Letting Go

On a particularly warm sunny day in February of 1991, I stepped out of a women’s clinic with the news that I was expecting.  I was so young then.  Fresh out of college,  I was an energized naive 22 year old woman who had just been told that everything had changed.  With each day, each cell dividing and changing and growing in my womb, I found the courage to embrace that fierce protective love that a mother has.  I knew that I could put my own selfish desires aside for this one life.   While he grew inside, we grew together – he and I.  I first felt those little butterfly flutters deep inside long before there was any physical signs of him.  My heart raced with his every time I’d hear his heart beating through the stethoscope.  He kept hiding from the sonogram so I would only catch glimpses of him as he’d turn his back – a fetus who just wanted to be alone in his own world, like his mother who often enjoyed just sitting in the still of her moment with no one else interrupting that peace.  He’d roll back and forth inside, poking his foot out from under my ribs and I’d poke back – our first game – and we’d play it for hours before bedtime.  I’d waddle down to the local market and buy a tray of fresh baked cinnamon rolls, waddle back to the apartment and eat the whole tray, washing it down with a tall cool glass of milk – just he and I indulging in our sweet tooth.  My water broke on the morning of September 28,1991. I ate a breakfast of scrabbled eggs and bacon cooked up by his father, taking bites between contractions.  Then we rushed to the hospital where he as born at 10:40 AM.  Jimmy stayed inches away from him as the nurses cleaned him up, swaddled him tightly in those little white blankets with the blue and pink stripes, placed him in my arms, dimmed the lights and left us alone with him.  And the first thing Zach did was open his eyes and look around as if to say “this is cool, I’ll stay a while”.  And I played with his feet through the blanket, just like all those evenings when he was a part of me.  Then they took him to the nursery and it was the first time we had ever been apart.  I wanted to eat lunch with him in my arms.  I never wanted to let him out of my arms again.  Every moment I had in the hospital, I held him, until the nurses insisted I needed to sleep and swept him away to the nursery.  It was the start of learning to let go.  The hardest lesson a parent will ever have to learn and the most selfless act that they will ever need to do.

My son is now the same age as I was when I was pregnant with him.  That same precious energetic naive age that we all cross through.  An age of angst and promise all rolled into one.  So ready for the world and so afraid to fail it.   He is at that age where I have to truly let go and believe that even if I don’t see him every day, talk to him every day, text him every day – that I have handed him all the building blocks to chart his own course.   I’ll hold the history of his life in my heart.  His first step, his first words, his first day at school, his first bad grade, his first bully, his first dance with his first date, his first day on his first job.  He learned to drive in his mom’s little stick shift Mazda and I would test him on his shifting smoothness by getting in the car with a full cup of coffee and telling him his driving better not spill it.  And how I marveled over his senior band concert when he wailed on that baritone saxophone for the Star Wars canteen song.  I followed him to Las Vegas for his 9 ball tournament, where I got to watch him lean his full frame comfortably over the pool table to make the winning shot.

From that first moment that we separated, I knew I would always have to let him go – again and again – but letting go doesn’t mean I have to stop being witness, feeling his sorrows with him, sharing his joys, embracing all that is quintessentially Zach.   It means I get to watch him walk the path that feels right for him on his own two feet – the same little feet that would poke out from under my ribs so I could poke them back.    (And Nickel Creek sings it all for me – When You Come Back Down)

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A Simple Life

All I’ve wanted is a simple life.  It seems like another life time ago that I had it.  But then I lost it.  The moment we knew Keith was sick, life suddenly became complicated, or more precisely, complex.  Yet our reaction was just as simple as our lives had been before.  Doctors appointments, organizing pills, keeping the germs away, paying the bills, keeping the household running – all simple actions in a complex situation.  Then Keith slipped away, creating a simple void that I filled with complicated thoughts.   Once you’ve lived a simple life, you become addicted.  A maddening craving that never goes away.  So, just like an addict, I’ve spent over a year running after it – running from the thoughts, running to adventure and travel, running into an overloaded schedule of work and then more work, and actually flat out running across the finish line of a half marathon.  I even ran away from home.  Moved just a handful of precious chattel down the road 50 miles from the town I thought I would grow old in.

But you can only run so far and fast.  On the day I moved the last of my things out of Easton, there could be no more running.  I had it again.  By every technical definition, I was once again living a simple life.  I had a quiet house in the country. I found a new career in a beautiful little office right around the corner.  A handyman and his family became my tenants and take better care of the house than I ever could.  And yet – what was this rumbling?  This sound in my head and the pound in my heart?  I was so focused on running towards that shiny dream of simplicity that I never saw the wave of pain, confusion, grief, doubts, fears, and shaken faith that had built up so slowly at my heels.  Built to a monstrous level that could do nothing other than crest and crash over me at that precise moment that I had stopped the chase.

I had everything.  My life was better than good.  I lost it all.  And yet, I found it all over again.  It should have been glorious.  I wanted to sing and not cry.  Instead, I spent a month of sleepless nights and started to find myself wide awake and restless long before the birds would sing to the rising sun.  I would wander the house like a ghost, my stomach knotted up and leaving no room for sustenance.  On October 18 I couldn’t sleep at all.  That morning, I stood before Gary in the kitchen – a simple man willing to share a simple life with me – and I disintegrated right there in front of him.  Imploded and melted into that blinding love for Keith, sobbing madly, with every inch of my body and soul.  I couldn’t stop it.  I couldn’t calm it.  The crest of that dreaded wave of loss and pain and grief.  And I’ve been riding it ever since – until last night.

I’ve only heard of moments of clarity, brought on by meditation, prayer, drinking through stupid and into numbness.  And yet, here I was – sitting on the front step of Anita’s house last night while her daughter handed out candy to trick-or-treaters.  The guys were hanging out in the kitchen dining on chicken and dumplings.  We idly chatted about our own trick-or-treat adventure growing up while sipping on our lime-o-ritas.  The night so delightfully warm for Halloween.  A bee and a cookie monster paid us a visit.  Two Cleopatras enchanted us.  One visitor couldn’t see through his head-to-toe tied-dyed body suit so he had his sister escort him from house to house.  Every time Stella handed out candy, she’d fluff my already, as she called it, “poofy hair”.

And I wasn’t thinking about all I’ve lost, all that’s changed, what the future holds, my job, what I needed to do tomorrow.  The only past conjured up in that moment was my childhood memories.  I wasn’t running.  I wasn’t filling a void with complicated thoughts.  I wasn’t looking over my shoulder at the deadly wave.  There was only the calm waters of my soul.  Peace.  Everything changed in the blink of an eye.  I left the ghosts that have haunted me on that doorstep in the dark of night on all hallows eve.  This morning, I woke at my usual 4:45 AM.  Kissed Gary on the neck and slipped out of bed at 5:00 AM so I could start the coffee, started slicing venison for jerky by 5:15 AM while infused with the spirit of my early rising love, my beloved Keith.  Infused – yes – not haunted – by that infectious Tigger that would bound into the bedroom to bother this night owl’s restful sleep because he had already been up for hours.  He is here.  He always has been.  Are you proud of me, Keith?  This is all we ever wanted for each other – a simple life.  I will live it for both of us.