Mother’s Day — I almost forgot.
No, I remembered to send my mom a card, and bring her flowers. A few days early, even. That’s new. This is the first year I’ve had enough of space in my life to plan ahead. I even sent cards to a couple of my friends. So I remembered.
But me. I forgot about me.
Yesterday I was tight and critical with my fiancé, even shouting at him for leaving a box in the middle of the floor where I stumbled over it (a little) on my way to jab folded towels into the shelf in the bathroom. The more upset I became, the more silent and withdrawn, the more he tried to offer what he thought might help, loving words, gentle touch, warm looks. But I refused to meet his gaze, retreating into the familiar safety of more anger. He kept trying to love me, help me out of the tight corner that I was pressing myself deeper into, following me around the house trying to hug me as I grabbed my arms away from him, poked and pulled his hair to escape the love, my internal age shrinking by the minute until an angry three year-old was fighting away from any human contact. The more he tried, the more insistent the words in my head shouted, I hate you. Leave me alone. I hate you. Go away.
Finally, I, or the stubborn three-year old who seemed to be in charge, pulled the Freida Kahlo jigsaw puzzle I’ve been working on into a patch of sunlight on the floor so that I could attack the last pieces, all blue, nearly impossible to conquer. I began shoving one piece after another into the wrong places, satisfied by the repetition of failure.
“Honey, come over here and talk to me,” he pleaded lovingly, then firmly. I refused to acknowledge his requests.
At last I said, “Why should I? Why can’t you come here?”
He sighed, got up from where he sat by the fire, and came over. Sitting behind me, he put his arms around me. “What’s going on, honey? What do you need?”
I answered him with silence.
He asked again, waiting patiently, as he had been doing for hours.
“Stop wasting your time. This is stupid. Just because I’m acting like a shit head, doesn’t mean you have to hang out with me. Go do something worthwhile.”
“This is worthwhile,” he affirmed.
“No it isn’t.”
He sat quiet while I continued to press pieces into wrong places, realizing the futility of my efforts.
“Would you like a massage?” he asked.
“Fine!” I acquiesced as if I were doing him a favor by stomping my three-year-old self over to the futon in front of the fire and lying face down, still angry, still lost.
I lay waiting, wondering if he would be able to touch me right, if he would remember that my feet need to be touched first. I was sure he’d screw up.
Then I felt the gentle press of a soft blanket across my shoulders. I felt more warmth on my hips and legs and feet as he spread another out over them. Then the cool touch of his hands on my left foot as he lifted it and gently placed it on a pillow. Finally, he settled himself down and lifted my right foot onto his lap, caressing it with the softest touch before he set to work on the arch and toes.
As my body began to loosen, let go, knowing nothing was expected of me, knowing I could receive without being asked to give, as the angry guard in my head relaxed, I felt the depth of my sadness rise up. I felt an overwhelming sense of tragedy. The words that came to me were, Everything feels so tragic, and I don’t know why. And with this admission, the tears began to trickle down my nose toward the floor. I kept my arm crooked tight over my face, keeping out the sun, keeping my lover from the satisfaction of knowing he had penetrated my defense, knowing his love and efforts were working, had found a chink in the armor, a way inside to give me the sweet relief of tears. But the words kept repeating themselves. Everything feels so tragic, and I don’t know why. And as I felt the sadness, the depth of it, the bewilderment and still didn’t know where it came from, I noticed also the absence of resistance, at last. And even though the intensity of the sadness was growing, the painful pinch of holding out against the feeling was gone, and the sharp pain of that was diminishing as I was able to simply bathe in the sorrow, knowing from experience, it would now begin to let me go.
As I lay feeling his fingers move slow and gentle along first my pinky toe then the fourth, his progress, so slow, not rushing to be anywhere, that the next toe became impatient like a child, reaching for his fingers, wanting the same attention. I noticed the gift of his patience, his attention to the task, that gave me the space at last to feel sadness and then remorse.
Why am I so hateful? I wondered. I asked myself. Why do I get so irritable and unkind? Playing over again the scenes of the day, the silences, the cutting looks, the criticism I heaped on him. And he gives me this. Love, attention, sweetness, time.
I felt my face wanting the blessing of his hands, and I inched my way closer to him, my head finding his lap where I snuggled in, like a dog sorry for its misdeeds. I rested my skull on his ankle and placed his hand on my face. Everything feels so tragic, and I don’t know why. I rehearsed the words in my head again and again, trying them out, wondering if it was OK to say them. At last I whispered them aloud. And the weeping began again.
He leaned in closer, “Yeah.”
“I don’t know why I get so hateful,” I choked out through my tears.
“It’s OK, honey,” he soothed.
I lay, my head in his lap, my eyes still shut under his hand, and felt the exhaustion of shutting him out, of fighting this sadness for so long. I lay noticing after a while that the grip of the feelings were releasing, as I slowly returned to the ordinary of daytime life.
We can make oatmeal cookies, I thought to myself. And then bring the new perennials I bought down to the basement because it will be too cold for them in the shed tonight.
Such a relief to imagine doing simple tasks. So good to know there was nothing else to be done tonight.
I lay and listened more to my thoughts. I wondered about this terrible mood, how it descended so quickly after three days of pleasure, of contentment, when I was alone in my mother’s cabin by a lake. I wondered why I felt so bad when things in my life are finally so good. My dreams are coming true. I feel safe. I feel loved. I feel happy in my work.
I thought about the writing prompt I’d given my students, Write about the rhythm of your grief, about it’s surges and recessions. And I had thought as I wrote it, My grief is done. Fourteen years later there are no more surges.
It’s still six weeks away from my dead son’s birthday, so it’s too early for that, I thought.
Finally, I realized, Oh. It’s Mother’s Day tomorrow. Maybe that’s what’s going on. I lay there wondering, Marc’s fingers still stroking my long hair. And I said the words out loud. And then, “Sometimes Mother’s Day is not the easiest day for me.”
“Oh honey,” he leaned in again with his quiet love, and I felt surface in me what I now see was a little bit of compassion. Oh yes, this, grief, my son, my baby boy, who died before we were ready.
Yes, this. And now it’s mother’s day. The day I remember that only two of my three sons are still here on the planet with me, the day I remember I had a little boy I loved, one who loved me with such fierceness that he sometimes cried at the thought of losing me. And I am a mother who watched her own son die.
Maybe that’s why I was overcome with difficult emotions yesterday, maybe that’s why I was powerless against their surfacing. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t manage my feelings. Maybe it’s because some feelings are too big to be managed and you just have to let them have their way, make their way out, leave you quiet and humble and gentle for a little while.
Odilon Redon, Orpheus (detail), pastel, c. 1903-10. The Cleveland Museum of Art
This is part of RHYTHM, a section of The Learned Pig devoted to exploring rhythm as individual and collective, as poetic and biological, and the ways that rhythm dictates life. RHYTHM is conceived and edited by Rachel Goldblatt.