Love Letter To My Valentine

My love,

I’m well aware of your rare but genuine lack of sentimentality, and me addressing you on Valentines Day, one of those Holidays that makes all the whites of your eyes show when you roll them, is at least a little funny to me. I didn’t buy you one of those trinkets we often laugh at together. A “Blessed” keychain or one of those wooden picture frames with the non sequitur adjectives sketched in, meant to communicate love I guess. Love. Family. Hope. Frying Pan. Coffee Beans! Maybe we’re too young to be such skeptics. Maybe it’s our hiding ego, projecting superiority that we don’t need kitschy picture frames to allude to what’s real and shared inside of us. I’m in the card aisle at the pharmacy looking at a criminally large sized teddy bear holding a heart. It says I wuv you on it. It’s similarly tacky, but I consider purchasing it just for the laughs I know we’d have due to the scale alone; I actually don’t think I could carry it on my own. Then we’d feed it to Monty and watch him go straight for the eyes, as always, and fill the room with the cotton candy innards of a fifty dollar bear. But I hear your words play out in my mind “Don’t ever waste a dime on crap like that for me.”

I could lament about the commercialization of Valentines Day, but I think it’s all been said before, and I already know you’d agree. In fact I’d bet the farm you wouldn’t even bat an eye were the whole thing eradicated. You might not even notice! You’re funny. It’s not that you’re distracted, unaware. I’d suggest it’s the near extreme dedication to living a life of unwavering, powerful love, that is a fireworks display of a spectacle to watch. But for a lucky few, myself included, it’s a humbling miracle to be the recipient of. It sounds so dramatic to say, but I stand by that belief. It’s not hard to do. There have been plenty of reasons for your heart to have closed shop by now. To crack and break and crumble; call the whole thing off. And yet I’ve witnessed it come to the edge and never truly break. Instead I watch it explode like our day lilies in the spring, I watch it grow, astonished, in times that might normally make a person very small. And still yours expands, stretches, finds strength somewhere far in the depths and suits up for another day, knowing well the many things at stake when we agree to live a life. When we agree to love deeply. I don’t know exactly how one attains the capacity to love like this. I can only speak to the immense gifts of wisdom and friendship and compassion it has provided so many lucky ones, and me, knowing too well that ‘thank you’ isn’t large enough a phrase. I think how redeeming and salvational some of its outcomes have been. We’ve all experienced the pang of loneliness, and these last few years have shown me with unbridled truth just how far off and away we can feel, whether in a crowded room or a self-made island. Illness lends itself to its own kind of solitude, that can swallow you up whole if you aren’t prudent. Never have you let me drift too far down the rabbit hole. Sometimes sitting in a room with you, watching The Voice or Scandal or something I have no particular interest in, I feel wrapped in a sanctuary at the center of cupped hands, protected by the thick walls of a steadfast love that I know can never die. For two stoics like us, I can’t help but think ours is a Fairy Tale love, without an ending. We both know there won’t be one. Maybe I’ll submit it to Disney.

I keep thinking of this moment. A grey morning in December not long ago, I was more sick than usual. My central nervous system inflamed to a point that I could hardly tolerate sound or speak. My skin was buzzing, my hearing hurt, my thoughts and words felt and emerged mangled, and I couldn’t exactly articulate what was wrong. I felt like a shaken up liter of coke, hardened and about to fizz out everywhere, but there was no outlet. No where for the ‘fizz’ to go. My nerves felt inside out. When you came in the room, I tried to express what was happening but had trouble; honestly I hardly understood it myself. You didn’t look away, or demand answers or try to immediately “fix” the enigmatic pain I was in. You only said a couple words to me as you sat down on the couch and cupped your hand on the back of my head. “It’s going to be OK Mary,” and your voice cracked when you said it. My body felt as if it collapsed inside, calmed with this soundbite of peace, and the pressure slowly eased from that liter coke bottle. Tears came streaming down my face. I wasn’t that sad, truthfully. Certainly, all of this has been a trying time, for all of us, but there was a lot happening at once, my mind and body both being pulled and torn in different directions, and your very simple words allowed me the outlet. Permission. It’s pretty common for the tears to come when I feel so overwhelmed, overtaken physically. But it wasn’t your words exactly that moved me and conveyed your love with such depth. It was that your voice trembled when you said them. Just barely, and you’re not a crier, I know. I believed you, too, that it would be OK, but in that moment, you saw me. Accepting there was no quick answer here, no advice or platitude that could lift my heavy burden, you did the bravest and most beautiful thing a love can do: You sat down next to me, you put my hand in yours, and you shared what would normally just be my burden, my pain. You didn’t take the pain on, but you faced it with me. If only the world knew they didn’t need perfect words or answers to comfort and relieve us when we’re in the thick of pain. If only they knew that Love listens far more than it talks. A shoulder can mean more than a mouth. Love shares, it communes and confides. In joy and in pain. This is love. Our love. You helped carry the parts that I could not, and turned on its head what felt like momentary hell into saving grace. Just the memory of it strengthens me now.

