Keep Going

September 10, 2018

“…No further information has been released until officials conclude their investigations. George.” “Thank you Jackie. This week kicks off National Suicide Prevention Week. Each year, over…”

I watch the image of the television screen glint off the glass cover of the cake stand in the middle of my breakfast table. The massive television screen plays from across the living room, but its little reflection is only two inches. Inside the cake stand is a strawberry bundt cake, from a shop downtown. I pull my bathrobe tighter around me. The early morning air in the house is cool, and I can hear the sputtering of my coffee pot in the kitchen.

In about thirty minutes, I’ll wake my daughter Leah for school and wish her happy birthday. She turns seven years old today. Seven! She’ll be so happy to be another year older, another year more mature and closer to being an adult—she’s so eager to do things on her own—and I’ll look at her and feel melancholy only a mother knows to see your child grow so beautifully yet so quickly. She is still the same daughter as the babe I held in the hospital, but her seven-year-old mind doesn’t quite remember the relationship we had throughout her first years, nor how she will one day look back and wish to be seven again. This morning her morning breath will breathe fire at me and she’ll giggle about it when I pretend to pass out from the stench, and tomorrow she will be twenty-one and celebrating her birthday without me. I will go upstairs in thirty minutes and relish her morning breath, and pet her hair and hold back the tears she doesn’t understand yet, and tell her she can have a piece of cake for breakfast, because it will make her squeal with delight.

June 7, 2007

The bees fly from flower to flower, wavering a little in their flight, as though they are attached to a slightly shaky string. My younger sister and I crouch before the bed of flowers in her front yard and watch them in the strong June sun, admiring their fuzzy little bulbous bodies. You can get so close to bees, and they don’t even mind! My shirt clings to my back and armpits from the moisture of my sweat, and I wipe away some perspiration from my forehead.

“They’re like the elephants of the insect world,” Mara says, watching a bee land on a daisy. Her front yard is gorgeous with vegetation—flowers, vines, vegetables. Her house sits on a quiet street, where all her neighbors are also impressive gardeners.

“How do you figure that?” I ask, sitting down on the grass from my crouching position.

“I don’t know, they’re just kind of big but mind their own business,” she says, turning to me. She looks so much like Allen from this angle. Even her blond hair is the same shade. I look away.

“I guess I can see that,” I say. The likeness can certainly be imagined. “Bees are definitely cute, now that I look at them. You ever get stung by one, doing this gardening stuff?”

Mara shakes her head. “Nope, the only time I ever got stung was that time in seventh grade when I accidentally sat on one.” She’s laughing before she ends the sentence; I am, too. “I was running around the house shouting, ‘My ass! My ass!’”

“Mom was more concerned about your cursing than your sting. I think she was about to whoop your ass for saying ass!” I’m laughing, and it happens so easily and my face feels so good to smile. When’s the last time I laughed?

February 3, 2004

I’m driving home in the dark, even though it’s only 8 PM. I can hardly see the freeway because the snow is falling so quickly. The radio is playing but it’s getting on my nerves; I shut it off. I’m sick of it being dark. Why is it always dark?

The heat is blasting in my car, and my wipers are on high speed. I start crying again. What’s it been—two hours? That’s the longest I’ve gone without crying today, so I could feel proud of myself, in a sarcastic way. The tears run down my face hot but the paths they leave behind feel cool, and it annoys me so I wipe my face. They keep coming, and I keep wiping my face. All I do is cry. I’m pathetic.

I met his family. I helped name his dog. He got my car out of a ditch one time—all these random thoughts flash through my mind. How am I supposed to live without him? How am I supposed to live with the thought of him being with other women, loving someone else the way he used to love me, and maybe even better than that? My crying gets angry, frustrated. I start wailing and crying. Fuck him! Fuck his dog! Fuck the girl he dumped me for! She’s probably twenty million times prettier than I am. Pretty girls always win. What am I supposed to tell my family? I don’t want to have to explain this heartbreak to a hundred different people in my life.

