Saturday, January 2, 2010

Wings 2

I know that I need to put up a new post today, something to welcome this beautiful new year that's opening out before us.
But I'm not ready--or able--to write it. Not yet. Not today.

You see, this Monday, five days ago, my mother had open heart surgery... and I'm not ready to write about that just yet.

But I found this piece, written for the blog but never posted. So, belatedly, here is my Thanksgiving post. Because right now, I have nothing but gratitude that she is still here.

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Thanksgiving, 2009

When I woke up with a migraine on Thanksgiving, I was so sad... at first. Then, I got mad and determined.

I swallowed an ibuprofen, avoided all food triggers - pretty much anything but water - and packed my string bean casserole into the car. Before we got onto the parkway, I purchased a bottle of Coke at the deli. It's the only thing that helps.

If you've had a migraine, you will understand that this was the pre-migraine stage, the part where you can walk, talk, drive. The part where you appear to be functioning but behind your eyes, you are having a staring contest with a sneaky and industrious phantom that is hovering, just outside your field of energy, looking for an opening.

My daughter Katie and I had left home several hours early so we could visit my father before the feast.
As we approached the bridge, I noticed, "I'm talking a lot today. Sorry. It happens when I have a headache."
"I don't mind," Katie said. "I love listening to you talk."
"Okay, sorry,"
"Don't be sorry. You can tell me things."
"Okay, sorry about the sorry," I said.
And we both laughed.

At the nursing home, we found Dad sitting in a sunny alcove, reading Katie's screenplay which she'd sent to him by email.

"You're early," he said. "I wanted to have read this before you came.
"That's okay, Grandpa," Katie said. "You can read it later."
"I want to talk about it with you," he said.
"Why don't we act it out?" I suggested.
Dad brightened. "I can play the young man," he said. "I can do that."

When my father was in his sixties, he'd joined a small NYC acting company. Studying plays, memorizing scenes, he had the time of his life. He appeared in two or three plays a year and though he has cerebral palsy, and was shaky, he was a good actor, really convincing as an estranged husband, a retired postal worker...

We read our parts, moving through the dream laboratory Katie had created, where a young man and a young woman slept and a group of scientists watched, trying to figure out what they were dreaming about and explaining their findings to a group of journalists, who were touring the lab.

Then we had a lively discussion about consciousness, dreaming and love and I stopped several times, to write down something we'd said.
"You need a tape recorder," Katie observed. "That way you could participate and the conversation would flow better."
Of course... I know. But it feels as if we're running out of time.

On the way to my sister in law's house, I told Katie that my sister's therapist had suggested that when she starts feeling anxious, instead of trying so hard to figure out why she's anxious, instead of trying to reason her way down to the center of the thing, she should just... change the subject.

And then we arrived.

Each time we step into my sister-in-law's Thanksgiving kitchen, I think: A year is a long time between stories. Things happen.

Family holidays are a field of land mines.
"You ever gonna finish that book? How's your father? Are you making any money?

Family holidays are a field of joys.
"I've been waiting to tell you something." "I love that hairstyle on you." "Here, let me pour you this wine. I chose it with you in mind."

Family holidays are a field of open wounds: We're waiting on the lab results. Sorry you lost your job. I heard you broke up. Oh, sweetie.

And all the while I am thinking: Fucking migraine, As I listen to the stories around the artichoke dip, the migraine keeps pushing people out of the way. I appear to be functioning. But behind my eyes, the migraine is trying to spill all the water in my body onto the floor. I feel as if I am being boiled, slowly, like a lobster, inside my own skin.

(And by the way, I never would have paired string beans with cranberries and sage under normal conditions.)

At the table, when the call, "Everyone say what you're grateful for," began, I knew exactly what I wanted to say. I swirled it around in my heart like a pearl, selecting words so it wouldn't be too long, too short, too trite.
Matt's sister began, "I'm grateful for all of you."
My husband said his, "I'm grateful for two wonderful colleges giving my children a great education."
And then it was my turn...

"I know what amy's grateful for," my mother in law called from across the chasm... er, dining room. "She has a radio show!"

Oh, fuck.

A field of land mines, joys and wide open wounds.

"Radio show?" someone asked.
"What's it about?"
"What station is it on?"
"Can we listen to it on Long Island?"

You know how it is. Everyone looking at you.
The pearl slipping away as you find yourself trapped between two panes of glass: For there is no way that a person can get away with saying, "I do a radio show about angels" and keep living in he real world with all the normal people.

Which is, of course, the thing at the bottom of all of this. The grain of sand at the center of the pearl. The thing that is, I suspect, causing the stress that triggers the migraines. This wrestling match that I am in, right now, with my soul.

Because every single day, I am moving closer to the moment when I am going to have to show myself for what I have become. A newborn creature who has been pulled straight through the top of her own head, centimeter by painful centimeter, emerging, dripping wet with a pair of enormous, colorful wings that will be impossible to hide beneath my sweater.

So I changed the subject. (kinda)
"Im not going to talk about this" I said, surprising no one more than myself.

Everyone blinked.
Then, they moved on.
My son, Max, said, "I am grateful for my excellent genes." And everyone, sharing those genes, laughed. And I was able to slip out of the room, just in case I started to cry.

But I didn't cry.
I locked myself in the bathroom and looked into my own eyes in the mirror and laughed.
I said, "There you are!" to myself, in a voice that was loud enough that I would hear it.
Then, I came down and I told my husband, "I have to go home now."
To which he responded with such tenderness, such concern, that I did cry.
"Mommy," our son said."You don't have to feel guilty when you are strong."
And I hugged him. And I said, "I want to say what I'm grateful for now."

And then, I let it float up... my precious pearl.
"I am grateful beyond boundaries for everything," I said. "I am filled with a gratitude so vast, so wide that I don't know where to begin. And I know that this everything is God - filling my heart, filling my life, and though I feel like I may burst apart, I am still grateful."

"I love you, Mommy," my son said.

Katie left with me, "So you won't think mean thoughts about yourself all the way home." And we stopped at the diner, because I hadn't eaten. As we talked, Katie 'changed the subject' several times, gently guiding me back toward hope, toward light.

By the time we got home, my headache was almost gone. I stood outside watching Katie build me a fire and we sat around it, wrapped in blankets, flickering with light, until Max and Matthew came home with leftover strawberry shortcake, my favorite dessert.

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