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When I was young, just 25 or 26, a flimsy bit of a thing, fresh and new, her desk was next to mine. I could whisper over the insubstantial divider to her when I needed her and she was there. Her gray curly hair pulled up in concentration, she would look at me over the glasses perched just so on her nose, the glasses that hung round her neck and pressed against my heart when she hugged me, and she would laugh or sigh or just listen.

Her voice is like a warm soup to me, a hot steaming mug of tea with honey, exactly what is needed to soothe my broken optimism, my raw and new frustrations. She judges nothing, has heard it all and always always answers my frailty and mistakes with love. We walk our lunch hour away, circling the streets of power, lost in conversation that tumbles like a fast moving river over stones, in her fluent English, in her native Spanish, back and forth, like birdsong. I tell her things I uncover from my heart and she looks at me in amazement…”Que chevre” she says, slow and drawn out and deep inside for the first time I know I am. When we are together I know that I am precious, beloved. I call her my second mama. I drink wine at her home and cook with her, sing revolutionary songs and build circles of sisters.

I buy a house down the street and around the corner from hers. But before we have a chance to be neighbors she rents that house. Heads out on an amazing adventure in organizing that takes her and her husband all over the Western hemisphere. Organizing in South America, Central America, caring for her old ones, welcoming granddaughters. She sends a beautiful handwoven tablecloth for my wedding. She pops by one Christmas to hold my fat baby. But then in the crush of life, she fades away An occasional email, a phone conversation from far away, the everyday and in the moment takes hold of my attention. I let her go without even realizing it. I lose her.

I walk by her house on the way into town and I wonder where she is. “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego” I sing under my breath as I smile in the direction of the threshold that once promised comfort and silliness. I smile as I think of her, her missions, her work, her goodness touching the far corners of the globe. I think of all the young women who will stitch themselves back together in the circle of her arms. I think they are lucky.

And then, suddenly, she is there. In her yard. After more than 10 years and three continents, moving boxes back home. And suddenly she is there walking through the door to come to dinner, kissing the fat babies who have grown into lean kids. Suddenly she is there, her warm smile as radiant as the Puerto Rican sun that birthed her. “OK girls…tell me…” she says and I wonder how we cover 10 years over dinner. But when you speak the language of a heart, just a few words are all that is necessary, stories can be told with knowing looks and a sentence, data transmits almost instantaenously and we are, in a heartbeat, caught up and giggle as though that long pause had never transpired, as though she had held my hand (and I hers) through the journeys of the last 12 years.

Her hands are like butterflies that flit about as we laugh and tell stories, thrilling me when the land for a moment on my hand, my shoulder, my face. She has come home. And so have I.

heart in the rock 2

On Sunday, a woman stood up in Quaker Meeting and she said, “Love is the first motion”. She was quoting John Woolman. I had never heard that quote before and I have been rolling it around, fingering it like beads in a mandala, focusing my meditation on it.

Love is the first motion.

If I am guided by love, how will my actions be different. How will I respond: to my child, the tired friend, the lonely person on the street. How is this different than when my first motion is frustration, annoyance or fear. What does it take to pause, take a step back and first love. How does it open things up, break up dams.

A colleague and friend did something maddening this week. The what is not important. Really, at the end of the day it was not a big deal but it pushed my buttons in 47 different ways. It was presumptuous. But her motivation was only pure love and knowing that it made it so much easier to let go of my issues and sink into the kindness of what she was doing, and then gently move in to express my different view. I could have, might have, almost hurt her terribly had I let my first action be frustration, anger or criticism. When love is the first motion, we can speak kindly, openly and let go of the stuff that isn’t really all that important and create shifts that make room for us all.

Very soon I will be turning 40. I am not freaked out by the number. But I am profoundly aware of the milestone. Something about those numbers that end with zero can prompt one to look forward and backward and side to side. Something about a number that ends with zero is prompting me to look back at what I have learned over the last ten, damn…40 years of my life. Something about a number that ends with zero can make me question what I have, what I am, and why it is not what I had hoped it would be.

Some interesting and odd coincidences have sprung up like birthday gifts from the Gods this week. Sweet opportunities to touch pieces of my childhood and hold them close. In doing so I have realized that it is a myth to bundle up our experiences and put them in boxes labeled “long ago”. We live them every day. The people we loved stay with us, even after they have gone, even if we haven’t thought of them in years. Every kindness lingers and has the power to guide us. We breathe in love and it changes us bit by bit.

Once upon a time, someone taught me to chop carrots. Once upon a time someone taught me to kiss. Once upon a time, someone played a beautiful song for me. Once upon a time someone held me for what seemed like an eternity. Once upon a time, someone giggled with me all night. I am still able to access the joy of all of these moments. Everyone of these moments is a cornerstone on which my joyful life is now built.

All these moments–they still exist, like soundwaves that keep bouncing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth–amplifying, shifting. Here.

Understanding this, I am suddenly unabashedly aware that that there is no past, no future–just the present. There is never too early, or too late. This moment is the perfect one, the only one that exists. Seize it, conquer it in the name of kindness–let love be the first motion, the starting point, the beginning.

If I have learned anything it is the wisdom of this beautiful simple phrase. Love is the first motion. It is the last motion too. May it be my every in-breath, my every exhale.

