Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Today I watched a little girl just splash into the Santa Fe River in her pink striped Adidas tennis shoes, same shoes as I had in college. It felt like a miracle. Not the coincidence of the shoes, but the unrestrained exuberance of the girl, to splash full-on into cold moving April water without a single care for the virus or the shoes. I watched the water wash over her ankles and gulp into her shoes and I could feel it as if it was happening to me, as if I was the girl, unrestrained and wild and one with the rivers and the mud. She was with her father, who held on leashes the family dogs, and he didn’t say anything, not one word about the shoes, he seemed truly not to care. A small miracle. They raced sticks down the water, and I cried, remembering when my girls were young and their father and I together watched them splash in the rivers of Appalachia, a lifetime away. I walked home under pink boughs that smell watery and just like Paris, the way Paris smells for me, aside from the urine and the car exhaust, having always gone in the spring. In an optimistic moment a few weeks ago I bought a plane ticket for October. The ticket was cheap. On that day The world was different from what it had been and different from what it is now. When I got home the girls were talking to their friends on their computers. I sat in the back yard and watched the sky go rosy and the atmosphere go gold, like it used to in Brevard, in North Carolina, when the mists would rise over the green and the whole earth would rest, so soft, sighing in and out her breath and the flowers exploded from every corner like a Dionysian riot. This astonishing world. As I type this the church bells are ringing. The bird song is sweeter. How strange that the air should smell just as it did for all my previous springs on earth when this one is so different. The birds do as they’ve always done. So do the flowers. Children splash through cold streams. The colors leave and return in the sky.
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
I was ironing tablecloths.
We were going to have the table read there at the production office. You know, the thing where the cast sits around a table and does a read-through of the script. Creative name: table read. I was hoping I'd get to attend. I've never attended a table read before. We'd spent a lot of the previous day making little place cards with each character's name on them using an Avery template. It was more complicated than you might think, but we'd finally gotten it right. Now, it was Thursday morning and I was ironing table cloths. There was going to be a table read.
My new friend came in. A publicist with an impressive amount of experience. She said she'd be shocked if they didn't pause production by that afternoon. If anyone is going to know these things, it's a publicist, I figured. She said other shows all over the world were starting to shut down, and it would be a bad look for ours to keep going. But nothing was certain yet. I texted my friend on a show in Winnipeg and she said their production was still going strong. As far as I knew, we were still going to have a table read. So I kept ironing the table cloths.
About an hour later all the producer's meetings for the rest of the day were cancelled. Network representatives were flying in from LA.
By noon there was no longer any need for the table cloths.
Late that afternoon we all gathered in the room where we were supposed to have the table read. The table cloths I'd spent two hours ironing were folded up in a corner. The network said we were delaying principal photography for two weeks. A pause, they said. A two week push. We'd have two extra weeks of prep now before we started shooting. People that could work from home should. Those coming into the office should practice social distancing. No more shaking hands. Use gloves at the crafty station. Hand sanitizer everywhere.
Some departments were relieved for the extra time, they'd been scrambling to be ready for Monday.
Anyone who wasn't from New Mexico and wanted to go home should, they said.
I went home that night to a hotel. I was considering signing a lease on an apartment. Or trying to, anyway, on a unit I'd sent pictures of to the girls for their approval, which they gave. RENT IT, they said. They were eager to move. But the owners didn't seem to want me. They didn't think my work was steady enough.
Friday morning I went in to work. Most of us did. Prepared to go through the logistics of delaying production on a film for two weeks. All of the locations would have to be adjusted, all the equipment stored, all the vendors contracts adjusted--so many logistics, more than I even know.
They're going to shut us down, said my new friend, the publicist. Completely. There's no way they can't.
And she was right. By about 11 am they told us.
Close it up. Send everyone home.
Two weeks pay.
There was talk of private jets but most of the cast ended up staying in Santa Fe. One of the actors, however, went back to LA and production was paying for his home anyway, so that's where we are now. Me and the girls. An Airbnb near downtown Santa Fe that is fancy but maybe not as fancy as you'd think. It has a lot of animal print. Zebra rugs and giraffe chairs. It has scary masks and one gorgeous wooden bowl that is laced with turquoise the way practitioners of Japanese kintsugi pottery lace their cracked vessels with gold.
The days speed by. My two weeks paid ended and the studio said they'd pay us all for two more.
The first night after we shut down, some of us gathered for dinner at someone's home. It hadn't sunk it yet, the reality. The understanding of just how distant social distancing was supposed to be. I ate a beautiful meal with five people I had met just that week. I remember the publicist saying that we were going to be paused for more than two weeks. That we needed to prepare ourselves for the reality that this was going to be closer to two months.
