I am a collection of dismantled almosts.
Newly relevant input jumps out at you, belonging to you by force, sticking to you. You can't help but self-identify.
Anne Sexton was a poet. Brilliance, institutionalizations, abuse, suicide. All those whispered things you scan and think Hmmm. Her life reads like a sad movie. Oscar-bait.
But gosh, it's delicious. A collection of dismantled almosts. I say it several times in my head, a few more times out loud. I don't know anything of what she knew—all the mess, as she called it—that led her to drift away in a carbon monoxide fog and her mother's fur coat. But look.
Everyone in me is a bird
I am beating all my wings.
Which everyone? The everyone of now, as I am—or the everyone of then, when Liam died? Beating my wings how? In desperation? Frantically? To get away? Or energetically, fluttering as stimulation, preparation, in a way that suggests flight is calling? My wings now, as I am, or my wings then, when Liam died?
In any case, yes on all counts. I have felt it.
Depression is boring. I think
I would do better to make
some soup and light up the cave.
Normal and justified—the most concrete of all justifications, this kind of loss—but yes, when sadness lingers. You want it to wrap around you, familiarly, a buffer from ordinary. It brings you closer to your baby. But something else itches inside you. The small voice that wants a little ordinary: a nice day out, some sunshine, some soup.
For me it was years of push and pull, like the bickering of siblings—depression and the itch to live—each berating the other with It's not your time yet! and It's not your time anymore! Kicking each other in the backseat of the car and making me, the driver, pull over to the side of the road and shout I AM NOT GOING ANY FUTHER UNTIL YOU TWO CUT IT OUT AND JUST GET ALONG.
I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.
That one makes me feel whispery.
We are magic talking to itself,
noisy and alone. I am queen of all my sins
forgotten. Am I still lost?
Once I was beautiful. Now I am myself.
To pretend Liam was a pedestrian slippage—no big deal—move on, stop being such a non-coper—why can't you let it go—would have been tidier. I guess. Depending on your definition of tidy. But it would have been completely alien for me. To pretend pain away is to sell my future wholeness, wellness, and integrity for a flash of presentability that might last a day or a week.
People who pretend! Poor loves. I watch them flail from solid ground. Ground I foraged and tamped-down by myself, over years, for myself. And here it is, now, under my feet. I am full of love for everything I have as well as everything I lost. I have generated new things, new joy. I have turned into new chapters and made good decisions. I was alright with being noisy and alone, magic talking to itself. They were not. They were terrified of it. I watch them sinking, pretending, stuffing more and more hurt and fear and trauma away. They pretend and they sink, over and over again. Undealt-with pain is a fault line that rumbles forever. You'll never walk on it without falling down.
Talk to me about sadness. I talk about it too much in my own head but I never mind others talking about it either; I occasionally feel like I tremendously need others to talk about it as well.
Kurt Vonnegut loved Anne Sexton for this, for the same reason I do:
I know nothing of what Anne Sexton knew. I am her, but I am apart from her. My pain was one (ghastly, catastrophic) explosion. Hers was a fire of abuse and mental illness—smaller than a bomb, quietly crackling, but burning her on a daily basis, repeatedly, for her whole life. And so I feel a bit sheepish, maybe, to see myself—to see us—in her words. It's so different, her pain and ours.
But that's what's interesting: comfort and companionship is everywhere. People you'd automatically turn to can turn up empty, like a house with all the lights out. Nobody is home. Nobody answers the door even though you know they're inside there, somewhere. You can only walk away. And people you'd never expect to be comfort-giving companions appear in your life mysteriously equipped, regardless of knowing baby death or not. Many do not. Yet there they are, standing with you.
Perspective comes from contemplating the effects of a sudden blast versus a constant, consuming heat, yes. But it's not only the suicides, the doomed, the tragic addicts, the vampires, the mentally undiagnosed, the abandoned, or the other babylost parents who can accompany us in grief. Accompaniment, cinematically tragic or sweetly wholesome, takes a thousand forms.
Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now. Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.
‘I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,’ said Pooh.
‘There, there,’ said Piglet. ‘I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.'
Share with us your most treasured input, and why it felt like yours. What did you stumble across that made you feel a little more yourself, whatever this new self may grow to be?