It’s so hard to see the road, through my tears and the snow, I don’t know if I can make it home. I think about that for a second—the possibility of not making it home. It feels like everyone I love leaves me. First Allen, now Jake. I think about how glamorous it would feel, to not feel. To not be. All the pain lifted. Weightless. Clean. Free.

I think of Mara. I think of her stupid photography showcase this weekend that she’s so excited about. Goddammit.

November 28, 2009

Seth pulls me into a hug and I bury my face in his chest. He smells like woods—it must be his cologne. I exhale and he kisses the top of my head. He loosens his embrace, but I still keep my arms wrapped tightly around him, so he strengthens his hug again, to prolong this moment.

“I had such a great time getting to know your family today,” he says. I smile, still pressed against his chest. We hold for a little longer. “And I’m absolutely stuffed from your mom’s turkey!”

The orangey hue of the lamp gives my room a warm feeling to add to this warm moment. “I had fun, too. I am glad to be back home though,” I comment, with a laugh. I love my family, but it can be exhausting to be around them. I understand my time with them is limited, though—which both makes me more willing to visit yet more emotionally exhausted.

We take a seat on the edge of my bed. Seth caresses my cheek gently with his hand and tucks a little strand of hair behind my ear. I get goosebumps from the tender touch. He looks at me carefully, and says, as though he were debating whether or not to say it, “I’m really sorry I couldn’t meet your brother though.”

My instinct is to turn away and dismiss him, but I know he means this from a place of great love. I have had enough time to heal about Allen. I have spent enough time undermining my own happiness. I nod, and consider both Seth and Allen. “He would have liked you, I think,” I say.

March 19, 2012

Leah will not stop crying. It is three in the morning and I have not slept for more than thirty minutes at a time. Seth is out of town this week for a class he’s taking across the country, for the tech firm where he works, so I am on fulltime baby care. I think even if Leah stopped crying, I would still hear the echoes of her shrieking ringing through my head. Right now I wish she were older so I could bribe her—“Please just shut up, I’ll give you anything you want!”

Mommy needs sleep, but Leah wants me to suffer. Every time I think I’ve coaxed her to sleep, she wakes up wailing even louder, strengthened by the brief moment of rest. I think about a comedy sketch where mothers are slaves to giant babies that roam the Earth—wow, I really do need sleep.

I keep cursing Seth for not being here, even though I know it’s the crazy mother hormones and sleep deprivation toying with my emotions. He asked me a thousand times if it were okay, and I insisted he go, but now I feel angry with him for going anyway. I think in the morning, I’ll ask Mara if she can take a day or two off work to stay with me.

I sit in the rocking chair in Leah’s room, her tiny angry body swaddled up against me, squirming in upset over—what? Why do babies cry like this? Life is so good for them. I rock back and forth with my precious gremlin, singing “Eight Days a Week” gently. My Leah, my soft, beautiful, curious daughter. I had no idea I could feel so many complicated yet intense ways about such a small creature of my making.

The small lamp in the corner of her nursery gives off an orangey vibe, and the room feels warm and sleepy. It’s the lamp that used to be in my old bedroom, before Seth and I bought this house together. I start to nod off, wondering if I could just put Leah back in my stomach, where she used to be so quiet. Sometime I fall asleep, and come back to consciousness with a sleeping Leah in my arms. Rather than play this game again, I keep her in my arms and continue sleeping in the rocking chair, my head resting up against the hard wooden back.

September 14, 2001

We haven’t heard from Allen in three days. I wish I don’t wake up tomorrow.

May 3, 2008

Mara laughs at me. “Just ask him out!” she says.

I roll my eyes and she laughs more. “It’s not that easy,” I tell her.

“That’s what everyone says. But you know what? It is that easy.” She grins at me.

We’re sitting on her back porch, trying out her brand new patio furniture. She and her husband Nick just purchased a couple chaise lounge chairs, an outdoor table set, and a new grill, in anticipation for the summer. Mara also has plans to repaint the porch, but she’s waiting for nicer weather; she couldn’t wait on the furniture, though. She’s been itching to redo this porch for over a year.

The springtime air is warm with promises. The trees are really starting to turn green again, and her backyard is gorgeous and secluded with shade and tree trunks. I take a sip from my glass of lemonade.

