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My essay In Falling is published here, through the Shambhala Publications 35<35 project, personal essays from Buddhist practitioners under the age of 35.

http://www.35u35.com/submissions/in-falling/

PS’s & dedications:

*so so so much gratitude to the lovely Ms. Meredith Arena for loving me through this madness

*loves to my sister Cindy for listening out loud at the EXACT right moment

*congrats to my brother Chris for the courage to share and be himself in the world

*and always to OWL, for saving & enriching my life

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Saturday. 26-degrees, feels like 16. Snowflakes fell like feathers for 15 minutes and called it quits, preferring the embrace of their clouds to the dance of descent. A second pot of tea steeps on the counter, delicatas roast in the oven, buttery-garlic rice simmers on the on the stove, the sink drips into the breakfast dishes, and the radio plays a soundtrack made, I’m almost convinced, just for me.

After 13 months of unemployment, I got a job. Up early, OWL at school for 8-1/2 hours, straight home to where I’m the cook, dishwasher, laundress, healer, bather, story-teller. Looking back, I see the magical quality that shined through all the chaos and hurts of the past 18-months. And I am forever grateful.

Last month, among the madness of deadlines, I came face to face with myself, again. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote through decades, started close to the beginning, and penned pages of missed opportunities, hurt and injustice, doubt and fear, but also of triumph and learning and love. I  went over the past year, a year defined by the journey through so much loss, how I worked like hell to stay in the moment, to dissolve, to be okay, to experience groundlessness and reality maybe for the first time ever, to grieve my past-present-future.

As the pages turned, my mind kept trying to settle on the metaphor eye of the storm, but I quickly realized that this was wishful thinking. That suddenly, I am on some other side. I know more storms will blow in and wreak havoc on everything I know, but this particular one, this one that I know so very well, has silently come to an end. And within the madness of paper and pen and hours, part of me craves its return because at least, in it, I know who am.

But it is not where I am, nor who I am at this moment. And certainly not what I want for the future. As I survey the landscape of this new shore I see that a good deal of the wreckage has already been cleared, that I’ve done quite a bit of picking up along that way. That through all of this, the little pieces of compassion that broke through took root and are starting to push through the earth, towards the sun as it rises.

Life only grows after falling down, kissing the earth through that dance of descent.

—–

Dedicated to M.D.A.

June 1970 – February 2011

Thank you for your courage and thoughts and words.

I wish you safe passage and travels, and a happier return.

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I light incense on the shrine in gratitude of these recent experiences and chose a lotus stick as a reminder of non-attachment, to reconnect with my Thursday yoga practice where it unfolded again and again in my heart space, rising pink and cream from the mud. Then without even a tiny bow I promptly retreat to the kitchen where I don’t have to see it or think about it or breathe it in. I chop the drained tofu as the zucchini simmers in butter. The lingering touch of kissed lips held for days fades quickly. I dig out a leftover red onion wedge, slice it and add it to the pan.

Funny how openness applies to the potential of beginnings but not to the possibilities of a short life, the arrival of an ending.

I add the sauce and tofu, stir and season, set the lid in place and reduce the heat, and walk into the living room, the air heavy with the scent of my life in motion. OWL quietly watches the PBS NewsHour from his mushroom perch at the foot of the couch, giggles at me and nods his head as I walk by. A small smile cracks in my tightness. The sweetness of sadness without a storyline, the joy of OWL’s happily crinkled nose, of coming back to the simmering food on the stove, the rising smoke of the lotus. The sweetness of Practice.

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We set a date. The 16th of December. Life and death and funeral all in one. It’s the right thing to do, and well past time. I was disappointed that the 18th was Saturday, when the courts are closed up, since it seemed fitting that it should end 5 years and 6 months to the day, or 8 years and 7 months to the day of the beginning-beginning, whichever one counts in the end, if any do.

This is what I want. It’s Closure, Moving Forward.

I don’t know if anyone really thinks about the ending. I remember so many details about that first day – the bus ride to Georgetown with my friend GR, my red cashmere sweater and chunky black shoes, his baby blue pants, talking about the Pixies, how he asked me for my phone number so he could ask me on a date (“with dinner and a movie and kissing at the end”), a stolen kiss behind the club, the drive home in the back seat of his 1963 Dodge van next to the drummer’s passed out girlfriend, my twisted ankle….