Today is the 1st anniversary of my divorce from Juan.  Its both hard and easy to believe that a full year has passed since the courts made it official, since the judge signed the papers, since I was able to let go at another level.  Of all the stories I have written about loving Juan and the process of losing him, this is my favorite.  It seems appropriate to post here again.  Its made it into a couple of my best hits compilations.  Apologies to those who have seen it before and don’t want to read it again.  New writing is coming soon.  I promise.

It was an unusually warm April day.  We were standing in the park.  It was a Saturday but we were working–the way people in Washington, DC do.  But because it was Saturday we could give ourselves a break from the relentless pace and walk around the block.  We stopped in the park and stood about three inches away from each other and talked, the way we had been talking for months, about life and family and justice and my married lover and movies. Suddenly the skies opened up and it started to pour.  I barely heard him over the thunder.  “You know I love you, right?” he said.  “Yes” I said, slipping my hand into his.  The next moment before we kiss stretches infinitely out before us.  Spacious.  Open.  At that moment everything in my life changes.

********

He slipped the key into the lock and it turned.  We couldn’t believe it was ours, this house.  It felt like a palace.  After the studio apartment where he spent almost every night and then the one bedroom basement in Mount Pleasant that we shared, the openess seemed like a metaphor.  Our whole lives lay out before us–full of possibility and hope.  He rolled around the floor and I took pictures.  We dragged in paint cans and ladders along with a suitcase full of dreams and made love on the drop cloths.

********

I was rolled up in a ball–scared, terrified.  I was eight months pregnant and I realized that when I had this baby he might just love it more than me.  I had never been loved so deeply before in my life and for the first time ever I had felt rooted and at home.  I was scared, so scared that it would all start to shift away from me once there was this little person around–this child I so desperately wanted.  I would become second in his eyes.  I would fail as a mother and he would love me less.  The tears started to drip off my chin.  He wrapped his arms around me and promised me it would never come true.  He would always love me.  Always.   And I knew he was right. 

********

The day they placed Max in my arms.  I knew I had it all wrong.   He would never stop loving me.

********

There are endless stretches of no sleep.  There are short words.  There is postpartum depression.  There are chores that don’t get done.  There is frustration.  There is unhappiness that creeps into every corner of the house.  There is a child that consumes both of us and leaves so very little left.  We have nothing to give each other. 

But we try.  We rally and laugh and delight in this child we created together.  We hold hands and share our stories of him.  We find our way back to each others bodies at night.  We tell ourselves that love will get us through, that we are a team.  We make plans and we dream.  We convince ourselves it is going to be OK. 

******** 

But work is hard.  Life is hard.  There is so much falling apart around us we don’t know how to start holding it all up.  When we go out for dinner we are so tired we can do nothing more than stare at each other. 

We love each other madly even though it is beginning to feel that love may not be enough.

********

The day he tells me he is leaving me, everything inside my body goes cold.  I can’t breathe.  Everything stops working and then starts working in reverse.  And then stops again.  The walls that just five years before had seemed so widely spaced are closing in on me.  Our two year old was sound asleep in his room. How did it come to this?

We could figure this out.  We always could figure it out.  I beg him.  Lets figure it out.

********

Nine months later, the air is so heavy in our house I cannot breathe.  “I don’t know how to do this.  I don’t know how to stay.  I can’t do the hard work.  I can’t figure it out,” he says.  “I can’t believe this is us, falling apart this way.” 

We are sitting three inches apart from one another.  “You know I love you, right?” he says to me as he pulls his hand from mine and gets ready to walk out the door.  “Yes,” I say but I am not sure he hears me.  He kisses me too quickly and in an instant my life has changed again.

******

I have everything I wanted out of this divorce settlement.  There was no fight.  It is sketched out on a napkin at a Lebanese restaurant.  We promise we would be our best for each other, for him–the only one each of us truly knew how to love at this moment.  After years of disappointing each other so deeply I wonder if this was yet another empty promise.  I try to so hard to forgive–to forgive him, to forgive myself, to forgive love for not  being enough.

********

I need to bring my marriage certificate to court on Friday.  I finally bring myself to dig it out of my files.  Sometime last year I had moved it from M for marriage to D for divorce.  I pull out the file.  There is only one certified copy left.  I need a certified copy for the court.  I make a mental note to write the County and request another for my file.  And then it dawns on me that this is the last time I will never need a certified copy of this document ever again.  I don’t need to write the County.  I put my head in my hands and the reality of the last 4 years hits me like a truck.

********

I move in and out of my day.  I am so blessed.  My life is a good one.  I have beautiful friends, I have not been without love for one day in this whole journey–not one.  I laugh every day now–genuine hearty spontaneous belly laughs.  I wrap my arms around my dearest girlfriends–soul sisters who understand my heart and giggle with me until 3am.  My life is messy but I am bowled over by the stark beauty of it.  I am better for this journey I have taken.  I am wiser and slower and kinder and gentler.  I know that I would not have this–this community, this love of life, this appreciation for slowness, this knowledge of the depths of my heart had he stayed and pretended, but I can’t help but say to anyone who will listen, “I don’t recommend divorce.  I say stay.  Stay. Stay.”

******** 

I sit and play my guitar but my fingers don’t want to work on this right now.  They want to twine themselves in the hands of someone I once thought I would never live without.  I stop and don’t even notice that I have.  ”You’ve stopped” my friend says.  “Sorry” I say and I mumble something about how I was frustrated with myself.  ”I want to start again”.  The metaphor hits me like a ton of bricks.  I want to start again.  Yes–I want to go back to the moment in April when the air hung hot and the thunder clap almost drowned him out.  Before I knew how it would all turn out.  I want to rewind the movie and play the beginning over and over again.