Two months, I thought. A feeling like my head was swimming away from my body, zooming up into the atmosphere like a loosed balloon. Okay, I can do that. I have enough saved to last me two months. With unemployment, I won't have to cut that much into my savings. Two months from now we will reconvene and rents might even be cheaper and we'll pick up there. We'll shoot the movie in May and June and July, which only means I'll be employed for even longer. Two months will be fine.
Now, of course, we all know it could be more than two months. We have no idea of the shape of this yet. It could be something much longer.
The woman who has been my friend since high school, who is a single mother to an infant, tells me she hears on the TV that there could be a second strain of this thing in the fall.
The days speed by. I set my alarm for seven to make them feel longer but don't manage to get up til 8. I make coffee my new way, with MCT oil and mushroom powder and collagen protein. A ritual that helps all this nothing feel like something. Sometimes, in that first hour, I journal. Sometimes I can write. Sometimes I sit in silence, or put on a playlist of French music. Inevitably, I pick up my phone and spend too much time on Twitter on Instagram. I'm hungry all the time, it seems I'm never full.
The girls sleep until noon and then we make coffee together, a creamy coffee drink of South Korean origin (or Libyan, or Indian, accounts vary) called dalgona that is, I hear, now tiktok famous. That's where we discovered it, after all. Sometimes in the afternoon I sit on the patio with a book. The first two weeks especially I was able to focus, to read. More often, lately, in the afternoon I enter this spaceless, boundary-less lacuna that passes by quickly, my mind an empty drift, a barren desert scattered with tumbleweeds and feathers. Everything blows by and echoes and yet nothing sticks. I sit outside and stare up at the sky, watching the clouds. Watch the symphonies of butterflies on the white blossoms here, watch the bees. Watch the light change, and think about nothing, and relentlessly reach for my phone, and feel how it exhausts me, the phone, and put it down. And pick it up again. I spend hours this way every day. Some days I get into bed around three and get out around seven to start making dinner. Sometimes I don't make dinner.
But when I do make dinner, I play Taylor Swift or the Indigo girls, and that's when I cry.
I have my breakdowns, cooking dinner. It's fine. I'll be sautéing chicken or boiling water and all of a sudden it will hit me: some combination of the spring sunset in Santa Fe, the red light streaming through the blossoms, a lyric "And I snuck in through the garden gate every night that summer just to seal my fate", and it will suddenly crush me, the reality, the surreality of what we are facing, of how quickly and drastically the world changed. I will think of the hundreds of spring evenings that came before this one, when I cooked dinner in a sunlit kitchen and everything was everything, life was just life going on, it hits you like that and I put my hand over my mouth and slip into the laundry room that's off the kitchen here and cry. So the girls don't see me. I'm alone, there's no other adult in this house, no one to see me or catch me or make sure the broccoli doesn't burn. I just stand there for a moment and cry and feel the weight of the new world and this tremendous, all encompassing not knowing. This limitless nothing that we all live with now every day because the old has been destroyed and the new cannot yet be built again.
Then I stop crying and go back out and shift the chicken in the pan and take the vegetables off the flame and we eat dinner.
Maybe I go for a walk.
Maybe I sit by the river.
One night there was a man there too. Sitting on a stone bench, playing Spanish guitar on the banks. I could hear it faintly over the sound of the stream. I stayed for awhile, just to listen. I didn't look at him and he didn't look at me. Just two strangers by the water, taking comfort in the dusk.
Tuesday, March 17, 2020
*art by Laura Ellis, in Ernesto Mayan's Gallery, Santa Fe.
I spent all of last week bouncing from hotel to hotel, working long days on my new production and sneaking out here and there to look at apartments to rent. The prospect of leasing as a single mother terrified me at first, and yet as I drew closer to signing a lease, the terror subsided and I felt excited and hopeful. The woman who showed me the 3 bedroom apartment she had to let, one with new flooring and funky old bathrooms, offered to cut my rent by $100 a month when she heard I worked in film. She was interested in the industry. She'd dabbled in it for awhile but had left it because she found it too hard an industry to work in as a mother. She and her husband now worked from home and together raised their son.
I applied for the place. My former landlord from Brevard now lives in Albuquerque and he gave me an excellent reference. The girls were excited and approving and ready to move. It felt like things were falling into place. Then on Tuesday the owners told me they'd leased the 3 bedroom to someone else; was I interested in their 2 bedroom?
I went to look at it. It was very funky and had hard tile floors but the price was good and I said yes, I was very interested.
I haven't heard from them since.
Perhaps they heard that our production shut us down on Friday. It was wild. On Thursday morning I was getting the room ready for our table read, which was scheduled for 4:30 that afternoon. But whispers were already beginning that some announcement might be coming. By noon, all meetings were cancelled. Netflix folks flew in from LA and arrived at 4pm to announce we were pushing filming for two weeks. They said that we would treat those two weeks as additional prep time. Most of us would keep working. Everyone would be paid.