And I remember so many and so few details of all the in between, which I suppose reflects the successes and failures in equal proportion. Either way, I am not repeating them here. I am not a fan of recaps even though I can play scenes from my life in my head – real and imagined – over and over again to the point of exhaustion and depression. And my point is that there was a lot of living even when it wasn’t exciting. Or perfect. That we did bear witness to each other’s mundane and extraordinary. And that in some ways there’s more intimacy in watching someone pick out fruit or learn to cook or demolish a wall or garden in the rain or sign a dissolution decree than there is in anything else. That the day-to-day is where we live, moment to moment, each and every one of us.

In the clarity of this defeat, I see myself and where I hold on. I resist who I am because I cannot let go of what I am not. I see it again and again – here in this day, there in the past long before I crossed paths with then-husband, and in the future where I am always raw and incomplete and never enough.

I long for something rough, and pull out From the Burnpile.  The cello and Madigan’s voice match and settle my mood while I cook rice with stock, turmeric & chipotle onions, and saute carrots with leftover spinach (with cinnamon!) and black beans for dinner.

I’m trying to write you a love song
because I know it’s time you heard one
I’m trying to write you a love song
because somewhere you know you’re someone

Come tell me about yr dreams coming true
I need you to
Come tell me about your dreams coming true

The snow has laid down blankets and the cold air forms ice as the wind sweeps the trees clean and the sky drops more flakes, alternating between perpendicular and sideways. I watch it swirl like a breaking wave, change direction, and gust in sheets to the south. The window rattles against the wind. The cat is curled at my left thigh and purrs when I brush against his coat. OWL sleeps peacefully through the storm, maybe with good dreams about our afternoon walk in the whitened landscape in his red snow suit, a knee-high gnome with his green car in one hand, hairbrush in the other.

But I can’t write the love song. I can’t seem to right the story. All I can do is crawl into the bed and pull the covers over OWL’s body as he sleeps, his cool feet finding the side of my colder right thigh, and weep.

Future happiness included, of course.

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NOVEMBER 11th

Time moves slow.  The ache of the heart a long slow cracking after the initial break.  Thousands of aftershocks that travel across a year, add months, count the days.  New mistakes stream in and stretch out inside the ravines, touch the canyon walls, and flow on top of the scars.

Take stock of the present.  Orange lamp hangs overhead and casts its familiar glow on the pillow and couch, on my fingers as they move over keys and trace lines in my journal.  Silent apartment, save the passing the planes and occasional scuffing of boots on the sidewalk or wheels turning over wet leaves.  Yesterday’s breakfast pan soaks in the sink.  A cold beer on the windowsill.

From my ledge I see other people in the open sky.  The vast space around them as they touch hands, unwrap gifts from tissue paper, smile in ways that communicate the complexity of joy and sadness and living.  I see what I hoped for in my life and my family and my love, and know that it didn’t complete me the way I thought it would, the way I wanted and needed, because I wouldn’t let myself be whole.  I cannot imagine building a new life, although I know I’m doing it everyday.  Dish by dish, word by word, moment to moment.

2010 harvest moon photographed by chris updegrave

Notice that my body marks its own time, with signals that fall outside the calendar of dates and anniversaries.  Another harvest moon rises and pins me to the spot, to the moment.  Memories stored in the quality of light, released by the Fall chill settling in the air.  The memory of organs swell the body.  The well of sadness opened by the senses and the body’s recollections.  But this time there is a quiet joy marching alongside.  It’s new and weak at times, but gaining strength and momentum.  I stand on this edge and my lungs clench.  I see the size of my wounds, so long in the making and don’t know if I can cross to the other shore.  If the scars can soften and stretch and let in the light and air.  I hear another bottle break on the sidewalk outside through the closed window and know there will be something to clean up in the morning.

Time moves fast.  OWL’s growth, so ordinary and so exceptional, impossible to track.  Loose notes on the calendars waiting to be transcribed into a baby book.  The feel of those moments so vivid at the time hardly seem describable now.  Watch as baby C, now 4 months old, gorillas sits with his fists on the floor as he slumps forward, and marvel as he pops up.

NOVEMBER 7th

In the morning after a previously amazing day and an evening spent writing in tears, I lay across my bed and mark what is right.  What is going well.  A two page list in columns, turquoise ink.

OWL is healthy.
He talks & talks & signs.
Trots around with little stroller.
Sleeps clutching books like The Secret Life of Plants and Crime & Punishment.
We have heat.
The cat snuggled me through last night’s sadness.
I can read.
I have a practice.
I write.
I walk and run, and sometimes cartwheel.
OWL stomps through puddles in frog rain boots.
OWL & baby A hold hands.
He kicks a ball.
I laugh, cry & feel.
Sweep the floors that ground us.
Cook the food that nourishes us.
We ride buses.
Have teeth to brush.
Bodies to wash.

