The Modern Romantic

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“Do you believe in soulmates?”

 

My rational husband swears I asked this on our first date, but I’m sure I waited until at least our second or third. As far as I was concerned, time was a luxury I couldn’t afford.  I was already aware of at least two obstacles to our long-term viability:

 

  1. We were astrologically incompatible
  2. He was math-and-science, I was liberal arts

 

We were probably doomed. So if I was going to go on watching action movies and dealing with his weird roommate, I needed him to grasp the Fundamental Principle of Romanticism: The Girlfriend is Everything You Have Been Looking for Since Forever. Otherwise, why bother shaving my legs?

 

“So do you?” I was leaning against his chest, so I couldn’t see his face. I waited, feeling pressure build in my chest and behind my eyes. Shit. Shitshitshit.

 

He was quiet for a long time.  A looooooong time. Then:

 

“I think you become soul mates, you don’t start out that way. You spend time together, you get to know each other, and you make your own soulmates.”

 

Now, 20 years later, I can see a kind of practical romanticism in his response, but at 23, I was looking for a lot more nostril flaring. Damn it, was I The One or not?  How long did it take to make a soulmate? A couple of months? That would bring us up to Valentine’s Day — what if we hadn’t become soulmates by then? What kind of Valentine’s Day would that be? I imagined myself in a silky bathrobe from Victoria’s Secret, eating Spaghettios out of the can and watching Sleepless in Seattle alone. That’s what kind. Bullshit.

 

But what could I do? He was an excellent kisser and I wasn’t willing to give him up, even if he was being stubborn about declaring his undying love for me.  I would teach him. I would show him by example how to be Romantic.

 

And I have, but so has he shown me.

 

“The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”

~Rainer Maria Rilke, from  Letters to a Young Poet

 

As a young(er) woman, I wanted full possession, an exhaustive inventory of my lover’s heart and mind. And I wanted him to demand the same from me. True romance meant there could be no distance, ever.  I was desperate to know and be known, to understand and be understood.  I wanted the merging Rilke warns against, I wanted two-become-one.  Tear down all the boundaries and there was love, waiting on the other side. I believed that, thanks to a dramatic, romantic nature and seeing Titanic in the theater six times. Love was all-or-nothing: you either grabbed hands and leapt into the churning, icy Atlantic together or you died alone.

 

Brian, who could barely get through a single viewing of Titanic, let alone six, didn’t see it that way. “I would find another thing that was floating, tie it to hers, break off a couple of pieces to row with, and find a rescue boat,” he said after the movie. “He wasted all of his energy at the end, talking to her.”

 

I mean, really. Sometimes it was as if he had never spoken to a woman before.

 

But I couldn’t help loving him. He didn’t talk much, but he was smart and funny when he did. He was a good problem-solver and impossible to rattle. He was disciplined about his work and never complained about how much he had to do, even in the middle of a surgical residency. Best of all — though it took time and wisdom to value this about him– he  was a guardian of my solitude. He granted me the space and freedom to be wholly myself.

 

At first –for a long time, really– all the space he cheerfully gave me felt like disinterest, a rejection. Gradually, though,  his easy support of friendships and projects that didn’t necessarily include him made me bolder, more confident, and more willing to grant him the same independence.

 

And Romance, confined for so long to one kind of relationship and diminished by my possessiveness and anxiety, grew to fill the “infinite distance” between Brian and me. He loved me and I loved him. He didn’t have trouble remembering that, so what if I took my worried eyes off of our relationship for a minute?  What if I rested my gaze on the rest of my life, which had just as much of a right to grow?

 

When I did, the romance I had sought so desperately in my relationships showed up everywhere else –the kitchen, the garden, east-coast cities, northern lakes.  I found it in hospital rooms, in restaurants, on porches and in living rooms.

 

“We do not want merely to see beauty … we want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”

~C.S. Lewis

 

That is what romance is –to become part of the beauty that surrounds us all the time, whether we are looking or not. Six months after my daughter’s brain surgery, I went up to my old summer camp to celebrate its 100tth birthday. I spent 11 summers there as a girl and a young woman — Camp Lake Hubert is what my heart looks like on the inside, I’m sure of it. My friends and I wandered up and down the old paths and sat around the campfire like we had when we were 14, sifting sand through our fingers and toes while woodsmoke perfumed our hair. My breath and pulse slowed, I slept without moving. I felt I was returning to a self that had been waiting there in the woods while I ferried my little daughter from EEGs at Children’s Hospital to surgery at Mayo Clinic. I was both a woman returning and a girl welcoming her back. I don’t know if that makes any sense — it does to me.

