The Week When I Try To Stop Counting What Week I’m Up To

My last step in making stock is taking that big pot full of vegetables and meat and of course, the glorious broth itself, and pouring it through a strainer into a larger pot. I’m left with stock, and the spent vegetables and bones go to the garbage.

Yesterday I accepted that no amount of nesting is going to make me ready to parent this living, breathing being, but I was determined that at the very least I would get every last thing done in order to be ready to give birth. This determination had me walking to Duane Reade at 7:30 PM to buy bendy straws and giant maxi pads, and then popping over to my food co-op for lime froze fruit bars (which they didn’t have; which nobody seems to have; this neighborhood has officially gotten too fancy) and arnica pellets. Also, an onion, bay leaves, and chicken parts for the stock I planned to make and then freeze and then, of course, be ready. For giving birth. To a human being. It was on the walk home from this last round of errands that my eight hours of constant buzzing energy finally crested and washed away, leaving me yawning at every step.

Home, and thankfully, B. was all over dinner. I got the pot of stock going. We ate. Watched Broad City. And then he went to bed.

My brain, however, would not be still. It skipped over birth and landed on today, and how I would fit writing, swimming, seeing my mother, and heading to school for a student thing into a block of time that could reasonably hold two (maybe three) of these activities. As a visual for this brain activity which continued well into the middle of the night, I offer a child playing with a set of blocks for hours, obsessively ordering and re-ordering them. It must have been three in the morning, and I was sitting there peeing, going, “Well if I swim until 10:15, and am downtown by 12, then I can write at 1:30 and…”

This morning it began again, immediately, but I stretched and meditated and got some calm going. I went up to the kitchen, put a piece of bread in the toaster, put the strainer in the sink, and proceeded to pour 3/4 of my pot of stock straight down the drain.

There was a lot of screaming. I’m saying “motherfucker” more than I used to and this seems like an odd time to develop that habit.

I stood, kind of laughing, still muttering, “Fuck, motherfucker” while picking chicken off the bones.

Until, finally, came the sadness and the thing that I’ve been avoiding with all this whirlwinding about.

Today, three years ago, was the day my cousin died. My mother tells me that one way to say it is, “He died of suicide.” To try to find someway to show that he was a victim too, that it was a thing that took him, not simply an action he took. It was outside; he was found in the morning, and my uncle says the tree itself was beautiful as was the grass and the light and that he himself was beautiful. He always was. At some ages, startlingly so.

My cousin struggled for years. We all saw how the movements of a day did not work for him. Interacting with us required great effort; as if his skull were a prison from which his thoughts and feelings could not escape. It feels like we all failed him; that we were a clan in the most ancient sense and that we lost one of our own to the predators outside the hearth. Or that we were supposed to be his net, and we let him slip through.

In the days after he died, I felt like the air itself was pressing down onto my shoulders. All I wanted to do, my image of comfort in that week, was to be on my hands and knees under a table. I wanted the table to take the weight; I wanted to hide there. B. pointed out, “Like a child; that’s what children do.” I guess so, but I wanted to disagree, explain it again, say, No, it’s not a comfort-child thing, it’s that the air was heavy and if I was under a table then the table would help me carry it. For me, it was a literal, not a symbolic, need.

When I meet my mother today we’ll walk to the river and have a prayer and a remembrance there. Yes, that’s what that particular pocket of time was for; the thing I was shuffling around and penciling in. Really the only thing that matters. But I am writing now. And I think I’ll swim. And I’m crying as I type and I remember that there is no readiness; that these flurries of activity are what I do to distract myself from the wheeling of a universe that I cannot understand and whose forces can take me at any time; sweep me out of a day and bring me exposed and face to face with the giant infinite expanse of what it means to be alive.

Week 28

I’m becoming nocturnal again. I first remember it from when I was twelve and thirteen; my bed with my lamp in my room while the whole city quieted. When I turned off the lamp the night felt the same as hot baths do to me now.

This is not insomnia. Insomnia is fatigue and being denied the rest to relieve it. I don’t even want to think about the grating restlessness of insomnia. I’ve had enough nights of it and right now I have my lamps and my energy and this tapping of the keyboard.

