She was, I AM

I’ve been really busy. Like, crazy busy. It’s that kind of busy where I feel like people are calling my name from several different places, and I can see them, but I don’t know to whom I should respond first. My days find me turning my head in all directions, trying to see what is coming next. It’s disorienting and dizzying but also very, very good. I have not been busy like this in a long time. I welcome the chaos and the challenge.

It’s easy for me to slip under the warm blankets of complacency when I get busy like this. So I have finally trained myself not to turn the TV on as soon as the house gets quiet. I also have begun avoiding eye contact when I go out. I loathe creating small talk with people – It’s simply exhausting the whole ritual of, “Hi! How are you? I’m good, thanks! Yes, it is a beautiful day. Weekend plans? Not sure yet. I may drink several bottles of cheap wine and pass out while crawling up the stairs to go hurl in the toilet. You?

Why is that so wrong? It’s sarcasm…good-natured, jovial sarcasm. I mean, really…cheap wine? Never. Those who know me will see right through that one. And I have become almost expert at hurling in the sink when I know I won’t make it up the stairs to the toilet.

But I digress. And upset my mother, I’m sure.

Back to the business of being busy.

Many people have told me that they get tired just reading about my days. But to me an average day in my life leaves me feeling like I accomplished so little. For example, yesterday I washed, dried, folded and put away three loads of laundry. Not too shabby. But there are three more waiting to be washed, dried, folded and put away. Then I logged on to my part-time editing job and spend a three hours editing the HTML of the online courses that are set to launch in 6 weeks. I also re-read the issue of Harper’s magazine I have to analyze for my graduate program. Sounds nice, yes? Reading a magazine. Yeah. Not so much. Harper’s is like War and Peace in magazine format – it is dense, political, intelligent, confusing and pretty damn boring. Thus the second reading. I also walked my puppy. Twice. Our route is almost two miles. Then I checked email, replied to emails, read more emails, replied to those (working in an online environment brings many daily emails). Then I picked up the kids from their respective places of care and education. I cheated on dinner…Subway. I had a yen for a turkey and provolone sub, and little desire to go grocery shopping. Then homework with Ethan, then play time with Laura. Then one washed, teeth brushed, pajama-ed, read to, tucked in and kissed goodnight. Then the Thursday Wii battle ensued. Then I ate crow and supervised the washing, teeth brushing, pajama-ing and reading of the other one. After tucking and kissing, it was time to go back to work. It was time to write.

And here is where the last of my energy is allocated. For my MFA program, I am writing a memoir. It is a collection of essays about events and people in my life, and what I have learned from these events and people, and how they have both hurt me and helped me grow. It’s difficult because I have to take a harsh look at who I was and the dumb-ass mistakes I made. Memories are one thing, but to relive those mistakes, to put myself back in those moments is brutal.  But I do it. Everyday I sink myself back in time and be who I was.  Such masochistic tendencies are the bane of so many memoirists I know. We pick the scabs, poke the bruises and flex the sore muscles in order to feel the pain that must be committed to paper. We do this because we believe, deeply believe that our stories will let someone know that it’s okay to make dumb-ass mistakes.  And that they will show someone else that she isn’t the only frightened little girl, depressed teenager, cocky twenty-something, confused thirty-something.  We hurt so we may reach out to others with the hopes of soothing their pain, easing their confusion.

I write all day long…my head constantly churning and turning words and sentences. So as I am doing laundry, walking the puppy, editing courses, driving, helping with homework, playing, tucking, reading, I am also writing. At night, when it comes time to quiet my self as my house has quieted, I am ready to work.

Night turns into early morning, midnight having long passed. I have purged and edited and revised as many of the events from my past that I can handle, so I return to the confident forty-year-old that I have become, comfortable in my Real home, and thank who I was for being her so that I may be here.

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And Breathe.

My puppy smells like corn chips. I inhale her sweet little scent just like I inhale the lavender scent of the sheets at my mom’s house – deeply and with relish.  When Ethan sweats, he smells like vinegar. It’s a sharp, acrid scent that does not suit him at all.  He usually smells like soccer fields and forests. Laura smells like my perfume. When I get ready for the day, she comes in to watch me. She asks for either sparkly eyes or pink cheeks and for a spritz of whatever perfume I am wearing that day. My cats sometimes smell like their litter boxes. I send them away to clean themselves up when they track that scent near me. Then I go clean their litter boxes.

Like so many people, I have a strong connection to scents.  I smell new tires whenever I go to a dentist’s office because the first time I got gassed before having a tooth pulled, the mask smelled like new tires. It made me sick. 24 years later, it still does. When my kids are congested, I can smell the mucous on their breath. It smells like sick – green and dank.  I can still smell the Polo cologne of my high school boyfriend.  Most likely because a bottle of his cologne shattered in my backpack after he haphazardly lobbed it next to his backpack, but it hit the wall instead. I held it at arm’s length and carried it to my locker where I stashed it before running down the hall to homeroom. The entire hallway of our high school smelled like Polo for a couple of weeks. Some things stick with you.

My ex-mother-in-law was an empty woman. She had so many cavities of sadness within her, so she filled her home with trinkets, baubles, sticks, bowls, anything antique. No tchotchkes, though. She was never quite sure what a tchotchke was, nor did she care to learn about them. When she couldn’t find any more nooks and corners inside her home to fill, she filled the air with scent – apples and cinnamon. There was potpourri, candles, cinnamon sticks, dried apples, small “cinnamon brooms,” faux apple pies that smelled “like the real thing!” as she would proudly exclaim. It was sickly sweet in there. I could smell the pie-filling inside of the 140-year old Victorian house from the front porch.  And just like the stuff carefully placed in the crevices and on shelves, the scent was an apt distraction.