I slept in a hotel. Friday morning I went into work and before lunch, they told us that production was now shutting down completely for two weeks, and that everyone was to be out of the building by 5 pm.
The film industry is a strange one in many ways. By nature, most jobs are temporary and uncertain. Getting work again depends not just on how good of a job you do, but on how much people like you. Who you meet. Who warms up to you. It's scary and exhilarating and I love it precisely because it lies outside the normal bounds of reality. The whole world of it feels unreal at times, and there are moments on a film set that I cannot believe my life is real. That I get to be standing in a sunset field in late summer Ohio, waiting with my fellow crew to see a car crash and roll three times on purpose. That I get to ride in the backseat of an insert car down a highway, watching the actors on a monitor in front of me as they act out their scene in the car behind me. That once on a dark mountain in the midst of all-night rain delays we piled several cast and crew into my car and read each other's tarot cards and drank chocolate whiskey. That one wrap landed me in the most bizarre restaurant I have ever seen, where a man played modern pop hits on a smarmy saxophone and waiters walked by with cotton candy in towers on white plates and we ate oysters and steak and decided that we must be in Russia.
But the strangeness of it did reach an unsettling height when I watched the entire showboating, steam-engined circus grind to a screeching halt in a matter of hours. Reluctant to keep paying for hotels, I asked if I could stay in one of the homes we'd rented for someone who has traveled back to LA. The homes are already paid for. They said sure.
So here we are, my girls and I, in a beautiful if gaudily decorated home with an indoor and an outdoor kiva fireplace and front and back patios where I can sit outside and drink my coffee and intend to write before I inevitably reach for my phone again, as I do every ten minutes, too distracted by news and worry to focus. It feels a bit like that scene from Zombieland where Emma Watson's character and Woody Harrelson's character hole up in actual Bill Murray's mansion to wait out the end of the apocalypse. Not that I think we are in an apocalypse, but surely we all can relate to the apocalyptic feel of grocery store aisles empty of food and malls with more than half the stores shuttered and we all of us are together in not knowing what will come next.
Working on films from September to December, I saved up money to allow me to lease a place. First and last month, deposit, moving costs. Now, Netflix is going to pay us for the next two weeks, and then, who knows? I have spent far more than I care to admit on groceries. I'm not hoarding, but we are staying in a vacation rental that has salt, pepper, vinegar and oil and almost nothing else. I don't know how long we will live this eerie and beautiful and nervy life--a rich person's vacation home, a dwindling savings account, work in an industry that might get back up on its feet in a month or so, but may not.
Yesterday morning I received news that a cast member on our show has tested positive for COVID. People who have worked in this industry far longer than I are saying they're expecting maybe two months before we get rolling again. In the wake of the news, I left our for-now home and went out for a walk. We are living on the banks of the Rio Grande, where I perched for awhile on a rock and felt my heartbeat and blood and all the nerves in my body return to a calmer, ancient rhythm. The earth is very, very old, and while we humans may be relatively new to it, there is something ancient and knowing in us as well. A rhythm that we can be reminded into by wind, by rivers, by trees. When I left that skinny water I turned south and walked toward Canyon Road, the art mecca of Santa Fe, lined with galleries and dotted with a few cafes and restaurants. It was nearly empty, a ghost art town. I went into a gallery at random, on impulse, an old house with creaking floors converted into a light-filled art space with tight corners and narrow hallways. To look upon art was as calming as listening to the river, and the work of one artist in particular drew my eye and made my body sigh. At the end of the hallway the owners, a man and woman, were speaking to each other in Spanish. I asked if I could take a picture. He said yes and thanked me for asking before returning to what sounded like an urgent conversation. The only words I could pick out were days -- miércoles o jueves, miércoles o jueves. Words that actually derive from Mercury and Jupiter, but have always sounded, to me, like miracles and eggs, miracles and eggs. I lingered long enough in that little room in front of them, taking pictures of nearly every painting and photograph on their walls, that eventually the man turned to me and asked me where I was from.
"I used to live here, but I had to move back to Colorado. I'm trying to get back to Santa Fe," I said. He was an older man, gray hair and beard, a distinguished face, and he looked at me and firmly said "You will," like a blessing. Like a promise. I thanked him. He asked about my work and when I told him about the film industry he gave me the phone number of a friend of his who works in set design in Albuquerque. "You call her and tell her you are a friend of Ernesto's," he said.
And I will.
Things like this happen, in Santa Fe. They happen in Denver, they happen in New York, they happen in Los Angeles and Duluth and Cincinnati, but for me, most often they happen in Santa Fe. They happen here. I can promise you that in the coming days and weeks they will happen where you are as well. We will rise, and we will rally. Inside of everything is a spark of light that is life, I believe it with my soul, and I know that wherever you are, it will find you. You might have to look for it. But know: light is there.
