Artist Date 94: Do Something(s)

strongherA month has passed since I returned home from my solo sojourn to Italy.  It feels like forever ago.

Life comes on — quickly, strong, demanding — and I struggle to hold on to the peace and freedom I felt abroad.  The joy in getting lost, not knowing the answer — or sometimes even the question, in being alone.  My face looks pinched — the wrinkle between my eyebrows, smoothed by Umbria, has returned.

The decisions I made, the desires of my heart — to live overseas, to publish a book (or more to the point, to be published) — begin to slip into the category of “all talk.”

I recently read that most people would prefer to fail by not trying than fail by trying.  I get it.  I understand.  I wish I didn’t.

And so I find myself at Pizzeria Sera on a Tuesday night listening to six women tell stories about how and where and when they found confidence — hoping to be inspired, or at the very least, to borrow some — Artist Date 94.  The monthly event, called About Women, is the brainchild of my friend Nikki Nigl.  A force of confidence, not to mention nature, in her own right.

The mere decision to be here bolstered mine some, helping move me forward in the hours before arriving.

Sitting at the computer, doing nothing but waiting for something to happen, I mutter, “Do something.  Anything.”

I write an email and send it off.  (Two somethings.  Write — one.  Send — two.)  A few lines to the sister of a friend of a friend who just returned from Spain, where she taught English for several years.  I ask if she might meet me for coffee and share her experiences — how she got there, what it was like.

I tell myself it is something.  It is enough and move on with my day — meeting with my rabbi a final time before he leaves our congregation.  We talk about his departure, my desires, and deciphering the will and whim of the universe.  Especially when it seems to only speak in whispers.

It feels like a game of telephone and I constantly wonder if I’m hearing it right.

Until I get to the parking lot, into my car and check Facebook.

“Anyone want a job in Portugal NOW?”

The post describes an academic coach position at a school outside of Lisbon.  Scrolling down, I am tagged.  “Lesley Pearl, could it be you?”

My heart swells, leaps.  Not because I believe I will get the job and move to Portugal (although I might), but because the universe seems to be speaking loudly, clearly — the message undeniable,”Yes, Lesley, it is possible.”

Settled at home, I write a response.  It begins, “Yes.”  (Three somethings.)  Shortly thereafter, I am Skype-ing with a teacher at the school in Portugal, the one who extended the possibility, dangled the carrot — gathering more information.  (Four.)

Turns out I’m right on course, so say an advertising executive, a scientist, a minister, a mud wrestler, a mother and a writer — this month’s About Women storytellers.  While the details differ, at the core of each woman’s parable is fear — and the decision to do “it” anyway.  Ask for a raise.  Leave a job.  Leave a husband.  Take an improv class.  Ride a roller-coaster.  Pet a dog.  Live as an outsider.

Each took action when the pain of inaction became too great. Was no longer an option.  Or when “the worst that could happen” seemed less scary than living with “what if” and “I coulda.”  And their confidence blossomed.

“Stop focusing on the heart-pounding, vomit-inducing, brick-shitting aspect of everything and start focusing on the payoff,” Kira Elliot — a personal trainer, mud wrestler and Mary Kay Sales Director — says from the stage.  “Pretend until the point of no return…then reap the rewards.”

Amen.

Post Script.  Three days after the event, I send a resume and cover letter to the school in Lisbon.  I am amazed to see the resistance in myself.  Fear masquerading as logic and practicality.  It feels “heart-pounding, vomit-inducing and brick-shitting.”  I fazê-lo de qualquer maneira.  (That’s Portuguese for “I do it anyway.”)

Artist Date 79: Aho Matakuye O’yasin

Bent and tied river willows form the structure of the sweat lodge.  Photo: Paul Tootalian
Bent and tied river willows form the structure of the lodge. Photo: Paul Tootalian

 

The waxy brown cotton of my lapa feels soft between my fingers.  Like my body.  Like my heart.

I thought the African skirt would become this way over time, as I danced in it – but it remained rigid and stiff.  Until today, when, in the dark and heat of the sweat lodge – Artist Date 79 – it softened, pinning itself to my body.

