Collecting bottles, tossing leftovers, taking out the garbage
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These are excerpts from a diary-in-progress. A separation has occurred about a year earlier. The children are A., a thirteen-year-old girl; T., a six-year-old boy; and G., a three-year-old girl.
November 17. Monday. The car didn’t start — again. We rode the bus. Manuel, in hat, was driving. He picked us up, leaving the students who were waiting to wait seven more minutes. I bet they hated me. A young woman offered me a seat. I suggested she hold G. instead, and I, her books. So we traded. Halfway up Columbia Street, I asked Manuel if it was possible to turn off the heat. He did. When we got out, I wished him a good day. He said he got off work in five minutes. Nice way to start the day.
I sat on a stone, waiting for the bus back. A long wait. Sometimes a complete change in routine is good. I rested. I looked. I didn’t read the book I had with me.
Quiet, empty bus coming home. Then, of course, my car started right up, and I found the doughnuts way in the back of the trunk where they fell out of a grocery sack last night.
It’s Winter now. It’s been a year since I left their father. The trees look almost like they did when we moved here. We’re on a shelf, nested. I build these nests wherever I go. I put out strands. All the anchor strands are in place. I have completely done the whole web — every circle, a mandala here. Something hesitant before the last closing. The nest he may not enter. I will be able to be polite. I will not get that angry. Sure, anger and hurt are there. To whom do they belong? To both of us and to our parents, to destiny and fate behind and in us. And our children will inherit both — our angers and our hurts. But they also already know how to love. They have been loved. “Children are as demanding as adults will let them be, and are as able to learn to be loving as they are encouraged to be,” I read in the News of Orange County yesterday.
Fate’s gift: that we be saved, that he flounders — the image, accurate, “clinging to a spar,” still trying to use the powers and the weapons that don’t really bring him what he needs. If he is that weak, then I learn a very deep humility.
I will be kinder if I do not think of going back, if I do not worry if other people think I should.
It has happened before, that I threw myself into something partly to escape a very large sense of destiny: a Jonah complex. What the marriage has been is a last attempt to hide, to be what I was not, to pretend.
The children listen. They hear him trying to get me to do what he wants. They hear me resist. They hear his barbs of sarcasm and resentment.
He has a very hard fate to live with, better to learn it now than to think he escapes. Mine is also hard, and lonely. “We also are not reconciled.” [Foster Robertson]
The perfect home was not there. I wanted it to be. But I couldn’t do his part — and wanted it too much. I can’t do anyone else’s parts for them. Only my own. But if I do that well, I’ll give off light like the sun.
10 p.m. A. ran away from home today because of a disagreement. I insisted she eat something before she went to ballet. She gave me a hard time. I told her I wouldn’t let her go at all if she didn’t stop. She didn’t stop. She started out the door. I told her she didn’t have permission to leave. She left anyway. I did too, out to get G. at the nursery school. I left her standing by the bus stop. I bought oil and gas and tampax and chicken and went to the post office and got G. and came home. The ballet studio called at 5:30 or so and weren’t even sure whether she was there. I gave them a message. Then she called, from her father’s, about 5:45 p.m. She had walked most of the way there.
I really did not know what to say. I still don’t, though I’ve talked to both of them, and he’s very protective of her, and all set to give me lots of explanations and telling me not to worry. Earlier he tells me she’s “sane” and “together.” And just now that I shouldn’t be too hard on her. She was doing fine. And I had said I would punish her.
I sat here and cried for fifteen minutes after they left. Why does it hurt? Because I care. Because I feel things and let myself suffer.
If I could prevent their suffering! Oh, how I wish I could!
T. and G. could feel my distress. I yelled too loud when he gave her a push and her boot fell on my foot.
11:30 p.m. J. called, and I told her about A., and we talked a while. She was consoling.
Somehow, in the midst of it all, I moved the chest he wants out into the hall, rearranged it in here, and made a desk out of that piece of plywood I scavenged from next door.
I think A.’s all right. I tell myself: “Don’t worry. She may talk about running away again. But she won’t do it. She learned something. Go on. Do your work, a little at a time. Don’t worry if it’s slow.”
November 18. Tuesday. 10:45 a.m. Went by I.’s office. We talked about his daughter and mine. That was mostly all. He said he was glad to see me. (“This is a pleasant surprise.”) He told me I was looking good. Intuition led me there. Intuition in full operation while I was there. I don’t quite know what to make of his message.
He asked about my finances. I told him some support from my ex-husband, and the government.
He expressed a lot of displeasure about people always knocking on his door, though I had been one only a few minutes before. He did not want us to be interrupted? He enjoyed himself? He allowed himself to enjoy himself? I don’t really know. I told him I was going on “emergency fuel.” He asked what? I said, “Faith.”