On the cushion later that morning, the sangha shoulder to shoulder in staggered rows, I open without cracking.  I carry myself back up to that eye-level view of Mt Rainier, and sense my presence among the other mountains, my icy peaks rising above the blankets of green.  The sky passes and mingles, the clouds appear and dissipate.  And I think, I could do this anywhere.  On my feet.  In a courtroom.  At breakfast.  I can be this mountain among mountains anytime.  Struck by the sheer confidence of the open sky.

By nightfall, I slip back down.  Self-arresting, I land not at the bottom, but catch myself in a point of utter aloneness that is sad but not sorry.  It carries me a ways outside the room.  To a place without walls.  All I want is OWL in my arms, in this room, among these friends.  Wait anxiously as the openness battles the rising fear of seeing the ex in the coming exchange.  The fear of directly seeing the embodiments of my failures and success from the open sky where my heart beats raw and tender.  I feel exposed by the moment where everyone around me seems transformed and held by something that I’m not even sure I get.  I feel quiet.  OWL arrives and my world tumbles together and in to pieces all at once.

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Halloween.

I want to write but I’m exhausted.  Exhausted by this day and this month, only an hour away from being over.

OWL’s owl costume that I started last year, a seemingly simple Martha Stewart piece, sits in the same state it was in this time last year – pieces.  The three sections of each wing unattached.  The elastic bands for securing the wings to the arms missing in action.  The ears cut but without a hat.

Start the day in a haze of 3 hours of sleep (my fault) and Larabars and dozing on the couch between readings of Where the Wild Things Are and Mr. Brown Can Moo Can You? and Farmer Grover.  We brunch on 15th – OWL drinking cream from the small dark green pitcher, using a big fork to stab eggs & polenta & sausage.  Excitedly signing egg and meat and milk while shrieking moo.  Booster seat in the wooden booth.  Pointing at the walls.  Bird!  Dog (really a deer)!  That!  Steps into his store-bought hand-me-down elephant suit without struggle.  Wiggling tail as we walk down the street.  He says tickteet before we get inside any of the stores, and I help him hold open his canvas tote bag with the jungle print.  The bag I sewed for him.  An October sun is shining and warm and the clouds overhead white.  Red and yellow leaves line the dry sidewalks.  My elephant waves hi and bye to people who stop and smile, and to people who hurry past with iPod buds wedged into their ears, eyes down.  We miss our friends for trick or treating, so we do none.  At 8:30 pm we slip back into the suit.  He visits the upstairs neighbors.  I let him walk our street in the dark, standing a few paces behind as he teeters forward, beeps into reverse, and trips over the cracks in the sidewalks.

And for all that perfectness, for all the sweet wiggles of his tail and shrieks of delight, I can’t help but feel the sting of having not done it quite right.  Of doing it alone.  A splinter that is still growing out from under my skin.  Surface unbroken.

The rain starts to come down, moving with force and sound.  This day and this month less than 30 minutes from over.  This moment already vanished.  In five days I turn 33.  I remember that time last year, at dinner with family and friends, then-husband turned traitor sitting at our house in which he no longer lived, watching our baby.  I drank coffee then wine.  Walked among Calder sculptures suspended from the ceiling and encased in glass.  I wanted to be swallowed up by the earth.  Immersed in culture and life and the rain and the cold and my sister’s umbrella.  But I felt so dead and sad and hopeless.  I smiled.  I ate.  Laughed.  I even remember having fun.  But tonight, in some ways, I still feel the same.  Like there’s some answer out there, out there and not in here.  Like I could be different.  Like I should be different.

Heart and soul on the floor in pieces.  Partially sewn together, still needing to be joined.  The anchor to hold it together MIA in the closet-that-holds-everything, in a pile among stacks of books and toys and and fabric and grocery bags.

Tomorrow it’s rabbits if I can remember.

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Quite a week or weekend around here, or whatever the semi-graciously unemployed call 5 sequential days.  Forms at the doctor’s office.  Sex: female.  Children: yes. Marital Status: foreclosed.  I mean, divorced.  Divorcing, actually.  Mind wonders back to the first question.  Sex: maybe, eventually.  Hopefully sooner than later.

