Dignity

gnarled tree

 

I’ll be honest: I have never been known for maintaining my dignity during a breakup. Breaking up with my emotionally withholding cheapskate college boyfriend took me about 57 tries and I suspect the breakup with my camp boyfriend has been set to music (with harmonica solo) and sung as a cautionary tale at Opening Campfire every year for those considering relationships with the boys across the lake.

 

I cling, I chase, I disappear, come back, am overcome with tenderness and nostalgia, try briefly to resurrect the original feelings. I make passionate speeches and write long letters and cry –my friends’ eyes bug out of their heads from listening to me process every interaction, every feeling (I have at least 34 feelings about something as simple as Honeycrisp apples; you can imagine how many I experience in a relationship). There is no holding my head high, tossing my hair over my shoulder and letting my happiness and success be my revenge. I let the loss wash over me, knock me down. I roll around in it for several months, burn through a preposterous rebound. Finally I take a long shower, go buy some gorgeous new underwear and high heels, change my hair and perfume and the music I listen to, and it’s over once and for all. Mine is not a pretty breakup method, but it is thorough; when I’m done, I’m done.

 

Turns out I act much the same when I’m breaking up with a house. Yesterday, while I was packing the kitchen, I stared into one of the empty cabinets for a while, trying to remember how I felt when I was moving things into it –before the washing machine flood, before Kyle’s first and only visit here the month before he died, before Caroline’s illness and all of the family fights and misunderstandings that naturally grow out of grief and fear. I suppose I must have felt hope and excitement about this house when I moved in, relief at having returned to my beloved Minnesota, to my friends and family after five years away. Truthfully, I don’t remember –I can’t resurrect those original feelings.

 

There is no holding my head high, tossing my hair over my shoulder and letting my happiness and success be my revenge. I let the loss wash over me, knock me down.

 

People have been asking me if I’m going to miss this house at all when I leave it. Maybe, but not right away. If anything, I imagine I will miss not liking it; for a writer, this friction between oneself and one’s surroundings is a creative blessing, like a grain of sand in an oyster. I worry about the kind of writing I will produce if I get too comfortable.  I can’t imagine missing this house –I blame it for all of the pain I experienced while it was mine. I know that’s not fair or rational but I already told you, I don’t work that hard at being fair during a breakup.

 

Yet I am grateful to this house, I suppose, for being honest with me, even if it hurt. It showed me who I could depend on, who would come over and watch Henry and Lizzie when Caroline had an emergency EEG; who would come over and help me clean my house when I came home to a mess after Kyle’s memorial service; who would make me beautiful, thoughtful surgery-day care packages when Caroline got her tumor removed; who would listen and listen and listen and listen to the same topics I haven’t been able to resolve for YEARS; who would like or comment on every single blog post; who would encourage and lecture and hound me to write; who would walk me, step by step, through the ways in which she would nurture me if she could be with me after Kyle’s death and during Caroline’s illness; who would make me laugh at the parts I didn’t think I could laugh at; who would just love me and love me and love me no matter how many mistakes we both made.

 

I do not love this house, but I love what it has given me: clever, interesting, soulful guests, both real and virtual; a clear understanding of what I need to feel at home, no matter what else is going on in my life; a deeper, more authentic relationship with God; and a stronger, braver, wiser version of myself. I may have spent the last six years clinging, disappearing, making speeches, writing long letters, and crying, but I’m still here, still able to laugh and pray and hope and love my people. There’s plenty of dignity in that.

 

 

Toward and Away

Gypsy Hausfrau Header Image Edited and Resized 101715

 

I am packing –I have ten boxes so far. I am trying not to resent the people who bought our house for one dollar and 46 cents; they did, after all, rescue me from a real-estate market summer with three kids and their sandy feet, their camp bags dripping with lakewater/sweat/bug spray, and their fairy camp glitter crafts. I was ever-so-slightly anxious about that.

