Ten Stories Up
I have the flu.
This morning I was so sick I could not make it to my children, who now primarily live at their father’s home while I take care of them during the days and evenings. I was so consumed with fever I could not see from the pain behind my eyes, and so have spent a strange solitary day in bed, the restless vision of illness my only companion.
Nothing fits anymore. Not on the widened scale of our shameful puppet in the White House, the numberless and numbing atrocities that drift past our gadgets like so many hallucinatory vignettes; and not on the personal level either: so many people I know are in the middle of illness, transition, pain. Myself included. I cannot remember the last day of respite, or deep sleep, or a simple absence of injury.
I know that somewhere in New York right now, or down the street from this apartment, there is a couple falling in love, or a woman enjoying a fine dinner out by herself, or an old man walking his dog in the snow. These things still happen. And that is a joy, no?
On other days, when my mind is not so muddied, I write about memory, illusion, and the manner in which desire and current circumstance reshape the past, so the past itself becomes something that never really happened. But today, a day of freezing snow, my body chilled and then coated in sweat, covered with five pale-rose comforters and cashmere only to kick it all off, frantic from heat – today I am nostalgic and soft and sad.
I made the aching, horrible decision to not own a home, to not “provide” a home for my children, so that they might stay in one place. Because my X has the temperament and money for a house, and owns one the children love already, I ceded that part of the endless battle to him. I cannot tear my children’s minds down the middle, demanding they sleep here, now over here, simply because their parents are selfish fuck-ups.
So they stay. And I flutter around them, a little like a nanny. And I am homeless, there is no center for me. I wake, I drive to them. I pass the day with the littlest or wait for them to be done at school. I hate my apartment, as beautifully as I’ve designed it – the beauty itself feels hollow, like something staged for someone else’s life. And I hate, utterly loathe, the house they inhabit, because it is his, not mine, and I am some cross between a mama, a housekeeper, a beggar, and an uninvited guest who must from necessity return to the table.
If this were a fairy tale, which I suppose like all life it is, one could say that I used to be the queen, sitting at the head of the table with her first born prince and two beautiful princesses. My fingers were draped in diamonds, and in my vanity and worship of the prince and princesses the king grew angry. Finally his anger brought a curse on our kingdom, and now I have lost my crown, allowed still to own the title “Mother,” but only as a handmaiden, bended knee, praying he does not change his mind.
For a few weeks I lived in terror of banishment. Until I realized that the banishment had occurred already, and that in trying to appease the angry father and tend to the suffering children I had unwittingly turned myself into a strange old witch, begging to be let in.
There is a modern term for this kind of parenting. It is called “nesting.” However, in this understanding, both parents sometimes live in the home. In my situation, I am a permanent visitor, so that, for instance, upon falling ill, I return to a lonely bed ten stories high. There is a bedroom next to mine with three adorable beds.
They have been slept in once.
This afternoon I dreamt that I emptied the apartment. All my clothes, all the absurdly gorgeous, art deco-bohemian furnishings, gone. A couch. A place to practice. A pair of jeans and some books. Why?
In tears, hours later, it came to me:
My children will have no memory of this place. It’s just where Mama goes at night.
No homework fights.
No movie nights or political diatribes they recall to their own children after I am dead.
No dinner table or heirlooms or a place to rest a tired body on holiday from University.
What will they remember?
The smell of their sheets on a hot summer night. The sounds in the hallway as their father turns out the lights, at exactly 11PM every night.
The kitchen with its gleaming black quartz and brilliant white cupboards (that I designed), and the hideous, comfortable table where they draw and fight and make endless messes.
Do you remember the opening scenes of Terrence Malick’s great masterpiece “The Tree of Life?” The manner in which the Madonna-like Mrs. O’brien loved and mourned her children? The wind, the whispered phrases of love, grace, faith?
This. This is childhood. It is Origin. And birth. And Divine Love.
It is what I have known as a mother. It is all I’ve known.
The sky against a singing swing. The let-down of milk from heavy breasts. The grief-joy of each passing birthday. Small dresses and huge curls, minds of the infinite New.