Thursday, March 12, 2009
Chapters Four, Five, And Six
Back when I was in nursing school and was the recently divorced mother of two, my children went to their father's house every Monday and Tuesday nights. He was a musician, so Monday and Tuesday were generally his days off and it was the hardest thing in the world for me to send them off with their clothes in their backpacks on Monday mornings knowing I would not see them for another two days.
At first, it was almost unbearable. I had barely been separated from these two for more than a few hours at a time since their births and they were so young. Three and five. My heart would tear out of my chest as I watched them go, knowing that for two days they would not be where I could take care of them. What if they missed me? What if I hadn't packed the right clothes? What if they woke up in the night with a bad dream? Would their father be able to comfort them? Would he take care of them properly?
Sometimes, after I dropped them off where they needed to be, I would sob inconsolably as I drove away to go to class where I studied microbiology, organic chemistry and how to prevent bedsores.
And what I had to do to preserve my sanity was to do just Let. Them. Go.
I had to (and this was the hardest thing I ever did) close off that part of my heart which had burst open when they'd been born and not let anything pass through there until they were safely back into my arms.
Essentially, I had to pretend I did not have children for those two days or I would have gone insane.
I know, I know. I'm so dramatic but I am not using hyperbole here. I am merely speaking the truth.
I am, quite honestly, crying now thinking of that horrific rending, that enforced numbing, the way I had to let my babies go off without me, always knowing, because I had grown up without my daddy, that my pain on letting them go was nothing compared to the pain of not having a father in their lives.
One Monday, or was it a Tuesday? when classes were finished for the day, I got in my car and did something I had never done in my life before. I drove to a bar and went in by myself. I was not much of a drinker in those days- two beers was a big night for me- and I have no memory of why I drove into the parking lot of Poor Pauls and went in, but I did. It was probably an avoidance tactic. I could not bear the thought of going home where the silence of the children's absence was so huge that it pushed all the air out of my lungs, all the life out of my bones. No usual after-school burst of their energy as they ran outside to play, no quick scramble to try and come up with a supper for them, no baths, no bedtime stories, no little bodies in my arms.
And so I walked into Poor Pauls and I ordered a beer at the bar and then I went over to the jukebox (and they had an amazing jukebox then) and for some reason, I punched in the numbers for Elvis Costello's Everyday I Write The Book.
Today, when I hear those opening notes I am rushed back in time, back sitting at the bar of Poor Paul's, not to get drunk by any means, but to sit in a place where grown-ups sat, a beer in front of me, that song playing and I remember how for a moment, or those four moments it took for the song to play, I was okay. I was a woman who had a plan, who got up every day to write the book of her life, who was afraid and unsure but who somehow managed to do what needed to be done by simply doing it.
Who had let her children go to their father's because it was the right thing to do.
Funnily enough, as these things go, Miss Maybelle just called me, all grown up now and yet still my baby in my heart, and we were talking and then she said, "Oh, Daddy's calling. I better go."
She had thought it was her Daddy Glen calling, the man I'm married to now, who has been her stepfather for twenty-five years, but no, it was her Daddy Jerry, the man who was her first daddy, the man to whose house she used to go to every Monday and Tuesday.
And when she called me back, we laughed about that and I told her what I was writing about here, this morning, and I cried, talking about how very, very hard it had been to let her and her brother go away from me all those years ago but how important it had been, not only for them, but for their father, too and how well it's all worked out.
She has two fathers who love her and who would do anything in the world for her and that is what I wanted for my children. Not necessarily TWO fathers- that was a more blessing than I could have imagined sitting there at Poor Pauls listening to Elvis Costello- but to have that man in their lives whom they would always know would always love them and be there for them.
And by god, it happened. Those Monday and Tuesday nights were vastly important to my children and to their father as well.
And during the times when I feel as if I have failed at everything I've ever done, I think back on that girl-woman I was then, feeling so brave just to walk into a bar on a late afternoon and buy a beer and play a jukebox and have the slightest inkling that yes, I was writing a book of sorts with footnotes and a plot and longing looks and that maybe I was yes, a mother above all else but I was also this other woman who had a sliver of a life that didn't belong to her children and so all of that pain, all of that change, all of that difficulty and those tears and my fears and the ferocious love for my children which was so big that I had to let them go two days a week was going to amount to something better.
And this song, this Elvis Costello song with its eighties sound and those beautiful women was a part of it. He sang about finding strange hands in your sweater, of finding out that your dreamboat turns out to be a footnote. That there are chapters four, five and six.
And here I am, the mother of four, still finding I'm afraid of things, still blindly trying to find my way and when I feel lowest, when I feel that I have made horrible mistakes, I remember that I did my best and that even when it was hardest, I sometimes did the right thing.
And it's not over. Every day I write the book. Still. And it may not be the book I thought I'd write. It may not be tidy and neat with characters I can control and a plot and ending that leave everyone satisfied, but I love the characters in this book of mine and I realize I'll never know how it turns out in the end because there is no end to this book of my life until my life itself ends. And that's the way it has to be.
Every day, every day, every day I write the book.