 

My friends and I were staying at my dear friend Lisa’s family lake house, right on Lake Hubert. I awoke early on the last morning of the reunion and crept through the semi-darkness with my camera. I let myself out and walked barefoot down  rough wooden steps to the dock, where the sun was just beginning to rise over the lake. I knelt on the dock and wept from relief and gratitude for that sunrise. It was all for me, I knew it.

 

The September air smelled of earth and metal. The sun spilled golden light on the silver lake, diamonds flashed among the mellow waves.  Like my wedding ring. I had never felt closer to the very center of my life. I was kneeling alone on the dock, but my friends were still with me. Brian was still with me. Everyone who had watched over me during the horrible months of my daughter’s seizures and tests and surgery was still with me. I had dozens of soul mates, whether or not they believed in the idea or would say I was theirs. I didn’t need them to.

 

Was that morning really romantic? Is that the right word? My people –and especially Brian– are present in all of the places I love and all of the places I love are present in them. They are always with me, part of the beauty surrounding me even when I am alone. There are infinite distances between us, yes, let us allow them to be there as Rilke urges. Let us “see each other as a whole and against an immense sky.” There is romance in that. I can agree to that and Brian taught me how.

 

Yet let us also invite each other now and then into the infinite distances between us, the parts we don’t easily share. The wildest, most vulnerable kinds of beauty live there in those spaces — the parts of ourselves we protect most fiercely because they have made us whole and recognizable to ourselves. That is right and good …we don’t have to dissolve into each other for love. But we do have to know each other. We can’t hide out in those infinite distances between us, floating alone in our imaginations while those we love stand on the opposite shore, guarding our solitude. The beauty we want to be part of includes each other. We can’t be whole without each other. That is what I know.

 

f46eb-sunriseoverlakehubert
© 2015 Marta C Drew

Attachment, a Meditation

Canoe Bay Flower and Veggie Garden Summer 2015
© 2016 Marta C Drew

 

Each Fall, I kneel in my fading garden, I wrap geraniums, sweet potato vine, and petunias around my wrists, and I pull. A few plants come willingly, bursting from their pots in a dusty shower, but most cling stubbornly to the soil they know. I spend the season’s last sunny afternoons combing through the earth with my fingers, tugging at the roots. I am patient and methodical, but the job is never clean. Each plant leaves some part of its complicated circuitry in  the earth and each wiry root carries part of its home with it when it is pulled. This is as it should be. They have meant so much to each other.

 

Grandma Betty’s sewing machine is sitting on the floor of my garage these days. It hums and vibrates like a time machine as I pass it on the way to my car or step over it to retrieve a sweet potato from the bin. That sewing machine would carry me all the way to Grandma’s workroom if I let it, pull me right down onto her blue jacquard davenport. It has powers. It has roots. It could tuck me under the long worktable next to the box of fabric scraps from bridesmaids’ dresses, the gown for the Montgomery kolacky queen, somebody’s apron. Even now, years and miles away from where it started, that sewing machine exhales malt and yeast from the basement kitchen next to Grandma’s workroom. It practically speaks Czech. So it stays, though I haven’t used it in years.  It stays, though Grandma is long gone.

 

The gurus warn against attachment. Attachment leads to suffering, attachment is an illusion, attachment is the root of all grief.

 

Each plant leaves some part of its complicated circuitry in  the earth and each wiry root carries part of its home with it when it is pulled.

 

Hanging in the back of my closet –the way back– is my mother’s old full-length fur coat.  I will never wear it, not ever, but I can’t get rid of it, either. When she bought it in the eighties, she was a 5’10” attorney with season tickets to the Guthrie theater and Minnesota Orchestra. She wore it over power suits with shoulder pads. She wore it over Ellen Tracy coordinates to dinner at the Minneapolis Club. My mom and her fur coat were an original eighties power couple: enormous, unforgettable.