I roll the fabric between my fingers like rosary or prayer beads.  I feel the moisture accumulate between my breasts – grateful for their small size.  Grateful for the darkness to peel off my sports bra, unnoticed, and let my t-shirt from the Knoxville Farmers’ Market cover me.  Given my druthers I would wear nothing.  But I respect the modesty requested at this ceremonial gathering of men and women.

I close my eyes, breathe in the sweet sage, and fix my ears on the beating drum and the sound of my friend Paul’s voice.

It has been a journey just getting here.

********************

I arrive despite a blinding thunderstorm, the need for on-the-road car repairs, and a bit of information which shakes my sense of perception and causes me to question if this is right for me, right now.  And with the aid and calm of friends who ferry me to and from.

I walk about a quarter of a mile through wet, freshly mown grass to where the lodge is set up – my orange, peep-toe wedges gathering silky, green slivers.

I remember wearing these shoes through Rwanda two summers ago – collecting the red earth of the land of 10,000 hills between my toes – and recalling Patsy and Edina schlepping their Louis Vuitton bags through sand in the Morocco episode of the BBC’s Absolutely Fabulous.  Dragging my rolling suitcase filled with towels, sweat and apres-sweat clothes, I feel like a bit actor in the Sweat Lodge episode.

********************

Paul is draping blankets over the hut he constructed out of river willows – collected from his sister and brother-in-law’s property a few miles away.  Rocks are heating in a pit outside of the lodge, and he has built an altar from the dirt inside of it.

Paul is the third in a line of spiritual teachers with the same name.  The first being my university religious-studies professor, the second, the one who taught me to meditate – leading me through initiation with an offering of fruit, flowers (star gazers, my favorite) and the bestowing of a mantra.

Our paths have been crisscrossing for most of our lives.  We agree the universe has been conspiring for us to meet.

 

The Altar. Covered Lodge. And our guide, Paul. (I call him “The Reluctant Shaman.”

There are eight of us, the last arriving in a John Deere Gator Utility Vehicle.  She looks like an African Queen, regal in her loose batik dress with dragonflies on it, her grey hair braided at the temples and wrapped around her head like a crown.   Her face is at once both sad and serene.

She reminds Paul they have been in ceremony together – with her former partner.  The break-up is obviously fresh.

Words tumble out of my mouth about divorce, change and the painful nature of endings – no matter how right or how kind.  How people will say all sorts of stupid things.  And that she is, no doubt, on the precipice of some sort of adventure.  She smiles in a way that tells me she has lived a thousand lifetimes and knows that this kind of pain is just part of it.  That she has chosen this and is not fighting it.

I mention that I wasn’t sure I would make it here today.  That I wasn’t sure it was right for me, right now.  “Until now.  You are why I am here.”

********************

Paul smudges each of us with sage and we enter the lodge on our hands and knees, proclaiming “Aho Matakuye O’yasin – Greetings, All My Relations.”

I remember Patsy smudging my ex and I when she officiated our marriage.  And me doing the same for my friend Chase when her divorce was final, smudging the entire house – making it “her own” again.

********************

It is hot and humid inside.  I feel a wave of nausea wash over me as Paul explains what will happen in ceremony.

Rocks.  Herbs.  Water.

Chanting.  Praying.  Smoking.

Complete darkness.

Connectedness to the earth.  To one another.  To ourselves.

I am afraid.  Afraid of the total darkness.  Afraid of what I might feel, what might “come up.”  Afraid I cannot physically or psychologically endure this – even though Paul has assured us that this will be a “gentle sweat.”

But the heat is like a balm – different from the still Midwestern humidity that settled heavy around me just moments before.  The drumming and chanting force all thoughts from my mind.  I only hear my friend’s voice – strong, confident, prayerful – and the African Queen’s.  It is sweet and slippery and hard to hold on to.  But very much there.  Just as I feel her, very much there, next to me.