This made me think of Nepo’s definition of Love. One I come to again and again, the most eloquent I’ve ever heard, and I often find myself reciting the words in my head: talking with friends, watching birds, kissing Monty. Somehow through your small action made with great braveness, your love materialized in a way I could not only feel inside with warm intensity, but could touch and see it, feel it in your hands. His definition for love is only this: Sudden Oneness. How perfect these two words capture what We shared that mangey morning. I warred with my same broken body, but I was also slipping into the outskirts of doubt and hopelessness; a place you know but helped lead me out of. His words so perfectly explain why when you love someone deeply and true, that when they cry you cry. When they’re happy you’re happy. Their joy is yours and vice versa. This is the beauty and brilliance of the oneness from love: lightening burdens and multiplying grateness. My tears continued but something about your unconditional nature made them begin to carry new truth in their waters. Hope, I think. Surrender. Reassurance.  But it was this small gesture that mattered most; allowing me as the mess I was, seeing and hearing me and not turning away or trying to quell it with empty phrases. I know how hard it must have been for you– the only other soul in that dark room, while mine laid strewn on the floor like a discarded garment. It’s not that you saved me, necessarily, but you saw me through the darkness. You stayed. So many fear that stillness of pain, enduring the murkiness of life when there aren’t easy answers to offer someone. You helped see me through it, bring my tired heart back into the light, ready to try once again. But first you let me die a little. Shed a skin I didn’t need anymore. Another testament to what brave love can do. Little deaths prevent big deaths. That was Nepo too.

It’s interesting, but when I recall this whole ‘event’ now, we seem to be alive inside a pocket of timelessness. There we are, the two of us, enduring what we did, frozen in an exchange that felt unearthly, and I can’t for the life of me feel or remember the passing of time. The moment is still alive. The lessons are wide awake, and they pour through so much of me: My fingers when I write. My soul when I’m discouraged. My intellect when my respect for the novelty of life drifts– I think of you and our moment and I know that there is meaning behind the pain, but it requires seeking. And luckily we don’t always have to do this alone. The Oneness that enveloped me, I think in fact may have been my first real glimpse of Forever. Or Eternity. Whatever the word for that otherwise incomprehensible concept is, for a fleeting moment I caught it, like a fast grab of a buzzing fly, followed by thick silence. In this excessively brief lapse in spacetime, I glimpsed the two of us–we were not just not apart, we were the same. We were one another. And the comfort was greater than a reunion you’d imagine would bring great joy. It comforted me. Humbled me. A powerful experience no doubt, but mostly mom I’m just plain grateful to know and learn from you this way. You’ve mastered a difficult and necessary art, and expressed and given it the way that you do, it’s something that will last far after you. And me. And my children too. Perhaps like Einsteins theory come to life one hundred years after the fact, that little ‘blip’ on a device recording an explosion a million years old, your love ripples will be felt long after you’ve gone. This is the miracle of true love. It’s so huge and yet it can be easy to miss. Like looking for mustard in the fridge tirelessly and finally coming upon it on the middle shelf in plain view, right in front of your eyes.

For me, this is incredible news! I half-knew already this was true. Losing and still knowing dad, our love somehow still growing, I knew it had to be real and not just the stuff of voodoo or fairytales. So I rest more assured now. One day you’ll die, and if life is good to us, it will be before me. But I don’t fear this occasion the way I once did. I know it will hard. The pain will be deep, as loss is not a one-way street. You lose more than a person, you miss a piece of who you were with that person. But like my clearly favorite Nepo says, Grief is a sign we loved them well. It’s in living this life, that when we give and receive love in its pure form like this, unconditionally, that it sustains and lives on. It works miracles! And it removes the sting and surprise of death, a thing we treat with pretty odd behavior in my opinion. But anyway, I can’t lie. I’ll be a mess. A sobbing heap on the floor. A shaken up bottle of coke. And where will I go? How will I recover? As I was taught of course–I’ll remember that moment of your bravery, to see your kid in pain once again and have to surrender; to be at peace with the mystery of these things. Just as you saw me through that, I learned that these moments actually do pass. That life does go on, the pain isn’t forever, and we wipe up our mess and keep going. I learned that because you lived through it with me, not because you sent a card with a bow that said “This too shall pass! Call if you need anything!” You are living love, in a beautiful form, and you are doing incredible work in the world because of it.