 

She wore that coat to chemotherapy once, a couple of months before she died.  Winter was unrelenting that year and she needed the warmth. She had shrunk an inch or two by then and was unsteady on her feet, a column of fur inching across the parking ramp. I carried our purses, a tote bag full of magazines and food I hoped to make her eat. As we walked I kept a hand stretched out towards her, as if I were an animal handler and she a bear stuck with a tranquilizer dart. If she lurched in one direction or another, I would be ready.  Though she only wore her coat to the clinic that one time, all four months of her illness are encapsulated for me in that stretch of parking ramp. Tense, watchful, carrying too much.

 

Once we were inside, I lifted the fur from Mom’s shoulders and lugged its extravagant bulk  with the rest of my burden down the clinic hall to the lab, then an exam room, and finally to the infusion room, where it was given its own chair. Nobody sat on it, though open down the front, its sleeves resting on the arms of the chair, it seemed willing enough to perform the office of comforter. A ghost of my powerful, protective mother’s former self. A ghost that lives in my closet. If I pulled it out and got rid of it, how much of my mother would come with it? How much would be left behind for me to keep?

 

Every person, place, and thing leaves us, yes, but they leave something behind too, threaded through the rest of our lives like strong, fine wires, reminding us how much we have all meant to each other.

 

According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, The purpose of detachment is to let everything nonessential fall away –material things, our suffering, petty likes and dislikes– until only the purest, truest Self remains.

 

If I get rid of Grandma’s sewing machine and Mom’s fur coat, pull them from  the garage and closet where they are of no use to anyone, something of their contexts will come with them –maybe  a scrap of taffeta from a bridesmaid dress, a staple from the old davenport.  Maybe a shoulder pad from an Ellen Tracy blazer or an old Guthrie ticket. They can go. The sewing machine and my mom’s fur coat are nonessential, just things. Even my grief for their original owners is ephemeral, like summer flowers. Everything earthly fades, dies back, and is replaced with something new: another machine, another coat, fresh grief, fresh love.

 

The extraordinary Mary Oliver, my very favorite poet, says:

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

 

Everything and everyone in this life is temporary, but does that mean it isn’t essential? Can anyone help being attached? Every person, place, and thing leaves us, yes, but they leave something behind too, threaded through the rest of our lives like strong, fine wires, reminding us how much we have all meant to each other. Reminding us we don’t have to be attached to be connected.

 

English Ivy
© 2016 Marta C Drew

Home: A Collection

 

Red House First Snow 110613
© 2015 Marta C Drew

 

If what my dad says is true, I descend from a band of traveling, singing figure skaters. I imagine them –dark-eyed and wild-haired– wandering with their skates and bright scarves through dark Bohemian forests into the gracious little towns where they stopped to make their living. According to my dad they were fed and welcomed. Maybe once, as she carved loops and circles on the frozen lake, one of my ancestors locked eyes with a local carpenter and thought about him every day for the rest of her life. Maybe another dreamed of staying in one of those towns for months or years. Still, my ancestors didn’t make their home in the towns, they made it by traveling together. Home was on the road and on the ice and in their voices. Home was their togetherness.

 

From second grade through high school, I moved back and forth every Monday between my mom’s place and my dad’s. I took the bus to GramBea and Grandpa Thacher’s house after school once a week, I spent four or five days in Lonsdale with Grandma and Grandpa Skluzacek a few times each year, I spent a month every summer at Camp Lake Hubert. When I think of home, I don’t think of a single place. Home is something I have collected.

 

Mama's Cranberry Bread 112614
© 2015 Marta C Drew

 

My mom and step-dad believed in orphan Thanksgivings. They invited all of their friends who didn’t have family in town and made a different kind of turkey and stuffing every year. I could smell onions, carrots, and celery sautéing in butter as I came downstairs Thanksgiving morning. Before the turkey went into the oven, Mom and I made cranberry quick bread –lemon and pumpkin too, if we had the time.

 

As the sun went down around 4:30, Steve built a fire, Mom and I set the tables, and friends started arriving. They brought wild rice casseroles, garlic mashed potatoes, cranberries with orange zest, sweet potatoes with pecans and brown sugar, apple tarts and pumpkin pies. We brought out the turkey and stuffing, the breads we had made and bottles of wine, and stayed at the table for hours. Sometimes we got lucky and it began to snow out on the marsh while we ate. As everyone left, full and connected, the woodsmoke curled up to the starry sky.