Everything softens.  My body.  My brain.  My lapa.  I feel the sweat sliding down my body and I am deliriously in love with it.  This body I have fought for so much of my life.  That has brought me here and is sustaining me today.  It is strong and small and very, very feminine.  I feel my hands pressing into the earth beneath me.  My legs.  My feet.  My ass.  The soft dampness of moist earth is flesh, the spiky grass is hair and we are one.

 

Apres sweat — eyes wide open. Photo: Paul Tootalian

 

I pray for my stepfather and my two girlfriends who are battling mightily.  And I ask for prayers for myself.  For compassion and acceptance for myself, for where I am, not where I think I should be.  My voice cracks and I add, “May we all have compassion and acceptance for ourselves and for one another.”

I pray for the man who hurt my heart not so long ago.  I call out his name when I am certain no one can hear me.

********************

I smoke from the Chanupa — the sacred, ceremonial pipe.  Sober nearly seven years, my addict is awakened.

I am back in college, sitting in a circle.  My friend Brian stirs the bowl and lights it while I suck in all that I can, holding it in my lungs.  I converse easily while I do this – like one of the big boys.

But I am not talking.  And this is not weed.  It is tobacco, although it tastes like juniper and pine.  It is ceremony.  It is holy.  It is community.  It is what I longed for, sitting in a circle like this, so many years ago.

********************

I weep in the darkness.  I am certain no one can hear my dying animal letting go. And it is over.

We crawl out on our hands and knees, just as we had entered, saying “Aho Matakuye O’yasin – Greetings, All My Relations,” once again.

Paul greets each of us with an embrace, and we greet one another in the same way.  The African Queen’s eyes are wordlessly different.  Lighter.  As if the color has changed.  She presses me tightly to her.

The group walks towards the house for a celebratory feast, but I stay behind and wait for Paul.

While I am waiting, I do cartwheels around the lodge.  One after the other after the other, until I feel dizzy.  I feel the pull of my pelvis – the source of chronic pain – and I welcome it.  I feel the lightness of my body, of my mind and I welcome it, give thanks for and to it.

I had believed I was here to meet the African Queen.  That was only half of the truth.  In the stillness of the after-lodge, I know its other half, its twin — I was here to meet myself.  “Aho Matakuye O’yasin — Greetings, All My Relations.”

Artist Date 73: Navel Gazing

navelNavel gazing.

It is the story of my life.  Or perhaps it is just my fear.  That seemingly subtle line between interested self-awareness and narcissistic self-centeredness.

I begin blogging in 2012.  Dubious.  Wondering what, if anything, I have to say.  And who, besides myself and perhaps a few kind-hearted friends, would care.

The questions become irrelevant as life becomes more Technicolor than I am used to.  I have no choice.  I have to write.

About Rwanda.  My birth-mother’s death. Divorce.  Romance.  Healing.

The unexpected gift of my return to writing following a 15-year absence – what spurs me on in my early, tentative efforts and continues to spur me on today – is the return voices of others.  The sense of connection, and its immediacy, is a balm.

I feel seen.  Heard.  Supported.  And even, dare I say, useful.  It seems the words I give to my name my experiences are words others have struggled to find.

In time, I find the writing itself is healing.  That I am healing myself.

And yet I sometimes still wonder what, if anything, I have to say.

On occasion those closest to me take exception to my writing and I have to consider if what I have written is hurtful or dishonest.  If I have compromised their anonymity.  Their right to privacy.

And, when blog posts garner little response, I question if what I have to say is still relevant.  Interesting.  Of value.

Self-doubt.  It is the devil of all creatives.  Likely all people.  But for those whose very lifeblood is the exercise of expression through words or clay or paint or charcoal.  Violin, ballet or film.  It can kill – the art.  The process.  The artist.  Either metaphorically or literally.

Sunday – Artist Date 73 – is that kind of killer.

you feel so mortalI am invited to Megan’s house for a salon.  (Think 1920s Paris, the apartment of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.)  Her friend, Peggy Shinner will be reading from her recently published book of essays on the body, “You Feel So Mortal.”

Megan thinks I will enjoy the afternoon, both as a writer and a bodyworker.  And, she thinks I should perhaps meet Peggy.

