Nonfiction

Running Toward 36 (With My Woes). 

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I’m turnin’ into a nigga that thinks about money and women, like, 24/7. That’s where my life took me; that’s just how shit happened to go. — Drake, “Know Yourself”

When I turn 36 in two months, I will cross over the benchmark of this decade where I’m closer to 40 than I am to 30, far closer to middle-age than post-adolescence. Subconsciously, during 2015, that must’ve been significant to me. This has been the year that I started chasing. Finally, I stopped waiting for my dreams to find me working, and refocused my work so that it gathered like an arrowhead and flung itself forward.

I still don’t know what else I want to be when I grow up. But I know far better, thanks to 35, who I am right now.

A few days ago, I tweeted that the 30s are a revelatory set of years — and not everything you become during them is inspiring or pleasant; not everything you realize about yourself makes you proud. The truth is: the first five years of my 30s taught me just how many of my good traits are decision-based. They’re the result of waking up every day and choosing to be kind or generous or thoughtful or compassionate. None of that is innate. I’m not always tender with my child instinctively, for instance. Sometimes I take a deep breath first and set my intention on a soft word or a gentle touch or a question — “Was that nice?” or Was that the right choice?” — rather than yelling, “What’s gotten into you?!”

And, I mean: I fail.

I can be shallower than I thought I had become, either compelled or unnerved by physical appearance in ways I thought I’d conquered as a child. I still notice how people look before I notice who they are; how they look still impacts how I process who they are. It’s something I intend to continue rejecting, now that I’m aware just how much work I still need to do.

Even when I think I’m operating out of pure human kindness, I can discover, at the end of a day, that I was in fact motivated by the response I’d hoped to receive. The disappointment I feel when I don’t get it is what makes that apparent.  Take this, as an example: when I was 33, I fell in love with someone, dated him for four months, and pined for him over the next two years. For him, I would run a gauntlet of errands, under the guise of just-friendship, attempting all the while to convince both him and myself that I was simply good-hearted, willing to accept what would never be — us, a couple, reconciled — yet still present myself to him, whenever he was in a bind. Love, after all, whether or not it’s met with equal or greater force, is kind. It doesn’t seek its own. It meets whatever need it sees, without expectation of repayment. This is what I wanted us both to believe. It’s who I thought I was: purely kind, unconditionally loving.

But I was stealing all kinds of repayment: the sight of him, his touch, the scent of him steeped in the cloth seats of my car, long after he’d left it, his conversation. I used it all as a kind of fossil fuel; I let it burn off my loneliness.

Worse, in my 30s, I’ve been on the receiving end of this very kind of attention, offered as under a label of friendship and undeterred by known disinterest in it. I’ve chosen not to reiterate my disinterest, because these days, having someone familiar near can be far more appealing than resolutely sending him away.

I am embarrassed to admit that. I spent my 20s eschewing all behavior that could be called clingy or needy or desperate or validation-seeking. I prided myself on being able to take a hint. I always left first, even if I didn’t want to. I knew all the adages: Never make time for someone who doesn’t make time for you. Listen the first time. Follow your first mind. If he’s truly interested, you’ll always know it. That I could know those things as true and decide to test them anyway isn’t something I enjoy disclosing about myself. The woman who does that isn’t the woman I believed I was.

My 30s have made me different. My 30s, with a small child I have yet to raise, whose future frightens me, for all its potential and for the possible ways that this potential will  carry her far away from me and lead me, in my very old age, back to the silent, less vibrant life I led before her, are the decade where my worst qualities and greatest fears are revealing themselves and it’s too exhausting to keep pretending to the world that I don’t have them.

I am often afraid, especially in my friendships and with lovers. I do not want to let anyone go. I can say this now because I am almost 36 and I think, when a woman is still single at this age, this sort of admission is expected.

I do enjoy the life I’m carving out. I am a writer, which is really all I ever wanted to be in the world, and I am a mother, which I was never certain I wanted to be, but have risen to — with all my heart — just the same. Ten years ago, I would not have dared ask for more. I do not always dare it now.

But increasingly, I am challenging myself to own whatever I am and then to interrogate it. I am, at turns, angry and jealous and petty, short-tempered and selfish, and even, as this most recent failed relationship taught me, unwittingly duplicitous. I have done more than my fair share of compromising what I truly want. Now, I am becoming exacting about it.

I simply want to be good — to myself, to my child, to others, good at my work and at a love as yet unseen. I no longer want to pretend to anyone that I am sweeter or more self-sacrificing than I am. And in the absence of that performance, in the midst of my daily choosing and failing, I want someone beside me making his own, similar decisions. Among them: accepting me just as I am and choosing, each day, not to flinch.

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Faith, Nonfiction, Parenting, Uncategorized

Dovetails.

1.

The last time you were here, you left an open pack of tube socks in the trunk of my car. It’s still there, two weeks later. It will stay there until you return.

I often feel responsible for the things that remain when you leave. There are imprints of you where I do not want them and one beaming emblem of you I could not live well without. I am accustomed to keeping things safe till you reclaim them. I suppose I will continue to; it does not seem to do me much harm.