Perhaps by now it’s become apparent that I’m single. (Haha) But I can’t think of a more deserving Valentine, a bigger barer of gifts who never seeks out recognition or accolade for loving this well. You seem to perform the duties of love effortlessly, and I’m not only grateful to have you around and receive them, but I’m happy and feel lucky to learn what love is through you, how to give it and accept it from such a master as yourself. You’ve been through enough pain for 10 lifetimes, but I’ve never see you throw in the towel or give way to bitterness. Sure, you’re still a human being and a mother and you’ve made your mistakes. We all have. But you’ve never faltered on love and it seems to grow larger and more powerful in happy and hard times. Perhaps this is what the pain of experience does for us. I don’t know. I’m still learning. But watching your resilience and continued faith in life, in things bigger than you and me, in good things, in eternity, I know I’ll never stop seeking the answers. I’ll never stop trying to find the good, the value, the meaning in every kind of experience. Including the dark ones. Perhaps especially those. Thank you. For all you’ve done and continue to do. I don’t know how you’ve not collapsed yet of exhaustion, but maybe all that loving you do is an energizing force. It certainly is for me. Thank you. Keep going.

Oh yeah, Be Mine?

I love you.

Health, Happiness, Modern Romance

7caojdadi

P.S. I extend this letter to Marc, Doug, Nick, Amelie and their significant others for pitching in in all kinds of ways, helping carry me through the crap times, and loving me so well. You are all my angels. Thank you.

Living Masters

Finally, yesterday, the teeniest tiniest flicker of relief. I felt it. Though incrementally small, it was the spark suggestive of an end, or at least of an improvement. It’s been a very sick few days. But yesterdays glimmer of improvement brought me to the surface where I could breath again. It wasn’t major, but it was enough. Today, another slight improvement. I actually left the house and went to the pharmacy. That’s what we call progress people.

I don’t know what exactly caused this crash. The travel, new Miami germs my body couldn’t handle, the woman with the wet cough on the plane? Who knows. It doesn’t really matter I guess. I could feel something in the works throughout the trip. I felt rough most of the time, but, I still enjoyed my stay. Miami is nice and my family rocks. My brother Nick is another mentor of mine and always encourages my creative endeavors. He’s someone who materializes ideas instead of just writing them in a notebook, which is what I do. I envy his work ethic and it was nice to be around artists at work. I worked through some writing problems and we’ve begun a side project which I think will be great. It was nice. Look, I even caught a fish.

40 pounder
Unfortunately I think my brother later used this fish as bait.

Huge right? Of course I sort of declined at the end of that day and into the last few days, until I returned home Thursday. By that night I crawled into bed and as I pulled up the covers, the invisible monster went to work. I could feel it creeping over me, up through my limbs and under my fingernails. When I woke Friday morning it had swallowed me whole. I was submerged. The next three days were spent in bed in a dream state with intermittent stints of wakefulness. I’d awake for brief periods, feed Monty, feed myself, then dissolve into dream world again. Unfortunately I could feel the pain on both sides. In my dreams I’m looking for pills and can’t find them. Or I can’t get their lid open. That happens in real life too.

It can be disorienting when you spend more of your time in dreams than awake. Every time I awoke I  had to readjust to the surroundings, remind myself where I was. Everything was hazy and I felt weak and sedated. My body was out of juice; every move I made felt enormous and taxing. It’s a strange condition to be in, but that’s how it goes in a crash. All you can do is rest and wait for your body to come back. Luckily, Monty barely left my side the whole time. Each time my eyes blinked open, I’d spot him sleeping in some ridiculous position. As soon as I stir he’s on all fours, ready to go. I hate not being able to play with him more, but he sticks by. Sleeps when I sleep, eats when I eat. His loyalty astounds me, especially when I’m sick. On Saturday night I had a nightmare that I couldn’t wake out of. When I finally came to, Monty was on his feet, panting next to the bed. I could tell he’d done something, made some noise maybe that woke me up, though I don’t know what. He is my hero. For reals.

By Sunday I was overwhelmed. Everything hurt, every movement was laborious, and any sound above a medium hum felt like a knife through my ear. Just taking a deep breath was hard. Tears poured down my face and I couldn’t say why exactly, except that my thoughts were racing and I felt like I was sinking. My emotions often get erratic during a crash for some reason. I think parts of my brain get overwhelmed. It felt like synapses were firing at rapid rates but were incomplete. Thoughts would come fast but unfinished. I could barely talk straight. I didn’t know what I needed, but I needed help. Enter my mom.

Through the tears I tell her I think I need to eat. OK, she says, and just her voice begins to calm everything down. One thing at a time, she says. Start with the apple. I try to let go and redirect my focus on what’s in front of me: an apple on a plate with almond butter. All I have to do is eat it. I can do that. Cool. The tears come and go. I tell her I’m afraid and my health feels out of control. She listens and validates my discouragement, but doesn’t let me wallow too long into despair. Ever so gently she leads me out of the dark of my own mind and encourages me to keep going. I find myself clinging to those words, scribbling them on paper and my dry erase board. So I try, even though my insides are yelling Stop. Press restart. We’ve got a faulty body here. I sleep at their house on the couch because I’m too exhausted to walk back to mine. I’m thirty years old and my mom ‘tucked me in.’ It’s official: I’m growing up in reverse. Monty sleeps on the love seat next to me. The next day is still sick, but somehow better. I don’t feel buried by it now. My mom has worked her magic again.