Approaching Megan’s door I hear piano music blending with animated chit-chat.  Inside there is a table covered in finger foods.  Slices of grainy-European bread topped with slices of egg and watercress.  Cheeses, jams and chutneys.  Chocolate-covered fruit.  Elegantly-penned signs in front of each platter, describing its offering.

I make a cup of green tea and easy conversation with the handful of women I know.

Megan introduces Peggy and me, highlighting our shared status as writers and Jewish women.  She asks me about my writing.  I trip over myself, talking about my blog – life after divorce, not dating, Artist Dates, healing.  My proverbial elevator pitch in desperate need of revision, or at the very least practice.

I tell her I believe it might be a book.  She smiles.

Later, Megan summons us upstairs, inviting us to find a seat from a row of chairs.  Peggy comes to the front of the room, opens her book and begins to read.

“I have Jewish feet,” she reads, continuing on about her father’s and how they are the same.  Then digging deeper, she reads about Jewish genetics, especially as applied to feet.  And how it was used against her people, my people, in Nazi Germany.

Her story is bigger than just her feet.  Just her family.

I feel small.  Self-important.  Silly.  Why don’t I include research in my writing?  Facts.  Or history — like she does in another essay about her mother and her relation to Nathan Leopold, who with Richard Loeb, sought to commit the perfect crime.

In a Q and A session following the reading, Peggy specifically mentions her desire to reach beyond her own story.  To have a greater context.

I don’t buy Peggy’s book.  I say goodbye from a distance, a wave, mouthing the words “Thank you.”  I am in some sort of self-imposed shame spiral.

I come home and finish reading, “Seducing the Demon,” by Erica Jong.  I have forgotten how smart, sassy and irreverent she is.  Her casual use of “fuck” and “cunt.”  She is my hero.

The book includes an essay that Jong read on “All Things Considered” in 2006.  “On Being a Car Wreck” – a response to unfavorable reviews of this book.

“So, instead of seeing the review as a personal vendetta or sexist attack, I’m living with the fact that the critic simply thought my book sucked.  So how can I write a better one?

“…Become less self-centered…How do I get over myself?…I’ve always wanted to improve and evolve as a writer…I’ve finally, at age sixty-four, gotten to the point where I realized that there are lives and characters more interesting than mine…”

She was sixty-four.  I am just forty-four.  Plenty of time.

The Accidental Dater

I accidentally started online dating.

One of my online profile photos -- showing my "quirky" side.
One of my online profile photos — showing my “quirky” side.

I know, right…how does one “accidentally” start online dating?  Here’s how:

A couple of months ago I took a peek at Match.com.

More than a year had passed since my divorce was final, and the people who had suggested I take some time off were now suggesting that perhaps I might consider putting myself out there.

I didn’t get very far.

I began filling out a profile and got stymied on “body type.”  I said curvy.  I was told I was mistaken.  That the correct answer was thin or fit.

I pushed it aside and entertained a long-distance love affair instead – pinning my heart to a man who lived 700 miles away, wasn’t quite divorced, and was even less emotionally available.  Until he just couldn’t do it.

He never said that.  He never said anything at all.  He walked away without a word.  And for the first time in my life, I did not demand an explanation.  It was clear.

Well-intentioned friends suggested I consider JDate while I nursed my heart back to health.  Once again, I began filling out a profile, as I had done with Match.  And once again, I didn’t get very far.

The men I saw while trolling neither quickened my heart nor tugged at my loins.  This likely says more about me and my availability than anything about them.  Nonetheless, I stopped looking…even though Match and JDate continued to send me “potential” matches.

A few weeks went by and I thought I’d try again – this time, OKCupid.  It seemed everyone I knew who had any online-dating success – including my ex-husband – met here.  And, unlike Match and JDate, it was free.

I began filling out a profile, believing I would troll anonymously as I had on the other two sites.  Within moments I started receiving pop-ups like, “Mr. OnlyHasEyesForYou viewed your profile.”

What profile? I hadn’t even completed filling one out.  I panicked, but kept typing – adding photos and pithy prose describing what I am doing with my life and the six things I cannot live without, wondering if I had chosen the proper screen name.