 

My time with Dad was more private, even secluded. The December after our second attempt at family had failed, my dad and I found ourselves alone again in the house on Malibu Drive. I was sixteen. My stepmother and her two daughters had left without a word one weekend when I was with my mom. I was fine with it. I remember bubble lights on the tree, the sharp, blank smell of snow. Each night, when my dad had had enough time alone in his shop and I was done with homework, we sat together in the family room. He lounged in his black Eames chair, looking out at the deck he had built with his own hands a few years before. I lay on my stomach on the floor, drawing or dreaming or writing (bad) poetry.  We didn’t talk … we didn’t need to. As Walt Whitman said: “we were together. I forget the rest.”

 

When I think of home, I don’t think of a single place. Home is something I have collected.

 

When Mom had orchestra or Guthrie Theater tickets and Dad had to chaperone a high school hockey game, I took the bus after school with my cousin Jessica to  GramBea and Grandpa Thacher’s house on Cooper Avenue. Jess and I slept downstairs in twin beds with turned wooden posts and yellow quilts. Before we lay down, we rose high on our knees in bed, facing the pillow and pulling the covers around our shoulders like capes. Grandma and Grandpa were frugal and let the house get chilly at night from October through April. Clutching the wad of blankets at our chests, we fell down onto our pillows, turning just our cheeks to face each other in the dark.

 

Once GramBea had kissed us good night, we played games in stage whispers. Our favorite involved taking turns creating elaborate configurations with our hands and trying to copy the other’s exactly. Lying in the darkness, only a narrow stripe of golden light  at the door to our room, we twisted and laced our fingers in intricate forms.

 

“Can you do this?”

 

Jessica made an attempt, seeing neither her own hands nor mine in the other bed. “Like this?”

 

“No, like this.” We could never do it right and we never would– it didn’t matter. What mattered was hearing another voice in the dark.

 

I need a solid place, a single place, to feed and welcome those who pass through and decide to stay.

 

Grandma and Grandpa Skluzacek’s house was about an hour south of my house, so when I visited them I stayed for several days at a time. My memories of that house are all taste and scent.  Grandma Betty fed me Malt-o-Meal or scrambled eggs in her basement kitchen while she did laundry and made filling for kolachkes. When I was finished eating, she tied an apron two or three times around my waist. Then she cut dozens of squares of dough with her knife — she was done before I could finish washing my hands–and pulled a kitchen chair up against the counter for me to stand on. We worked well together: she dropped a spoonful of poppy seed or prune filling on each piece of dough and I pinched the corners together to enclose it. When she served the rolls that night for supper, she told Grandpa I had made them all by myself.

 

Grandpa liked to drive us the four blocks to the Lonsdale corner store in his red Ford-F150, which  smelled of tackle box, tobacco, and sharp-sweet sawdust. He would buy me a tall bottle of Bubble-Up and pretend he wasn’t showing me off to his friends, who all knew he was. They sat at the counter together in a sturdy row of pinstriped overalls and workshirts,  rating tools and machinery, shaking their solemn heads over someone they knew who had fallen from a ladder. I perched on a stool at the end of the counter next to Grandpa in my cords and monogrammed sweater, forcing myself to finish all of the Bubble-Up. I knew what it meant to be included in this.

 

Until I had children, Camp Lake Hubert was the closest I came to having home all in one place. I spent eight summers there as a camper, experimenting with my character and learning to find my people. When I returned as a counselor after four summers away, I got dropped off one night in the upper parking lot without a flashlight. I walked all the way to Wrens cabin in that straightforward, thorough darkness I will always associate with the Minnesota Northwoods. I have a sense memory of that night, of knowing the trees and steps and buildings so well, understanding myself so clearly in relation to them, that I never even considered the possibility of being lost. I believed I would find my way so I found my way, on that night and others, both at camp and away.

 

Outdoor Winter Pots
© 2015 Marta C Drew

 

 

Maybe I descend from a band of traveling, singing figure skaters who wandered from town to town, maybe it’s just a story. It doesn’t matter …I have never wanted to be one of the travelers. I want to be part of the town. I am not content to wander the way my ancestors did centuries ago. I am not a free spirit; I have always been in search of a place to land.  In all of my traveling back and forth between parents, grandparents, camp and beyond, I never stayed anywhere long enough to feel completely at home.

