen to have flawless skin. They have naturally shining, voluminous hair that looks fantastic in a pony tail. They volunteer every week and work on their knitting while they wait. They will eagerly share their Pinterest pages with you, and aren’t fazed a bit by the antics of the new puppy. He’s just perfect for their family! They are always early for school drop off and pickup, and their children will sit quietly with a book while they talk with a friend or with an iPad while they get a massage.

Of course they haven’t forgotten anything. They meal plan. They have a household binder. They wake up an hour before the children, to do yoga and have “me time”. They work out and drink smoothies for breakfast. A nice salad for dinner of kale and pomegranate jewels, with homemade vinaigrette, which they’ve taught their children to prepare. They have time to shop for fresh produce. They never crave a staggering amount of pasta and one hour away from their children.

They own real bras and remember to put one on in public. They often resemble a Patagonia ad and look fresh faced in the wind. They have so much to say about what they heard on NPR this morning or their political activism or the amazing concert or book reading or lecture they recently attended. These sentences come out of their mouths, articulate and complete. They have PhDs and law degrees and somehow own their own business on the side, while they cheerily take their children to cello lessons and skiing lessons and trapeze club. They, as well as their children, are always in bed early.

They have a back up sitter in case the nanny or the main sitter cancels. They would never miss a date night. Their husbands are fantastic, athletic, help with the laundry, and drink only the good whiskey. They get away on trips to the wine country with their best girlfriends and take pictures of the dozen of them getting a pedicure together. They are composed, dignified, and sure of themselves. They never say too much. They happily stay in their circle, and rarely make eye contact. Those other moms. They never talk to me.

Redeployment, Part I

It was finally the day. He was coming home from a year long deployment to Syria and Iraq. So naturally I vacuumed the house, wiped dusty baseboards, cleaned both cat boxes, swished the toilets, and corralled loose, scattered toys into baskets downstairs. I had flowers on the coffee table and new guest towels folded in thirds in the bathroom. I had recently ordered a box of vintage Waterford wine glasses, so I took off the stickers and hung them in the china cabinet. I was a grownup, damn it, and determined to look like I was pulling it off. Forget that just a few days prior I found hopelessly stale and hardened pieces of chocolate chip waffle under the couch, often spent depressed mornings sleeping in jeans under a pink, fluffy afghan, and that I got to the point that buying a whole new stove seemed vastly preferable to attempting to clean the dried gunk puddles around the gas burners. I was going to do this. It was going to be a happy day. I had patriotic mylar star balloons that read “Welcome Back!” and spent fifty dollars on a single layer, round chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting from the fancy bakery on 17th Street. I realized I needed to leave a bit more time for getting ready, more than my usual routine of topping braided, unwashed hair with a gray denim radar cap. So that morning I showered, curled just the ends of my hair, and wore smudgy, purple eyeliner. Prepared, organized women have time for eyeliner.

The kids were up early as usual. I was so focused on frantic, last minute cleaning that I didn’t technically feed them breakfast and felt a little guilty about it. I stepped around their board game on the floor and noticed my youngest was eating honey dijon potato chips from a wooden bowl. I reminded them to eat strong food, trying to remember if I still had a bag of organic cinnamon graham crackers in the console of the Jeep, as I circled the room gathering napkins and an armload of things that belonged elsewhere. My eight-year-old looked like she was ready for the floor show, dressed in a silver and black sequined shirt with only one transparent long sleeve, black tights under shorts, and a glittery stars and striped top hat. My youngest wore his red shirt that said “Remember Everyone Deployed” in large letters over a picture of a Blackhawk helicopter. Of course it was raining in Portland that morning. We donned our hoods, loaded the balloons in the car, and headed for the airport.

A Confession.