Who knows if Ernesto's friend will be of use to me or I to her? That isn't what matters. I know from my past that a lot of little sparks might all seem to be nothing but will eventually culminate into something, that even the ones that burned out and died were helpful in some mysterious way.
Here we are again in Santa Fe.
Friday, March 6, 2020
I didn't leave that day on the train. I arrived here in a different method, after I went out into the world and built a life and then watched that life collapse upon itself, again and again, until it was a piece of paper folded down to nothing. I no longer believe in things like justice or hope or luck, or even manifestation. But I believe in highways, I believe in roads, I believe in the way the evening light of New Mexico illuminates the whole land like a road to El Dorado, shimmering gold in the last of the sun.
From my journal in March 2019
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
The girls and I are in Santa Fe visiting with our ghosts.
I’ve said it before—a very specific thing occurs when you live somewhere for a period of time that is not too long, and then leave it. That place itself becomes a time capsule, a museum of who you were in those days. Santa Fe is a highly defined chapter in our lives, a peaceful rest starkly demarcated by turmoil on either end. We lived here from December of 2015 to October of 2017. The girls were 9 and 11 when we arrived, and 11 and 13 when we left. For those two years I loved it here, and I was married to a man who didn’t. I have heard it said that Santa Fe either pulls you in or spits you out. It pulled me in. Magical things happened to me here, things I wanted but never thought could occur—I worked on three movies, something I had long wished I could do but never had any idea of how to accomplish. One of those movies took me to some of the most stunning landscapes I have ever seen, and brought me some of the most intense experiences I have ever known. It seems a charmed thing that I was a part of it, proof that there is some wise machination working in the universe, some hidden clockwork, that strikes to our advantage from time to time.
When we neared Santa Fe, my daughters and I on our journey here, winding through the canyon that stretches for about the space of an hour on the approach, a particular feeling came over us all. We grew quiet. Privately, I started to cry. I realized that what my body thought was happening was that I was going to drive the girls home. To our own home on Colores Del Sol, our little adobe, where the girls once played with the neighbor children in the street, where we walked the dogs in the evenings in the development’s many wending hills and arroyos left untouched so that people could walk through them and teenagers could get up to mischief in them and the coyotes could have somewhere to dwell. Although wildlife does not appear to be short on habitats here, to my untrained eye. The empty land stretches for miles in every direction. You can see where the city ends from almost any place you go, and after that there is nothing but land and sky. This is my land. This is the space of my heart. I knew it on my first trip here, when I was a teenager and some part of me said, I will live here one day. And I know it now.
I forgot the way even the air feels different here. It is nearly alpine, at 7,000 feet. It is cooler and clearer and the wind sparkles a bit with a winking something. On our first night here, we arrived later than we’d intended, because that morning I had somehow slept until 11 am. I had told the girls we’d leave by 11 at the latest and then had gone to sleep without setting an alarm, confident that I’d wake up by 8 or 9, as I always do. Instead I awoke to Ayla knocking on my door, pushing it open, and saying “Mom are we going to go?? It’s eleven!” By the time we got on the road it was about 12:30. In the space of that 90 minutes I showered and dressed and curled my hair and packed and gathered the things that needed to be gathered, and we were off. It was easy to pack for this trip because we have done it so many times before, on our road together. Less a setting out than a return. By the time we got to our motel, it was something like 7, and we were tired. I asked the girls if they wanted to go out, but they didn’t, they wanted to stay in and watch cable. So I went out to get a pizza. On a Sunday night in Santa Fe, by 7:30 the city is pretty quiet. It has mostly shut down. There is a hush in the air, and as I drove to downtown I thought, oh, I’d forgotten this. How could I have forgotten? The magic of this place. The spirit or presence of sense of something—sense of knowing, sense of possibility, sense of spirit—that hangs just in the air here. I picked up the pizza and drove home as the sun was setting—a beautiful sunset already, on our first night. I passed a few Santa Fe types, walking along the side walks as I drove, and felt offended that the city had just gone on without me. So rude. So heartbreaking, really. Back at our little 50’s era motel, all redone for the southwestern hipsters, the girls and I ate pizza on our beds while watching the Kardashians and thumbing at our phones. Then I asked them if they wanted to go to the hot tub. They did. We put on our bathing suits and made our way to the spa, a pool of still, heated water set amidst stucco and adobe and a dry white fountain. We were thrilled to find it empty. We slid into that warm water and the breeze of Santa Fe on a cool night in early June hushed around us. On the wind here is the Spirit. The Great Mystery. The Something. I have traveled enough to learn that what the native people of this land knew was, of course, correct. Some places have more presence than others. Maybe it varies from person to person. Maybe you have been lucky enough to find yours. This is mine.