 

Home is togetherness, yes. Home is my collection of people, recipes, and remembrances. But I have learned I can’t carry that on my back –I need architecture around it. I need a solid place, a single place, to feed and welcome those who pass through and decide to stay. Home for me is a Thanksgiving table, a quiet room, a bedroom, a kitchen. Home is another voice in the dark.

 

 

Endings

 

Rain Gardener Lizzie 092711

 

I’ve been (particularly) emotional lately …things are ending. I am not necessarily referring to the End of the World, which the Mayans apparently scheduled-by-not-scheduling for later this year, though I have to say that the deaths of Whitney Houston, Maurice Sendak, Vidal Sassoon, AND Donna Summer in the same year have me a bit edgy. What could that MEAN?

 

Lizzie, my youngest, turned five yesterday.  Of course the early childhood years are intense for everyone …the nursing, the sadomasochistic sleep schedules (theirs and ours), the laundry, the temper tantrums (theirs and ours), the saccharine tv shows, the aggressive bitches who show up at preschool dropoff in full hair and makeup, the vomit, the blood, the tinkle, the poop, the tears (theirs and ours), the pining for our former lives, the very real fear that Child and Family Services are on their way, the diapers, the permanent Lego and Squinky and sparkly bead engravings on our feet.

 

Even when nothing goes seriously wrong, the early years with kids are enough to rattle most of us. In the midst of the Standard Mama Experience, one of mine started having rare seizures on a December night as we pulled her out of the bathtub. She was two. We did weeks of steroid shots, tried I-don’t-know-how-many scary medications for the next three months, had several hospital slumber parties that weren’t nearly as fun as you’re imagining them to be, then had the right temporal lobe of her brain removed in a nine-hour surgery at Mayo Clinic when she was three.

 

Even when nothing goes seriously wrong, the early years with kids are enough to rattle most of us.

 

All of this while I was still supposed to be Mama to a sensitive, dreamy five-year-old boy and a passionate, stubborn 1 1/2-year-old girl. So can we all just agree I had a bigger rock to roll up the hill than most Mamas? I did …partly because of what was happening to my Caroline, partly because of what was happening to our family, and partly because of what was happening to me. I don’t know what fed what — that’s one of those chicken and egg questions that mamas of tiny children don’t have time for.

 

But now Lizzie (the passionate, stubborn baby –who KNOWS where she gets those qualities?) is five. Not quite ready for summer employment on an Alaskan fishing boat, perhaps, but able to poke her own straw through the hole in her juice pouch without spraying juice everywhere, able to choose her own bold fashion ensembles, and able to sing soulful and expressive (if ever-so-slightly off-tune) renditions of most Disney songs. She still needs me to snuggle her and scratch her back after she’s had one of her intimidating Corleone tantrums, but she doesn’t need me to feed her. Reason isn’t exactly featured in her personal philosophy but she is able, for the most part, to comprehend it. She is five. She is not a baby anymore.

 

The baby years are over for all three of my children. That fact has been traveling through my nervous system for the last month or so, lighting it up with hope and wonder and possibilities in this minute, then flooding it in the next with longing for those lumpy, helpless beings who fell asleep at my breast, dreaming (I assume) of their former lives as explorers or priestesses or fortune tellers.

 

I will want to rescue them in those moments, move mountains and crush enemies and give them the world. But I will want that for me, not for them, so I’ll force myself to resist the maternal heroics.

 

It’s getting harder to find the babies I started with in the faces of the children I have now. Henry is nine, experimenting with obscure Greek and Egyptian mythology jokes he writes himself and going off on week-long camping trips with his dad and grandpa to the Boundary Waters. I assume he will return after this summer’s trip with a full beard.  Caroline is six –creative and theatrical and quite possibly very bright despite the tumor and seizures. We’ll know when we know and it doesn’t matter to me either way –I got to keep her; I will never forget to be grateful for that. And now Lizzie, my babiest baby, is five –social and emotional and funny. They’re real people, growing up and away.