The illness continues to teach me humility and gratitude. To find grace through the crappiest of times. It’s still difficult to admit when I need help, but I do. And I’m lucky to have people who provide it. My step-dad bought me groceries, and threw the stick for Monty when I wasn’t able to. I get emails from people who are sick with this and other chronic illnesses but their families don’t believe them or don’t understand, and they’re left to fight it on their own. Reading it is heartbreaking. I don’t know how anyone could survive this illness alone. Some of them say the blog has helped their families understand what they’re going through, and I always told myself if this even helped one person, it was worth the work. I hope I can do more. I wish I could make them know they’re not alone, or crazy, or inferior; all things you feel when you’re sick this way. I know we’re strangers, but we’re human beings and sharing something similar, so if you’re reading this, you’re not alone brother! But sometimes it feels that way and life gets heavy. I get it.

I am trying to be careful about my writing. I always hesitate when sharing an account like this because I don’t want to get stuck in a narrative of how hard life is without going further. Life is hard, but people don’t need that reminder. Life is harder when you stop at the pain. I try to look at the pain as the beginning of something better, not an end. Because life is also amazing, even in times of turmoil, but you have to dig deep, past the muck. It’s so basic, so cliché, but I have to examine both sides or I’ll turn into a blogging version of that Kathy cartoon. Oh God, the horror. It’s a fragile dichotomy, writing this blog. Half of me is sharing what feels like death, but the other half is screaming I’m OK! Everything is fine! Because I am OK. I’m here in my favorite V-neck shirt writing at my desk. But the schism is there and I have to be conscious of both sides. Writing isn’t a way out of it, it’s just a better way through it, if I do it right. I write better when I get creative with my circumstances, until I eventually outgrow them. Otherwise the conditions take over and despair takes the wheel. And that’s a lot of what this whole project is about; becoming more than a person to whom things happen. The poet/writer Paulo Coelho wrote this in The Alchemist,

We warriors of light must be prepared to have patience in difficult times and to know the Universe is conspiring in our favor, even though we may not understand how.” 

I love this idea and believe it wholly. A lot of things are at work that we don’t always have access to. It’s just easy to forget when shit hits the fan. Well here’s our reminder. 

In other news, it finally happened: I dropped my phone in the pool. Idiot! I watched it fall in slow motion, with that split second of heat on your neck where you think you can reverse time and take it back, but you blink and there it is; Submerged. It’s now drying out in a ziplock bag with rice, so I’m off the grid! I’ll try to use the 48 hours wisely. I’ll keep resting and reading and writing. And hopefully by Christmas I’ll be better and I’ll have found the answer to life. Seems doable.

Anyway, this post is for my mom, who dug me out of the depths once again. She is my mentor and not only guides me out of the darkness but nudges me to be better, to grow stronger from struggle and not be defeated by it. It’s true, if I weren’t sick we wouldn’t be living so close, and I would’ve missed out on a lot of important wisdom that I’ll keep forever. All for free! Thank you for carrying me when I need it but also challenging me to become more than what’s happened. You’re a master and it’s made all the difference.

Health, Happiness, Masters

Blasts From the Pasts

Most people have at least one box filled with kept remnants from their past. A lot of mine is in a brown moving box that says “Mary’s Stuff” on it, and for whatever reason my mom gave it to me out of the blue the other day. Maybe she was spring cleaning, or maybe just trying to downsize on 4 kids worth of crap in her house, especially considering that we’re all fully grown. Anyway, the box was in my hands now and last week during the indoor weather, I started rummaging.

I don’t consider myself a pack rat at all, but I also don’t know any actual pack-rats who do… But for whatever reason, starting in 6th grade…I started saving notes passed between me and friends, boyfriends, siblings, all of it. I kept them in a K-swiss shoebox. And this ridiculously faded, clumsily folded note that said “Mary” in terrible handwriting was one of the first I saw in the box, and as I started unfolding it immediately I knew what it was: A note from my 6th grade love, Kyle B.

Dear Mary...

Dear Mary,

Hi!! This is the “big surprise.” Well all I wanted to know is will you go out with me? Don’t worry about saying no, I don’t care. Well I do care, but, well uuhhmmmm You know what I mean. 

Ms. Snifferjohn is a loser.

I like The Land Before Time it is like my favorite movie. Besides about a million others but that’s not the point.

Love,
Kyle B (Baseball Cursive signature)

*To begin, Ms. Snifferjohn was our substitute teacher and her actual name was Ms. Schneiderjohn but Kyle had nicknames for all the teachers. Especially subs.

The truth is Kyle had been my on-again off-again boyfriend since Kindergarten. It was all completely a matter of semantics. We were best friends and every now and then the title would change, and that was it. I liked him because he was weird and hilarious and made fun of everything. In 6th grade we finally hit first base and held hands at the roller rink. As we skated hand in hand to the cascading neon lights and what I can only imagine to be Jewel or Sarah Mclachlan or Chumbawamba playing, my best friend Brittny skated up to us with urgency. “You’re doing it wrong! Your fingers are so supposed to cross!” We were holding hands the old school way; the way you do when walking a child across the street. We fixed our technique and skated a few laps and then I don’t know what–got a sugar high from sour straws and Dr. Pepper probably.

