Blue, songs are like tattoos
You know I’ve been to sea before
Crown and anchor me
Or let me sail away – Joni Mitchell “Blue”
I queued up Joni Mitchell and Z and I played ping pong in the basement. The walls and floor are new. The furniture is gone. When you step out into the courtyard it is glazed with ice and the snow of a winter already in progress. The chickens coo from their coop and their water freezes over. The sun is tossed low across the sky this time of year — traveling barely above the bare tree tops until 4:30 or so when it sets. I used to play Joni Mitchell over and over on my Walkman at whatever coffee shop I was writing in (Boulder Bookstore) in college. If there was a soundtrack for me — my years in Boulder — that would be it. I listened to it the other day with this sense of profound dislocation. The girl I was in childhood would have never recognized herself in me: middle-aged mother driving a very safe station wagon, running errands, planning meals — a life centered so wholly in and about the home. The childhood me — who was she really? I was an activist very young — spurred on by the older women I met here, nuns, who were involved in the anti-nuclear war movement. I was heavily influenced by the idea of social justice that those women introduced me to. It was the 80s in Minneapolis — and I was the child of a single, working mother trying to find herself out of the dark wood of her own trauma. I can never seem to keep those thoughts, those years from washing over me when the days shorten — and I’m brought powerfully back into my twelve year old body — watching the ice scrim on the lake and the darting and diving coots who stayed until the last patch of open water disappeared. I’m walking the perimeter of the muddied and abandoned soccer field, skirting the foraging Canada geese. I think then of my best friend and it’s like a flash forward in a novel and I remember her wiping my tears as she was dying and it sounds again in my head that she is dead and this city is the same city and filled as it always had been with the balance of beauty and heartbreak and any illusion I’d had that I could run, escape, live in the mountains like some sunny remade mountain girl — it was all false and I knew I couldn’t run forever which is how I came back here to the edge of the plains, this place which, if anything did, made me.
My worlds collided this summer after Willi’s accident; it wasn’t as if I was seeking anonymity when I began this blog in 2007 — it is just how it began. I grew and blogging grew. I was thinking less about teaching/publishing and more about building our family. Stepmothering, infertility, IVF –it was inevitable that in a blog that was essentially a raw memoir that I would stumble back over the same roads— how I came to understand family and mothering — my father’s death, my mother’s family — the things that shaped me. I had put my name on this blog a few years before and had begun trying to write as I would if this were the study for a memoir — but the blogging world isn’t the publishing world — I think of the literary publishing world as I knew it as relatively static thing; a writer would produce a novel or a memoir and his or her life beyond that professional persona was unknown. I wrote about my best friend’s death from breast cancer, and then fourteen months later about our son’s TBI after falling off his skateboard (no helmet) onto a suburban street.
You came in droves — people we had never met held us in your hearts. You reached me in a very dark time. I’m still stumbling around trying to figure out what can be told — trying to get my fiction mojo back by the time AWP comes in the Spring.
I’m back in this space.
Willi is doing wonderfully — really for all who have wondered and prayed and asked whether here or in private emails. We are all seeing the world through a different lens now. How rare to have life offer you a moment to see how truly you are loved. In school full time, hanging out with friends, opening his heart to his sisters(and us) in ways he rarely did before.
I went into his room yesterday — I was feeling particularly emotional — my mother had just come to watch Z — and we’d had a meeting at the hospital to talk about his progress — and my mother, who lives miles from here and yet has not visited the house since before W’s accident — was here. We’d spoken on the phone over the months — and I had assured her that she needn’t worry about me — just like when I was a child I often wanted to process these things on my own — and yet. I went into W’s room — and I told him how my mom had just been here and it’d given me pause because, as he understands, my mother and I have a stilted and complicated relationship. I always felt, I told him, that things were very conditional — I wasn’t thin enough, or … something enough. It didn’t matter all of the wonderful words that could come at various times — there was plenty other stuff to wash that away. I told him how it had evolved now that my mother didn’t want to bother me — didn’t want to insert herself into my life for whatever reason — maybe I’ve given her the message its an intrusion — anyway. I looked at him and I told him that I loved him unconditionally — no matter what. And that I would always be in his business. Always. And he was on his bed, his face aglow with the light of his iphone and I saw this uncontrollable smile break across his face — this has happened since the accident — this irrepressible emotion. He shook his head and couldn’t stop smiling.
And that. That’s a gift.