Dear Lily June,
There was a little, living dream, born with a warm, wet heart that sounded, for a minute, as omnipresent as mine must have echoing inside your ears when you were still in my belly. Or maybe it beat in room-sized waves like yours did over the Doppler, resembling a rainfall of running horse hooves just below my rib cage. Either way, dear, that dream has tucked itself to sleep for nine more months of nights. We have waved the white flag. We have signed a new (one-bedroom apartment) lease.
Why do I have this haunting, longing feeling of loss inside my gut, as if the dream were really a living thing? Is it because, before you, I never dreamed of dreaming of such things for myself? Hadn’t I been content with my small life, an introvert with barely enough elbow room to curl around herself and fall asleep next to your father? Was I now allowing myself to believe it wouldn’t harm the universe if I took up more space inside of it? Isn’t motherhood a similar thing, a belief that you should really only be your own story’s middle, instead of its ending?
I am awash with others’ abilities to describe what I feel better. The dictionary gives me the word desiderium or
“an ardent desire or longing; especially: a feeling of loss or grief for something lost”
though this feels ever so melodramatic. Can I really believe I have lost something, other than a hope that we could have done better together than we’ve done for ourselves alone? Can you grieve a home you never even lived in, whose walls, somehow yet in minutes, you’d memorized, imagining just which pictures you would have lined them in like a second skin? How can I feel as lost as when I “went away” to college, commuting an hour each way from a boyfriend’s family’s house and feeling as if I didn’t belong anywhere but in the books where my brain would reside?
And in that era–what feels like a million years ago–one night my boyfriend and I watched the film Garden State where the main character, Andrew, declares at one point,
“You know that point in your life when you realize that the house that you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of the sudden even though you have some place where you can put your stuff that idea of home is gone. You’ll see when you move out it just sort of happens one day one day and it’s just gone. And you can never get it back. It’s like you get homesick for a place that doesn’t exist. I mean it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I miss the idea of it…
Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place”
and in hearing that dialogue that night, I wanted to scream “That’s it! That’s it! Eureka! Someone has named it” the same way I’d feel years later when your father read me the line from his own poet-mentor from college, Larissa Szporluk, who’d written it even more succinctly (as poets do):
“Rest assured, the nest left you.”
The dream of home, I realize now, Lily June, is something I’ve been chasing for as long as I’ve been wanting to belong, which is to say always. I have a family I have not ever quite fit in, or so it feels, like they were a jacket whose sleeves were always too short for my shoulders, forcing my wrists into the wind whenever I’d wave to them from wherever I thought I was going. And yet another poet, Robert Hass, said it better when he described longing,
“Longing, we say, because desire is full / of endless distances”
and maybe that’s it–a feeling that I’m ever farther away from being settled than I should be, a feeling that at thirty-one, I’ve accomplished nothing of what I wanted to, and I can’t even get you one roof, four walls, a door, a floor and a window to look through. Already, I feel like I’ve failed you.
You have no room to fly in. I try to remind myself our little place is not so bad; a long stone’s throw away is a pond where there are ducks you like to toddle-chase, chanting the one word you’ll willingly apply to everything, “Duck. Duck. Duck” which I liked to joke at work will help you cry fowl and react to most low-flying emergencies. And we are next to the woods on one corner and a cornfield on the other side so it is quiet, and there is a parking lot large enough to push your small pink car around in, and teach you that you are too big, and it is too small, for you to stand inside of it, something you do not even try so long as I keep it moving forward fast enough.
If I could go back, Lily, and not go to college, maybe now, like a warped version of Monopoly or Life, I’d have the money to actually give you a better life instead of the college debt that keeps us from living in the kinds of houses my twenty-something students are now buying. Maybe if I’d not been not speaking to my father in the years I went to college, and he’d helped me instead of buying a car he now jokingly refers to as “my tuition,” a zippy Z3 that takes him wherever he wants to go and quickly…
But the nest left me. And without college, I wouldn’t have flown like a duck South, only in summer instead of winter. And I wouldn’t have met your father in a graduate school program in poetry, and I wouldn’t know of Szporluk or Hass or Elizabeth Bishop who says that losses like mine–like a house we never even lived in–shouldn’t be hard to master:
“The art of losing isn’t hard to master; / so many things seem filled with the intent / to be lost that their loss is no disaster.”
And yet, I can’t seem to get past it, put the dream to bed. We don’t have a bedroom for it. And today, it weighs heavy on me and I feel to blame for everything. And our small apartment feels smaller when, as you did this past weekend that I was on vacation from work, you wailed in separation anxiety anytime your daddy handed you to me, and you looked at me like I was a stranger. “Love me,” I want to beg you, though it unfair to plead with a thirteen month old who spends 9+ hours a day with her daddy. I would not have you spend all that time missing me, even though I’m confined to spend it at my work desk, missing you. And if I had a better job, maybe the work would be worth it, and the paycheck would have purchased a dream come true.
I must sound whiny, self-pitying, ways I wouldn’t want you to imitate, but you looked at me this weekend, Lily, like you were trying to look right through, and I have nothing to offer you better than my arms as a home, and if you push past them, my darling dear, then I don’t even have that to give to you. “Forgive me,” I want to beg you, with the millions to build you a castle of steel walls and diamond windows. Instead, I give you the poets’ shack, built like a birds’ with twigs and spit and endless repetitions of caws like I love you, I love you, I love you.
- By Vincent van Gogh – rgHdFPzCeCfnxQ at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21909305