Despite the thousands of ways he has found to disappoint me, I still love him.  

******** 

I can’t live with him anymore.  I don’t want to. 

I remember this fact and look at my friend.  I look at the guitar in my lap.  I think about the richness of my life, about the gorgeous details in this tapestry that is my life.   It all turned out exactly as it should have.  I have everything I need. 

So I pick the guitar back up.   I apologize for my bad mood and rotten attitude.  For the somewhat wasted lesson.

My friend launches into a spiel about how its the middle of the second period and there is another period and a half to go and you might be getting your ass kicked but you still have to put your head down and tough it out and play and hope you learn something for the next game.  I want to kick him out so I can have a good cry but I know that he, with his icehockey metaphors, is right.  Wait for the final buzzer I tell myself.  I put my head down and I play so soft thunder would drown it out.

******

He plays Tom Waits.  And then he plays another song–a song I believe I have known since before I was born.  He knows I love it and he wants to cheer me up and he does– a little.  I hug him–it is time for him to go.  I tell him as he packs up that Friday is the day.  “I know” he says.  “Its hard”.  There is nothing more to say than that–and I silently thank him for not trying to say more.

********

I sit in the dark and wrap my arms around myself.    I breathe in and out the truth–the honest truth.  I love my life, with its ups and its downs.  I love the strength I have discovered in myself.  I love my friends, my urban family and the rhythm of this community we have created with shared meals and Eric’s homemade key lime pie and Jackie on my cell phone and Stephen in my office making fun of me.  I love Barbara with her laughter and Jen with her schemes and Jeff with his music and Cathy with her  cup of coffee and the kids begging me to stay for dinner or take them to icecream.  I love my housemate with her fancy salads.  I love my job, even when I have to fight with my colleagues.   I love raising Max more than I have loved anything else in the world.   The truth is I am giving birth to a life that I love more than anything I have ever loved and I couldn’t do it without losing my marriage.

******** 

And I know, honestly, that I would walk this path over and over just again to sit here in this moment right now.  The moon is full and I am incredibly happy even as I am sad.

********

“You know I love you, right?” I whisper to noone in particular–to the moon, to my sleeping son–to myself.  I feel the words vibrate around the room before they finally settles on the couch next to me and slip between my fingers.  The moment both stands still and passes quickly.  And I tumble on, head over heels in love with whatever will come next.

I looked in the mirror today and I saw an old woman.  It was the first time it has happened, or maybe the first time that I allowed myself to see it.  But I saw it in my eyes.  These eyes are tired, with lines and bags.  These eyes have seen too much.   These eyes that have seen so much.I wonder when it happened, this getting old.  Was it when I was taking out the garbage or running out for milk?  Was it when I was sobbing because it feels like the whole freakin’ world has cancer?  Was it when I was mourning my marriage?Did it happen when I was chasing my child across the park, laughing at how fast he has become?  Did it happen as he dragged me across the ice, pulling me along, “Faster mama, lets skate faster?”  Did it happen as I fed my beloved neighbors, as I kissed my friend goodnight, as I whispered grateful thank yous to the moon?  Did it happen as I sang and danced, danced years away. Did it happen when I got the heart stopping phone call?  Or when I collapsed in exhaustion?  Did it happen the day that I fell in love?  Or the day I fell out of love?  Or the day I realized that love never really dies and falling is neither here nor there?I feel so young and unpracticed.  I feel like a tiny baby girl, still so new in the world.  Sometimes I feel so damn vulnerable and naive.  I can’t believe these eyes are mine…these old woman eyes.    

Ten years ago this past July Juan and I moved into our house.  Compared to the one bedroom English basement we shared in Mount Pleasant it was a palace–expansive and huge and wide open.  Of all the things we loved about the house, the most magical were the closets.  In Mount Pleasant we had only one closet in the whole damn place–one closet to store his clothes and mine, the shoeboxes full of memories, the rollerblades and iceskates and winter boots and summer sandals.  Here we could have his and her closets.  A closet for coats.  A closet for out of season clothes.  A closet for linens.

In the front of the house is a den.  The real estate agents call it a bedroom and I suppose it could be one in a pinch.   It is large enough for a desk, a chair, some shelves.  Even though I doubt a twin bed would fit in comfortably, the real estate agents can call it a bedroom because it has a closet.   This closet was most wonderous of all–a deep bonus closet in a bonus room.  I dubbed it “the knitting closet.”

In my younger days I had three or four knitting projects going at once.  The projects were always scattered around the apartment in their half-finished glory, shoved into one basket or another.  And then there was the yarn I would buy at wool festivals or on sale from my favorite shop.  And the yarn that was left over from the projects I had finished–the yarn that was too beautiful to throw away even if I had no idea what to do with it.  It littered our apartment and drove Juan nut–all that wool.

And so, ten years ago, as I stood in my grown-up house, I knew that all the collateral clutter that came with  my creative outlet would finally have a home.  Its own special closet.  A place where I could put all things creative.  The place I would stores the pages and pages of patterns, the unwieldy piles of books, the hooks and the needles and the bags of wool and cotton that would one day become sweaters.