I can say this without animus now, but it is not always as easy as I lead everyone — including myself — to believe.

2.

Loving anyone other than you had long been an alien concept. Twelve years long, if we’re honest. We were only together for eight (nearly nine) but even when it ended — even during the pregnancy, when I hoped and I prayed that alone or reconciled to you would not be my only options — I did not truly believe I’d fall in love again. I would not let myself, not if this was how I’d feel at love’s departure.

But what could I tell my daughter of love if I could not remember its shiver? How would I hear her fawning first brush with a tremulous hand if my own palms knew only a craven kind of emptiness? How could we parse her first heartbreak if I never let go of mine?

3.

This is the supernova, the white burst, the back-pressed-to-wall, the unending kiss, the lips that won’t leave yours even to whisper, the words you get to roll on your tongue and relish the fact that they were once, just moments before, not your own.

You are holding them now. You are holding him now. And being held and being held and — Father in heaven — being held.

It hardly seems sane, for your arms to know an embrace other than your wriggling toddler’s, to know kisses other than the ones she sees fit to bestow, in boredom, in blessing, at bedtime.

And it isn’t sane, really, or sustainable. It peters as quickly as it popped, a fire in a lidded jar now. And this great, ghastly, heart-pounding, promise-eating love is swallowed up in air, in sky.

4.

Weeks ago, Father John, the eldest priest in our small parish, preached of love.

I wanted him to say something sense-making about women like me, alternately afraid and excessive, who understand love simply as being someone’s priority. I wanted him to tell me how such a low bar could be so difficult for some men to clear.

But I wasn’t entirely listening. I was thinking of all the things and people to whom I’d come second and third and sixth. I was wondering whether or not I was worthy of preference, whether it was fair or childish to expect to be preferred.

“You know that passage, that 1 Corinthians 13 that people like to read at weddings? That’s God’s love. Agape,” he said with a wave of his massive hand. I watched him shake his head, as if all we romantics were a bit misguided.

Father John moved on quickly; for him, this was just an aside.

For me, it was a lifeboat.

Someone else would find this alienating, this idea that we should not use agape love as a matrimonial blueprint because we could not possibly erect it properly and would feel as if we were failing whenever a window shattered. Someone else might scoff at the notion that we shouldn’t strive toward a perfect, selfless care for our fellow man.

But all I could do was think of my own loves: often impatient, sometimes insecure, disinclined to hope or believe all things, occasionally self-seeking, and certainly — if nothing else — susceptible to failure.

I leaned back in my seat, and I sighed relief.

5.

How do we do this? How does anyone do this?

6.

I used to believe I would never be rid of you because you were my predestination. Then I thought I could never be rid of you because of our girl, who looks back and forth between us, whenever we’re together, with calculating eyes.

You make moving on difficult, because you are a kind amnesiac: giving and grinning and hoping to catch us, even as we flutter on, mostly without you. For all your texts, your calls, your checking in, you do not remember — and sometimes do not even accept — what you are not here to witness. You will always believe that I am the keeper of things you happen to leave behind.

I am your safe deposit box. I am your cage.

7.

The other one was elegant, an autodidact, confident in ways I couldn’t imagine, calm in a manner that requires discipline not artifice. He was meant for a family — but he was not meant for mine.

Of all the things that are difficult to accept, this is perhaps the hardest.

He, himself a cage, a keeper of things left behind, always treated me like a bird who’d forgotten the grace of flight.

We who understand what it is to be a series of gilded, bloodied bars want nothing more than to bend them for others. We are the freers, even at our own expense.

8.

I used to be a woman of many compartments. But motherhood makes you an open space. Anyone you love must stand on your floor and face the things and the people you once had an inclination to hide.

There are no fallout shelters. There is no time to assuage hurts, massage egos. No strength for mediating others’ aughts, for carrying burdens larger than those upon which we’d already agreed.

Everyone’s interests must dovetail. Or else, the only door stands open. All are free to exit at will.

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Nonfiction

The Risks.

That whatever warming light he brings is sourced by more than wisps of filament. That the light will not burst when you’re brooding or silent. That he himself is light and will not darken, upon exposing you. That he will see your shadows, welcome them, find in the silhouettes something singular, invaluable. That you are your genuine selves. That he will wait. That you will. That patience isn’t foreign to you. That whatever needs to heal in him, in you, will mend in its time. That you will yield. That he will. That truth hums on his lips, long and low, a melody never quite too abrasive for ears. That this ache that comes in when he’s honest spurs honesty in you. That you will not lie to spare one another. That you will not become someone uncomfortable. That you will be spared. That the word “appease” has no translation here, in this subtle, dying dialect. That things will change. That he is right: it will not always be this way — whatever way this is. There will be more, not less. That this is not rehearsal. We are not curtained, cordoned. That this is more than a stage. That we have not roused a promising love, just to let it roar and starve and rot. That this distance is imagined. That indifference is imagined. That we’ll find each other walking, in the dark.

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