 

This is as it should be –you’ll never hear me say I don’t ever want them to go out on their own. I do, though I want that for them, not for me. I want them to have close, deep friendships so they can sit in their rooms and talk about what a nightmarish disappointment I am as a mother. I want them to experience epic, mind-blowing failure; devastating, unrequited love; crushing, faith-testing disappointment. When these calamities befall them, I will want to rescue them in those moments, move mountains and crush enemies and give them the world. But I will want that for me, not for them, so I’ll force myself to resist the maternal heroics. I always want to be the Red Cross in their lives, not the liberation front.

 

In my own life, of course, I must be both, I must manage both my own rescue and my own restoration. Once I have marched into the burning cities of my recent history and freed them from the dictators, I will still have to restore the architecture, the masterpieces and artifacts. That is just fine …I’m ready to do it and I know how to do it. My own wise, selfless parents allowed me to grow up, granted me my failure and unrequited love and disappointment, so I know how to do it.

 

My children’s babyhood is ending, the years of their helplessness and blind trust and love-bordering-on-worship are ending …but the world isn’t ending.

 

Letting Go

Canoe Bay Lake Bridge Summer 2015

 

I have been cherishing an idea lately that I will be allowed to leave this house when I have finally learned what I was sent here to learn. I am still a little bit Catholic in that way –fatalistic. I buried my statue of Saint Joseph in the yard, upside down and facing the house, and prayed to him, the patron saint of happy homes, to please please pretty please help us sell it quickly and find a new house, a more peaceful one where we can be happy and whole.

 

I don’t know if Joseph handles the request himself or if he is just an administrator and God works the actual magic. Whoever it is doesn’t seem to be saying no; the answer feels more like “not yet.” We’ve had plenty of showings –several of them second showings– and one insulting offer, so we should be close, but the whole thing is dragging along in this very Old Testament way. It’s not excruciating so much as tedious, so I don’t feel punished; I feel tested.

 

I’m pretty sure the test is about Letting Go, which is my spiritual Achilles’ heel. I’m an emotional hoarder, storing old injuries and kindnesses in my memory the way some people hang on to old magazines and clothes nobody can wear. My memory is powerful …and sometimes mean. It’s mean to make me remember what has hurt me, but it’s just as mean sometimes to dredge up old indulgences and sympathies and spin them into ideas of lasting friendship or attachment.

 

I’m a big believer in shared history –the longer I know someone, the more I love them. I love them for who they are of course, but I also love them for the story I get to tell myself about our connection. The richer these stories are with understandings, misunderstandings, love, anger, resentment, and forgiveness, the more attached I become to the main characters. I assume this is yet another symptom of my Romanticism, though I am not just talking about lovers; Romantics (at least this Romantic) can put just as much stock in friendship and family connections, if not more.

 

My memory is powerful …and sometimes mean.

 

So I hang on. Tight. I call, I write, I beg to be loved as completely, as fiercely, as desperately as I love my people. I beg with my devotion and my passion, with songs and silence. I know when a friend or cousin or classmate is resisting this, when they want me to let go. It breaks my heart. I feel humiliated by my need and I hang on tighter. I resist rescue by the people who truly value me, I resist reason and acceptance and dignity. I don’t want the story to end. This weakness has made me a rather ineffective fiction writer. It also gets in the way of my writing my own life.

 

The sad fact that everyone except me seems to understand is that I can’t hang on to everyone. There are people from camp and school and even my family who just don’t want to keep the connection in any meaningful way. In some cases it’s not such a big loss –there are people in every life who read like living versions of Algebra textbooks –but a few who have gotten away from me are truly original, insightful, extraordinary people. I want to keep reading, but they don’t value me in the same way …even if some of them used to value me a long time ago.

 

Letting go feels so permanent to me –I worry about that. I am a bridge burner; could I find my way back to someone who called out from the opposite shore? Would I be willing to try?

 

There is a room at Hogwarts Castle (yes, I’m talking about Harry Potter again –just indulge me) called the Room of Requirement, where any student who knows about it may enter and find exactly what s/he needs at that moment –a place to hide, a place to meet, a place to stash something, etc. More than one person can be in there at a time but it can only be used for one purpose at a time.

 

There’s no letting go of that fire –it’s part of me, proof of my capacity for the magic that starts it in the first place.