"Show don't tell."   One of the first rules from journalism school.  Dancer. Traveler.  Joyous.
“Show don’t tell.” One of the first rules from journalism school. Dancer. Traveler. Joyous.

That was two weeks ago.

I’ve received photographs of 20-somethings’ manscaped chests with a note asking if I fancy younger men.  I’ve received cheesy, singles-bar lines like, “You are too hot to be on this site.”  Recently, I received a note from a man in his 60s looking for companionship on his ranch in Arkansas.  He isn’t looking for love, he said.  If that comes, fine.  But what he really wants company and a stay-at-home gal.

I have not responded.

I’ve discovered humor doesn’t always translate and what I think is clever might not be received that way.

And I’ve learned what looks and sounds good in email also does not always translate, as evidenced by a seriously strained phone call.

I responded by resorting to an old behavior – sharing unattractive information about myself, in hopes it will drive the other person away.  While I am not proud to admit this, it worked.  Neither he, nor I, followed up with one another.

I thought about writing a quick note, wishing him luck, but I didn’t.  I’m not sure what proper etiquette is here.  My ex tells me there is none.  (He also told me to get ready for a bunch of dick photographs.  Thankfully, to date, I have received none.)

my first, with one of the first men who wrote to me.

He appears smart, clever and articulate.  His pacing feels in sync with my own.

We do not communicate every day.

We have just begun to share more personal aspects about our lives.

He has an adopted daughter who is African-American, and he cannot get her braids right.  I am an adoptee too.  My mother couldn’t get my braids right either, and my father never considered trying.

I’m talking to a couple of other men.  Some seem a little too eager.  And I wonder if that is my own fear or if it is the truth.  Others seem a little more breezy – like myself.  And that is the miracle of this.  I feel breezy.  I have not hooked into any of them.  Or even the idea of any of them.

Turns out, online dating is an excellent exercise in detachment.  People come.  People go.  Some respond.  Others don’t.  Some respond and then stop responding without a word.

Sometimes I respond.  Sometimes I don’t.  And sometimes I stop without a word.  When it is clear there is no “there, there,” to quote Gertrude Stein.

Sadly, I’m not quite over Mr. 700 Miles.  However, meeting all of these men reminds me the world is full of romantic possibilities.   I’m fairly sure that this new knowing, unlike how I got there, is no accident.

Artist Date 71: An Ice Cream Kind of Day

First Stop.
First Stop.

It is 70-something and breezy. The kind of day all of Chicago has been waiting for. The kind that should have me grinning ear to ear. But it doesn’t.

I am walking and I figure if I am out here long enough, I will end up somewhere I’ve never been before – which is the point of the Artist Date, Number 71. New input.

I point my feet towards Andersonville – an old Swedish neighborhood on the north side that became popular some 15-plus years ago, yet somehow still retains a whisper of its original feeling.

I have the overwhelming urge to call someone to meet me for ice cream. Because, it is an ice cream kind of day.

I consider my date from last Saturday. Or the man I ran into Friday night. The one who told me he had been feeling lonely.

I seem hell-bent on getting away from myself. I’m not sure why. I try to observe this but not over think it.

I walk into Pars – the Persian store I have passed so many times – instead.

There are hookahs and flavored tobacco. Stacks of soap made from laurel. Rows and rows of loose tea in jars.

Packages of frankincense and sumac. Pots for making Turkish coffee. Halavah. Mildly gritty. Somewhat sweet. Made from ground sesame seeds, it is an acquired taste. I’m pretty sure only Jews and Arabs eat it.

The store is sort of sad and sparse. I leave after 20 minutes of so, no more filled than when I arrived.

I land at Roost. Overpriced, salvaged items line the sidewalk out front.  The kind one gets for a song at estate sales in the country, out-of-the way places where those left behind have little to no idea of the value of what they hold.

Inside are candles with man-ish names and smells like “tobacco and oak.” There are mugs with the Lipton Cup-a-Soup logo on them. Cardboard produce boxes that read, “Glass Grown Brand Greenhouse Tomatoes” and “Michigan Zucchini.”