The thing that had hit me and made me cry on the drive into town, through the arroyos, was the ghost of their dad. We passed under the bridge that was the exit for the place we went camping and picnicking and wandering a few times, the four of us, when we lived here. One summer day we took that exit and drove through six or seven campsites before we found an empty spot. We listened to Hamilton the whole way, singing along together. Another day we packed up drinks and hot dogs and s’mores and set out for the woods. We built a fire and spent the day eating and drinking and exploring along the river, before heading home. When we drove past that exit, the presence of his absence—the shape of it, the weight, someone’s sudden absence is such a solid thing—hit me like a boulder thrown from the overpass and I started to cry, lowered my sunglasses so the girls wouldn’t see my eyes watering. I had been feeling better, lately. Optimistic, even. But like any grief, this hit me out of nowhere and threatened to overwhelm me and there on the highway, I was very, very sad. It felt as if he should have been there—our fourth, our man. Their father. My husband. It was incomplete, without him, and that could not be helped. I still don’t understand how this person has rent himself away from me. The rending leaves so brutal a wound. A raw and gaping gash that runs all along my left side, very specifically-- that I am learning and must keep learning to fill myself, as so many women before me have. This is what women do. We pack the wound with honey and healing herbs. We learn to mother ourselves. We learn to partner ourselves. We learn that we must be for ourselves the thing we thought and wanted our partner to be for us. And we keep going.
There is more to it all than this. The wound at time feels like a wild freedom. Feels like a lightness. Feels like a peace existing between a mother and her children that somehow never could exist when the father was there. A male partner requires so much tending to, so much dancing around of the ego, it sometimes interferes with the river that runs between mother and child. We are asked to root the river of resources that we need for our children off toward our husbands instead. Sometimes I look at the life that lies ahead of me and think, my god, I can do whatever the fuck I want, and no one can fuck it up for me but me, and that feels wild and liberating and good.
And sometimes the wound feels like a wound, and it hurts. For everything we say yes to, we are saying no to something else.
What I mean is: there are things a male partner brings to a woman’s life, good things. And there are things the absence of a male partner brings to a woman’s life, also good things. No one can hold both at the same time. Sometimes we will choose one over the other. Sometimes life will choose for us. We have to just take it as it comes. As we can.
Before we were divorced, I sometimes looked at divorced women with a kind of envy. They seemed so free. After my divorce, a few women told me they now looked at me that way. An envy. A wondering, of what things might be like without the man. And there it is, laid out. It is good and bad, better and worse, harder and easier. Maybe you are in a position to choose. Maybe you have no choice. I don’t know which is easier.
(I do. Having no choice is easier).
The life of a woman untethered to a man, with her two girls, is not the thing I chose, most of the time, but it’s the thing I have. I will take what I’ve been given and do what women have always done: Keep going. Care for the children, as best I can. Love them, as wildly as I can. Show them, as much as I can, that life is ever-shifting—that even when it’s calm, the waters are a mystery, sometimes a wild hurricane or rocky river, rushing us toward a bend we don’t want to take, and that all we have in our lives are the things we choose to make of the waters. The things we bring to it. The story we tell ourselves about what happened to us. This has always been what matters most.
We stayed awhile in that still, quiet spa on a night in early June in a breezy New Mexico. The wind brought us the scent of sage and roses, from the bushes growing all along a nearby walkway. The night before, back in Colorado, we had driven home from my sister’s house late at night, a summer night in a warmer clime, the windows all down, music blasting on the radio. A song about Summer Love. Ayla knew all the words. I sang along when I could. It reminded me of being a teenager, those times when the wind in a car and music on a summer night was all I lived for. I was grateful to the girls for bringing this into my life again. I have spent my whole life running from connection due to a deep fear of having my inner self and resources intruded upon, and now—and it pains me to say this—I see that connection is what life is worth living for. Someday I want to move back to Santa Fe and work in the movies again. I want to re-submerge myself in this enchanted place where good things just seem to happen to me (as long as I took whatever steps I could toward making them happen). Right now I need to get my daughters through their high school years—all four years at the same school is what I want most for them, something they have never had, though they once had four schools in one year. It is my birthday today. I am 38. So far, I have had a wild and rocky and deeply beautiful life. Beautiful and terrible things have come, and will continue to come. I can’t hold the goodness of life with a husband and the goodness of life without one both at the same time. Those two things cannot exist together. But these two things can: sometimes your drive is a mourning and a celebration, sometimes your night is a mercy and a wound, sometimes you are leaving home and coming home at the same time. There are warm waters and fierce griefs, the wind that gentles you will also roar, my life and your life have spun and spun and spun and it has been painful, yes, and terrible, to be sure, and the beauty we have found at times has been so wild and so true and we are lucky to have experienced all of it, every bit of it, any of it at all.