The next thing I found was my retainer box from 7th grade with my retainer still in it. And yes, I tried it on. You have to!  It only half fit. I never wore that thing, and lied to the orthodontist at every appointment. “Wearing it day and night?” “All the time!” Altogether I probably wore it 10 solid hours. But I didn’t get bad feedback from the doc so I felt OK about it. The best part? It’s a translucent baby blue retainer with a little earth icon in the middle and two little rainbows. I make terrible decisions under pressure.

One of my favorite finds? These pictures of my mom. I never see myself in my family even though people tell me we look alike. But when I saw one of these pictures, for a split second I glimpsed my face in my moms. Finally I could see it–I have her exact chin, the shape of her mouth, her nose and her “good-sized” head and big thick hair. Of course she is incredibly more glamorous and I love how youthful and in love she looks in these. (She was, this was a few months before marrying my dad) But it finally clicked. I am that woman’s daughter.

IMG_8731 IMG_8730

IMG_8732 IMG_8733

Next is a signed post-card from Dominique Moceanu. She was my second favorite gymnast after Shannon Miller. But I’m pretty sure she divorced her parents after they tried to take her money or something, right? Anyway, still got the card.

Then came a lot of stuff from high school, which only solidified my memory of how excessively terrible high school actually was. For example, take this note from my friend Meghan.

My grandma died. So how's things with Tyler?
My grandma died two days ago. So how are things with Tyler?

Can you believe it? This poor girls grandma died and all we talk about is my going to lunch with Tyler. I found about 6 other notes on this very topic. Then came notes about whether we had gone on a date yet and then whether or not we’d kissed. Reading the notes brought back my exact feelings from those four years; that I took none of it seriously. The boys..the scene..class..any of it. I tried. I wanted to be cool and sometimes I succeeded, but mostly I felt lost and everything felt really forced. I was so glad when it was over. That’s the best part about high school. There’s a true end to it. Soon it all fits in a box that you get to make fun of later.

Next is an essay test from my AP Literature class where we had to use  principles from Machiavelli’s The Prince to analyze characters and events from Shakespeare’s Richard III. I remember nothing from either of these, but I scored a high B on the test which for me and for the class, was very good. This must have been my last empirical display of effort on my part that year, because by the end I’d basically given up. I actually ended up failing Literature! And really for no good reason. I stopped caring and also I just sort of hated school. I guess that’s why I kept the test. To prove I was literate. (All evidence to the contrary given the content of some of these notes)

It’s funny that I write about these little treasures from the past today, because I also just found out that today is my dads birthday. He would have been…old, I don’t know. But I found old pictures of him and us together and it’s always good to see those and to remember. So many years go by and your life changes in so many ways. New memories stack on top of old ones and pretty soon you’re having to struggle to remember the sound of their voice and the things that used to be fresh. I don’t feel sad looking at them– I like to see proof of our happiness when he was around. I ache more out of a fear that I’m forgetting him. But maybe by him just being a dad, I’ll never really forget. He’s in me, and in all of us. Each member of the family carries a part of him with their own memories and I guess that’s the stuff that lives on longer than the person.

It also had me wondering if I’ll have a daughter one day who will look through her box of childhood leftovers. Maybe she’ll too see a photo of me and realize our connection. Maybe she’ll read this blog and wonder about my sanity. More likely? I’ll read this blog in 15 years and think OMG I was so stupid! Maybe that’s just how it works. You get older and grow and laugh at your old ways. Life has been hard but it’s been incredible too, and I guess I’m glad I’ll have these words to look back on–remember these years I was sick with nothing to do, but document my days of doing a lot of nothing.

Health, Happiness, Childhood in a Box

The Paris Promise.

Have you ever promised yourself a gift? Something unnecessary, something perhaps even excessive, but something just for you, from you?

When I was 22, I left America to study a spring semester in France. I had always been drawn to Paris– the French, the language, the lifestyle–but I could never pinpoint why. I just felt I needed to go one day. I became so philosophical about wanting to go there and not understanding what was fueling my desire that finally I called my brother Nick in a strange self-induced panic. “I want to study a semester in France.” “Great!” he responded. “But I have no idea why!” A pause. “Who cares?”

It was my freshman year, and I often called Nick with my college-born troubles. I remember him telling me with such sincerity, “Mary, don’t think to hard about it. You want to study in France, so study in France! You’ll know why once you get there.” He was correct. Three and a half years and a crap-ton of paperwork later, I packed two ridiculously sized suitcases and prepared for life abroad.

