It’s been so long since I’ve had the rush of sitting down at a blank screen and typing to you — the longest span of time, in fact, since I looked down seven years ago, took in my pregnant belly, startled myself cold, and decided to open a little blog account to do the one thing that had always made me feel more like me: Write.
My fingers tap tap tapped away on those keys and suddenly, as if by magic, a world was available to me where I could both sit directly inside of it – my life – but also leave it; transform it somehow. It was a lifeline back then, writing, and I used it the way someone would use an oxygen mask – frantically and with the acute awareness of how fragile they really were. Now, seven years later, as I find myself in the exact same situation – facing a drastic life change bigger than me – here I turn, spinning letters into words and words into sentences that give my life both a ticket into and out of itself.
I remember Mary Oliver saying once that she read to save her life, and that she wrote that way, too. There is nothing I understand more than this. For people who feel the very edges of their life, art becomes the only way they survive it. We write so our darkness doesn’t write us. And let’s be honest, we write because it’s cheaper than therapy and a whole fucking lot better for us than six bottles of gin.
So, here goes.
Joel and I separated not long after Christmas. It was precisely as you’d imagine it would be and I expect a standing ovation for how much gin I have NOT consumed, thank you in advance. A couple of weeks fresh into it, I remember going ice skating and taking a particularly bad fall. Throbbing pain flashed through my knee, and Ella immediately came skating over, put her hand on my shoulder and asked if I was okay. I looked up at her and before I could say anything, she said the thing I always say to my children whenever they hurt themselves: “The pain is always the worst in the beginning. It will get less soon, Mum. Just hold on.” I bit my lip to stop myself from crying, a little bit because it was so stunning to hear her mimic me — that the thankless, repetitive work I put into mothering them actually does pay off, but mostly because it wasn’t about my knee anymore. I hugged her tight and as I fell asleep that night, I wrapped her words around me like a blanket and willed sleep to come.
Three months and a shitload of hillsprints later, I can testify her statement to be correct, which technically she copied from her incredibly wise and brilliant mother, but let’s not get caught up on the specific details.
I would sit at my kitchen counter in those first few weeks, paralysed in fear. How would I do this? How could I do this? I couldn’t open a jar of pasta sauce one day and it was enough to dissolve me into a fit of tears. I am all by myself with all these children and all these things to be in charge of and I can’t even open this jar of pasta sauce. Which eventually turned into: Joel will remarry and his new wife will be amazing and my children will leave me for them and she’ll be the one who sweeps the hair from their eyes and tells them she loves them and listens to their secrets and tucks them into bed every night and I’ll be alone forever with my cat I don’t even like. As my therapist explained (yes, I have one of those) — this is how it works: When we are confronted with a lot of unknowns in our lives, our minds have a lot of blank data. And what our minds then do when faced with blank data, is fill it. So out it goes, our clever little mind, looking for stuff to fill the gaps. And you know what it chooses, our minds? You know the first thing it reaches for when we don’t know what’s going to happen? The scariest, most terrifying shit it can think of. My therapist says it’s a survival thing – our egos bracing themselves to protect us, but honestly, our egos could do us a lot of good by toning down the blood and guts and horror music, just quietly. I feel things deeply, you guys. Those horror stories stopped me from sleeping for weeks. Anyway, my therapist says the best thing we can do is to step back and be an “observer”. We have to notice when our mind is running with a story. Like, Oh hey! There’s that great story about how I’m a piece of crap and no one will ever love me again! Thanks for stopping by! Kindly exit the building!
Because here’s the thing: There is so much I lost when I decided to leave, but what I gave up most of all were my ideals of what a family could and should look like. I left behind the dream we’re sold of how perfection has to be packaged up and presented to our own minds and instead, I decided to trust the only one true thing I’ve come to know: Myself.
If I can confirm anything throughout this experience, it’s that perfection is a bullshit construct designed to paralyse us into obedience. What lies underneath perfection when we stop listening to it – and this is the dangerous part – is our own goddamn voices. Because listen to me: It is not your job to abandon yourself in order to follow a perfect path. It is not your job to accept a safe, mediocre version of your life. No one, not one of us, is here for that. I know you know that voice. That very still, very clear, very unwavering voice pointing you to the next right thing; the one that draws on the truth at your core whether you like it or not. Listen to her. Listen to her like she’s all that exists.
She will walk you to the edge, and you will be trembling. She’ll point out to the horizon, full of all the scary things you don’t know and she will say jump and you will turn to her and say no and she will say yes and this will go on for some time. You will be standing there for years, most likely. You will look away and ignore her for years and years and years but she will stand there, patiently, with her hand gently resting on your back, until you hear her no longer as a wispy breath in your ear but an unrelenting scream in the pit of your heart. It’s at that moment you allow yourself to accept it. It’s precisely then that you admit that you know. You know. God, do you know. You look out and the view remains the same: The nothingness. No safety net. No map. No path. But then you see it. Ever so faintly, down below. A few stepping stones. Not many, but enough that you feel something rise in your chest. Hope, maybe. Strength. Go go go, she whispers, and even though you can barely breathe, you step onto the ledge, outstretch your arms and jump.
“We must feel everything, everything we can. We are here for that.” Henry James.