Friday, October 26, 2018
Ever since last fall I have been preoccupied with birds in the sky. Wild geese, like in the Mary Oliver poem. It must be because I had lived so long in places where the geese did not cross on their yearly migration from one place that is a mystery to me to another. I don't remember ever missing the geese while in Santa Fe or Brevard, but once we were back in Colorado I didn't want to take my eyes off them. They don't captivate me when grounded, but only in flight. I remember clearly standing outside my sister's house, one night last year in late fall when my husband was still in California, and stopping to watch a flock of them sail across a frosty moon in a near-black sky. It was a Halloween moon, very full, the air smoky, the veil thin. The geese were a wonder, true wild things, able to live as they do here in the unnatural world we have made.
The geese were on a tarot card I had drawn repeatedly over my two years in Santa Fe, when I was trying to decide whether or not to leave my marriage. The tarot deck was called The Wild Unknown and in it, geese were used to represent one of the major arcana--The Lovers. I took it as an encouragement to stay, despite everything that was happening and everything between us. We left North Carolina following a large eruption of my volcano life, and I spent an entire year after that in a liminal space. My husband and I functioned, for that year, as partners and teammates in our children's lives and not as husband and wife, because it had to be decided if the thing that had happened could be tolerated. Could be lived beyond. Over and over again that year, I would talk to the Spirit (Goddess, God, whatever you might call it) and draw The Lovers. Two geese. Mates for life. I took it as a sign that the marriage was worth saving. I don't read tarot to predict the future. I read it to hear what's in my own heart. But this decision was too big, too scary. Everything hurt. I didn't know what was in my own heart.
The Lovers is a card that's easily misunderstood.
About a year into our time in Appalachia, my husband had brought up ending our marriage. I had been completely blindsided. I had never thought of us as anything other than lifetime partners, and the fact that he had felt like its own form of betrayal. We had a long and tortured night of conversation, after which I went into the bathroom, sat on the floor with my back to the door, and sobbed the foundation of my life up out of the ground, through my root chakra, and all the way out through my crown. I went to bed. In the morning he said he was sorry he'd made me cry like that, and that we would try to make this marriage work. And we did try. Or we didn't. Or we did, but not hard enough. It depends on who you ask, and when.
Then we fled to Santa Fe and I brought up ending the marriage and he didn't want to. So we stayed out there in the desert, and I went to work in the movies and he worked at another brewery and I went for walks in the desert and in the mystic mountains, and the girls grew two years older by dizzying increments. Towards the end of 2017 my husband was falsely diagnosed with cirrhosis, and went to rehab. It became clear that this life was not sustainable. We collapsed.
Then we moved back to Denver and there were wild geese in the sky.
* * *
It always happens in October, it seems. In October we got married, in October Ayla was born, in October we moved from Santa Fe to Denver, and then in October I moved out of our apartment in Fort Collins, where we had lived for six tremulous months as a family, and into my parent's house in Littleton, because my husband had decided he wanted a divorce.
I am trying to be fair to both of us here, which is why I say that we'd both brought up divorce over the years--who has been married for 16 years and never once thought about divorce?--but it is also true and honest to say that in the end, I wanted to reconcile, and in the end, it wasn't up to me.
Indy came to Littleton with me for a week, but then it became clear that the change in our living situation combined with another change of schools was too much for her (and wouldn't it be too much for anyone?), and so she went back to Fort Collins where, for right now, she lives during the weeks with Ayla, her dad, and her Grammy, in her Aunt's walk-out basement, and where she and Ayla can finish out the school year. Because they have been to so very many different schools in so few years, these indomitable and enduring daughters of mine.
This part of it--having the girls on weekends and holidays only--is too awful for me to talk about. I'm not sure if I can bear it and I'm not certain it will be borne. People keep talking about the dust settling, but ending a sixteen-year marriage and losing your home, your life partner, and your entire existence as a full time mother is not about dust settling. It is about beginning the process of sifting through years and years of accumulated dust, dust so thick it goes up to your eye balls and it feels like you can't breath, it becomes a sludge and you are swimming in it and it seems like maybe you will never get out.
Here's what I have learned about divorce: no matter what impressions you might have formed, divorce is not about just a couple, and it is not about self-actualization, not necessarily. Maybe it can be about that eventually. But at its root, it is about taking this holy, sacred, living and breathing entity that you and your partner have built together with your children, and wrenching it apart. Killing it. Divorce is a death. It razes everything to the ground. You and your children must try to find each other, somehow, inside the ashes. And your children must also try to find your spouse. And though you can see your spouse through the smoke and rubble, you are now strangely, impossibly, forbidden from going to them for comfort--the one person you have always turned to throughout your entire adult life. Divorce is sometimes necessary and sometimes a relief, but not always, and I can only tell you that from here, it does not feel like freedom.