A Saturday to clean.  Top to bottom.  East to west.  OWL’s walk-in-closet-turned-bedroom, my bedroom, bathroom, hallway.  Living room, the clothes-sewing-crafting-photographs-storage-closet.  Look for thoughts & lessons & learning between reshelving scattered board books and discovering 3 of the 7 stacker rings under the bedroom blanket.  Tender flood of excitement about a good friend’s pregnancy, knowing that one day soon she too will find these treats hidden in their bed.  Sooner than seems possible, but I see how quickly time marches & swirls forward & about these days.  Imagine lessons & hopes under clean sheets warmed last night only by me and the curled up cat.  Clean floors.  Folded clothes. Empty dresser tops.

Sit at an old table.  Beer in the early evening darkness.  Light rain kissing the air on its way down.  He wears a shirt I’ve never seen before.  Looks faded & old & soft, like something I want to curl up against, feel the heat of his shoulder through the flannel threads.  Instead we exchange books, keys, a mug.  Words say part of what I want to say, but so much of it is a feel, a spectrum of time & place – a currency I cannot exchange over drinks.  Drive home under the weight of absolute ease turned to an absolute goodbye.  Who would have thought ironic detachment was bullshit? Well, me.  But I always second guess myself.  Move on to the kitchen.  Dishes. Countertops.  Pantry.  Table.  Dust shelves and baseboards.  Mop floor.  Sulk out in the cool wet evening to avoid watching a scary movie alone.  To avoid 9 pm sleep on a Saturday.  To avoid the silent & blank screen of my phone.  To avoid no more words.  Sometimes it feels like life is only for other people.  But the rain runs rapids down 15th Avenue East, pools and moves on.  Recall the texture in the gap between the out & the in-breath.  My life runs in those rapids, snags on branches & rolls over leaf jams & around crumpled potato chip bags.  It’s just not very glamorous.

Rain cascades in sheets, white-orange under the glow of street lights.  I dry & sit & drink & stand & listen & drink.  And talk.  Life without the details, without the storyline.  Feel human.  Memories in this place strong.  Late night dance floor spins with the sister.  Wedding song slow dancing.  Sold out club.  Me, at the end of the night.  Standing.  Dancing.  Beaming.  A million years ago.  In the rain I discover that I was a witness, too.  Select groceries & cook meals.  Buy textbooks & study astronomy.  Performances.  Tears.  Witnessed you curl your fingers around OWL’s endlessly small fist minutes after he was born, hold his face against your cheek. Stand in the room of this bar and see my life in the running rapids and hard sheeting rain.  Feel my life in the smoke as it drifts inside towards the warm air. People come & go.  Short exchanges & extended stays.  Long breaks.  Years of friendship. Rekindle & break.  Kids as common ground.  I cycle through it all – roar like a lion and sleep like a lamb.

Four full days in solo mode.  Four days of decadence & endings.  Out late. Foreclosed. Mopping floors.  Nyinthun in hangover.  Hostessing & food & wine. Good friends & old friends & new friends.  A little little baby learning to roll & watch this world.  Pick up OWL from his papa only to find, within a few hours, an absolutely transformed creature shouting & twisting & convulsing with “no-no-no-no-no’s” and the strength to back it up.  Goat-like resolve.  Tangle in car seat straps.  Walk home carrying his crying shaking body parallel to the ground.  Shrieks induced by everything.  Diapers.  PJ’s. Stroller parking.  Socks.  Sweatshirt.  Bathtub.   Hand-washing.  A 5 minute temper tantrum is an eternity.

I’ll say it again.  A 5 minute temper tantrum squeezing through the lungs & throat & mouth and twisting body of a 16-month old is an eternity.  And there I am in that eternity: foreclosed, divorcing, solo, incapable of doing it all, not everything, faking my way through, not x-y-z enough, jobless.  No gaps or breaths or breaks, no full nights sleep.  In that eternity, there is a full sink of dishes, unswept floors, laundry spinning about in machines & reproducing in the corners, diaper covers to air dry, a noisy cat to feed & scratch & snuggle, the next snack to prepare….

It takes every ounce of my strength & courage at 6:27 am to throw the blankets over my head, find my silly voice.  The voice, with an audible smile, giggling “Where’s Mama?”  Peek out & hear the echo of my giggles.  Duck back under as happy snorts dry big puffy tears.  Footsteps racing to the bed.  Outstretched arms.  Lift & snuggle. The courage to coo and play.  Fearlessness to let the eternity dissolve into the emptiness.  To let my solid mythical self dissolve into the emptiness.  The compassion to come back to it again & again.

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