Stop Two.  Typewriter at Roost, the one that connected me back to people, and to myself.
Stop Two. Typewriter at Roost, the one that connected me back to people, and to myself.

A vintage typewriter.

Two older men giggle. “Where is the screen?”

I tell them I learned to write on an IBM Selectric in journalism school. One recalls saving his birthday money to buy his first typewriter – because his handwriting was so terrible. The other received his as a high-school graduation gift.

We press the keys. They are clunky and heavy. I show them my tattoos, “write” and “left,” in typewriter font. The “f” and “i” raised for effect.

I feel a smile curl on my lips and realize I no longer have a desire to call a boy and get ice cream.  At least right now. Even though it is still an ice cream kind of day.

Walking towards home, I cut down Balmoral – a street I never walk down. I am summoned by Greensky.

I hear the shopkeeper mention to customers that most everything is sourced from “Up North” – a term only Michiganders understand – referring to the northwest part of the Lower Peninsula.

I spent my childhood summers Up North. It is a magical place. When I returned to it some 30 years later, I found it was just as I had remembered.

I finger through the Positively Green cards and buy two to send to myself. One is yellow with sunflowers. It reads “Some people are so much sunshine to the square inch. – Walt Whitman.” The other, “As no love is the same, no loss is. – Alla Renee Bozarth.”

Stop Three.  Where I found compassion for myself.
Stop Three. Where I found compassion for myself.

I think about the man who walked out of my life without a word exactly one month ago. My friends pointed out all the red flags, but I still don’t really see them. All I know is he touched my heart deeply. And that I am still sad.

I think about what I will write. What I tell myself. What I will tell the child that resides inside of me, the one who once said out loud, “I thought he loved us.”

I respond to her with compassion I can never muster for myself.

“He did love us. As best as he knew how.”

She is filter-less, honest and wise.  A little bit younger than I those summers Up North.

I will tell her I am sorry she is hurting. That time takes time.  That I love her.  Then I will address it, stamp it, and pop it in the mailbox.

I know I will feel differently one day. I just don’t yet. Like I know that today is still an ice cream kind of day.

Universal truths.

And later I will have some. Brown butter and salted peanut. I will eat it with a boy, my friend. And together we will share our lonely.

Welcoming Juniper Maya with the Hand of God

2014-03-25 01.42.32I keep my phone plugged in to an outlet near the floor so that its light does not interrupt my sleep. But also, because it brings me to my knees first thing in the morning – prayer becomes non-negotiable.

It is 1 a.m. and I am on my knees. I have only turned off the lights two hours ago.

“Is it time?” I ask, seeing it is Clover.

“It’s time,” she says,  her voice both dreamy and reassuring. “Take your time.”

We have plenty of it. Nearly 17 hours until Juniper Maya is born. Clover is her mother. And I am Clover’s doula – Greek for servant or birth support.

I brush my teeth and pop in a fresh pair of contact lenses. Pull on a pair of grey skinny corduroys, a purple and white checked blouse and the sweater I can’t bear to give away. The blue merino wool one with the tear under the armpit, and that is separating from its collar.

I pack a bag with berries, yogurt and cereal. Baby carrots. Apples. Sweet potato. Clover and Andy have been cooking and freezing for weeks in preparation for the birth and the days and weeks after. But I pack this, along with a journal and a book – just in case – and jump in my car, leaving the bag with my glasses and toothbrush by the door.

It is quiet out and beginning to snow. I circle the block twice and find a spot nearby. Before getting out of the car, I pray. “Please join us in this sacred moment. May this be a safe and joyous birth for mom and baby.” Or something like that. I am surprised. I didn’t plan to pray. It just sort of spilled out of me, as my prayers often do.

Andy buzzes me in. There is a handmade sign on the door – birth in process. We greet one another in the hallway in whispers.

Inside, it is dimly lit. There are candles. Music is looping from a play list created just for this moment. It is all part of Clover’s birth plan. She greets me sleepily in a short, cotton nightgown. Soon she will be wearing nothing at all and it will seem like nothing could be more natural.