I have a confession to make. I’ve been hiding the fact that I am a fraud. I have been trying to write this blog about self care and healing, and yet for many months now I haven’t doing either of those things. I haven’t been able to write because I’ve been busy being a fraud. I haven’t been working out. No yoga, except for a little at home that was prescribed by my movement therapist. He was so fantastic that I just couldn’t go back for more sessions, because I felt like I was failing him and wasting his time. No kettlebells, even though I had a regular thing going for several months and began to feel stronger. No more than five or six hours of sleep per night. My headaches and nightmares are coming back with the vengeance of a toddler given the wrong color cup. Breakfast on more than one occasion has been a handful (or two) of chocolate covered almonds sprinkled with sea salt and turbinado sugar. Many days I eat more pasta than vegetables. A glass (or three) of dry, red wine quiets the anxiety in my head at night. I stay up until 2am watching Seth Meyers, Anderson Cooper, Stephen Colbert, and Rachel Maddow on YouTube and feel sick about the world my children will inhabit. I am stressed, sad, and certainly not taking care of myself. I have headaches and body aches. I have gained obvious weight. My back injury has flared up more than usual. I’m tired all the time and snap at my children. It doesn’t bode well for that long, horizontal wrinkle across my forehead. I am failing myself and wasting my time. These feel like the toughest bad habits to break.

I am embarrassed to come here and write under the heading To Bounce Not Break, because so often I feel broken. I am losing my body as well as my mind. I’m missing time with my children and holding onto negativity. I have been attempting to escape and ignore myself with food and wine and mindless, endless television. I have been pushing through the days with my head down, afraid to look up and see the world I am in. I have been afraid to try, feeling as if I am so low that I cannot get back up. I am ashamed and alone, with so much work ahead of me. I am back at the bottom and must take those first steps yet again.

Grieving.

When my mother’s husband died, it was an average day. A warm breeze, blue sky, scrambled eggs for breakfast sort of day. After this breakfast, Lee turned pale. He had trouble breathing. And then the chest pain began. Momma gave him an aspirin and called 911. The ambulance came on the country roads, past cornfields and vineyards. Not fast enough, but she didn’t know that then. She packed him clean underwear and fresh, comfortable clothes, expecting the uncomfortable recovery and days of bland hospital meals on covered plastic trays. Lee never liked spicy food anyway, but it wouldn’t be like their suppers at home together. “Just come sit by me,” he’d often say after a meal from his spot on the big sofa as he flipped through the channels looking for a movie to watch. He would say,“It was a long day today,” and take her hand in his.

She texted me after she called 911 to say she was leaving for the hospital, to follow the ambulance because they wouldn’t let her ride along. He was still alive in the ambulance. Those precious minutes.

In Portland, my phone rang just a few hours later. I was so relieved when I answered and heard her soft, familiar laugh. Lee had bought her first smart phone for Mother’s Day, after she left her faithful, old phone on the hood of the car and driven off. She had called me accidentally. I heard the background noise for several seconds before she laughed. The laugh brought me a wave of relief. He must be okay.

“Momma?”

“Mom, it’s me. I’m here. Can you hear me?”

“Momma?”

After several seconds of silence, enough for a long breath in and time to hold it before letting it out slowly, I heard the sound again. It was not the laughter of relief or the wonderful agony of knowing the loved one will be okay after something horrible has happened. It was a long, drawn out sob. A moaning cry of grief so deep that it lingered, and continued, and seemed endless. It was a sound of such pain and disbelief. I stayed on the line, listening to my mother wail and to the mumble of the doctor in the background. I heard him tell her that Lee’s heart just didn’t make it through the procedure. They had tried to save him. They tried to look with a tiny camera.

I will never forget that sound, the sound of my mother’s grief. Several minutes went by and she just couldn’t stop. I sat on the kitchen step stool with one hand holding my phone, the other stuck to my heart, three time zones away, unable to do anything to help or make this not be happening, while my children played with legos in the living room. The sound of their chatter filled one ear, while the sound of her despair and disbelief filled the other.

“Do you want me to help you call someone?” a woman’s voice in the background asked her. My mother mumbled something incoherent, and the phone shuffled. Her breath came louder and closer to me.

“Momma, I’m here. I’m here.” I repeated, because in that moment there was nothing else I could say.

“He’s gone.” Her voice was barely a whisper. “He’s gone.”