******

A few days ago I found myself on the phone with a friend of a friend.  She is an astrologer and an intuitive and a woman of power.  I had never had my chart done and I thought it would be a fun thing to do–an early birthday present for myself.  I had heard so much about Charlotte from our mutual friend and I had a feeling she was my kind of sister.  The chart reading gave me an excuse to support another mama in her  business and to finally connect with someone I had longed to meet anyway.

An hour into our conversation, I was in tears.  I wanted what she was saying to not be true but deep in my heart I knew she was right and it reduced me to a puddle.  I don’t know if it appeared in my chart, if she felt it as a clairvoyant or if she just figured me out in the first hour of our friendship.    But she nailed me.  She said that I think I am done letting go but I have so much more to do.  She said I want to move on, but I am still stuck.  She said I think I am in touch but I am missing the mark.

She told me that I am the type of person who wants to box things up in neat little packages and declare them finished.  I want to draw bright lines around the events in my life and proclaim them to be done. “whew…what a journey…So glad I learned from THAT experience….so glad I am OVER that…so happy to have crossed the torrential river to have found safe ground.  No looking back now.  Its done. ”  I want things to be tidy and linear.  I want to move forward into a place that is neater and less complicated.    I pack up my experiences in little boxes and shove them into closets.

Now wonder this line from this song has haunted me all summer:

You pass through places, and places they pass through you

and you carry them with you on the soles of your travelin’ shoes…

I box it all up and shove it in a closet.

*************

Yesterday, the three day long migraine started to let up and I was finally able to get up and move about.  I could move but I could not really think or read or look at a computer or even a TV.  I couldn’t stand to sit in bed more more moment and so instead I decided to clean my home office.  Mindless work that would allow me to move my body gently.  All the better if I couldn’t think.

My office has become a junk room.  I never work there anymore, instead dragging my laptop to the dining room table and work here at the end of it.  I know it would be so much more serene if I just had use of the closet.  The knitting closet.

Over the years, the knitting closet has become a cartoon version of itself.  It is so stuffed full of crap that you have to open it only a quarter of the way and shove something in quickly lest the whole mountain of stuff fall out on your head.   Really.  The closet was filled with half-finished knitting projects and half-finished scrapbook pages, bags and bags of yarn, candle making supplies, and paper and toys Max no longer played with.

I have attempted to clean out the closet in years past.   I sometimes made small progress, sorting the yarn into bins and the unfinished projects into piles.  Baby projects, gift projects, things I started for myself but never could complete.  But cleaning out this closet was always a frustrating experience because I could never allow myself to throw anything but a few errant pieces of paper away.

Each unfinished project represented a dream to me.  A small dream, maybe a dream I forgot I had, but each project represented a piece of my history, a piece of my heart.  There were the pillowcases I bought in Mexico and had started to embroider that I swore would one day decorate our marital bed.  There were the girly-baby sweaters that I had abandoned when Max was born, deciding instead to pick them up when I got pregnant again.  There were gifts for friends I had long ago forgotten.  There was yarn I bought when I was poor and ambitious–yarn I had intended to make into things to sell, yarn I had intended to make into things to make the house pretty, yarn I had intended to make into things to make me look sexy when  I lost that 10 pounds.  There was the half completed barnyard animals that I had started for a friends child but kept because maybe Max would someday have a child would appreciate them.  There were the patterns for the jackets I had intended to make as a way to supplement my income.  Each one of them representing hours and hours of hard work I couldn’t dare declare to be in vain.  Each one of the things shoved half finished into the closet reminded me of some unfinished business I might just come back to, a dream that perhaps had not quite come to fruition, but maybe, possibly, one day might.  Better hold onto it, just in case.

*************

There was nothing to do but throw it all out.

Half-finished dreams shoved in a closet, even when they are disguised as trite metaphors, have a way of being sticky.

*************

I went through it all, the yarn, the needles, the projects half knit.  I stopped weighing the hours that had gone into each piece and asked myself instead was I really going to finish it?  The answer to every project but one was no.  And so, I  salvaged what I could, collected the needles and the stitch holders and notions in my tool box.  I saved the most precious, luxurious and wonderful of yarn that had not been made into anything–that had no dream attached and gave away or threw away the rest of it.

As I struggled over throwing away the partially completed projects I realized it was not all my work that I was still attached to but rather whatever the half-finished project represented to me–a sibling for Max,  a Christmas when I would surprise Juan, a life where I knit and designed things for a living.  Dreams I had thought I had let go of, but maybe only half way, dreams that were still half complete and shoved in the back of my heart.

************

I want so badly to be done with loss.  I am really anxious to come to the place on the other side of the river when grieving is not necessary.  I don’t like coming back in circles to the place where I stood before, the place where grief feels raw and fresh.  I want to be Polly Anna and all aglow in gratitude for the life I have made in place of the life I thought I would have.  I want to get to the other side and be DONE WITH IT ALREADY.

But there is no other side.  There is just my life.  With the closets that need emptying, one by one.

When I was just 6 or 7, we would spend long frozen days during winter school breaks on Texas Drive.  That is where my cousins lived, not too far for a quick trip but far enough away that it felt like another world.

 We would spend hours outside building snow forts from which we would launch massive attacks—boys vs girls perhaps.  We would come in and drink hot chocolate sitting around Aunt Mo’s table and belt out the words to Proud Mary…Big Wheels Keep on Turning…Proud Mary keep on buring….Rollin’  Rollin’ Rollin on the River. At night we would hover under blankets, reading our books by flashlight, talking in hushed whispers.  Or we would hide downstairs and blast our music, dancing and giggling and trading new moves.