“Nope. He just got out of a serious relationship, and I don’t want to be inconsiderate—” I start to say, but Mara cuts me off, in typical sister fashion.

“Blaahhh, blah blah blah blah,” she groans, then giggles.

“You’re a child,” I say.

“You’re an old lady!” she retorts. I glare at her.

“Anyway, this Seth guy sounds like a real catch. I’m not telling you to propose to him, I’m just saying, ask him to get coffee sometime and get your foot in the door. You say he’s always coming into the record store, so next time you see him, just float the idea.” Mara shrugs and raises her eyebrows, as if to challenge me to find an excuse.

I think it over for a minute, then grumble, “Yeah, I’ll ask him to get coffee.”

October 31, 1997

“Aw, you look like the cutest witch I ever saw,” Allen says when I walk into the living room and he sees me in my costume.

“Shut up,” I say. Allen’s stupid. He’s always picking on me.

“You do! You’re so pretty even with the green face paint.” He gets up from the couch and pokes my nose and I punch him.

“Don’t patronize me,” I snap.

“Ooooh, big vocab word, sis!”

“All right, stop it you two,” Mom says, walking into the living room with Mara on her hip and a camera in her other hand. “Now, you know the rules, be back by ten and don’t go with any strangers,” she says, pointing at me firmly.

She’s told me “the rules” like a million times now. I get it, Mom! “Okay, I got it,” I say.

“If you need anything, or if you feel weird about a situation, come right home, or find a nice old lady and ask to use her phone, okay?” Mom sets down Mara, who walks straight to Allen. He picks up Mara and starts tossing her in the air, which freaks out Mom, but he won’t stop. He’s always gushing over Mara.

“Okay, MOM. Can I go now? All my friends are already out trick-or-treating.” I pick up my empty pillowcase from the floor and wait for my cue to run outside.

“Pictures first!” she says, and holds up her camera. I don’t move, waiting for her to take a picture and get it over with, and as she goes to take it, Allen grabs Mara and pops in the picture beside me. The flash goes off and I see spots. Mom laughs, and says she can’t wait to see how that one turns out.

“Go back to college,” I tell Allen, heading to the front door.

“Go back to your cauldron!” he says back, smiling. “And be safe! Don’t mix too many chemicals or you might make a happiness potion that actually gets you to smile for once!”

Yeah, yeah, I think, running outside and into the dark, cold October night.

September 11, 2018

“Today we pay tribute to the thousands of lives lost seventeen years ago…”

I sit at the breakfast table, sipping my mug of coffee and half-listening to the news playing in the background. The bundt cake is half-gone underneath the cake cover, and I don’t expect it to last more than another couple days. The coffee is hot, and I set my mug down.

Seth comes down the stairs and smiles when he sees me at the table. “Morning, honey,” he says, walking through the living room to come over and kiss me on my forehead. He looks good, in his suit—so distinguished. He’s so handsome. He goes into the kitchen to pour himself a cup of coffee and comes to sit down with me.

I’m up earlier today—usually I’m waking up just as he leaves for work. He’s more of a morning person than I am, but then again, practically everybody is. I need the coffee in my system before it’s worth speaking to me. He knows that, and we sit there silently sipping coffee for a few moments, listening to the news. It’s still a little dark outside this morning, and the light from the kitchen spills out into the living room a little. I look around the living room, which is cluttered at best, but which feels so much like home now. Leah’s toys and art supplies shoved up against the walls, tucked under the coffee table, in bins in the corner. She and I are both mess-makers by nature; Seth is the organized one. If it weren’t for his valiant efforts, we would be queens of uncontrollable clutter chaos.

The news starts into their segment remembering the events of September 11, and Seth reaches out to wrap his hand around mine. I look up at him, and he gives me the smile that has inspired me for ten years now. I smile, too, and look down into my mug. He doesn’t need to say anything because I already know; I know what his smile means—it means, “I love you, I see your wounds, I will continue to be here to help heal your wounds.”  It means, “Keep going, even when you feel like you can’t. For me. For Leah. And for yourself.”

I take another sip of coffee and smile to myself. I am here today.


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