Before my parents sold the home where I lived as a child, the front and the upstairs hallways smelled like sweet peaches.  Potpourri. Mom liked dabbles of scent here and there. But the peach potpourri stands out the most. Now that they live at the beach, the house smells salty, briny, and a little like the many pine trees in the yard. It’s a natural scent that I savor when I am there. Mom has gotten away from the potpourri. Sometimes when she cooks fish, she’ll light a delicately scented lemon candle to cleanse the air. The heaviest scents are in the bathroom. In the past couple of years, since receiving a bottle as a wedding favor, mom has begun buying Bath and Body Works liquid hand soaps. Everybody knows when you washed your hands, and, perhaps most importantly, when you didn’t, once you enter a room after leaving the bathroom. The dense scent of the soap lingers like little, puffy clouds around your hands. When I first told her about, and when she later visited, my ex-mother-in-law’s house, mom began consciously avoiding cinnamon and apple scents.

My own house smells like puppy pee. Not everywhere. And not all the time. And maybe I’m the only one who can smell it (or so I’ve been accused) because of the many puddles of pee I’ve cleaned since puppy Penny Lane arrived. My dear friend, Vector,* gave me two nature-inspired scented candles. One is “Sun-Kissed Leaves” and the other is “Cool Serenity (Relaxing Moments).” He was buying candles for his house, thought of me, and bought extra. Of course, this furthered my conviction that my house smells like puppy pee. He insists it doesn’t. I always forget to light the candles. He lights them when he is here.

I splurged on a rather expensive reed diffuser for my writing desk this summer.  My favorite home scent is fresh fig. I have a candle (that I always forget to light), oils (that I forget to put in the diffuser or forget to light the tea light to warm the oil and release the scent) and a spray (that I can’t find) in varieties of fig scents. Given my history, and my desire to have a figgy-scented home, I went the path that requires the least memory, and I purchased the pricey diffuser. When I brought it home, I simply pulled the stopper from the curvy bottle, dipped the reeds in the amber-colored oil, flipped them over, and was gifted with scent. Continual, fresh, musky, figgy scent.   My room is not filled with the scent, however. It stays on my desk. I love this most about my delicate reed diffuser. I am seduced to sit, relax, and breathe. Then I begin to write. Despite the cyclone on my desk – the papers from work, school, my children’s schools; bills; the empty, and half empty, water bottles; the mints; the highlighters; the four Sticky Notes pads; the binders; the checkbooks; the makeup; and my hat. Despite the chaos, I breathe.

 

*Not his real name.

Promise

I can only promise myself that I will focus on what is…not what will be or what was. I have this moment, and it is a moment in which I choose to be fully present.

My son is sleeping a few feet from me. His allergy-labored breathing is the soothing metronome of my evening. I must remember to tell the tooth fairy that he is crashing in my bed tonight, so it knows where to find his tooth. A flash of lightening brings thunder that brings my daughter padding into my room. Son, daughter, puppy, and cats pile on and under sheets in my bed. I turn off my desk lamp and type by the LED of my Mighty Bright book light. Just because I don’t sleep, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.

I spent most of my day crying from exhaustion after pushing through two weeks of 10-hour days in a writer’s residency at Goucher College. The residency ended Friday. Saturday I was still buzzing with the heady intoxication of new friends, inspiration and motivation. The hangover set in close to midnight.

My two weeks at Goucher gave me a solace I so desperately needed. I was surrounded by my “people” – fellow writers who ‘got’ each other easily. Writers who existed in a space where competition did not exist. It was a nurturing environment. I drank deep. My writing life had been shelved for nine years prior to this residency. The man I divorced was given his pink slip for many reasons – the most salient, his refusal to allow me time to write. Lance – as he shall be referred from here on – harbored resentment towards my writing life. He distrusted it as though he suspected an affair. Because I thought it my place, I demurred and resumed my position as faithful wife. Those were empty years.

My children were with my parents for the two weeks I was in residency. The house was quiet and clean. After the first week, I missed them terribly, so much that the phone calls became frustrating. I wanted them to talk and talk and talk like they do when they are home. But the beach and TV and dinner and pool were distracting. Meanwhile, happiness and loneliness fought for my own attention. With each day, loneliness won. Come Sunday morning, I was distraught. I crawled from my bed at 11:00 a.m., weeped through two hours of traffic on 95 North and ambled through the rest area food court in a stupor looking for my children. I sobbed when they saw me, jumped up, and tackled me with hugs. My parents were concerned for me, seeing my sadness so palpable. We said hasty goodbyes – band-aids are best ripped off. The car ride home was difficult for me. I was emotionally wasted and anxiety about maintaining my new life patterns were looming large. I focused on the chatter of the children to make the miles slide along.

Once we arrived home and began to unpack, make dinner decisions, clean up, mess up, and even argue a little, I came back into my own. My hinges have begun to come together. And now, late at night, during a thunderstorm, glass of wine almost drank, cats relocated from bed to my desk, kids curled around the puppy, I take the first tentative steps to recreating a writing life for myself.

“My insecurities are in all the right places. Have a look.” ~B. Wakefield

xo,
~AJC

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