 

Now I am here again with my dear cousins and as dusk becomes inky night we are dancing with flashlights as mics, belting out the words to other 70s tunes.  We are rising before the sun to all of us float our kayaks out to the middle of the lake to watch the sun rise.  We are eating each other’s food and scolding each other’s children and sitting silently in the sun, our eyes on a book, relishing being simply there together.

 The only thing more pleasant that being together again, across the years to revel in the love only cousins can know- the unconditional love of family without the monotony of siblinghood-is to see Max making his own cousin memories.

From the minute the sun rises they are off, catching frogs and minnows, playing imaginary games, and board games, and hide and seek, fishing and sneaking treats when they think we aren’t looking. 

 They move through the various cabins as a tribe—asking together for food, for permission, for help untangling fishing rods.  We need to remind them to include the little one—he is three now and wants to tag along.  It is his cousin week too.  It is his memories that need to be made as well.

Each night, Max whispers the same thing to me as he drifts off to sleep.  I wish we lived here Mama he says.  I know what he is craving—the long lazy days filled with people who love you…no matter. 

 

51 weeks will go by between this week and the next.  We will leave with the best of intentions—to keep in touch, to trade emails, to visit.  We will have plans of weekend trips we will take together—of meeting halfway between.  But the hustle and bustle of our lives will overtake us all.  We won’t hear from each other at all but then before we know it I will be on the road to Maine and my cell phone will buzz—a voicemail is waiting.

 

“Meg…Its Kevin.  We are at on the highway, crossing over into Maine.  Wondering where you are and when you will be here.”

 

And my heart will relax into a way of being that is only possibly in the presence of one’s cousins.  And I will say, under my breath…I am there Kev…I am always there.  My heart is just a beat away from this.

 

For Kevin, Christine, Maureen, Eileen, Shawn and Rich…and Lisa too. I love you, I love you, I love you

Recently I was found.

An old dear friend reached out to me from across the wide expanse of years. We were young and dumb together, he and I. We had had many adventures–real, crazy adventures and wild emotional ones too. But that was long ago and we haven’t talked in years. We had grown up, found love, formed homes, started families. Life got busy and we drifted apart.

During the years when we were close, our relationship had been an anchor. We passed long letters back and forth over sea and land. He was in the Navy, I was teaching in Texas. Those letters kept me afloat during two very difficult years when I was far away from home, far away from love, far away from even myself. He kept me grounded, kept me reading, kept me thinking, kept me breathing. We talked about everything. We often disagreed. But no matter how spirited the debate, he saw me, really saw me for who I was, and adored me for all my imperfections. He was the first person who loved me who didn’t minimize my flaws. That is powerful love.

One New Years Eve, over 15 years ago, in a city hundreds of miles from where either of us lived he found me, sought me out to slip his arms through mine. As I lay my head on his shoulder and told him secretes, I knew that I would love him forever, that he would always be dear to me. Always.

At one point in the height of being young and dumb we had a bitter falling out. I can’t remember now any of the details or the circumstances. But I do remember the sadness, the loneliness of realizing that something profound had shifted in my life, of feeling a veil had been lifted and that I was left with life, stripped bare. Without him. I ached intensely.   I was angry for I was sure that I would love him always but this did not feel like love. We stopped talking for what felt like a lifetime. The silence was so loud.

After a while though, no matter how intensely I felt the loss of him, I found that I could sit with the memories of our friendship, sit with them without anger at his betrayal. I remembered all the ways he saw me, all the ways he knew me, cherished me, even if he couldn’t understand me, even if he no longer could appreciate me. And it became clear to me that no matter how big or intense the hurt, the love I had for him was big enough–big enough to hold it. Big enough to overshadow it. Big enough to balance it. Big enough to bless it. Big enough to let it be. Because I had been seen. He saw me.

By the time his letter of apology came in the mail, by the time he found me again there was nothing but love left in my heart.

Our relationship changed after that. It would change many times. Not for the worse or even for the better. It just was, as we were, growing up. There were hurts. There was laughter. One day I sat on a park bench with him in New Orleans. I was teasing him about some girl he was dating, some girl he would later marry but the edge in my voice betrayed me. I looked down at my shoes, maybe a little embarrassed. “I just want you to be happy” I said to him. “Do you?” he challenged me in the way that only he could. “Do you really? Or do you just want me to be yours?” I was, like I often was around him,dumb struck. I just kept looking at my shoes.

But later that night I sat in a rocking chair on my friends porch in the Garden District rocking myself and looking up at the big old moon. “Happy” I whispered to the warm Louisiana wind. “Happy”. I sent my wish out for him. And for the first time I took into my heart the reality that love does not mean attachment and love often means walking away, setting boundaries, saying goodbye.

Of course it wasn’t really goodbye. Because love kept bringing us back in different ways. There were a few Sunday mornings when as I lay in bed with Juan, watching the political talks shows the phone would ring. He was watching too. Or he had news. About a clerkship. About a girl. About a death. He came to my wedding, driving through the rain from Manhattan. As he stood there with the woman who would be his wife he looked at me, and I looked at him and we both smiled–for he saw me, he saw me exactly for what I was. Happy. Messy, imperfect but happy. And it brought him joy.