Technically, the timing couldn’t have been worse. I felt very troubled leaving. It had been one of the hardest years of my mom and I’s life. Just less than a year earlier my step-dad died suddenly, and everything sort of stopped. None of us were prepared for that. As if that wasn’t hard enough, a few months later my black lab Brusky, who had just turned one year old, developed an infection and also died suddenly. Brusky was one of the only positive things my mom and I could count on that year. When things became intense or overwhelming or sad, he’d always do something to make us laugh. He was truly a wonderful dog. He was my sunshine. And when he died that morning, I really felt forgotten. There was an empty feeling of chaos inside. I watched the world spin on but I felt stuck standing still. I was jealous of happy people. I was doubtful for our future. And I was losing faith that we could ever be happy again. It was partially the reason I went to France. At that point it felt like I didn’t have a lot to lose.

But I was the last kid left in Louisiana. Most weekends I drove home from school to be with my mom. There are so many logistical things to tend to after someone dies. Just cancelling his cell phone with AT&T took months and months. My mom always told me to stay at school. That I didn’t need to come home and that she’d be fine. But when you see a parent lose someone they love, you see a piece of them go too. She’s tough, and she rarely reaches out for help. And that was mostly the reason I went– so she wouldn’t have to. When I received the acceptance letter to a university in a small town in France called Besançon, I was immediately excited and then immediately distraught. How could I leave my mom at such a pivotal time? She insisted I go. Insisted she’d be fine. The last thing she wanted was for Roger’s death to hinder us. I grappled with the idea of staying and the idea of going.  Finally it felt like I had to go. If I stopped exploring, learning, living, loving, trying, then I’d have let fear and doubt and melancholy take over. We had to keep living, both of us, and maybe while I was gone, something wonderful could happen to her too. It didn’t make our goodbye at the airport any less sad. I held it together as best as I could, but still I felt the fear and the doubt and sadness right there on the surface. We hugged goodbye and I prayed all the way to Paris. It was the only thing I could do to keep my confidence alive in a decision that I wasn’t outwardly sure about.

Once in France, my brothers words rang true. Meeting amazing people who are still incredibly close friends. Watching the first snow fall. Cafe au lait and croissants and vin chaud and ridiculous business hours and cafes and little French children. It was perfect. All of it. I fell in love. With the country, with a boy, with my friends, and my life there. “This is why,” I thought. I’d found my answer. Something in my soul must have known I’d find happiness there, at a time where I’d forgotten what happiness even looked like. I lived in a space maybe half the size of my bedroom now with a twin bed and a desk, and I have never been happier. Best of all, I felt vibrantly alive for the first time in a long time.

Happy, oui.
Happy, oui.

Not only that, but while I was gone, my mom said yes to a coffee date, with extreme hesitance.  A friend convinced her it was only coffee and so she went. The coffee date turned into a dinner date. Which turned into an every meal date, and falling in love and happily ever after. Would that have happened if I would’ve stayed? We’ll never know, but I’ll always wonder.

When leaving after an adventure like that, you make a lot of promises. You think you’ll go back. You think you’ll stay in touch with everyone. You’ll carry on traditions. But these are more optimistic than realistic. The real world resumes on when you return. (It’s awful!) Although I made two best friends there, one of which is My Stupid Friend Jess, very few of us stay in real touch. We reminisce. We get sad when we think about the fact that if we all went back now, it wouldn’t be the same. Our experience was wonderful, carefree, spontaneous– but impossible to repeat. It was five and a half months of not living in the real world as we know it. School was very easy, teachers were lax. They encouraged you to immerse yourself in any and everything, and if that meant missing class, pas de probleme! I loved it. It was truly perfect.

But I did make one promise that I have always intended to keep. I promised myself that I’d return to Paris and celebrate my 30th birthday there. I’ve thought about this promise throughout the years, and I think over the last two years I’d sort of lost hope and resorted to the idea that Paris wouldn’t happen. But when I turned 29 this year, that promise seemed to reignite inside me. I realized it’s only impossible if I say it is. I have a year to make this wish come true. I have no idea why I made the promise for my 30th birthday. I probably assumed I’d be wealthy and successful by then. Hahaha!!! Life is funny.

So I’m not exactly wealthy and successful (yet) but I still have 10 1/2 months until my 30th. A lot can happen in that amount of time. I know that work is required of me. I know there is a way for me to have this illness but still contribute in a meaningful way and support myself and Monty and pay back all the debts I’ve incurred along the way! I truly think it’s possible. I constantly see items on TV or in magazines and think ah, when I’m a millionaire, I’ll totally have a temperpedic mattress and my own jet for travel so I’m not subjected to modern commercial air travel. They are fantasies, sure, but something tells me they could really happen. It’s not like this type of success doesn’t exist. It’s not impossible! It’s just going to require getting creative. Most people don’t make millions from bed, but it’s not that far off the radar. I mean the Kardashians did it!

