Lost & Found

“…if you don’t get the thoughts down, they might just get lost forever.”  –Kate Carroll de Gutes

I read these words in the dark of an early, migraine-foggy Saturday morning, and they take me back instantly to my children’s infancy, when I wrote so that I wouldn’t lose all the things I was thinking–and seeing and feeling and understanding–about the profound experience of becoming a mother.

Then I think about how I haven’t written about my son’s journey to becoming a Marine, which, for me, isn’t so much about his experience of becoming a Marine as it is about my profound experience of letting him go. (Because we are all the protagonist in our own lives, right?) And I want–suddenly, urgently–to capture what I can before it is gone:

The way I found myself weirdly giddy to see a letter from him in the mailbox on Thursday afternoons, excited and anxious for mail in ways I haven’t been since I was a girl–because the boy who confided in his sister that he was surprised to miss Mom because she’s so annoying wrote to me, without fail, every week, and sometimes the letters made me laugh and sometimes they made me cry and sometimes they filled me with such deep longing and regret I will never find words big enough to capture how that felt, but it didn’t matter what kind of feelings they would bring because the over-riding emotion, always, was simple gratitude for his crabbed handwriting and his words that were evidence that he wasn’t, as I once feared, lost to me.

The utter, sterile emptiness of his room after I cleaned it up and out, and how that stripped down space seemed metaphor for what remains of my mothering, absent now of all the clutter and detritus that once filled it. There are a few, important mementos still on display, and the room remains his, but it is a room I know will now be used only occasionally, and likely never in the same way again. During boot camp, every once in a while I’d go in there and sit on the bed and look around, and although a part of me felt calmed by the lack of chaos that once defined the space, another part of me wished only to see once again the dirty laundry and discarded homework and empty wrappers and long-abandoned childhood toys that once filled it, wanted even to smell the distinct, peculiar funk of teen-age boy I once thought I’d never be able to eradicate.

The relief and release of a worry I’d been carrying for years, so long I hardly felt its weight until I was able to set it down. The picking up of a new one, and realizing that it is in some ways heavier and in others lighter, and that mothering will always be this picking up and setting down and shifting weight from one arm or hip to the other–for worry is always love swaddled in hope and fear, and I could never set that down for good.

The way I felt oddly shy when I finally saw him and could hear his voice again, how he was both the child I know intimately and a stranger whose boundaries were unclear. How he walked and stood so differently, but from behind I still saw the same sloping line of his shoulders, a cadence in the swing of his hips that remains and belongs only to him. How his brief return home was both exquisite and crucifying, the way it brought him back while nailing us to the truth that who he’d been and how he’d lived was no more, and that we’d both have to build our way to a new life and ways of being, not together, as when he was born, but mostly apart.

As I write these words, not without tears, I think again of how I was able to write so many in the first four years of my children’s lives that I actually had enough for a book, which is astounding, really–that while being ground in the mill of new-parenting (not one, but two preemies), I managed not just to string enough words together to make a book but also to sort and arrange and polish them into an award-winning one–and I see, really see, for the first time that my lamentations for years that I just couldn’t make the time to write were probably bullshit, just like all the published writers who write have always said such lamentations are.

I’m not discounting the real barriers that scarce resources create (and I’ve never met a single parent who has resources in abundance) but today, right now, I think maybe that writing about all the big things of the past decade–death and divorce and the destruction of beliefs and dreams and faith–just might have hurt too much, might have cemented into long-term memory moments that felt too painful to keep.

I got to hear my friend Kate, writer of the epigraph to this post, read recently from the book in which her words appear, and she mentioned that she hasn’t been writing and is in “a fallow time.”

“Me, too,” I said to her after the reading. “But it always comes back, doesn’t it? I’ve gone through it enough times to trust that it will.”

I thought I was saying those words for her, but I can see now, on this first Saturday morning of fall, as both the dark and the pain in my head lift, that I was probably saying them more for me. Maybe enough distance is opening between me and all that hurt that I can get the thoughts down without them taking me down, too, and before I’m so far removed from them that I’ve lost the moments of joy and beauty that are always, always entwined with pain.

Maybe.

15 thoughts on “Lost & Found

  1. Kathy says:

    ” and realizing that it is in some ways heavier and in others lighter, and that mothering will always be this picking up and setting down and shifting weight from one arm or hip to the other”

    Oh, my God, yes. This is it exactly.
    I selfishly would love for you to write a book – and also to continue to share your words here.

    I’m off to see if I can find your first book anywhere.

