On my computer desk, I have a small watercolor and ink print of a stylized red flower. In a sassy calligraphy script is printed, "A woman is a like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water." When I bought it years ago, I thought of hot water as the kind of fun I enjoyed so much in college, but sincerely hoped my daughter wasn't having. I turned out to be wrong on both counts -- about the real nature of hot water and about my daughter.
My hot water has been fear. Oh God, what am I going to do if the utilities get cut off? Oh, what if I lose my job! What if I meet justice instead of mercy, and I'm as undeserving as I am at my most self negating. What if this is all my life will ever be? I can't stand it, I can't stand it, I can't stand it! Nights without sleep turned into weeks. I could have worked as an extra in a zombie movie without any makeup. (Scratches from my loving cats' mama claw kneading easily provided the essential blood for a zombie.) One night, wrapped in a blanket because I had the heat too low for any real comfort, I seriously thought, "I don't want to live this way." I heard then, in one of those voices that you know is your better self, "Then don't." There were no more what ifs, no accusations or recriminations, no rationalizations, no tender but self-defeating Poor Yous. I had a choice, live this way or don't.
I chose Don't. Don't live this way. I didn't follow it up with any big plan making. I didn't think about goals and strategies. I just started letting the things I wanted into my life and escorting the things I didn't want out. If something was bothering me, I did something about it. I started working more on R.'s clutter. I've hated having this stuff I can't use around. It's cluttered up garage and yard. It stole the beauty of the field and woods behind my house from me. I'd been promised by someone that they would take care of it, and well, that never happened. So on the warm days, I started getting out in my yard again and clearing stuff away. I looked at things and realized that I would never use them, and holding on to them wouldn't hold R's presence in my life more firmly.
The things I've cherished about R were memories from years ago, and I finally let myself mourn the loss of my best friend and my love as it really happened -- not suddenly and unexpectedly on a hot April afternoon, but as slowly and gradually as senile dementia took my father away from me. I had to accept that my husband might have been ill, mentally and emotionally losing himself (one of his expressed fears that we both pooh-poohed because of our comparatively young ages) or he might have just made painful choices. Neither option diminished that incredible, rare connection our souls shared and the brilliance, warmth and love he gave me or the extended and long denied pain of losing that. Either way I could handle it, the good and the bad without sentimentalizing either.
In working on clearing out the clutter, I also came to a greater peace with my body. I wanted this mess cleared up now, but I just haven't been physically capable of getting it done as expeditiously as I wanted. I had to respect my physical weakness. I would work, and work hard, but I wouldn't push myself to the point where I was so physically exhausted that I didn't have any energy left over for anything else. I deserve to keep some of the good stuff of me for me. I've worked before to the point where taking a shower afterwards was just more work, and that's both sad and ridiculous. There had to be room in my life for pleasure. I realized I could handle it. I could scrap my old deadlines for a beautiful yard and take pride in a few square feet cleaned. I could sit in my comfy, battered chair and read a book that wasn't literature, and it didn't make me either lazy for not working more or dumb or in poor taste for enjoying a vampire story.
I could handle the solitude of my life. The past year has been one of painful separation between my daughter and myself. Her pain has been excruciating, and I've come to the point where I knew I could handle that as well. I cannot fix her pain anymore than she could fix mine. I've had to hold myself back from rushing in to do something, anything when it was just an ineffectual waste of energy and source of unneeded drama. This has been a hard one. The physical things I can do for her that will help, I of course do. We're learning how to talk with each other again. She's told me how much she's missed me. We've had a few moments of real connection again. One night, I told her to her face (instead of in writing) in the words of my choosing, the words that she sometimes resents but are only the way I communicate, just how much she means to me, how I feel about her, and how I believe in her. And she got it.
She's made some hard choices this year. She dropped out of college and has begun an apprenticeship as a tattoo artist, much to the dismay of our entire family. This is a full time work commitment that she holds while also waiting tables for about 25 hours a week. She's passionate and eloquent about this. She sees art, beauty, skill and self-expression in tattooing. She says that she's meeting many interesting people (some of whom seem a little too interesting for my comfort). She plans to go to community college next semester for a couple of classes. With the poor grades she's made this year, she'll have to start completely new.
She's asked me what I think about all of this, and I've honestly told her that I'm not crazy about the tattooing, but that I don't have to like it. This is her life, and she's strong and smart enough to create her own path and succeed in whatever she does. In this path, she's found a passion and a discipline that she couldn't find in being a college sorority girl. She doesn't have to be like me, and in some way, this is a gift I want to give her -- Mother's approval to be her own wild and precious self. She's also told me that she's planning a tattoo for me once she's completed her apprenticeship and is fully licensed. I told her okay; there's a tattoo in my future. The womanchild and I still have a long way to go, but I think that the healing between us might have begun.
I also recognize that the healing in myself has begun. We think of healing as removing pain, but that's neither the entire process or even the end result. Healing itself is painful. A torn muscle hurts when we begin to use it again, but using it is part of healing. It is how strength is returned. My knee with the healed torn minuscus still hurts sometimes, but it is healed. So yes, I'm hurting, and at least at times, I'm honest enough to let myself really feel it, not intellectualize it, explain it away, minimize it as being only normal after the experiences of the last few years. I don't hurt all the time though. Nor am I afraid all the time. There are times when I'm strong and wise and sound, and then well, there are times, I really mess things up. I can handle that too.
I realized the other night that I have been in labor, working to birth something new in and for me. My own experience with actual birth labor was an excruciatingly long three days. I don't know how long this different labor will go on, any more than I knew when I got the first drop of pitocin so many years ago. I do know that it is inevitable and unavoidable. It's been coming about for years, and I may not like the process, but I have no choice about being able to handle it, so I am. If this birth is anywhere near the adventure the birth of my daughter opened to me, I can only smile. Wow, it's gonna be a heck of a ride.