Anyway, I don’t have the money yet but I haven’t aggressively tried to get it. I’ll need to strategize. And maybe I won’t be in great health, and it will be different than last time and I won’t be able to walk the city as freely. But I’m going to turn 30 no matter what. Here or there. And if I’m sick here, why not be sick there? I don’t mind being sick in Paris! And if it’s just me, alone on a terrace, watching the Eiffel from afar, that’s great too. As long as I am choosing life, and honoring my passions and keeping my dreams alive and not stifled, I don’t think I can really go wrong. I don’t know how this is all going to fall in place, but somewhere deep, someplace where I once felt that initial drive to go and didn’t know why, I feel that it will happen. And if I keep letting the illness infringe on every dream, I’ll never get anywhere. Things will stay the same. And  once you stop dreaming, what is the point really? This was a promise I made to myself. Not for a boy, not to prove anything, just a gift I promised to my soul. Last time I left, it was a troubling time and I was uncertain, but once I arrived it all made sense. It appears to be that way again.

The only question left to ask? WHO’S WITH ME?!   :)

La Santé, Le Bonheur, et La Promesse

 

Some Posthumous Advice

A friend sent this to me recently and I really loved it.  There’s something relieving and freeing about it and I think we could all use a laugh. Read it, you’ll smile.

Written by Caitlin Moran,
Published in The Times of London

My Posthumous Advice For My Daughter

My daughter is about to turn 13 and I’ve been smoking a lot recently, and so – in the wee small hours, when my lungs feel like there’s a small mouse inside them, scratching to get out – I’ve thought about writing her one of those “Now I’m Dead, Here’s My Letter Of Advice For You To Consult As You Continue Your Now Motherless Life” letters. Here’s the first draft. Might tweak it a bit later. When I’ve had another fag.

“Dear Lizzie. Hello, it’s Mummy. I’m dead. Sorry about that. I hope the funeral was good – did Daddy play Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen when my coffin went into the cremator? I hope everyone sang along and did air guitar, as I stipulated. And wore the stick-on Freddie Mercury moustaches, as I ordered in the ‘My Funeral Plan’ document that’s been pinned on the fridge since 2008, when I had that extremely self-pitying cold.

“Look – here are a couple of things I’ve learnt on the way that you might find useful in the coming years. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start. Also, I’ve left you loads of life-insurance money – so go hog wild on eBay on those second-hand vintage dresses you like. You have always looked beautiful in them. You have always looked beautiful.

“The main thing is just to try to be nice. You already are – so lovely I burst, darling – and so I want you to hang on to that and never let it go. Keep slowly turning it up, like a dimmer switch, whenever you can. Just resolve to shine, constantly and steadily, like a warm lamp in the corner, and people will want to move towards you in order to feel happy, and to read things more clearly. You will be bright and constant in a world of dark and flux, and this will save you the anxiety of other, ultimately less satisfying things like ‘being cool’, ‘being more successful than everyone else’ and ‘being very thin’.

“Second, always remember that, nine times out of ten, you probably aren’t having a full-on nervous breakdown – you just need a cup of tea and a biscuit. You’d be amazed how easily and repeatedly you can confuse the two. Get a big biscuit tin.

“Three – always pick up worms off the pavement and put them on the grass. They’re having a bad day, and they’re good for… the earth or something (ask Daddy more about this; am a bit sketchy).

“Four: choose your friends because you feel most like yourself around them, because the jokes are easy and you feel like you’re in your best outfit when you’re with them, even though you’re just in a T-shirt. Never love someone whom you think you need to mend – or who makes you feel like you should be mended. There are boys out there who look for shining girls; they will stand next to you and say quiet things in your ear that only you can hear and that will slowly drain the joy out of your heart. The books about vampires are true, baby. Drive a stake through their hearts and run away.

“Stay at peace with your body. While it’s healthy, never think of it as a problem or a failure. Pat your legs occasionally and thank them for being able to run. Put your hands on your belly and enjoy how soft and warm you are – marvel over the world turning over within, the brilliant meat clockwork, as I did when you were inside me and I dreamt of you every night.

“Whenever you can’t think of something to say in a conversation, ask people questions instead. Even if you’re next to a man who collects pre-Seventies screws and bolts, you will probably never have another opportunity to find out so much about pre-Seventies screws and bolts, and you never know when it will be useful.

“This segues into the next tip: life divides into AMAZING ENJOYABLE TIMES and APPALLING EXPERIENCES THAT WILL MAKE FUTURE AMAZING ANECDOTES. However awful, you can get through any experience if you imagine yourself, in the future, telling your friends about it as they scream, with increasing disbelief, ‘NO! NO!’ Even when Jesus was on the cross, I bet He was thinking, ‘When I rise in three days, the disciples aren’t going to believe this when I tell them about it.’

“Babyiest, see as many sunrises and sunsets as you can. Run across roads to smell fat roses. Always believe you can change the world – even if it’s only a tiny bit, because every tiny bit needed someone who changed it. Think of yourself as a silver rocket – use loud music as your fuel; books like maps and co-ordinates for how to get there. Host extravagantly, love constantly, dance in comfortable shoes, talk to Daddy and Nancy about me every day and never, ever start smoking. It’s like buying a fun baby dragon that will grow and eventually burn down your f***ing house.

