Dear Lily June,
I often wish my life were a story written in a book. When I was having trouble comprehending a particularly complex passage of experience, I could flip the pages backwards and forwards, rereading for context what brought my character to the present, reading past the page I’m living on to see what the current moment might be foreshadowing. No such luck.
Instead, I am forced to chronicle things that have already happened, and only by rereading the past can I maybe hope to guess what lies ahead. It was the Danish poet and philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, who said,
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
Wise words. And because yesterday was lived into today, I’ve already moved forwards. But because the day ended in a lot of hurt, I need to rework and write my way through it backwards to understand what it is I want you to know about what happened. It was supposed to be, after all, a good day, a bucket list day, one of the ones I most look forward to in the week. I want to get back to that moment of sweet anticipation, before I’d lived through it, and before I could rewind the past into its moment of actualization.
It was 11:00pm last night, and I was still awake. In fact, I was all the more awake because I was behind the wheel, pulling back into our apartment complex after having been driving around aimlessly, listening to the songs that always pull on heartstrings already tangled. I put in Harvey Danger, who crooned for me, your mother says solipsistically , these words:
“Some people will surprise you with a real depth of feeling. And others still may shock, shock, shock you with all that they’re revealing. But one thing’s sure. There’s always more information than you asked for. Ask for this.”
Yes, Harvey. That is what I just lived through–the shock. The depth of intimacy. Alone in the car and still crying, I think of all the other people who must be sharing this same kind of moment in their lives, feeling so endlessly lonely. Every lonely person, I think, is in good company. It’s a bittersweet irony that doesn’t help me until I go back upstairs to find, unbeknownst to me, your father is still awake. He has been, all along, waiting for me.
We will talk about what needs to be talked about, and we will go to bed together, curled into each other’s arms instead of being at arms with each other. This kind of day may happen again, where we will learn more about each other than we might have asked for. We will ask for this, and we will make it.
It is hours before that moment that we are in the car as a family. You are asleep in your car seat after our grocery shopping trip, and we are parked in the same parking spot I would pull back into long after dark. I am turned away from the wheel, hugging the gray leather driver’s seat to steady myself, and staring into the eyes of your father in the back passenger seat, where he is sitting next to you.
We are finishing up a very tense conversation that we needed to have, about my health. There is blood in my urine again, and I am scared. There is a history of cervical cancer in my family, and I have heard at least one doctor mention “bladder cancer.” But the first time the blood appeared, we couldn’t afford for me to have the scope. Then, when we scheduled the procedure anyway, the doctor canceled. He wanted to take a vacation. I am both angry and trying to remember, We are all human. We all need a break. I never had the time, funds, ability or childcare to reschedule.
Your father is saying I can’t possibly love him now more than when we first met, and I am arguing. I say, I do, having seen him now as an amazing father. I ask him what he thinks the best part of my loving him forever is. He doesn’t get to hear my answer.
He responds with a joke that turned out not to be very funny. I won’t repeat it, but its punchline hit on my insecurity about feeling alone, feeling emotionally abandoned after your traumatic birth because your dad was processing traumas from his own past at that time. Those are his, not my, stories, and it wouldn’t be fair of me to share another’s scars with you. I know he would withhold very little from you if you ever want to talk to him and know where he comes from.
But I digress. I know so often I share with you that your mother said something dumb to your dad, got on his case for nothing. I will not deny it; I say things I wish I could unsay at best weekly, at worst daily. This was one of your father’s times to do the same. Even for two people who love each other with, as we both tell one another daily, “all the love,” we are still who we are, and we carry the baggage of what set us in our ways.
Sometimes, one of us sets down those heavy bags on the other’s toes. When we’re strong, we can hand the baggage that doesn’t belong to us back to its owner. When we’re weak, we don’t recognize it as an accidental exchange, and we hobble, feeling betrayed or hurt or resentful, away. And Lily, I know you won’t believe this until you experience it yourself, but this is okay. If no couple ever ached, they’d never learn to heal together.
