Falling stars

When I was little, I was afraid of the stars. 

Hearing the term “falling stars,” I logically concluded that stars could fall out of the sky. After learning the fate of the dinosaurs, the possibility of a falling star joining us on earth became quite an active threat in my mind. To stare up at the stars was to stare at my eventual demise. 

Having since learned the correct term for a meteor, as well as discovering that NASA has an asteroid defense system, I can gaze at the stars in appreciation rather than fear. On nights that are warm and clear, I will find myself getting wrapped up in the grandeur and majesty of it all. If I lose myself in the moment, however, the enormity will overwhelm me and I will feel that old fear rising in me as I begin to question the things that scare me now. Life. Death. Infinity. Finity.  

Although I welcomed learning about asteroids, other enlightenments have not always been so positive. Education is a slow process which first involves creating a foundation of knowledge, and then a systematic dismantling of it as we learn the initial version of events was not quite accurate. To grow up is to watch the world slowly crumble around you. 

I have never enjoyed watching the stars fall. 

It happens gradually, subtly at first. You relearn the stories of our country, hearing the darker sides for the first time. Simple Sunday School truths do not seem to apply to the complicated world you live in. A beloved relative has a history you could have done without knowing about. A couple you know gets divorced. A child dies. You begin to realize the extent of the complexities, the pain, and the hunger of this world. We can ignore it, retreating back into preferred ignorance, or simply avoid staring at it for too long, lest we notice that one by one, the stars are falling down. 

I have always hated the discomfort of this process, even if I have welcomed the knowledge itself. With matters of faith, I struggled the most. Whenever someone who I had learned from later realized they were walking down a path they did not fully believe in, I felt shaken. I questioned the journey I was on, wondering if I only believed out of naïveté, or perhaps simple stubbornness.

When I was thirteen, I watched one of the most spectacular meteor showers the world would ever see. The stars flew across the sky, stretching from end to end before burning out their glory. The universe was forever changed, but at its core, it was all it had ever professed to be – grand. 

I no longer fear the falling stars. 

I have realized I believe in truth and in love, and most others do as well. There will be many times when we are wrong, sometimes devastatingly so, about the manifestations of these. 

These stars must fall away.

I doubt I will ever enjoy the process, but I have learned that an ever changing, ever churning world is to be savored. My place within it has not changed, though the stars may swirl about. I remain in love. 

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Leather

The gray light of morning
Falls down as our soft bodies
Listen to the calling of tears,
A calling we have chosen,
And we remember when mornings were our own,
They were easier, and somehow less.
Now our tired bodies breathe in a
Fierce love.
They will grow
Breathe the same fire for themselves
Marveling that it could exist
And we will wonder
How they did not know.

The leather that binds us will crack.
We will stand together, mostly together,
At funeral homes
And I will watch you walk away from me.
Rosy cheeks tempt rose scented views
But the evidence of life is other.
The leather that binds us will crack.
But there will always have been love.
There will always have been love.

Mamalode

I’m excited to share that I have a piece up on Mamalode today. I usually find taking two kids to the grocery store something just short of terrifying, but usually there are one or two people there willing to help you out. I hope you check it out! 

She catches you staring, and smiles. “It gets easier,” she promises, looking bemused and relieved that her children no longer throw tantrums and wear diapers. You believe her, and hold on to that truth when moments later your toddler starts climbing on top of the car and your baby insists he wants to nurse right now and latches on while still seated in the cart. You wonder if she ever misses this; you wonder if you will.

The Women Who Smile at You at the Grocery Store on Mamalode. 

Hush, little baby.

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Hush, little baby, don’t say a word. Mama’s going to buy you a mockingbird.

We sit on the couch, or rather, I sit while he bounces. Suddenly, he is not there. I see only his legs in the air; his body is falling down the other side. There is a crash and the tears are instantaneous.

And if that mockingbird don’t sing, Mama’s going to buy you a diamond ring.

My mind races as mothers do, lapping dozens of possibilities before I make it around the couch. Did he break his neck? Will there be blood? Broken arm? Concussion? Can he move?