I just finished reading this piece from a recent New Yorker called “Lottery Tickets: Grieving for a Husband” by Elizabeth Alexander. I loved it. I sped through it and now have it turned to the front page because I have to read it again. The husband dies, as the title tells, and I recognize in her words how I would have to mourn B. if forced to it, but the other part is the children…their two sons and how the four of them lived together. I can’t bear to linger on the basic truth that was also in the piece, that in fact I could lose B. at any time, but I can take in the feeling of the house she described and how they were in love and raising children together and it makes me see how B. and I are beginning something like that, and it made all of this feel romantic. All of this meaning being pregnant, making a baby, birthing a baby, raising it even–what an act of love this all is.

I know enough to know that this massive change is much more than just an ending.

Last night was session one of birthing class. I felt like I was in eighth grade health again, watching a video with my eyes bugging out of my head and laughing really loudly at inappropriate times. Yes, that happened last night. I was the only one to laugh even though it was hilarious. Whatever it was. I can’t remember. At one point I almost lost it the way I did sitting in the back row of a Bar Mitzvah with A. because the cantor’s lip curled up like Elvis’s. Last night also like the eighth grade in that I immediately began trying to figure out who was cool, who was not, who I wanted to align myself with, and how much snack was the right amount to eat.

We ended class with a movie. I cannot get away from the image of the baby’s head shining and dark between the lips of this woman’s vagina. It popped out and then just stayed there; the shoulders still inside of her and she’s breathing and moaning and they tell her to touch the head and she does and then a few seconds later she pushes and in a slippery rush there is a baby born and she says, “It doesn’t look like a baby,” which I thought was really endearing actually, and made me like this woman from the 1980’s birthing class video. But yeah, first there was the head, black hair plastered to its scalp, and it was just there between her splayed legs, round and impossible, an impossible shape and size, impossible that her body grew that, and pushed it from within her uterus through her cervix through her pelvic bone through her vagina and out. Completely impossible and yet one hundred percent real and finally the disconnect of the last two weeks lifted. I get it, or for now I do. I am going to do that. This is actually going to happen, an actual head of an actual baby is going to emerge from my own body.

My midwife uses the image of a hot air balloon a lot. It’s the shape of my uterus and as the baby is growing the air has been blowing into it, lifting it and inflating it. This also the reason why the pressure on my lower back eased as I got more pregnant–the balloon rose as it inflated up and away from my sacrum. So after class last night, the image shifted and instead of my uterus alone being the hot air balloon, now I myself am it, fully inflated and tied down to the grass with ropes. And seeing that, I saw next a giant pair of scissors come and cut one of the ropes. The one severed is the one that holds me to my work, to the kids and their thoughts and their plans, to our school.

Last night I saw that head in the video and the image made no sense to me; vaginas don’t look like that, nor should baby’s heads come from there, and yet it did, they do, and mine will.

That’s the work I have to begin to attend to now.

Week 18

I’ve gone (relatively) silent these last two weeks because I haven’t know what to write or how to be in the wake of the failure to indict the cops who murdered Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The immensity of the pattern, the history, overwhelmed me last Wednesday when the news came out. That same Wednesday, in the afternoon, before the news that the cop who choked Eric Garner would go free, a panel of boys of color ranging in age from 7 to 18 spoke to the rest of our school about their experiences with police. We are a tiny school and yet those boys were terrified to share their stories. And what they feared most was that their friends, people they had known for years, but people with white skin, would doubt them, challenge them, push back when they told their experiences. These boys were brave. The bone of my chest cracked and ached watching them speak.

“How old were you when your family started talking to you about how to deal with cops?”

“7.”

“7”

“9.”

“4. I was a big kid.”

One girl of color spoke from the audience. “At first I was upset when I heard about Michael Brown, but I also wasn’t surprised. But then when I saw that Ferguson stayed in the news; that people were still there and that they were still talking about it on TV, that really gave me hope.” And then she started to cry.

