What if you tore down
all those old ideas
about who you are
and what it means to be you.
"Perhaps the most important thing for me to take back from beach-living: simply the memory that each cycle of the tide is valid; each cycle of the wave is valid; each cycle of the relationship is valid." - Anne Morrow Lindbergh "Gift From The Sea"
I do not think it's a mistake I live by the sea. I live by the sea for the same reason I have 'beauty and terror' tattooed on my forearm.
Because I need the most stark reminders of the ebbs and flows. Because, as my friend Kate once said, when someone asked her to describe me, "her rainbow is very bright." I do not experience things subtly, on the surface, from afar. I run right along the nerve of things - like maybe I was born without some protective layer - and now that I'm not numbing that space with alcohol, there is nothing between me and the hot, burning brightness of my own spectrum.
I got the tattoo when my husband moved out of our house over two years ago in July. I got it because I'd had those words lolling around in my head for so long at that point, and because he hadn't understood them or why I'd want to put them on my body. It was an act of solidarity to myself and a prayer to the universe. I went right from the tattoo place to the bar across the street - all before noon. I slept with a boy I barely knew that night, and went swimming in the ocean. I had friends visiting from Colorado that weekend. We sat on my porch and drank beers and I had a hollow phantom limb feeling - a ghost limb that would stay with me for much longer than I could have expected.
I have that same phantom limb feeling sometimes now, about drinking. This thing that used to be there, my go-to, my ever-present pal. I feel weird without it sometimes. Exposed and less confident. Too close to my me-ness. Too bright.
But I look out the window and I catch the words on my arm and the light in the room and I close my eyes and hum, hum, hum, it's just another cycle of the tide.
I came across this today while traveling and have returned to read it several times, the words rolling around in my head like lovely, smooth stones, tumbling around and down and into my heart.
There’s something about it that cuts right to the heart of what it means to be a human being, and particularly a human being in pain, despondent, weary from loss.
and I know sometimes,
you cannot even breathe deeply, and
the night sky is no home
Going through the path that eventually led into my separation from my husband saw many, many days and nights like this…and frankly they’re still there. Nights where,
you have cried yourself to sleep enough times
that you are down to your last two percent
The pain of losing anything in your life that’s knitted so closely into your own identity - a relationship, a parent, an addiction, a child - it can harrow us to our last two percent, so sure that we’ve got nothing left and cannot go on. But then we do, if ever so slowly, step by step, moment by moment, day by day. We wake up and with sore eyes we make coffee and wash the dishes and take a deep breath, close our eyes, and say a silent prayer for our hearts. That it can bear one more day, absorb the impact of being human with all its beauty and all its terrors. And we are able, despite our belief that we can’t, to walk through one more hour, to do what needs to be done for the children, to make a dinner and draw a bath and even find a moment of gratitude for the warmness of the water on our cold skin.
Nothing is infinite
not even loss
But oh, is it ever so hard to go on when large parts of us are dying to themselves, over and over. Leaving a relationship is acknowledging that you’re letting the thing that is the relationship die. Parts of you and parts of your partner live in that something. Large bits of heart and soul and muscle memory and real memories and physical flesh and one thousand and one moments. An ecosystem of family and friends and routines and shared time is let go of, with shaking hands, and given up to the universe, in hopes that maybe something will return to fill the 98% of you that is missing. But you know whatever fills will not be what used to, and that will mean you will be different, and so will your partner, and that is terrifying and liberating and crushing and hopeful at once.
You are made of the sea and the stars, and one day
you are going to find yourself again.
A few days ago I turned 31. A few days before that, I came across a line from a poem by Zbigniew Herbert called “A Life”. It reads:
I know it’s hard to be reconciled not everything is exactly the way it ought to be
but please turn around and step into the future leave memories behind enter the land of hope
I liked that this sounded like someone talking to me, giving me a directive, gently turning both of my shoulders to face them square on and speaking the words slowly, kindly, but with a strong current of intent and wisdom. The way a mother would, or a grandmother, or a friend who’s tired of you missing your life.
I imagined the same line spoken in a hundred thousand homes all across the country: from mother to son, husband to wife, sister to sister, brother to friend, dog to owner, and so on. I picture a whirlwind of heels dressed in dusty cowboy boots, muddy soccer shoes, pointed pink stilletos, flip flops, clogs, slippers and worn out socks, each firmly planting and spinning around to face the opposite direction, to face their life as it is and as it could be. Picking their gaze up from their toes for the first time in a long time to see whatever there is to see. I imagined heads tilting and eyes squinting, tentative glances ‘round the room. But I pictured acceptance. And with that, a lot of power to move forward in whatever way they choose, whatever way I choose.
I spent a lot of 30 looking off in all kinds of directions except for the place I happened to be at the time. A lot of energy denying or fighting life as it is, not realizing that sometimes we just simply don’t get to love every bit of it, but we do have to accept it if we have any sort of intent to actually live it.
Sometimes even when we are bruised and bleeding and have broken ourselves into tiny little bits, we refuse to stop doing whatever it is that is making us so damn miserable. We refuse to see the answer that life has so clearly laid out before our eyes because it doesn’t look like what we asked for, what we wanted, or what we think we need. This is when life sighs and starts to speak in absolutes. Being pregnant doesn’t leave much to the imagination. With a fair degree of certainty (as well as luck and health) I will, within a given amount of time, give birth to a child and become a mother. And I will wear that hat every day from that point on. I tried for a while to not accept this, too. My mind tried to squirrel and turn and squirm its way to an alternative, to find that exit door, the escape hatch, the rewind button, the do over. Not because I don’t want to be a mother, but because I thought, “I don’t want to be a mother right now, no no no.” But, life tricked me (it’s known to do that to the stubborn) and it threw me into the room anyway. A room where there’s simply nothing else to see but gratitude. A place where I had no choice to plant my own heel firmly on the ground and turn around.