And if that diamond ring turns brass, Mama’s going to buy you a looking glass.

I cuddle him in my lap. He is larger than he was when I first sang him this song, and his legs hang off of mine. His face is red and he looks into my eyes as he screams. There are no injuries, but I hold him close.

And if that look glass gets broke, Mama’s going to buy you a billy goat.

This was the song that my mother sang to me when I couldn’t fall asleep on nights that seemed to be extra black. Now I wonder who would hand a baby a diamond ring, why the promise of multiple carts would soothe a crying child. But it never failed to do so.

And if that billy goat won’t pull, Mama’s going to buy you a cart and bull.

When he was little, he was not easily soothed by the things that are meant to soothe babies. But eventually, after hours of failed attempts, this song begun to work on my infant son as well. His cries would slow, then cease, and he would stare at me, listening.

And if that cart and bull fall over, Mama’s going to buy you a dog named Rover.

His back hurts, he gasps between the sobs. I snuggle him closer, reminding him, “this is why we don’t jump on the couch.” I immediately regret saying this. In this moment, he realizes that. Tomorrow, he will have forgotten both my admonishment and the time he fell headfirst over the back of the couch, and return to his wild ways. Right now, however, he only needs someone to hold him as he cries.

And if that dog named Rover won’t bark, Mama’s going to buy you a horse and cart.

He pops up. “Mama,” he says with utter seriousness.”It was like I was flying,” he says, beginning to grin. “It hurt when I landed, but it was fun flying down.”

And if that horse and cart fall down, you’ll still be the sweetest baby in town.

Beautiful, useful

For the last four years, my body has not been my own. I have been its landlord, renting it out to temporary tenants who needed a place to start their lives. I have held babies in my belly as they grew and in my arms as they nursed, every day for the last four years. For nearly fifteen hundred days, I have awoken to the cry of someone thirsting for milk, or fallen asleep as they nestled next to the beating of my heart. I have been their first home.

When I was younger, I was neither particularly displeased nor pleased  with my body. I was, however, always most comfortable when the cool breeze of fall meant I could wrap myself in jeans and sweaters. I have never fully outgrown the feeling that I was all knees and elbows, topped with a mess of red hair. The exposure of that southern summers necessitated seemed to amplify this feeling. The freckles that danced on my pale Irish skin were emboldened by any hint of sunlight, and the shorts and sandals, to me at least, highlighted my awkward adolescent legs. I was always glad when Semptember, and long sleeves, returned.

Nowadays, I have little need, nor ability to cover myself. I often joke that there are few people in the state of Montana who haven’t see my breasts. I have nursed while hiking in the park, during Sunday mass, in the Capitol building before giving testimony, while the dentist cleaned my son’s teeth. Hiding my body now seems like a silly inconvenience. My legs have turned into a lap to be sat on, my hair has been twirled by sticky fingers, my freckled cheeks have been kissed by little lips. For the last four years, my body has been loved.

It is a funny thing, now that I consider my body as something to be useful, rather than something to be beautiful, it has become a bit more of both.

 

My Son’s First Memory

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Now things are really going to start to matter. My son, three years old and plowing headstrong to four, is old enough to start remembering.

I’m not talking about remembering that time we to the park last week, or how I told him he could have a few jelly beans after naptime (even though I hoped he would forget). I’m talking real memories. First memories. The kind of memories that the girl you’ve gone on four or five dates with starts to question you about. “What’s your earliest childhood memory?” she asks, swirling the wine in her glass, trying to find out who you are beneath the scruffy beard and date night sweater.

I’ve started wondering which moment it is going to be. Will it be today, falling off his bike when an older kid ran into him, crying as all the parents rushed over to help? How the dirt covered his pants and I held him as he shuddered, and walked beside him as he bravely biked back towards his dad? Will it be building sandcastles on the beach with his grandfather, watching imagination turn into creation? Or maybe it will be one of the simple moments throughout the day, the ones I have already forgotten. Sitting on the couch reading books, splashing in the bath, eating cereal with daddy in the morning.