8:50 p.m. The moon was in eclipse on our way home, and moving out of it. As the light returned, I was jubilant, quietly, to myself. It felt like my awareness and my life were coming out of eclipse. “The moon is empty and the moon is full.” [Sally Atkins]
“The tug of the other moon, the other ocean.” [me]
I. talked about himself. He said, “Some vital force is missing. Where there should be something, there is nothing.”
A. had the house all cleaned up when I got home, though was worried because she had broken a favorite vase and gotten a toy up the vacuum cleaner. I told her not to worry. After hearing from I. about the kids in the other junior high, I was just very relieved that A. had the problems she had, and that she was my daughter. A strong bond of belongingness.
I feel good tonight, and no impulse to explain. Just good. Thinking about the moon, and about all of us. And even yesterday I felt intensely the breaking apart of things.
Now it is nearly midnight. A very important day in my life. The moon came out of eclipse. Again, and slowly, release, of energy and joy, of knowledge: that the future holds joy, that sorrows are transformable.
Wednesday. 7 a.m. A. doesn’t want to go to school; she still feels sick. T. is hard to wake up. G. is still asleep.
I probably won’t be able to start the car before 10. I decided to let them all sleep. I will take T. to the dentist at 11. If necessary, he and G. and I can ride the bus at 10:20.
I’m very glad these children all exist, that despite everything, we made these new children. I see so much better where all the suffering came from. It’s so much better where I am going. I can’t imagine ever really worrying about the harm he can do again, though harm was done. I don’t think he’ll do it again. He came to such an honesty and that saves him. I wonder if he sees that.
What he said about himself yesterday coincides with what a dream said to me, though the image in my dream was so violent. This recognition and awareness that I have now is so quiet. He recognizes now, I think, what it was he did that caused so much suffering. The suffering I felt grew out of my not wanting to believe or see that there was no real response there, only a shadow — only a need that had always been denied. He was missing from my dream. There was only the father figure and the son figure. No self. No center.
Imagine beginning a journey around an inner sun, only to realize that inner sun, that inner energy isn’t there. It’s stunned or frozen or atrophied — asleep, or even dead. He is facing his own inner death. His own inner absence. I wrote, “You never gave yourself to me. Go away.” Now I see how he couldn’t. I see how I accepted that lack because I thought I could do without — or do it all myself.
Wednesday night. Nearly 1:00 a.m. Thursday. A small group of women writers meet in each other’s homes. Our last meeting is joyful, jubilant. Important and good. I feel so clearly now J.’s genius and gift. But they all had written well and richly, and shared freely.
I am thinking about an orange moon rising, round and full. That’s how I feel about this new feeling of love for I. Shared presence. Such direct, open, easy communication, the surface comfortable, the depths comfortable. A slow and enjoyable realization afterwards. Also, surprise. He took me by surprise. I feel very private about it. The most intensely private I’ve felt of any of these fantasies.
November 23. Sunday night. Everything feels new. I’ve learned it happens to me every so often, that everything feels new. And something must be, and it is hard to say what. I feel like a different ritual tonight. I’ve brought a cup of hot milk and coffee into my room. I’m writing. But I’m in a different place.
Very warm and close with the children today. Very little friction and conflict. I was very glad to be with them. I decided to postpone laundry one more day. It snowed. T. was in and out a lot. G. played contentedly alone. A. was full of talk and planning for Christmas. I didn’t consciously plan for much but was flexing with them, making sure they were okay. They are. A. was light, humorous, enjoyable. She wanted to get out the Christmas boxes, and we did, after supper. A grand and annual ceremony and we did it all, somehow knowing that though their father was left out, it was okay to do it. That essential core was intact to make a family, if not the perfect one.
Monday. November 24. 10 a.m. A lot of difficulties this morning, getting everybody to school. A. was mad; her clothes weren’t completely dry, the ones she had washed out by hand and I had helped her hang in the bathroom. And we started getting ready a little late. She missed the bus. I didn’t wrap the present she wanted to take to her friend to suit her. She had wanted to give it to her on the bus. Starting the car meant asking her to help me because I had to do the choke from under the hood. She wished we had a car like Daddy’s, one that started right up. While I was working the choke, and she the gas, T. told G. to turn around and watch him eat his lunch. She did and put her wet shoe on A.’s lunch. A. slapped her. When I came back around, G. was crying broken-heartedly. In the end, all three apologized. A. realized she had forgotten her homework as we drove out. I offered to go back for it. She said no. She slammed out of the car by the time she got to school, convinced it was going to be a terrible day. T. and G. went peacefully, though T. looked distressed by A.’s scene. I get very unsympathetic after a point. I was reluctant to write her an excuse, but she said she wouldn’t be allowed to go to class without one.
