“There are 37 days until Thanksgiving,” Alexa tells me. Which means there are 37 days remaining between me & the Motherhood archetype.
I turned 37 in the year I lost my mother.
I moved to Marlboro and opened a new post office box that year: #37!
There is something else too.
Just beyond recollection.
Hovering there outside my right brain.
Oh, right! I
became a writer at 37!
Alas, I’d been writing in a journal, making art out of pain, for almost two decades by then; while I’d begun publishing pieces–interviews–about others just as I became a mother myself.
But it wasn’t until the darkness of motherless-ness at 37, accompanied by the birth of my second son, that a new generativity awakened in me–which led me to begin sharing my personal journey–first in safer little bits–an essay here, an article there–until I discovered blogging and Facebook–and let loose a flood of presence to what was stirring in me–past, present, future–in the divine play of art and connection and humanity.
So YES, 37, I bow to you on this journey to Menopause.
The world is crying. With rain.
Time shrunk into single themes.
Shame time. Guilt time. Loss time. Hate.
Folded onto itself, like the press of an accordion.
Each fear, for instance, experienced at once.
All the ways we are wrong.
No room for breath.
Expanding the folds of time.
With the rain.
On Crucifixion Day, I think of therapists–all those who make sacred the pain of others. Of social workers–who advocate for those who suffer. Of activists–who champion the cause. Of teachers–who point the way through. Of artists–who awaken the soul of hope. Of politicians–who define the course of a nation.
By Easter Eve, I found my mind, petal soft–the gift of a day of meditation with Tara Brach. By Easter morning, there is a personality Resurrection. Petals crushed by grasping.
I missed Easter once before–in 2007–during a training. I wasn’t nearly as sad this time (my kids are older now), but I did mourn the absence of ritual until I realized that I had been delivered an even better Easter Basket:
Deep presence… my rich chocolate bunny;
Beginning again (and again)–my egg hunt;
Tara’s jokes–color-full jelly beans; Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health–the basket;
300 students–the grass of consciousness; Tara Brach‘s Loving Presence weekend–received.
cream butter and cream cheese thoroughly; mix in sugar and add vanilla and nuts
if it seems dry, add a little milk
(my mother’s recipe)
I remember the first birthday cake that I ever baked. It was my father’s thirty-second birthday.
It was also the first occasion that we celebrated in our new home on Connor Rd–a steep hill lined with duplexes, reserved for officers. We lived at the very top, and looked out over the base and into the embrace of the Highlands above the mighty Hudson River.
Years later, many, many years later (but before Homeland Security), I returned to West Point to discover that I could no longer see the river from our place. The view had been obscured by trees–ones that had only just been planted when I first arrived on the base at the age of 11.
It was the mid-seventies, and my mother was still baking from scratch (sometimes), and sewing our costumes for Halloween (all the time), and keeping our house immaculately tidy–except for now. Now, she was crying in the tiny bathroom off the small kitchen which was just like all the others in this row of Captains quarters.
Beneath us, on the flat stretch below, were the First Lieutenant’s homes–somewhat smaller, and without a view, but nicer than those beneath them–in the apartments assigned to Second Lieutenants.
We would live on this base in this duplex for 3 years, until my father became a Major, which wasn’t enough of an advancement to get us one of those fancy homes with the big lawns and the screened porches. My father used to drive us down those tree-lined roads, which were closer to the Academy and the Chapel; and sometimes, he’d even venture into the exclusive cul-de-sac at the heart of West Point–reserved for Generals.
My mother hadn’t left yet. Hadn’t woken us girls up and carried the youngest ones out to the car sleeping, and then silently winded her way through the base, past the Generals’ homes, and out the gate, into Highland Falls; where she pulled up to the curb at the liquor store; and I held my breath; before she drove 4 hours in the dark to her hometown at the shore.
On my father’s thirty-second birthday, in mid-September, she hadn’t mustered that courage. Instead she was weak, and weepy, like a dog.
In fact, when I think back to this day, I think of Tigger–the dog that belonged to my baby sister once she was grown. I remember hearing her scold Tigger once, and then I watched, as Tigger bowed her head, slinked into the bathroom, and hid there until she was absolved.
My mother was hiding too. She had been hiding for a long time. Hiding pain. Hiding the bottle. Hiding from my father.
On this day, he banished her from the celebration at the kitchen table saying, “You don’t belong here, Mommy.”
She was drunk.
Because she was drunk, I decided that I would be the one to make the cake.
Carrot cake was my father’s favorite, and my mom made it every year with that cream cheese frosting and pecans.
It was a tall order for my first try. I never made it to the frosting.
The cake sat there–flat–on the table between us. Stiff, like clay, in our mouths. Especially after we sang Happy Birthday, Daddy to the sound of our mother’s shame echoing off the walls of the tiny bathroom.