Mine is laying my bed in our first house, warm sunlight flowing through the window as I woke up. That, or having the chicken pox. I prefer to think it was the first.

“Why don’t I remember when I was a baby?” he asked me today after listening to me tell tales about his earliest days. “Nobody remembers when they are a baby,” I assured him. “But mommies do. We will always remember.”

The words rang untrue as I said them. There are no guarantees that I will be able to keep those promises we make to never forget, to remember until the day I die. I have watched both my grandmothers struggle to remember, watched as the vaults that housed lifetimes of memories were slowly robbed.

I don’t know which moment will be the one that stay with him, or if it has already passed. Even if, by chance, it’s one of the good ones, I have no guarantee how long it will last, how long either of us will get to keep it, before, like the sandcastles he built with his grandfather, time will come to reclaim them.

Just in case, I think I will tell him “I love you” a few extra times tomorrow. You never know what will stick.

 

 

April

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Spring is not the season of new life. It is the season of death.

I was reminded of this yesterday while I spent the day working in the garden. Rather than ushering new seedlings into being, I was elbow deep in the detritus that filled our yard. My husband removed an old cherry tree that had not survived winters before. I tore out weeds and the remains of the flowers we loved last year. We were surrounded by things that had once lived and died.

Every April, this truth is apparent.

I was a junior in college, eating lunch with a friend. She asked if I had heard the news, that someone had been shot that morning at the school where her fiancé attended. The school whose football team I had always rooted for, the one where nearly all of my high school friends attended, the one in the town where I had gone to church. While we spoke, bullets had already torn through bodies and through the community. Blood had flown and the tears did as well. They would not stop for days, for weeks, for lifetimes. It was enough to water all of the gardens that had been planted in only hope weeks before.

We parted and I called my mother to ask if she had heard the news. “Eight.” She said. “Eight people have been shot.” We hung up, and I began to cry. Standing in the middle of the student center, staring at the TVs that showed the news, listening to a reporter confirm one death and a possible second at the university in Blacksburg, I cried. People stopped to watch, turning from the TVs to me and back again. I tried to explain through the tears. A stranger stopped, and put her arm around me, offering me a tissue. She stood with me, watching as the news report changed, and the numbers on the screen began to tick upwards.

The bathroom offered sanctuary, and I collected myself in there, listening to another girl sob in the bathroom stall. She kept telling the person on the other end of the phone call she loved her. She came out, and we hugged as she told me her sister had been working on campus. Mine had been as well that day, I learned later that night.

A friend took me in, and we watched the news. Ten. Twenty two. Thirty. The numbers no longer mattered. I texted friends from home, learning one by one they were safe. Thirty two. My body shook until it hurt, until the pain felt good because it was real.

I waited for the list. It came, and I knew one of the names on it, a former classmate whom I had run into on campus the last time I was home a few months earlier. He had smiled and we chatted; he waved goodbye. My sisters knew others.

Mistakenly, I attended class the next day. The professor placed a test in front of me, a test I had forgotten about. I turned it in blank. I did not attend school for the rest of the week. For the rest of that spring, I sat in my own French class staring at the door, wondering what would happen if evil walked in.

A hometown should remain as it does in one’s childhood memories. Immune to new construction that draws its face unrecognizable. Immune to tragedies. When I drove home later that spring, it looked much the same, except there were more flowers this time. The flowers were strung into wreaths, laid against stones, resting by candles. The town shone with flowers.

Spring is not the season of new life. It is the season of struggle, of a battle between life and the force that continually attempts to conquer it.         

Now I live on the other side of the country, in a state where people know the school’s name because of football and because of the massacre, although they only ever mention the first. I live in mountains where the storms of winter do not cease in spring. Occasionally a cold and cruel snow will fall down, temporarily halting the birth of the world.

Life will eventually win, it is true. Life persists, it insists upon that. Eventually the tumult of April will pass and the world will bloom in full. The cycle will not end there, cold will come again and spring will eventually emerge victorious once more. Life struggles through pain. Children are born to the sound of their mother’s screams; flowers burst out of a land that once was frozen.

Pain never ends. Neither does life.