But life is a busy thing. Careers, children, houses that are too big, budgets that are too small. We no longer had time for penning long letters. Sunday mornings were full of chores, and work. There is a Christmas card, maybe two and then silence. But this time the silence came so gradually I didn’t even hear it. Its been at least 5 years since our last communication–It was around the birth of his son. I sent a congratulations. He sent a thank you note. And then it was quiet.

But he found me.

Truth is he always does.
And he found me at the perfect time.

At a time when I needed to remember that love, true fearless love, is big enough to hold any hurt, any betrayal. That in the end love is always bigger. That forgiveness is but an affirmation that love is more important, mightier, stronger. He walked back into my life exactly at a time when I needed to remember that fearless love changes, morphs and may appear to retreat but never really dies. That love is not equal to attachment but that love always finds you when you need it most.

He is coming this way, my dear old friend. Passing through town this month. And he says he wants to see me. He always did see me. And when he does I will slip my arms round his waist and lay my head on his shoulder for a moment and see him too.

New

Last night I sat with a powerful woman drinking coffee in an anonymous strip mall. It could have been anywhere in America but it was halfway between where she and I were. A place to meet. And I we sat and talked she told me stories and I remembered some of mine.

I remembered being pregnant with Max. I remembered how tired I was, how much work it was just to be. How the simple act of walking from one place to the other would require me to rest, put my feet up, retreat. I remembered how on one hand I was doing nothing to actually grow this child and yet how I was doing everything to grow him. How this very creative act left me with no energy for anything else and yet…how it felt so strangely not me.

I remembered the not knowing, the fear, the waiting. I remembered the feeling that the end would never come or that rather I had no idea what the end would actually be like. How would I be as a mother? What would this child be like? What would it be like to cradle, nurse, nurture this child? How would it impact me as a woman? How would it impact my marriage? The answers to these questions were imminent but nevertheless hidden, unknowable, unfathomable.

I was changing before my very eyes, but at the same time I couldn’t see how. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at once.

I was changing before everyone else’s eyes and friends and strangers couldn’t help but comment on the changes. The shape of my belly, the look in my eyes, the thickness of my hair. They all saw the changes but we all acknowledged these changes to be temporary. I had no idea what would come next. How life would be forever changed by this journey I was on.

I remembered the day that I sat in the airport and thought my water had broken. I called the midwife from my cell phone trying to keep calm. I was only 5 and 1/2 months along. She was calm and cool even as she told me the news. It could have been my water…But it could also equally have been a simple, small, harmless infection. I asked her what I should do–Should I get to the emergency room? Rush somewhere to save my baby? She said, “No”. There was no use in rushing. If my water had broken there would have been no saving. There was nothing to do but get on the plane and go home and sleep, hope that labor would not come. In the morning they would check me. A good outcome was all in the hands of faith–out of my control.

Pregnancy–this metaphor has sat heavy on my mind as I think here I am, pregnant again. Not with a child, but with a new life. I am in the words of my dear friend drinking her latte, “pregnant with myself”, pregnant with this next phase of my journey. I am pregnant with a life I cannot see, I cannot touch though I feel it stir inside me now and again. I wonder about it but now its out of my hands, mostly. I try to picture what it will look like, what it will feel like to hold this life in my hands and I know that there is no way I can imagine it, no matter how hard I try. I might as well just rest with my feet up for the process of getting to here has exhausted me so. I am doing nothing and yet I am tired. I am so tired. I have no energy left for anything else. Not for writing or playing my guitar or even gardening today. I am just so tired from the act of creating myself anew.

I think tonight about how so many generations of women spent their whole lives in the cycle of pregnancy, birth and the celebration of new life. I realize that now I am not that different, that none of us are. And while birth control or choices about family size have changed the physical realities of pregnancy, if we are honest we are in a constant cycle if only metaphorically–pregnant with possibilities and dreams, birthing of one’s self, creativity, and celebrating a new life, new growth, new beginning. Of becoming new again.

Ten years ago I made my first trip to Oaxaca, a married gringa heading south to meet the family for the very first time. Juan was heading home for the first time in over 10 years, bringing a bride. From the minute I walked through the door of his mothers tiny house in the foothills, I felt I had come home–a home I never knew I had, a home that was waiting for me for almost 30 years.

I was raised Irish Catholic–practically 100%. I was born Margaret Ann Casey. I went to a Jesuit college. I have cops in the family. I can actually do the jig. I am a stereotype. Classic Irish American girl.

When Juan and I met and fell in love he was worried about being swallowed up by us Caseys. We are here. We are loud. We have crazy traditions which we will shove down your throat. We are Irish Americans dammit. Proud.

I loved him and I wanted our life together to be equal. I made an effort to bring the Mexican into my life. I pledged him we would be an Irish-Mexican-American home. I made it my mission not to let his culture be sidelined.

But from the minute I crossed the threshold and embraced his mama, my suegracita, it was no effort. It was natural. It was breathing. I was a gringita by blood but Mexicana by love. Even my suspcious father in law had to admit it. I adopted the culture as easily as I breathed in the clean country air.

A feminist, I had always struggled with the patriarchal church of my youth. But in Oaxaca, I found a community of mostly women, devoted to la virgincita, the mother of all of Mexico, of all of us. I came home to my faith in this culture surrounded by tiny older women kneeling and lighting candles and asking another woman for help, believing in magic and miracles. As a feminist and a Catholic it suddenly all made sense. Home.