 

Every move we make in this life is either toward or away; one motivation is usually stronger than the other. If the choice is between Camp and Somewhere Else, the desire to move toward camp will always win out over the desire to move away from Somewhere Else, even if Somewhere Else is the Valley of Ashes or the DMV. If the choice is between a beet and Something Else, the desire to move away from the beet is always stronger than the desire to move toward Something Else, even if the Something Else is GramBea’s rice pudding with sliced bananas and fresh whipped cream. There’s a governing force –toward or away.

 

I began crying a little bit when I was packing the other night. I wasn’t surprised at this … I’m never particularly surprised to catch myself crying and I happened to be half-watching the Glee finale at the time (if you ask me, it wasn’t really what it could have been, but still). Even if I weren’t the emotional creature I am, I would have expected a certain emotional release when I finally started packing to leave this house; any impetus for motion from here will always be Away. I want to move away from the washing machine flood that wrecked most of our basement and first floor about a year after we moved here; I want to move away from the room I was sitting in when the call came about Kyle; I want to move away from the spot in the kitchen where I will forever see the elaborate poster I made to keep track of all of Caroline’s seizure medications.

 

Every move we make in this life is either toward or away; one motivation is usually stronger than the other.

 

In my more rational moments, I know not to blame this house for all of that unhappiness, but let’s just say it –I don’t have that many rational moments. I’m not demanding of myself any fairness to this house just yet. I’m not insisting that I celebrate right now the good stuff that has happened here — the loud, joyous, giggly breakfasts with my Julie and her family after church; the out-of-the-blue phone calls from people whose voices I hadn’t heard in 20 years; the happy hours in the kitchen or the garden; the snowy Saturday mornings on the couch with Brian and the Drewlets. I’ll remember those later and be grateful for them later. Right now I only want to be away.

 

Ideally, the big moves in our lives are more Toward than Away, but I don’t have a Toward yet; we’re still looking for a new house. It’s unsettling. While I was packing for the move to our first house, I used to picture myself reading on the little screened porch, wearing a tank top and soft, stretchy pants. I’d picture myself pouring fresh orange juice from a glass pitcher and nibbling on a scone or some scrambled eggs. I pictured plants and flowers and candles and pillows and books and a knit blanket or two for when it got chilly. I was dreading leaving Minneapolis and going to Cleveland for Brian’s residency, but I could imagine a whole, content, interesting self on that porch –I was moving toward that more than I was moving away from Minneapolis.

 

I do not yet have a porch to move toward as I pack to move away from this house, but I have the tank top and the soft, stretchy pants …I have the glass pitcher and a truly excellent currant scone recipe. I have the plants and candles and pillows and books and I have a blanket I knit myself from old sweaters and leftover yarn. I moved away from her for a while, but I have a whole, content, interesting self to look forward to.

 

And there is me, a woman I have rushed towards and turned away from and dragged towards and run away from and stepped carefully towards and danced recklessly away from.

 

She’s doing more writing than reading these days, this whole, content, interesting self I’m moving toward, and she isn’t alone in the scene anymore –wherever she’s sitting, whatever she’s doing, her husband is done with the grueling residency now and is bringing her a mocha (iced or hot, depending on the season). He made it for her out of coffee beans he roasted himself in a popcorn popper and bittersweet chocolate sauce she keeps in the fridge. Her son is telling her about his latest Lego creation or reading her some of his original poetry and her little daughters are singing Michael Franti’s “Say Hey (I Love You),” while they color. The rooms are fuzzy but there is light and warmth and music and good food. There is love and forgiveness and recovery. There are deep friendships for everyone, comfort, understanding, beauty.

 

And there is me, a woman I have rushed towards and turned away from and dragged towards and run away from and stepped carefully towards and danced recklessly away from –each turn with equal force, motivated by the same question: if I have a choice between my life and Something Else, will I always choose mine, even with its losses and disappointments, even with its occasional loneliness? My nature is to ask this question over and over again even though the answer is always Yes. Every move is toward that Yes.

 

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?

 

 

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.