    And what a heartbreakingly lovely photo you shared.

    • Rita says:

      Thank you, Kathy. I’m thinking book thoughts for the first time in more than 10 years. I appreciate you letting me know that these words resonate for you. (I love the photo of my son and my mother more than I can express. The weekend of his graduation I had all in one place all the people I cherish most in the world, all together to support him. The web of love holding him up was palpable.)

    • Rita says:

      Oh, honey. I know. It is going to be hard and hurt like HELL, but you are going to be OK. I’m telling you this from the other side. The only good way from here to there is through. Hope you can make your way with your heart and eyes open, so that you don’t miss any of the gorgeous parts. Because they are there. More and more I think their leaving of our daily lives is so much like their entry into them–moments of knock-you-to-your-knees beauty all mixed up with moments of I-don’t-know-if-I-can-do-this desperation. I want you to think back to your transition of becoming a mother and of all the grace you probably wish you’d given yourself back then and give it to yourself now. Because the transition you’re in the midst of now is just as big as the one back then. And in many ways harder.

  2. Marian says:

    What a beautiful post, Rita. Love the photos of your son, so young and then grown up … I wish I could come up with some adequate response to let you know how well I understand all of what you’ve written (or if not *all*, then at least some variant along the roller coaster continuum that is motherhood), but words aren’t coming easily to me these days …
    I do hope you find your writing voice again, and that the “maybe” gets smaller and smaller until it eventually fades completely — wouldn’t it be lovely to simply be able to say “yes” to writing?
    xo Marian
    Marian recently posted…Making, Meditation, MeaningMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I know you know, Marian. I’ve been wondering how you are doing, knowing that we’re navigating similar waters. And yes, it would be lovely to simply say “yes”–to writing or to anything, really. It’s something I’m working on. I’m a slow learner, but I’m getting there. I hope your words come back soon, too. I miss them.

  3. Kate says:

    Oh…

    Yesterday, during my office/craft space room clean and purge project, I came upon a journal that my mom gave me write after Violet was born. It was a hard time for me. I was unprepared. We were worried about the health of her heart. I was both so unbelievably happy and so unbelievably terrified and felt like I was going to break into hundreds of pieces with all the bending and pulling and growing and shifting.

    I was reading that journal thinking, thank God, I’ll never have to go through anything that shattering again. And then I read this today….

    Well, shit.
    Kate recently posted…BobbledibitsMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Ah, sorry. What I can tell you is, it’s totally different. My babies came two months early, and we spent a few weeks in the NICU, so I think I understand what that time was like for you. At least a little bit. (My Grace had a minor heart issue, and some other things, too.) That time was so intense–so much change, so fast, and so much physical exhaustion. If I had to choose a metaphor, I’d say the experience of becoming a parent was like ripping a band-aid off and the one of letting go is more like inching it off. It’s like there’s a hundred small good-byes on the way to the big one. It’s not shattering so much as reshaping. Maybe like blocking a sweater? Your fibers get stretched and made to fit a particular shape. Nah, I don’t know…this metaphor isn’t going anywhere. It is kind of shitty, but it’s OK, too.

      • Kate says:

        Maybe after everything is all shifted and ripped about the first go round – the pain isn’t LESS, just less abrupt? I’m sure that like all things motherhood, it’s one of those things we can only guess at until we are in the midst of it and then once we are, we wonder why know one told us. Despite being told multiple times and just unable to understand.

        • Rita says:

          Yes, for sure. I’ll never forget my experience of going to a parenting class for those expecting multiples. They brought in an exhausted set of parents with infant twins. They told us all about what it’s like, and I just didn’t get it until I was living it. You can’t know sleep deprivation until you’re in it, not really. I’d agree that the pain of separating is less abrupt–although the moment they walk out the door and you know they’ll never walk back in again the same way they always have feels very much that way. I guess it’s the same thing we’re talking about. You have months and months to prepare for it. You begin separating in ways big and small in anticipation of it. So you feel like you’re doing it, and it’s gradual. But you can’t really know what it will be like until that moment comes. And that moment hit me like a club–even the second time, when I knew what was coming. But, it was a club that swung a little more lightly.

  4. Lisa says:

    This was a beautiful post, Rita. I’m glad the words are coming back. The phrase “just might have hurt too much, might have cemented into long-term memory moments that felt too painful to keep” really struck a note. And I’m really glad that–from the tone of this post, I’m guessing–your son seems to be doing well these days.
    Lisa recently posted…purple bedroom inspirationMy Profile

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