 

In the final book in the series, one version of the Room of Requirement burned with unquenchable fire. Did all the other purposes for that room burn with it? Was any form of that room still there when the castle was rebuilt? Or is it still burning, never able or willing to let in someone who wants to return to it? When I let go of someone for good, my heart is that Room of Requirement, burned away for that purpose, that relationship. I wish I could ask Dumbledore about the possibility of rebuilding, reopening the room someday, so I wouldn’t be so afraid to let it burn now.

 

It would never be exactly the same, of course — there is no magic to undo a fire like that. The room would have to be different, conjured for a new use. That would be okay. I could live with that. But what if the room’s capacity for magic is diminished by a fire like that? What if it gets weaker? I worry about that for the Room of Requirement and for my own heart. I’m pretty sure I can guess what Dumbledore would say about it: he would say something about second chances. He would say the burning will stop, the room will be restored when you love someone enough to let them back in even when you know –horribly– their capacity to do damage.

 

That may be what Letting Go really means for me –allowing the fire to burn what it will, to hurt, to ruin, to steal my dignity by exposing my attachment to someone who doesn’t feel the same way about me. There’s no letting go of that fire –it’s part of me, proof of my capacity for the magic that starts it in the first place. Letting go does not mean letting go of my People, it does not mean letting go of my wish that those who walk away from me will someday value me enough to return. Letting go means letting go of my fear that I won’t let them. Of course I’ll let them; I love them no matter what. Isn’t that what we’re all sent here to learn?

 

 

Shoulder Shrugger

English Ivy

 

My mom says she wants to come back in her next life as a shoulder shrugger. The idea has its merits. Wouldn’t it be lovely to see a note come home from school with apostrophes in the plurals, the word “you’re” spelled “your,” exclamation marks at the end of every sentence!…and shrug my shoulders?

 

Or get mowed down in the produce aisle by a plasticized suburban mommy robot –dressed to the nines, obviously up since 4:30 am working out/showering/blow-drying/waxing/lasering/spackling– teetering around the grocery store on a Wednesday morning in $400.00 shoes, cooing to her badly behaved children, chewing gum loudly and with her mouth wide open– and shrug my shoulders?

 

Or listen to the strivers who don’t like to cook tell me how they spent their children’s college fund on a state-of-the-art, custom-designed, professional chef’s dream kitchen with a steam-injected oven, temperature-controlled wine storage, and a hood that looks like architectural salvage from the Death Star…and shrug my shoulders?

 

Wouldn’t it feel better to let the thoughtless, selfish, hypocritical, know-it-all, faux-philosophical, pseudo-spiritual jerks of the world just pass through my life and shrug my shoulders?

 

Or shrug my shoulders at passive aggression, rational responses to emotional situations, Center of the Universe Syndrome, and those traitorous bitches who worship men and castigate women?

 

Yes, that would probably feel better.

 

Wouldn’t it feel better to let the thoughtless, selfish, hypocritical, know-it-all, faux-philosophical, pseudo-spiritual jerks of the world just pass through my life and shrug my shoulders? Shrug my shoulders at speeding tickets, Newt Gingrich, and canned cranberries? Shrug my shoulders at the decline of common courtesy? At imitation vanilla?

 

What if I just shrugged my shoulders every time I felt thrown away or taken for granted or misunderstood?

 

I do need to shrug my shoulders at all the maidenhair ferns I have murdered over the years; I don’t think ANYONE can keep those things alive outside of a greenhouse.

 

I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the hard-core Swedish version) without having read the book first and I will never ever ever get those rape scenes out of my mind. What if I could shrug my shoulders at images like that?

 

This life matters to me  –all of it. Everything I taste and everyone I meet and everything I see and hear and experience matters to me.

 

Life would be easier, I’m sure, but I can’t shrug my shoulders. I don’t want to– even if getting upset or irritated makes me look hypersensitive or angry or intolerant, which isn’t fair, which bothers me too.

 

This life matters to me  –all of it. Everything I taste and everyone I meet and everything I see and hear and experience matters to me. I’m an easy target for hyper-rational, dispassionate types; I’m an easy target for people who still care about being cool; I’m an easy target for those who know how to detach, because I don’t. I engage every time.