And in the truest of loves, where the partners are true to, and speak truth with, one another, some feelings get hurt along the way. As long as intentional wounding is never the aim; as long as you’re willing to do the hard work to untangle your valises from your partner’s luggage, you will make it through. But at the time, you will never feel as lonely as when you’ve been hurt by the person you’ve chosen, and who has chosen back, to love you. If you need your space, take it.
And if your beloved is worth their salt, when you return from outer space, they will be waiting for you. The conversations that will occur once you reconnect are what build intimacy. They are, what your dad and I call “leveling up.”
Your dad and I are in the grocery store, and we are not connecting. He responds to my query about what he wants with a joke; I push too hard to tell him what to get, what to do. We are fussy, one of us pushing a cart, the other pushing you, and yet we both have a free hand open to push one another’s buttons. And push we do.
We will have much to talk about when we get back to the car. You are tired, and your eyelids are already drooping. We should take our cue from you and as a whole family, take a break. Get some rest. We don’t, and we will, and won’t eventually, regret it.
There are, they say, two certainties in this world: Death and taxes. Your dad and I are made anxious by the fact that we are poor and wanting to buy a home. We are finding out for the first time what it means to have our adorable, wiggling exemption on our lap. Lily June, I could cover you in kisses for what your life means to our finances come tax time. And I do.
Our refunds put us in a position of having an incredibly small, but negotiable, down payment for a home. We want this for you, and you, in your way, have made this possible.
But it’s stressful, too. Between your father’s depression and my anxiety, neither of us does well with the unexpected, with major life changes. In the past five years of our marriage, we have lost family members, quit our jobs, moved across the country, worried about your Dad’s mother possibly having cancer, lived through a tornado, survived a totaling car accident, had a baby. We are, every day, adjusting.
We rarely have time to spend with one another, let alone get our individual heads together and breathe. Just breathe. And we still aren’t done for the day. Speaking of financial stressors, we have grocery shopping to do.
We are looking at houses and have found not one, but two we love, both on the same street, blocks away from each other. One has more amenities but a higher cost, too. The other is cheaper, smaller, may be easier to upkeep, but it doesn’t have that back patio for your parents, that beautiful playground for you…
It is heartbreaking, because as much as we want it, we really doubt it’s a financial feasibility to raise the down payment for either. And we don’t have the time to talk about it. We have a tax appointment we have to rush to, so the future will have to sit where it is: somewhere, someday, ahead of us.
We are in the coffee shop that I looked up a week in advance. Our bucket list item this week was to find a place we’d never been in this city we moved to a couple years back. We need to, literally and figuratively, “Go Somewhere New.” That place is a gorgeous, downtown java diner called The Caffeinery.
Because I’ve been having bladder problems, I just get chai. Your dad orders a drink called a Cherry Bomb, cherry flavored coffee, and it’s as amazing as this song:
We eat our pastries and drink our beverages and I’m desperate to reconnect. In becoming new parents, we’ve had less time to devote to being, as we were for years before, best friends. I want to know what he’s teaching, writing. I want to tell him about how scared I am about the state of my health, about our finances, our house hunting.
I am mid-sentence into some stupid point about something, and he points to the ceiling. “I can’t stop looking at it,” he says. I am crushed. I know he has not been fully listening to what I’ve been saying. I needed his full attention, but he’s been dragged through the ringer lately: mountains of grading to do, his mother’s impending surgery for a dead artery in her leg, my health issues. He doesn’t have his full self to give, and I’m reminded of a line of poetry I penned prophetically (okay, melodramatically) in high school:
Expectations are stairs not to climb.
It’s my morning to wake up with you, Lily, and I do. I am so excited I can barely sit still. We have a lot to do, today: house hunting, taxes, groceries. But before it all, your dad and I are going to go to this new coffee shop we’ve never been to. Maybe, today, our intimacy will reach a whole new level.
He is still asleep while I’m feeding you, so I gaze lovingly into your face, wondering what today will bring us as a family. I hear a noise from the bedroom so I look up, smiling. I want him to know I’ve been waiting for him.