I came home to real cooking as I learned to use a molcojete to mash up tomatoes, grind chiles and make salsa (blenders are for chumps people). My love for spice and chocolate found voice in true Oaxacan mole cooked over an open fire all night long, stirred by women taking turns at the community fire, telling the stories of their lives–comadreando under the stars. This was the way my heart told me to cook. This felt like home to me.

From my first Dia de los Muertos where I helped my sister in law decorated her beloved daughters grave, while mariachis sang and a street vendor wandered through the cemetery selling fried dough and families set out picnics by the graves, I embraced the traditions of remembrance that seemed to come from my ancestors too. It made so much sense to me. It was a tradition that I knew must be mine. Had always been mine. Would always be mine. Communal grief poured out. Acknowledgment that we never get over the loss of someone we love–we just change and move on. This was the way I feel I always knew it must be done. To never forget. To love and laugh.
My name was Meg Casey-Bolaños. I chose that name–not just because I married a Mexicano but because it said who I was-someone who had embraced, had absorbed something from the magical Oaxacan sunshine. A woman forever changed by the magic in the air, the water and the countryside. Who loved los santos, who ate mangos by the bucketful and who milked a cow named Marguerita. I wore it proudly–It was a symbol of who I had become: a mujer who was changed forever by milagros and  mole and muertos in the Oaxacan foothills.

When Juan left I went back to Meg Casey. It made sense in many ways. It was a demarcation. A milestone. It told people my life had forever changed. It told them I was going it alone. It told them that I was me.

But it also very subtly said I was no longer a member of a familia Mexicana. That maybe I divorced not just Juan but a part of myself too.

A few weeks ago I got an email from Anne asking me if I missed the culture of my adopted family. If I missed baking pan dulce and drinking hot sweet pot coffee on Sundays. Or if I still did it? She wondered because she knew how I had come home that first trip. That every trip I made south over the last ten years was a reunion. She wondered if I was homesick.

I still have my little altar to la Virgen where I light my candles, but many of my milagros have been put away now. From time to time I put away the coffee maker and make my coffee in a pot, the way my suegra taught me. I sometimes pull out my cookbook, the one where she wrote all her recipes down–the one with measurements like “a pinch”, “a handful” and “not too much” and will bake some bread that smells like anise and cinnamon. But really, its true, I packed so much of that away when Juan packed his bags. And I am feeling a bit — well–not quite whole, come to think of it.

Yet, when I decorate for Muertos or consider a party for Tres Reyes, I feel like such a poser, a gringita adopting traditions that are no longer hers. I struggle with whether I can appropriate these secrets that were told to me when I was familia. I feel like an outsider looking in and I can’t figure out whether I should fight my way back into the circle or turn my back on it forever. What do I do with this piece of who I was who was tied so closely with someone who isn’t mine any more?

This week I read this lovely piece about identity–Claiming it, holding it, attaching to it, and letting it morph, be, go, change. It reminded me of this little puzzle, not so neatly wrapped up after my divorce.

Is my cultura a wedding gift I now need to return?

It was an unusually warm April day.  We were standing in the park.  It was a Saturday but we were working–the way people in Washington, DC do.  But because it was Saturday we could give ourselves a break from the relentless pace and walk around the block.  We stopped in the park and stood about three inches away from each other and talked, the way we had been talking for months, about life and family and justice and my married lover and movies. Suddenly the skies opened up and it started to pour.  I barely heard him over the thunder.  “You know I love you, right?” he said.  “Yes” I said, slipping my hand into his.  The next moment before we kiss stretches infinitely out before us.  Spacious.  Open.  At that moment everything in my life changes.

********

He slipped the key into the lock and it turned.  We couldn’t believe it was ours, this house.  It felt like a palace.  After the studio apartment where he spent almost every night and then the one bedroom basement in Mount Pleasant that we shared, the openess seemed like a metaphor.  Our whole lives lay out before us–full of possibility and hope.  He rolled around the floor and I took pictures.  We dragged in paint cans and ladders along with a suitcase full of dreams and made love on the drop cloths.

********

I was rolled up in a ball–scared, terrified.  I was eight months pregnant and I realized that when I had this baby he might just love it more than me.  I had never been loved so deeply before in my life and for the first time ever I had felt rooted and at home.  I was scared, so scared that it would all start to shift away from me once there was this little person around–this child I so desperately wanted.  I would become second in his eyes.  I would fail as a mother and he would love me less.  The tears started to drip off my chin.  He wrapped his arms around me and promised me it would never come true.  He would always love me.  Always.   And I knew he was right. 

********

The day they placed Max in my arms.  I knew I had it all wrong.   He would never stop loving me.

********

There are endless stretches of no sleep.  There are short words.  There is postpartum depression.  There are chores that don’t get done.  There is frustration.  There is unhappiness that creeps into every corner of the house.  There is a child that consumes both of us and leaves so very little left.  We have nothing to give each other. 

But we try.  We rally and laugh and delight in this child we created together.  We hold hands and share our stories of him.  We find our way back to each others bodies at night.  We tell ourselves that love will get us through, that we are a team.  We make plans and we dream.  We convince ourselves it is going to be OK. 

******** 

But work is hard.  Life is hard.  There is so much falling apart around us we don’t know how to start holding it all up.  When we go out for dinner we are so tired we can do nothing more than stare at each other. 