A warbler has been on my porch for fifteen minutes. He wants very much to fly this way, keeps fluttering up and trying to come through the glass. It’s wearing out his strength. What can I do? Nothing. The sensible titmouse who’s also out there, at intervals, feeding, doesn’t seem to help. He’s beautiful, this frightened little bird, driven to fly through a window pane, a red splash of color on his crown, greenish coloring on his tail feathers. A perfection of detail. He feels like a messenger — nature using him to tell me you want to enter, wish to come in. What do you wish to tell me? “That I love you. That I am like this bird. Something is wrong. I know what I have to do, but I don’t know how. I’ve grown blind. I want to be well, but I can’t see at all. I need your help.”
All I can do is answer when you call. I can’t answer beforehand. You have let things live too much in your mind. Each real gesture and real step, groping forward, I will reward. Beyond that, I cannot act. How can I? The god inside me tells me to love you, but only to show myself as you step forward and show yourself.
The bird is back, attempting the window.
In one way, it doesn’t matter if I never see you again. I felt you. I told you in my own out loud words that I felt warmth when I was near you. I knew — whatever else — that between at least one man and woman there existed a real hope for communion and love between equals, whether or not it is ever fulfilled. I am content because of what I have been allowed to envision, though I by myself can never bring it to pass.
I do the wash on Monday, a school and work day, not on Sunday, in the usual routine. The usual routine is okay, too, but it’s good to feel how loosely it sits with me, how possible it is for me to set it aside.
Monday night. 9:30 p.m. I have a lot of letters I want to write. They weigh on me like a turtle’s shell. Yet when I move, that shell moves with me, and I am loose inside my skin — even at this slow speed, even with this weight.
I got clothes washed, dinner cooked, with a minimum of hassle. A. was in a good mood before and after ballet, and helped me put the groceries away. T. and I made a new bargain that I would raise his allowance to a quarter if he helped me more, and I could scarcely contain him after supper, had to make him stop washing dishes, had to forbid him to take the trash out after dark.
Now A. scolds me that I’ve bought too much dessert; that seems a reversal. Cookies and doughnuts. She’s probably right. Went to Kroger instead of the usual A & P. I saw some bargains. Everything’s a little different today. I may do it more often, go Mondays. It has often been hard, driving home at night, but tonight they were happy. Tonight at supper they were all so beautiful and funny, and I was reining in the usual silly stuff at the table, but all the same relished G.’s relish of the ear of corn. Amused at T. with his shirt off so his undershirt would show. Amused and glad. And nowadays, when A. is happy, her face is glad like a little girl’s face. She looks purely and honestly happy.
She’s in the kitchen now washing dishes. And she did two hours of ballet. Her teachers are mad because she’s behind in her work at school but she doesn’t seem troubled and is wearing her hair in two pony tails which she calls “poodle ears.”
Wednesday. 6:45 a.m. Now the papers are saying there may be a dinosaur in Loch Ness — thirty feet long. I believe it. The monsters died out, but live. They live in me, and in T., who is fascinated by the power and the number of teeth in Tyrannosaurus Rex’s mouth.
The savage monster — the survival instinct — is with us grimly from the beginning. We cannot ever love enough, by ourselves. Always our need is to be loved, for our monster to be seen and made lovable by someone else’s knowing, someone else’s seeing through our defenses.
All I have is some core of inner truth which sees and doesn’t see, which says yes and no, which is not rationally or culturally or ideally determined, but is working its way out from the deepest inside places.
“You and he would be the two best ones to help each other.”
And I knew that though I might try to explain and wish to explain, and even, in some sense, be able to explain, that I did not really have to. The “no” represented the inner clarity, represented what was true, without explanation, for me. Was my “Here I stand.”
T. threw up in the night, so I’m keeping him home today. I may keep G. home, too. A.’s up and getting ready for school.
Light is such a daily miracle. Light behind the self-same tree branches. In my distress, I have been self-same in the deep places, but it was hard to see, hard to tell, for others, where I was.
I am good and loving now. The monster is getting transformed, is in my loving, vital power. Perhaps I even have his teeth. I am willing to defend certain vital truths, certain core human meanings alive in me, and in others, to the death. Yet, if I acted out the monster, I would defeat those meanings. So I am defending all the life, with the monster’s sheer power and ferocity, and yet not being a monster. Somehow the more I am willing to let even the monster be alive in me, the less I will be a monster unawares. A witch. A hag. A tooth mother. Around the inner circling sun coils a dragon.
The little bird which has tried for two days to get in is still trying.
Dragon of life, I am in your hands.
I do not think I am wise. I do not think I am good or beautiful or just or that I can know all by myself what I must do, what I cannot explain and yet must do anyway.
I don’t mind. Let life win. Let me be forfeit, if necessary. Let all my fantasies, of love and of making a small human difference in this world of ours, come to nothing, if that is, in the long perspective of the universe, for the best.
It is better for me, and for everyone else, if I stand on my ground rightly, connectedly, sure that I am doing what I can only do, in touch with my own feelings, whatever they are, and even if they are, seemingly, absurd and inconvenient. How will it look? It will mostly probably look wrong. I’m the only one who can be sure it isn’t, and persuade others.