Life is my symphony, may God be the conductor.
Let me close my eyes and feel the music.
Let our voices quiet as I listen for the rhythm of how this one life,
this one year,
this one day,
this one moment
can possibly be lived.
Wait…Who decided life was to be measured by years,
Rather than the number of sunny mornings that wrap their arms around me and pull me out of bed?
Or the height of the steam dancing from my coffee to the heavens,
Or the tears I wipe from our cheeks as we exchange stories.
Why not the smell of dinner on the table after a long day?
Yes, measure my life by the purposes I’ve found.
By the breaths I pause to notice.
The smiles exchanged with strangers that make me wonder if we will ever be friends.
The number of times a cello finds synchronicity with my heartbeat and the instrument and I become one.
Measure my life by summer miles traveled,
dirty hands washed,
full moons witnessed rising,
the moments worth living and those I’d never live again.
But most of all, measure my life by the depth of love you felt from me.
There was once a girl with a wise mind and a foolish heart,
For days, years, decades,
She gave the mic to one and silenced the other,
Believing a partial eviction was the only path to sanity.
Such dichotomy nearly drove her mad.
What about a little wisdom to the folly?
Summer nights, suit-less swims, still home on time for bed.
What about a little folly to the wisdom?
Soul conversations and guitar playing with tequila on the rocks in hand?
There once was a woman who fell in love with herself,
And all that had been conceived within.
With arms wrapped tight, she squeezed herself hard,
until the divided parts knew they were whole.
When I think of the day you had your way
and ignored my no,
I want to curl up in that day
and stay there until my pain
is visible to you.
What a waste of time.
I will stand, instead,
and never be faced with that shame again.
I’ll never listen to someone tell me how or why,
Because no, I won’t like it,
And yes, I’ll leave you.
When I think of the days when I’ll have my way,
I know I’ll be held, gently.
No disregard. No disrespect.
And until that happens, I hold my damn self.
Becoming a reservoir for love until it is safe to spill over.
In my former life I quietly slipped out of bed every morning and made coffee.
I found a place to sit on the floor and read–
the quiet hour losing its hold minute by minute as the sun rose,
and children rose,
and you rose. In that order.
In my current life I awaken diagonal in bed.
I grab a book balanced precariously on the headboard and read a few pages.
The clock says 35 minutes until the cafe opens.
I wish the cafe knew I would love a cup of coffee at 6:55 am.
Maybe I remind the kids to brush their teeth.
Maybe I throw my current notebook in my bag and brush my own.
When it’s the latter, the quiet only loosens its hold on me as I walk in the direction of caffeine and conversation.
Neither life is better or worse than the other. Both hold their beauty.
In the waking alongside someone whom I didn’t want to wake.
And in the waking alone to find myself in an awakening.
There is nothing about life I do not love, although so much I do not know.
The unknowing is a blank canvas of Great Love, and so enamored am I by possibilities, I can’t even pick up a brush to define such mystery. Because honestly, what color would be the first letter of that definition?
Are there any mornings I would do differently? Is there a waking I would choose to sleep through?
Only the last one, when I arose from bed without speaking those three words.
I thank you.
I forgot to say thank you.
Summer slows and I find I am finally slowing, too, refusing the miss out on these last twenty-something days.
I’m not the same. The winter woman was reborn, sprung to life, and fills all the crevices of this new skin.
I drink my iced coffee black now, and with a shot of espresso to keep up a youthful appearance.
I reapplied to nursing school in an act of finding my way–and I am hopeful.
I hit a goal I had never written down, and see the door of change offering its key to me.
I placed boundaries around children I haven’t loved them perfectly,
We’ve battled but learned how to stay on the same team.
I’ve claimed my own bedroom with windows facing east–sunrise over the river–it’s the smallest in the house and I feel at home.
I’ve received the pain of gossip and woke up to the truth that not everyone will know me, see me, or perceive me in the ways I hope. And I now guard my own words carefully.
I keep smaller, safer circles–going deeper within those friendships.
I’ve learned to receive a friend’s truthful observations without recoiling as though criticism; and I have grown because of their bravery and wisdom.
I’ve provided for kids,
and lived by strengths.
and embraced habits.
I’ve made peace with the fact that I don’t cook like I used to, and sometimes I don’t even miss it.
I’ve stepped into a church and returned–again and again,
I let the old visions of my future crumble, and rearrange themselves in this kaleidoscope of life.
I look back at the woman I was for the last fifteen years of life and I thank her for her service–for the the way she loved her children, created a home, supported her spouse in his endeavors. I thank her for her mornings of coffee and her passion for women. I thank her for the dreams she set aside to serve others. I forgive her for her silence. I forgive her for her blindness. I forgive her for her inability to live longer than she did.
And as I lay her to rest, I hope to honor her by bringing the best parts forward into this new season, this new life, and may her voice echo every once in a while through the pen on the page.
I once was afraid I’d never become who I hoped to be, until I realized I already am her.