********************

Clover and Andy demonstrate the routine they have established. With each contraction they grasp one another’s upper arm. Andy leans back and they count through it – together. One.   Two.  Three.  Four.  Up into double digits, until it is over.

I trade places with Andy and begin counting and leaning and holding on. This will be our foundation for the next 17 hours. The ritual we return to.

It is warm inside. Clover gives me one of her t-shirts. It is grey and oversized with butterflies on it. My friend Julie’s mother Carole (now deceased) often visits both her and I as a butterfly. I know she is with us now.

********************

2014-03-25 01.49.41We eat. We walk. We count.

Clover bounces on the birthing ball. She does cat and camel poses on her hands and knees while I stand behind her, pressing her hips together to midline. Relief.

We doze in bed. Clover and Andy lying next to one another. Me lying perpendicular to them at the foot of the bed. Later I will lie between them, placing my fist in Clover’s low back, gently pushing her sacrum toward her feet. My arm stretched over her body. Her hand clenching mine, until I think my tarsal bones might break.

Clover reminds us of the images that ground her. A sparkly oak tree. The river that runs behind it. A nearby staircase made of fluffy, white feathers. Her spirit guide, Strident.

Andy takes apart the dining room table to make room for the tub. Inflates it and fills it with warm water. Clover climbs in and smiles. The water is holding her and everything she has been carrying.

Morning comes through the pulled shades. Andy calls the midwives around 7:30. Clover has been laboring for 12 hours now. Hilary, the midwife, tells her to keep her voice low, in her abdomen, as opposed to in her throat – which feels more natural. This will help move the baby lower into her pelvis.

Her grunts and noises sound remarkably sexual when she does this. It seems fitting the noises would be the same both conceiving a child and delivering it.

Clover and I are walking. Her hands on my arms. Mine upon hers. She looks directly into my eyes. Hers are big, round, open. Is it fear? Trust? Amazement? Fatigue? I’m not sure. I meet her gaze, as she has asked me to. And I tear up. I am trying to be solid but I feel like I will fall apart at any moment.

No one has ever trusted me this much. Trusted my heart. My body. My psyche. I am overwhelmed.

 ********************

 2014-03-25 02.28.27The first midwife assistant, Sarah, arrives around 8:30 a.m. She is extraordinarily perky. She has slept. We have not.

She watches Clover and I move through a contraction.

We have a new pattern. She squats and I squat with her. I tell her to see the oak tree. To see Strident in the oak tree. She softens and collapses into me and I hold her naked body against my clothed one. We will repeat this again and again.

Sarah puts a fetal heart-rate monitor on Clover’s belly. She will do this following each contraction to make certain everything is as it should be.

I leave Clover with Sarah and walk into the kitchen. I look at Andy, who is making me yet another cup of instant coffee. I tell him this is perhaps the most important thing I have ever done. “Me too,” he says.

A few hours later a second assistant arrives. And around noon, Hilary – the midwife – shows up.

They are all very matter-of-fact. Except about moving. When Clover moves, the baby moves, they explain. And so we keep her moving. In the tub. Out of the tub. In the bed. Out of the bed. Over the toilet. On all fours. On her side. Squatting.

I hold. I squat. I invoke the oak free and Strident until the images no longer produce the desired effect. “No more oak tree,” she says.

Clover’s temperature rises and falls. She steps out of the tub and we wrap her in towels. Moments later she throws them off.  She is like James Brown, hobbling off stage with a cape draped over him, then tossing it off and jumping into the splits. All except for the splits.

We laugh. All except Clover. She is somewhere else. Focused.

Not once does she say “I can’t.” Only, “this is taking so long.”

********************

clover and mayaIt is late afternoon and she begins to push. The midwives continue to keep her moving. Reminding her to keep her voice low in her body. She is in the tub. I am taking photographs, as she has asked me to do. The camera hides my tearing eyes.

I do not know if they are happy or sad tears. Perhaps both.

I put the camera down and kneel on the side of the tub so that Clover can grasp my hands as she has so many times now. She does, and then lets go, grabbing on to the handles on the side of the tub. It is her and her God alone in the tub. We are her chorus, surrounding her.

