One Year Gone

In my recollection you are a boy

Younger than the rod against which

The baritone of your voice

And the stubble of your chin

Would be tested.
You are a boy with curly hair

And brown cherub cheeks,

And every time you leap from the bed

To the air

It becomes a cloud

And you become Peter Pan. 
In my memory 

We stand shoulder to shoulder. 

Your fearlessness is infectious,

And I pretend to be unafraid. 
Where are you now?

I gray and bend,

And you are still a boy

Somewhere, straight-backed,

Smiling and fearless. 
They say you are the lucky one

Young, encapsulated in time,

Two dimensional, your story written

By us, those who remain, while you

Appear, fleeting, only in our dreams. 
Most of the time we are lost

And we search for you among the stars

Come from Neverland, and tell us 

What you found there. 

Are you still who we claim?

Were you ever?
You are gone one year. 

Is there time where you are?

Are you the boy again?

Can the rod that broke you reach you there?

What alms do we send? 

Send us a story. 

Even your shadow will do. 

Better still: send the star as a balm 

For we who remain. 

The Pros and Cons of Having Children: An Open Letter to a Friend

You asked me for a list of pros and cons of having children. I have thought long and hard about what I would add to these lists.

It isn’t, however, buying a car, or a house in the sketchy neighborhood that everyone thinks might one day make a comeback. So here is my truth—it is not an absolute for anyone. It isn’t even an absolute for me.

The decision to become a parent is a life-altering decision that will make and unmake you over and over again.

People say that humans are resilient, and that we can bear a great deal. As a mother I can attest to the reality of this cliche. I was twenty when I became pregnant with Bailey, twenty-one when she was born. Her very birth was traumatic for me, and I consider myself splintered—me before Bailey, me after Bailey, and my mind after Bailey. My desire to be a “good” parent is obsessive and overwhelming. After all—humans are resilient, but that does not mean we do not break. You will break over and again, and people will forget about you—you will learn to mend yourself. It will be haphazard and you’ll lose pieces along the way. But something new and even more beautiful will replace what you’ve lost. You will still be yourself.

I wonder about every decision I make in regards to my children. Am I keeping them safe? Am I smiling enough? Do they feel loved? Do I say it enough? I wonder which of my decisions will send them to therapy. I wonder if they have a proclivity for self harm. I wonder how to protect them from the forces that act against them. I wonder if I am too hard on them. I wonder if I haven’t been hard enough. I wonder if I’ve provided the right experiences for them. I wonder if I’ve helped them love themselves. I wonder if they talk to me.

You think you won’t be that way, but you will. Whether homegrown or selected with love, your child is yours. Nature and nurture will collude and you will be responsible, largely, for what the child becomes. His or her expectations of life will first come from you. You will encompass his loves and his disappointments. You are his life-giver, and this is not a small act. It is the largest act you can perform—and parenting is a performance. You are “on” all the time. You will go to bed some nights wondering if you were “on” enough. You will often feel as though you have failed.

But just as often you will also feel pride, and you will know where you have succeeded. You can’t become comfortable in this state, because parenting is constant. They need you, always.

Sometimes you will want to fall apart and you will scream in your own mind that you just want ten minutes to fall apart without worrying about unseating the fragile image of stability that you have spent every waking moment for as long as you have been a mother creating.

You will learn the limitations of language, and it will make you angry. You will love them in a way that words cannot express. This is why language was invented, this love, and it is simply not enough.

There are no lists for this. But you only come this way as the being you are once. Whatever you decide, do so with the knowledge that, as with every other decision you have ever made, you cannot have an absolute. You cannot be certain.

America

You suckle at her teat though you’ve had your fill. You are engorged to the point of aching, but you 

Must have all of her. 

She is weakened under your weight. 

And under the weight of your father before you. 

She must have been beautiful once, you muse. 

You’ve never seen her, though. Not really. 

You’ve always looked past her and imagined

What she could be. 

You’ve done this for as long as she has been and now

You can’t see what she never was. 

Still, you have ruined her. Perhaps she had promise. Once, before your fingers grazed her

Body–already claimed but belonging to her–she was free and she was beauty. Only for a moment. 

From the moment you saw her you knew she must

Submit. 

You wrecked her. Now she bears your children–hungry, tired, huddled together. Their voices are weak–you have taken yours and left them nothing. 

You sneer at them. They should find their own way. But she is their mother. They see her scars–the holes you have made in her–but they love her. 

Her heart is skidding to a halt. You can hear it. She exudes an odor that she didn’t have before. Oily and sweet. 

You will drink yourself to death. You know it. They know it, too. But you keep at her anyway. 

You will go. They will to, too. No one will be left to bear witness to the mess you made. 

Infinity, I guess


Today I stared—it was only for a moment—at prescription oxycodone. In that moment I wondered how many I would have to take in order to drift off to sleep. Not because I want to die—in fact, just the opposite. I am deathly (ha) afraid of death. 

