It's November first and I'm still not back.
I miss the girl I used to be, I think to myself often. That happens, I suppose, when I edit the book I wrote 3-4 years ago about a time in my life 10 years ago. That happens when I look at all the happy, sad, crazy stories I compiled--full of enthusiasm, naitivite, self-assuredness--and revise it with the slow ache of the heartbroken, the anxious, the depressed.
I went to see a counselor. Do you really miss the person you used to be? She asked me. Or would it just make life easier?
Then I feel that bolt of pride, of what I have lived through, how much more I know now, how I know that in the future I can stand to be corrected, to change, that I will be able to forgive and be forgiven. I have hard-earned stripes on my body from having my babies, I have deep grooves worn into the passages of my brain from the sorrows I have heard and lived through. I am now an anxious person, the kind who has panic attacks at church, a throat that closes up, sleepless nights and sick-to-my-stomach days. My first thoughts often go straight for death and destruction and long plodding days of doom (or never-sleeping babies). I sit in my apartment, sad and tired and yet so very needed by my small family, and I am revising a book about when I tried to do it all.
I'm still not back, but then again I don't think I ever will be completely. This is me now, and some things stay the same. I look for the good as I can get it. I watch Tom Hanks movies and cry into my pillow. I make pumpkin cream cheese cookies even if I don't want to eat them. I despair of my baby ever sleeping longer than two hours at a stretch but I get to be the one to kiss his little cheeks all day long. My daughter exasperates me with her iron-strong will and thrills me to the depths of my heart with her insight, courage, and general chutzpah. My husband hovers and smiles and rubs my back and goes off to his new job where he listens to other anxious, sad souls like myself. We are not thriving, but we are surviving, and that is who we are right now.
I'm more spiritual than ever, yet less religious. I have only been to church a handful of times in the past few months, and usually I slip out before I can be sermonized. The thing about being brokenhearted is that you get very very close to Jesus, but it is beyond words and theology and doctrine. The words you grew up hearing your whole life suddenly mean something to you, is the thing. So when you hear people around you say those same words--grace and forgiveness and the love of God--and you can tell that they don't understand them, it snatches the seeds of the good news from your already rocky heart. So you stick close to the other bruised reeds, the ones who have no new words either, just the unshakeable belief that they are loved, just as they are.
Last month my children dressed up as mermaids and spicy little chickens and it rained so hard there was a flood surrounding us and no one came for the candy. This month we will cut tree branches and leaves out of construction paper and every day we will tape to the walls the things we are thankful for. What a fragile little heart I have, how determined am I to scotch-tape my stubborn beliefs that there is still good in the word. I am pretending to be that type of person--a mother who does crafts!--because I know in the end, all I want to be is someone who is grateful, who sees the Holy Ghost in the red and the oranges of the dying leaves all around.
I wander around my apartment complex and I know: there are so many others like me. I don't know them, but I pray for them. What a beautiful silvery lining there is to be found in being so beat-up and broke. How wonderful it is not be able to be of use to anyone at all.
It is cold and windy today but it is not flooding. My daughter puts on her costume, again, and runs into the communal backyard. Our neighbors are cooking something outside in a great gray pot. My daughter takes our bowl full of cheap candy and passes it out to the kids she sees. They run around and the older kids do cartwheels; across the parking lot boys are playing soccer, milk jugs used to mark the goals, and they take fistfulls of smarties and dots and tootsie pops. My daughter comes in and her cheeks are pink and her bowl is empty. That was a good day of trick or treating, she says, that beautiful windswept mermaid. For her, it is always the season of thanksgiving, even on the darkest, wettest, coldest days.