“Love, Mummy.”

You can see the original post on Caitlin’s blog at Brouhaha

Thank you Giselle for the read! And congrats to my sister Amelie, who is a new mother today. It’s a good day.

Health Happiness Moms

The Only Gift to Give

(me)
(me)

For as long as I can remember, my mother has never been one for presents. Specifically cutesy presents like mugs that say # 1 Mom! or trinket-type gifts like the kind from the Hallmark store. I guess at her age and after four children, she’s accumulated enough “stuff” to last until her end. She gets it. She’s the worlds greatest mom. Enough with the mugs already! It’s not that she isn’t sentimental, because she is. It’s more that now, those $20 items from the mall just seem gratuitous. She will always say “Thank You” to a gift but I know she’d rather we save our money or donated it to someone or something that really needs it. It seems like free, homemade gifts have always been her favorite. Since I’m living under her roof and on her dime, it wouldn’t make sense to buy her a gift anyway. It’d be with her money! I’m like the little drummer boy but all I have to give are words. “I have no gift to bring Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum!” Anyway, I guess every mom just likes to know they were thought of in a meaningful way. I’m not a parent so I couldn’t know, but I’ve heard it’s both the hardest and the most rewarding job on the planet. Most of the time your efforts go unnoticed, or under-appreciated, or unrealized until decades later, and it’s good to set aside a day to let them know: We noticed the work you did– and thank them for it because it’s a job well done. Here is my totally affordable thank you to a mom very deserving.

I want to say that whether you knew it or not, I’ve been taking notes from you. Because more than someone who performs countless motherly duties each day, a mother is also simply a model human being for her children. Everything you were doing as an adult, were things I observed and learned from.  Watching you navigate through dark times. Noticing your courage and grace when things fell to pieces. Watching you keep going when it would have been easier to give up. Those are all things I will carry with me–forever. I never felt too young to take on the lessons you were learning yourself. If I am ever a mother I will hope to pass those things down to my own kids. But as a singular human being, I will keep them with me and they will guide me long after you’re gone.

Perhaps the best thing a kid can tell their mom is that they’re happy. The last few years have been extremely difficult for me. And I know that as a mom, having to watch your child suffer is even more painful. So often she told me she wished she could go through the experience for me, and save me from the pain. I think most parents would agree. They’d prefer to take on the hardships themselves then have to watch their child go through it. But as much as parents want to protect their children, hide them from the pain and perversions of the world, they also have to trust that they have instilled enough love, value, self-esteem, and wisdom in us so that we may not run from the hardships, but that we may find our way through them, and come out of the other side intact–wiser and stronger, not bitter and broken. I want to tell my mom that even though life has been at difficult, sometimes unbearably difficult, and I’ve wondered how I’d get through, that I would reflect on her life and remember all of the hardships that she had emerged from. The memory would remind me that I could do the same. I’ve always known that at the root of everything, I am loved. Unquestionably. Unconditionally. Consistently. I have always known that. And that knowledge makes a difference to a kid. Whether we’re 3 or 30. I wonder what the world would be like if every child knew that. In times where I didn’t feel like I could keep going for me, I knew that I was loved enough that I would keep going for her, for them. And that guided me. That kept me going.

I know that  watching a child in pain is almost unbearable for a parent. I could see it in her eyes when I was sick and incapable of many things last year. It hurt her too. But I also know that there are few greater feelings than a parent watching their child experience joy, find happiness, emerging out of the other side of darkness. I want to tell my mom that I am happy. That I’m OK. And no matter how hard my life gets, I will always be OK. Because look what we’ve already made it through! It used to frighten me, remembering how hard life can get. But now it strengthens me. It’s a choice; I can think of either the rough times and be afraid or remember that we made it out of them and be reassured. I know that being a mother and worrying go hand-in-hand, but I want to tell you not to worry. I am OK and I will always be OK.

I think in the end it doesn’t come down to how many shirts or mugs or magnets you have in your drawer of trinket gifts. Those are things and things are temporary. The love and the lessons you handed down are what is forever. The love you gave through happy times and sad times. The wisdom you exuded when it felt like the world had turned its back on us. Crying when you need to. Laughing when you need to. But never turning bitter, never giving up. All of these learned responses are what you handed down. They are what we will hand down. And the next generation will hand down. And that’s the thread of life being sewn across the world. Nothing temporary about it.

I guess all of this is to say, job well done. Your work will live beyond your life.

Love,

Mary (and Monty)

P.S. Since your other children are out of state, they each wanted to draw you a picture for today. In case you forgot their age judging by the quality of their art, I’ve included them for you.

Health and Happiness and Happy Mothers Day!

This is from your oldest son Doug. He is 35 years old.
This is from your oldest son Doug. He is 35 years old.
This is from your son Nick. He is IV league educated.
This is from your son Nick. He is IV league educated.
This is from your daughter Amelie. She's a designer. (Age 32)
This is from your daughter Amelie. She’s a designer. (Age 32)