And if the next great American novel dies within me, not one word having been written because I’m too busy…
Summering and Wintering and Falling as I learn how to navigate this world…
Rubbing backs every night wishing you would fall, too. Asleep.
Washing dishes and socks and floors and hair
Working to pay for all that water used for all that washing
So afraid I’d die without making a good life, I waited for myself to be and do something different, something greater.
Until one day I was taught to read the list above and see the makings of a good life.
And so there exists a quiet confidence knowing I have possessed my whole self this whole time, and all those accomplishments birthed in me simultaneously with my conception.
I already am who I hoped to be. When I die, I will have spent a life in love. And if that great American novel is buried alongside me beneath the hours of cooking and working and mothering and so.much.washing, then I have written the most beautiful story of all.
Natalie Goldberg writes in her book, Writing Down the Bones, “There is no permanent truth you can corner in a poem that will satisfy you forever. Don’t identify too strongly with your work. Stay fluid behind those black-and-white words. They are not you. They are a great moment going through you. A moment you were awake enough to write down and capture” (p. 42).
Here’s another moment from the archives of the last year.
I am more anxious that I thought
in the shedding of you. Pieces of old
skin remain, having grafted themselves
into the fabric of me:
I, too, filter moments through a critical lens first.
Somewhere in our journey together I started
caring about tidiness, delegating tasks like
a commander of troops, wide-eyed and eager
for a Saturday of fun–
next year after all these chores are done.
I struggle to trust me as well,
and am also afraid to let myself out of my sight.
Who knows what could happen?
I isolate before I connect—that’s your skin flipped inside out.
And I’m restless when completely alone.
Our skins did become one in some ways; the sacred
words were wise.
If I could have chosen which pieces of skin made themselves
at home in me, I would have chosen differently.
I would have kept your ability to chose just the right gift,
Your relentless commitment to figuring it out,
And your simplicity of faith.
Such beauty you possess. Like a storm on the
horizon, coming for me.
If I were stronger, I could have run toward rather than away from,
But the high winds of chaos and anger ripped me to shreds, peeling away my trust in you
like shingles from a roof.
And that’s how the shedding of you began,
In my struggle for peace, I was born into someone new.
Except for those few dangling pieces above.
The following are excerpts from my notebook over the last year of the separation and divorce. I found in my writing that I couldn’t give a lot of details as I didn’t know how to speak them and write them in clear statements. So poetry became the way I identified the soup–the concoction of ingredients that comprised the undoing of familiarity in our lives. All I can say is mental health issues–most especially those that remain undiagnosed and untreated–exacerbated by untreated brain injuries, are beasts of their own. Untamable by standard therapies, the snowball of destruction only gathers more weight while the core of behaviors remain unaddressed. Trying to heal while separating myself from someone who thought healing had already come was insanity. I wanted hold us both together, but felt as though I was an amputee and didn’t have any appendages with which to hold either of us.
Somewhere between Tuesday and Friday, my healing began.
Just Saturday I asked myself, is this real? Or is it another form of broken–a distortion of self, calling regression progress?
Maybe I made the breaking up–fabricated from my own desire to be free from you, to be free to me.
Maybe Monday was just fine, a little boring even, and I needed something to do, so I broke myself on you.
No, I think I hurt. I think I see pieces of myself strewn throughout the family photo albums. I can’t tell, because you’re always telling me otherwise, and all I can hear right now are your words drowning my own.
I am drowning, or at least I was on Monday.
Who will save me?
Can I save myself? I don’t think that’s how it’s done…
But then, somewhere between Tuesday and Friday I remembered that, many years ago–before the albums even–I was a swimmer.
I’m slowly starting to comb through some of the writing I’ve done during the last 8 months. It’s messy, but it’s real, and it’s a way for me to catalogue the undoing of life.
While the cycles of mental illness have broadened and we are repeating them less frequently–perhaps with days or even a week between–there was a time when we cycled on the hour, multiple times a day. And the intensity of it broke me. Perhaps another woman might have made sense of it all… But thus commences a writer’s perspective on the brutality of mental illness and the subsequent undoing of a marriage when illness goes untreated.
Let me hang earrings on the ears I have bombarded.
Let me hang compliments on the heart I have diminished.
Let me rub the feet I have shackled.
Let me love the woman I need you to be–a woman who lives alongside me unaffected, unarmed.
Leave yourself behind and follow me. I know a better path to you.
Stop crying. Stop hurting. The past is the past. See me today! I am a new man; make the space for me I cannot make for you.
Stop talking. Stop remembering. Your unforgiveness is evidence of your brokenness. I broke you? No, not me. The man I was yesterday–vile creature. I have caged him, too.
Give me the kids. I can’t parent today.
Invite me home. I’m coming over and you can’t stop me.
I’m healed, you bitch.
You’re ruining our family. You deserve none of what I’ve done and I’m keeping the house, kicking you out on the streets so you can see how it feels.
I’m so sorry. Let me in. I love you for myself.