I was twelve when I came to the morbid realization that one day I would breathe and breathe and then breathe no more. I was at the house of a family friend sitting on an aged green couch playing 007 on a Nintendo 64. I’d just been resurrected as Bond for the millionth time and it was as though someone beyond me dropped the notion into my head. It came to me as a sentence spoken in my own mind by someone else: “I am going to die.”

For a month after I was afraid to sleep. My mom, in a moment of desperation, called my biological father for help. He asked, “are you afraid to sleep?” I lied and said no. He responded, “well sleep is a cousin to death. It’s just like going to sleep.” Unsurprisingly this did not help. It wasn’t as though I didn’t know what death was. I’d gone to my first funeral when I was three. In spite of what my husband says I do, in fact, remember age three, and I remember that funeral. By the time I was twelve I’d gone to half a dozen. I went to so many in one summer (three) that I began to equate Alabama with death and decay.

Eventually I moved forward. I did not move past this fear, but carried it with me, in all things. I lived in constant fear for everyone, including myself. I was obsessive about my health and the health of my parents, my siblings, my friends. I was afraid of riding in cars with people. I didn’t tell anyone about this fear, because it seemed like something we likely all share. Who wants to be around that person? Besides—what can anyone actually say to make the fear dissipate?

I had my first panic attack in the middle of my first c-section. My heart rate began to rise and I heard someone in the room call for, of all things, a cardiologist. I began gasping for air, stating that I couldn’t breathe. George and Bailey had already left the room for her bath, etc. so I was on the table alone. The fear was overwhelming and I was alone.

I spent Bailey’s first night on earth in the ICU being monitored. My doctor never came by to check on me. I never found out why my heart rate was so high—and I had not heard of anxiety at the time. Bringing Bailey home is a blur. In fact, the first year is a blur. I remember George’s first Father’s Day spent in the ER. I was convinced I was dying. The doctor on call, after extensive tests, sent me home. He likely told me that I was having a panic attack, but as I said—that year is a blur.

I had a panic attack at church and the women gathered there prayed for me, but from a distance. I was embarrassed and, as always, overwhelmed.

I suppressed a panic attack in the middle of a final exam in British Literature. I was struck by the notion that I would have a heart attack and collapse in that very room.

I did not get over that year. Instead, I learned to drag it like a weight with me. For the duration of my twenties I was in a heightened state of anxiety almost all of the time.

Exercise helped. I could think about my own termination without sweating and collapsing. After the birth of Avery I had relapses, but no panic attacks. I felt cured.

Now we come to this morning. I can’t pretend I haven’t felt this dread for weeks—in fact, I could feel it coming before we left the hospital with Emerson. I felt it when I sat in the ER the day after we came home. I feel it every single morning that I wake up, when my mind says, “you won’t do this always.”

I feel this every time I read a news article or watch television. I feel it in the dark at night. This time no panic accompanies it. There are no palpitations. Instead there is silence.

So as I was walking around with this wonderful baby this morning I saw that oxycodone and I wondered, and not because I want to go anywhere. I don’t want to go anywhere. I don’t want to miss a single moment of this. I want to exist forever. Some people call this selfish—I’ve never considered myself a selfless person, so I’m not ashamed of that label. I’m here now typing about it because, maybe one day I’ll look back and think, “I’m glad I got through that.” I’m writing it here where others can see it because I can’t be the only one. We are alone in This, but it doesn’t have to be lonely.

Right now I am in the midst of it, the existential dread. It’s weight is oppressive, but there must be a light in here somewhere.

untitled 

That our tomorrows could be endless. That we could be more than vapor

That each moment did not move us

Invariably

Towards that which we cannot know. 
The happiness of each moment

Is tinged by its finiteness 

And I miss the present

Fearing the future. 
Could I rest for a moment

And be here in the now

Unconcerned with an endless tomorrow

But basking in the heat of today. 
Even now

In your newness

I see past you

To you without me

And all that I would miss

And for this I am sorry and ashamed. 

It Doesn’t Hear Black Prayers

If

There exists a god

–Any god–

It doesn’t hear Black prayers.

It locks heaven when darkness draws near

And misses the wails

–hundreds of years worth–

For something different.

      

“If you cannot make this better

Make me different,”

Or so goes one prayer.

  

      

It does not respond.

  
Instead It turns away

And does not see the shape

A bloated broken black body makes

Rotting in the sun.
     

It misses the scent of hopelessness

And despair turned in upon itself.

It cannot feel the fingers pulling

Sunday after Sunday

–Dressed in what could be afforded–

Plucking pieces of It from dirt

Holding the remnants to the light.
     

Like the parents–absent and present–

Who stand as equals accused

It is gone from us.

It denies us and has learned not to flinch

When we cry for It

Babes who have only ever known the

Promise

Who will only ever feel The Void

As reality.

       

If

There existed

A God

I would tell Him

I hate him

For making me this way

For the skin that had to grow

Thick

The back that replaced bone

With steel

The face that had to find beauty

In itself

And for never once

Opening the windows

To let a prayer in.