By now, I know that this is how it goes. I expand into a new aspect of my life and the nightmares return. There was the one where I prostituted my youngest son. Or the one where my house was on fire. Or the one from this week where I cheated on my husband and abandoned the baby.
I don’t have a baby. I haven’t had a baby for 13 years. My kids don’t even need me. Not in that moment to moment, or even day to day way. In fact, when I’m gone they’re delighted. Not that they want me out the picture altogether, but that they welcome the opening that any familial absence brings.
And yet, each time I leave, I sense my world less secure. Threatened by my lack of attention–not so much because it’s needed, but because it’s necessary, as a ritual, of protection. Of vigilance. Of coping. Of childhood, mine, not theirs.
I have a therapist. I address these challenges as they come up, but they always return with the tide of life’s changes, particularly as I grow beyond home.
In last night’s dream, I was on a trip. I stopped at the police station on a city corner for help. Somehow my favorite sweatshirt was tangled in the traffic light lines overhead. I turned my back on my car only to hear it get hit by another. It wasn’t a bad accident, but my car was immediately pushed to the side of the road, by a bulldozer, and totalled in the process. Hood crushed. Windows smashed. Contents looted. Particularly during the night when I couldn’t watch.
At dawn, I returned to my vehicle, which had grown into a mini-van and then a trailer and finally a small warehouse, and came upon throngs of inner-city homeless shopping through my stuff as if it were a tag sale. I dashed after one object and then another, unable to stop the flow of my belongings departing.
I couldn’t remember what I had packed, and I couldn’t figure out what items were in greatest need of my protection. I stopped two women walking out with my books, and I said, “Those are mine,” and to my surprise, they seemed to care, not so much about the contents in their hands but about me. They asked if I had food. They asked if needed money. When I explained that I had eaten breakfast and that I had insurance for my things, they looked at me differently, and with that, they turned, with my things in hand.
Just then I saw two large men walking off with my Baggalini purse and tote bag. Finally, I was certain of something I should protect in this chaos. I ran after them, and then paused, considering if the belongings were worth my life. The men looked threatening. Maybe the had weapons. I had left those bags on the front seat of car, which became the chair, at my desk, near the piano, in the last classroom in which I taught before leaving my career as a teacher.
I followed these men out the back doors and onto the stairs, and grabbed after my bags, explaining how long it had taken me to choose this particular brand for my international work; but then I remembered, that I had left that job too, and didn’t really need those bags in the same way. The men kept rummaging through them, looking for something they wanted. I kept hoping that they wouldn’t find my wallet and my computer, which I couldn’t believe that I had left behind. I called out for help.
My husband appeared outside the building, at the top of the steps, outside of what had become glass doors; and he waved pleasantly as if nothing was wrong; as if to say…
Hadn’t I chosen this sale of my life?
This what happens when you leave.
This is what happened each time I turned my back on my life as a daughter. My mother started drinking. My cat disappeared. My Nana was killed in an accident. My parents divorced. We lost our house. Our family was torn apart. My mother got cancer.
Pay attention, Kelly
Kelly is constantly distracted.
Kelly is a constant source of distraction.
Kelly needs to focus.
Looked what happened when you weren’t paying attention, Kelly! Look what happened when you went away.
For this reason, I am terrified of wanting more. Of needing something other than the gift of my family and our home and our lives together.
I watched my father lose his family out of neglect for “other.” I watched my mother lose her family out of neglect of self. I want to be responsible. I want to do it right. I want everything good to last forever. I can’t bear to be at fault when it doesn’t. It is all such a precarious balancing act.
But now it is morning, and spring is awakening on our snowy hill. Geese call from overhead, and new patches of grass greet me out the window. The smell of sugaring lingers in the air.
I am hungry for breakfast. I will make eggs in my kitchen. And in a week’s time, I will abandon my family during our spring vacation for an opportunity to expand and enrich my own life, with the hope that they will be safe and secure and sublimely satisfied themselves.
My youngest is at first appalled that I will miss the trip (that I so carefully crafted) to visit his brother at school; though later he confides that he’ll enjoy the time alone with his dad. His brother tells me that he’d be mad if I didn’t go, if I didn’t take this opportunity. As a freshman at college, he knows something about the push to leave and the pull from home.
In fact, he was the one who, at four years old, when I took him to the art studio to sign up for classes, and discovered that he was too young, encouraged me to take a class instead. “You can do it, Mom,” he said. And I did. Because he believed I could.
This is how it is. Loss comes with light. Growth comes with pain. Opportunity requires giving something up.
Sometimes life’s choices aren’t as simple as good and evil, right and wrong, true and false; sometimes they’re both good and right and true–all at the same time.
I went back and forth on whether this post belonged on my personal journey blog, Two Owls Calling, or on this parental journey blog, The Empty(ing) Nest Diary, and I wished there was some way to have it rest–in between. I want to visit my son and take this opportunity in my life. But I have to choose.
And so I leave this post here,
and head off to myself–there.
(Click to head “there” for the companion piece to this one, written 10 years earlier: Lobotomy)