 

I actually love that quality in myself –it’s the reason my life is so full of beauty and meaning and love. It comes with a price: looking foolish, feeling exposed and vulnerable. But I’m used to that. I can shrug my shoulders at that.

 

Moving

Moving red car

 

I’m not exactly a light packer (it’s the Gypsy blood, I’m sure). For example, when I go up to my Julie’s cabindo (cabin + condo –try to keep up) for a quick Mamacation weekend, I bring the usual pajamas, yoga pants, cozy sweaters to sleep in and/or wear out in public, but I also bring things like my microplane, a balloon whisk, really good olive oil, and sweet tea vodka.

 

I bring 20-30 magazines, several knitting projects, a few baking cookbooks, beauty products to play with, three to five candles, some excellent cheese, stuff for French toast, chocolate sauce, and heavy cream. (I ALWAYS bring heavy cream.) I bring Bailey’s and Haagen-Dazs for milkshakes, pomegranate seeds, hot rollers, and movies. I bring gardening books and my computer and my favorite slippers, a special bowl for jellybeans from the Chocolate Ox, sometimes even slippers or cozy sweaters for Julie to wear –her warmth and comfort are essential to my own.

 

I rarely remember my toothbrush.

 

So I have spent months deliberately choosing what I will and will not bring with me to our next house, wherever it is, whatever it is. Yes to the sofa we’ve had since we got married twelve years ago, on which I nursed all three of my babies, talked with my eternal friend Jenifer on the phone from about 1:00 until maybe 4:00 one morning a couple of years ago, and where I was sitting when the call came about Kyle. No to the wardrobe we bought when we first got to Cleveland, which looked a lot like a coffin and in which we housed a television that stuck out the back of it like a goiter. Done with that.

 

Yes to the patchwork blanket I knit over the course of several years, yes to the boxes and boxes of old letters and baffling preschool artwork (what is that? Why did she paint it brown? Are those CHOCOLATE CHIPS stuck to it? We don’t do that to chocolate –I’ll be speaking to her teacher). Yes to all of my plants, my baking pans, my embarrassingly vast candle collection. Yes to everything my friends have ever given me. Yes to love notes from Brian, which usually have fewer than 25 words (how does he DO that?).

 

The house is all cleaned out; we kept only what we value and everything has its place.

 

No to 90% of the mysterious, ancient computer and electrical cords that had been winding and twisting around the basement like vines from the Little Shop of Horrors. No to the never-used electrical appliances, the old bars of soap, the curtain panels from the old house that shrunk in the dryer. No to the horrible, HORRIBLE popping vacuum toy some sadist bought for my kids one year. And no to the old baby swing, Pack N’Play, and high chair (sigh).

 

The house is all cleaned out; we kept only what we value and everything has its place. The car, in stark contrast, looks like a mobile Hoarders endorsement (again, I blame the Gypsy blood). Last night, while we were getting in the car to drive aimlessly around the Twin Cities for an hour during a house showing, Henry tripped over a piece of car. That’s how he put it: “I tripped over that piece of car next to my seat.”

 

The “piece of car” is the section of front bumper that I lost to a curb in the lighting store parking lot several weeks ago (shut up –it was snowing; nobody would have seen it). I don’t know why I’m hanging on to it except it seems like it might be important to the people who will one day (not anytime soon) fix it.

 

There’s laundry back there too and some giant colorful pipecleaner thingies I bought Caroline for her birthday but haven’t let her play with since we put the house on the market because they leave little fuzzies everywhere (don’t make that face –I’ll give them back to her when we’ve got a signed purchase agreement). Juiceboxes, some gorgeous black leather boots of mine that need to be re-heeled, medical journals, bills, drycleaning that needs to be taken in, and the usual school rubble –broken pencils, fliers for softball or Tae Kwon Do, a shoe, a boot, a mitten.

 

Things I have to fix. Things I have to give back. Things I have to sort or pay for or find. Things I’m always carrying around with me in some form or another wherever I go. Things I didn’t pack. Things that aren’t for my comfort or anyone else’s. Things that rattle around as I travel, reminding me I’ll never be done deciding what to keep, what to leave behind, what to fix, what to try and find. Things that reveal my imperfection and vulnerability and uncertainty. Things that tell me that’s just fine as long as I’m moving.