When I think of history I think of the big moments. The signature days. The March on Washington. Immense successes. The days we can point to in hindsight and say, “See, that was the change, that was hot it happened.” But that’s a dangerous way to teach and learn history, because it makes change and action seem the equivalent of topping Everest: feats of superhuman achievement, rare, almost impossible. What is essential for me to remember is that many point to the Montgomery Bus Boycott as essential to the momentum of the Civil Rights Movement. And that boycott began and was maintained by regular people gathering in countless churches holding countless conversations. It all begins with small, very doable actions. And before the boycott? Well, before the boycott was the murder of a 14 year old boy, Emmett Till, and his mother’s decision to take her mourning public, to share images of his mangled body with the country, to open the casket.

I am immensely grateful to the activists who have kept this story in the news, to the people putting their bodies in rows facing cops with military gear, to the people who have spent hours organizing and shouting and sitting and walking and marching. I don’t know where all this is going to go, there has been this momentum before, but for now, at least, the silence around this story is being cracked. It is a partnership of bodies and voices; we need the bodies in Ferguson, on bridges, shutting down highways, holding signs in order to open the casket once again, to show the marks of this violence, and to tell the stories.

One white student at my school said simply to me, “I can’t believe how young they were when they had to first think about cops.”

In that moment, I feel hope. And what’s one of the things I’m hopeful for, here now, at Christmas, expecting my first child, full of optimism and loving cheer? That these marches shut whole damn cities down.

Week 14

I just finished reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild for the second time, and like the first, I finished it weeping on my couch, lit by one lamp while B. sleeps. Both times felt late at night, though my version of late is now much earlier than it once was. The lamp I read under was given to me by my grandmother.

The night I decided that I indeed, someday in the future, wanted to be a mother was a night, an evening really, when I was sitting with my mother by my grandmother’s bed. Nearby was the same lamp lit that I read under tonight. My grandmother lit every space she lived in with a careful, golden glow. She’d always turn on the lamps before the room grew dim, and then when the dark outside really began to set, she’d walk around and pull the curtains to “keep the night out.” On the night I decided I’d want to be a mother someday, my grandmother was in pain. She was lying, facing us, curled like a spoon though she was alone in the bed. Other weeks in another year (I think later, though it might have been earlier, her pain had it’s own chronology) she’d spend some time living with my mother and ask my mother to climb into bed with her. In those weeks the pain and the pain medication had made her half-crazy; she viewed us all except my mother with suspicion. She thought we were plotting against her.  My mother did not climb into bed with her. Could not. That was just one of the times we thought my grandmother was an inch away from death. There were many. But on the evening when she lay on her bed like an empty spoon, facing my mother and I, we were talking about hospice. And while we talked, I noticed on the bedside table a jar of ointment that my mother had brought from the hippie store. On the jar of ointment was a drawing of a pregnant woman, her hands wrapped around her belly. And it was then I decided that I wanted to continue what I was a part of right there, the line, I wanted to be old someday with a child and a grandchild by me.

My grandmother died on March 31, 2012. A year before that to the day I cut off all my hair, nearly three feet of it. I don’t miss her any less. Some days I catalogue the things I’m going to tell her when I next see her and I don’t even realize I’m doing it because it’s what I’ve done all my life.

I don’t know exactly why I cry when I finish Wild. Just as I did the first time, I went back over it tonight, more than once, trying to find the line or the moment, but I can’t. I love many of her sentences but I can’t even find one in those final groupings of paragraphs that I go crazy for. And with each pass, looking, the tears come again, a fresh burst.

But this is my guess: my mourning of my grandmother has not felt unlike joy. And my joys now carry the salt tinge of missing her. The place where they meet, the place where the two sensations hover just the barest hair apart, well, for me, that’s the place where babies and books and Monet’s Lilies come from, and it’s that place that Cheryl Strayed leaves me when she finishes her book.

It astounds me that this babe will never meet my grandmother. I once would have said there was no knowing me without knowing her. And this still feels somehow true. That I will be known, but not. I wonder what will give this new person their own glimpses of the infinite. They will have to find their own. I hope they’ll tell me about it when they do.