We love each other madly even though it is beginning to feel that love may not be enough.

********

The day he tells me he is leaving me, everything inside my body goes cold.  I can’t breathe.  Everything stops working and then starts working in reverse.  And then stops again.  The walls that just five years before had seemed so widely spaced are closing in on me.  Our two year old was sound asleep in his room. How did it come to this?

We could figure this out.  We always could figure it out.  I beg him.  Lets figure it out.

********

Nine months later, the air is so heavy in our house I cannot breathe.  “I don’t know how to do this.  I don’t know how to stay.  I can’t do the hard work.  I can’t figure it out,” he says.  “I can’t believe this is us, falling apart this way.” 

We are sitting three inches apart from one another.  “You know I love you, right?” he says to me as he pulls his hand from mine and gets ready to walk out the door.  “Yes,” I say but I am not sure he hears me.  He kisses me too quickly and in an instant my life has changed again.

******

I have everything I wanted out of this divorce settlement.  There was no fight.  It is sketched out on a napkin at a Lebanese restaurant.  We promise we would be our best for each other, for him–the only one each of us truly knew how to love at this moment.  After years of disappointing each other so deeply I wonder if this was yet another empty promise.  I try to so hard to forgive–to forgive him, to forgive myself, to forgive love for not  being enough.

********

I need to bring my marriage certificate to court on Friday.  I finally bring myself to dig it out of my files.  Sometime last year I had moved it from M for marriage to D for divorce.  I pull out the file.  There is only one certified copy left.  I need a certified copy for the court.  I make a mental note to write the County and request another for my file.  And then it dawns on me that this is the last time I will never need a certified copy of this document ever again.  I don’t need to write the County.  I put my head in my hands and the reality of the last 4 years hits me like a truck.

********

I move in and out of my day.  I am so blessed.  My life is a good one.  I have beautiful friends, I have not been without love for one day in this whole journey–not one.  I laugh every day now–genuine hearty spontaneous belly laughs.  I wrap my arms around my dearest girlfriends–soul sisters who understand my heart and giggle with me until 3am.  My life is messy but I am bowled over by the stark beauty of it.  I am better for this journey I have taken.  I am wiser and slower and kinder and gentler.  I know that I would not have this–this community, this love of life, this appreciation for slowness, this knowledge of the depths of my heart had he stayed and pretended, but I can’t help but say to anyone who will listen, “I don’t recommend divorce.  I say stay.  Stay. Stay.”

******** 

I sit and play my guitar but my fingers don’t want to work on this right now.  They want to twine themselves in the hands of someone I once thought I would never live without.  I stop and don’t even notice that I have.  “You’ve stopped” my friend says.  “Sorry” I say and I mumble something about how I was frustrated with myself.  “I want to start again”.  The metaphor hits me like a ton of bricks.  I want to start again.  Yes–I want to go back to the moment in April when the air hung hot and the thunder clap almost drowned him out.  Before I knew how it would all turn out.  I want to rewind the movie and play the beginning over and over again.

Despite the thousands of ways he has found to disappoint me, I still love him.  

******** 

I can’t live with him anymore.  I don’t want to. 

I remember this fact and look at my friend.  I look at the guitar in my lap.  I think about the richness of my life, about the gorgeous details in this tapestry that is my life.   It all turned out exactly as it should have.  I have everything I need. 

So I pick the guitar back up.   I apologize for my bad mood and rotten attitude.  For the somewhat wasted lesson.

My friend launches into a spiel about how its the middle of the second period and there is another period and a half to go and you might be getting your ass kicked but you still have to put your head down and tough it out and play and hope you learn something for the next game.  I want to kick him out so I can have a good cry but I know that he, with his icehockey metaphors, is right.  Wait for the final buzzer I tell myself.  I put my head down and I play so soft thunder would drown it out.

******

He plays Tom Waits.  And then he plays another song–a song I believe I have known since before I was born.  He knows I love it and he wants to cheer me up and he does– a little.  I hug him–it is time for him to go.  I tell him as he packs up that Friday is the day.  “I know” he says.  “Its hard”.  There is nothing more to say than that–and I silently thank him for not trying to say more.

********

I sit in the dark and wrap my arms around myself.    I breathe in and out the truth–the honest truth.  I love my life, with its ups and its downs.  I love the strength I have discovered in myself.  I love my friends, my urban family and the rhythm of this community we have created with shared meals and Eric’s homemade key lime pie and Jackie on my cell phone and Stephen in my office making fun of me.  I love Barbara with her laughter and Jen with her schemes and Jeff with his music and Cathy with her  cup of coffee and the kids begging me to stay for dinner or take them to icecream.  I love my housemate with her fancy salads.  I love my job, even when I have to fight with my colleagues.   I love raising Max more than I have loved anything else in the world.   The truth is I am giving birth to a life that I love more than anything I have ever loved and I couldn’t do it without losing my marriage.

******** 

And I know, honestly, that I would walk this path over and over just again to sit here in this moment right now.  The moon is full and I am incredibly happy even as I am sad.

********

“You know I love you, right?” I whisper to noone in particular–to the moon, to my sleeping son–to myself.  I feel the words vibrate around the room before they finally settles on the couch next to me and slip between my fingers.  The moment both stands still and passes quickly.  And I tumble on, head over heels in love with whatever will come next.