For days, grief crashed over me, wave after wave, a grief so terrible and powerful and overwhelming that I believed it was a tide that would pin me to the ocean floor and hold me there forever, until I died. It was too much pain to hold. It made time bend and undulate in strange and unsettling ways. It has filled me full to the brim with nostalgia for other times and other lives and other mothers I have been. A new mother of small children. A mother of small town, Southern kids. I even wish I could go back to being a Santa Fe desert mother, because although everything was falling apart around me, the girls and I had each other. Every day I dropped them off and picked them up from school and brought them back to our home, every day we went to bed and woke up in the same house, we passed the minutes and days this way. So that even when things were bad, there was the four of us--there was home.
The center of the grief, the nadir of it, is the moment when you have to tell your children. When you have to hold their life up in front of them and shoot it between the eyes and watch it die, and watch their faces as they watch it die. That is another thing that is too painful for me to write about, and it is something I would have done anything, absolutely anything, to prevent. After we told them, they went into their room and I went into mine and I fell to the floor, too alive and burning too brightly to bare with the force of all that sorrow. I made an unearthly sound out of my gut and my throat and my chest because the once-breathing, holy, beautiful monster that was our marriage had just died. From the floor of my bedroom, I could see only a strip of narrow sky. Somehow I kept my eyes up even though I had turned into a ghost, and I watched as across that sliver of sky passed a flock of geese, wild and vibrant and vibrating like the red stone of life I imagine sits in the basement of all our bellies, our sacred fire keeping us alive. A flock of wild geese, honking in the bright, bearing themselves across the curvature of the sky with only the strength of their wings, gliding from one mystery into the next, with no understanding of the word bereft.
Monday, August 24, 2015
Ayla and I went to Target for school supplies. She is entering 5th grade, her last year of elementary school. How this happened, I do not know. How it has been 11 years since I awaited the entrance of this child into the world is one of the great mysteries. I couldn't bring myself to say no to anything she asked for. Shiny new lunchbox with geometrical print, okay. Matching new water bottle with matching geometric print, toss it in there. Ayla was determined to get a white backpack and white shoes, both of which she would decorate with sharpies. The backpack had to be ordered online, the shoes, after some setbacks, were found by Grammy at Kohl's. Ayla gets these grand ideas in her head and I know she will be despondent if they don't work out, and I go to great lengths to prevent this despondency. When we got out of the car at Target I started singing to Ayla "back to school, back to school, to prove to dad I'm not a fool," in an Adam Sandler voice, and that is how I learned that Adam Sandler does not resonate with Ayla's generation AT ALL.
On Thursday we learned Ayla had been placed in a class with none of her best friends but with the two children she has had the most conflict with over the years. I know some parents think that children need to learn to deal with this sort of difficulty in life, and those parents are right. But I am one of those that thinks, why not prevent what bumps I can, life has enough challenges as it is. And I'm right too, you know? Neither Noah nor I are good at rocking the boat. We didn't want to call the school and ask for special treatment. I got Ayla into the car. "How big of a deal is this situation with your friends?" I asked. "A big deal, a small deal, a medium deal?"
"It's fine, it's not a big deal," Ayla said. "I'll still see them at recess and before school and stuff."
But she was holding back tears.
"Okay," I said. "And are those your real feelings, or is this you not wanting to hurt someone's feelings by switching?"
"The feelings," she said.
So I screwed up my courage and called the new principal and told her the truth. That we moved here from Colorado and it's been hard enough to make friends. That it's Ayla's last year of elementary school and I want her to have a good year surrounded by her pals. I understand that some might say these issues are trivial, but they are not trivial to me. I don't understand why we expect children to put up with things that we ourselves would not put up with. Anyway. The principal agreed to switch Ayla to a different class and Ayla and I fist bumped. I felt like a hero.
By some miracle last night they were both asleep by 9:15. These two have been staying up til midnight and it was just Thursday that Ayla slept in until almost noon. We drove them through McDonald's for ice cream because there's no Dairy Queen here, that is just the town I live in. I hate this town. After milkshakes we sang to them and put them to bed. I had cleaned both their rooms for them because I wanted them to feel orderly and cozy for the start of the year. When everything is chaos it helps to have a clean house. I even cleaned out the bottom of the pantry where there were a million shoes and plastic bags and two spiders and a moth infestation. Harry Potter could be living there basically. I watched them sleep, of course. I remembered thinking, when Ayla started 3rd grade, that we still had three full years until middle school and surely I would feel that time. Those three years would pass with the measured pace we expect three years to pass with. Now here we are, time is unreal. Mothers get this in our bones and yet we rage against it. Ayla's last year at BES and Indy right behind her. God help me.
This morning we all had bags under our eyes but spirits were generally high. Ayla shrugged on her white back pack decorated with the sharpie-drawn youtube logo and ihascupquake and Nirvana symbols. Ayla is into Nirvana. She is indulging her quirks with a trueness to herself that I admire fiercely. Indy overnight turned into a sort of brightly clawed kitten with jeweled teeth. She has presence. She is in herself and aware of herself like a starlet in a fashion spread.
God help me.
Noah took them to Waffle House (HATE TOWN) and then we dropped them at school, where at the last minute Indy said "Do you guys HAVE to walk us in?" all fake-casual, and we said ". . . no!" Me also feigning casual and so off they went, into the wilds, on their own. Then I took a drive up through the forest, it was misty and it had presence, aware of itself and the feats it is about to preform, getting ready just any minute now to magic all that green to yellow and gold, but not yet, not yet, and I thought everything is always coming, but not yet. Not yet.
Tuesday, August 4, 2015
On the first day of August, we went camping. We have not camped as a family since we moved here. I don't know why. But sometime last autumn Ayla came to me crying and said she was upset because we never go camping anymore. She has a flair for the dramatic but also for telling truths. She is a Libra and a Hufflepuff. But of course I don't believe in any of all that.
August sometimes gets a bad rap, but its one of my favorite months. August is when the light changes. One warm day in August you will be sitting in your car, it will be late afternoon, the light will go peach-colored and a breeze will blow in. On the underside of this breeze there will be a chill, and you will know that fall is going to come. Your seven-year-old daughter will turn to you and say, "It feels like everything good is about to happen". August is the month of stone fruit and school supplies. It's the month Indy was born. One day in August I had barely slept all night and was driven from my bed at four in the morning with labor pains. I thought this labor would take all day, run into the night, like my first. A mere seven hours later, I would be holding my Indy in my arms for the first time, her short little nose, her funny long legs. Ayla's first act as a human was to gaze at us as if she had known us for millions and millions of years. Indy's was to have a good cry. How could I not love August?
Camping here is different than camping in Colorado. We didn't grow up here, we don't know the good spots. We drove ten minutes down the street before turning onto a long dirt road lined with corn fields and horses. At the end of this rough road was a bend in the river, and we set up our tent on its banks. No alpine air, too many bugs. But the upside is this ancient river. Colored like coffee or the gold of some hound's eye, the girls undulating their sleek bodies in the shimmering light, little seals, legged mermaids. They are growing strong. Dive low, sputter up. Skip stones. Splash your sister. Ayla propped Indy up on her straight shoulders and said "I won't be able to do this much longer, you'll get too big." Ayla's legs impossibly long, Indy's eyes the brightest thing in the whole world.
Some people feel compelled to rush through August, squeezing in last minute summer before school starts up again. For me August is when summer slows down. You just have to surrender what you didn't get to. Like a woman of advanced age who doesn't hurry from place to place. Like the river growing wide around its slowest bend. For just a little while in August the world opens up. The swell of July is behind us, the smoke of September is ahead. I sat beneath leaves that danced with the light of the sun off the river. I felt a depression lift away. The old French Broad eventually flows into Tennessee. But just there, in that bend, it would hold us. My daughters closed their eyes and jumped in.
Saturday, June 6, 2015
This series of photographs reminded me of these two pictures of my daughters.
This is one of the more fascinating articles I've ever read.
Here is an old blog post by Tavi Gevinson that touched me.
I have been listening to the Longform podcast and the interviews with Cheryl Strayed and Tavi Gevinson got my juices flowing.
I would like to publicly request that Marc Maron interview more women. Hearing creative women talk about their stories and struggles is something I need as I try to find a place of peace between my two opposing desires to be a writer and to be a present mother for my children. These urges aren't in tension for every mother, but they are for me. I need to hear from women, women with children, women without children, married women, unmarried women. In the newest Mad Max, there is a moment when the warriors Furiosa and Max grip hands and I cried in the theater at the symbolism of that image. I dream of a time when women and men can work together in perfect union, but we can't get there without many more representations of the feminine myths, more stories about what it is to be female. I need thousands of them.
Dear Marc Maron: Amy Schumer, Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Kaitlin Olson, Jessica Walter.
Speaking of the myths about the female experience, I hungrily devoured The Wild Oats Project by Robin Rinaldi and Spinster by Kate Bolick.
June in North Carolina has been tremendously green, as if the color were alive, as if I lived inside a velvety woodland painting. One morning I opened my eyes and looked out the window at the exact moment the sun was refracting explosively off the leaves and in my sleep state I felt the color shoot through me, a photosynthetic infusion, the breath of the forest, the substance of life.
Friday, April 24, 2015
Have you been waiting to buy Angel Food on a payday that never comes? Do you wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, afraid of becoming a smoker clown (a clown that smokes)? Do your friends keep telling you to buy Angel Food and you're like, a book made of cake? Where do I get one immediately? You're in luck! Angel Food is free today as an ebook. Just a few more hours to download yours. Get it here.