And the miracle emerges – all head and a shock of dark hair. Her tiny body tethered by the umbilical cord. Hilary shouts, “Catch your baby! Catch your baby!” And she does.

The pool is red. Clover is radiant. Energized.

Hilary pulls a cap on to Juniper Maya’s tiny head and wraps a towel around her. She lies on Clover’s chest. Andy cuts the umbilical cord.

 ********************

I feel the tears rise up inside of me. I want to leave.

I am sleep deprived. My body is full with food I wouldn’t normally eat. Spoonfuls of crunchy peanut butter. A chocolate energy bar. Chicken stew. A cold sweet potato. And yet I still feel hungry.

I am acutely aware that my long-distance love, Mr. 700 Miles – the one who slipped away without a word several weeks ago – is shockingly, frighteningly present.  That he has been for the last 17 hours, during which time I have told him, again and again – quietly, internally – “You gotta go.”  He is never gone for long.

I feel sad that I cannot, will not, be able to share this experience with him.

I feel sad that he will never meet Clover, Andy and Juniper Maya.

I feel sad because I recently had the thought, “I would have a baby with this man.” A thought I had never had before.  Not even with my ex-husband.

I begin cleaning. Picking up towels strewn across the floor, determining which can be laundered and which go in the trash. Emptying trash bins and putting in fresh bags. Scrubbing the slow cooker. Loading the dishwasher.

I watch Sarah drain the tub with a hose – siphoning the water mixed with blood and other fluids into the toilet.

I gather my things and greet the family in the bedroom.

Hilary is stitching Clover. Juniper Maya is nursing. I help Andy send a text to waiting friends and family.

Clover tells me the small box with ribbon is for me.

We hug. We kiss. We exchange words of gratitude. None of them quite capturing what we have shared.

I tell her I love her and that we will talk about it – all of it – later.

********************

2014-04-06 22.16.11I am barely out the door and I begin sobbing – heaving, convulsing, cannot catch my breath tears.

I arrive home and see my bag at the door. The one with my toothbrush and eyeglasses. I scramble some egg whites and pick up the phone, calling Sarah, Lynn, and Chase. I call Anne. And Kristina. Anyone but Mr. 700 Miles. I leave messages for each of them. And one by one, each calls me back.

I open the box from Clover. Inside is a delicate gold chain with the smallest hamsa (palm-shaped amulet) I have ever seen.

I fall into bed.

Tomorrow Clover will tell me the hamsa is the hand of God. That my hand was the hand of God.

I will recall telling Andy this is perhaps the most important thing I have ever done.

And I will be certain of it.

Thank You For Your Bad Behavior

Last Saturday I ran into R. at a party. We hadn’t seen one another in a while. And while she looked stunning at first glance, I intuitively knew something was wrong.

Her vibration was low. And she seemed less sparkly than usual.

She confessed she was in what I like to call a “come-here-go-away” relationship. She had become involved with someone who was not emotionally available.

I could only smile. Not for her pain. But because I know it so well.

For the past two months Mr. 700 Miles (Away from Chicago) and I had been doing the same thing. Until two weeks ago, when – without a word – he went away. No text. No phone call. No Facebook message. Nothing.

A part of me felt sideswiped.

We had just Skyped the night before, before bed, as had become our ritual – enjoying all that technology allowed us to enjoy about one another. We blew a kiss goodnight. He said he would call me the next day.

Intellectually, I had no reason to believe he wouldn’t.

With Jo, the night he walked away.  I told her he wouldn't call.  She told me to let it unfold.
With Jo, the night he walked away. I told her he wouldn’t call. She told me to just let it unfold.

And yet all that day and the next I felt twisty and anxious. Something inside of me knew otherwise.

I was right.

What I didn’t realize was we wouldn’t speak again.

I don’t exactly understand what happened. And yet, I do. Clearly, he couldn’t do it. And for whatever reason, he couldn’t tell me he couldn’t do it.

At first I felt sad. Confused. Then I got angry — chucking magazines across the apartment, their glossy pages smacking and fanning out on the hardwood floors, and shouting into the universe, “You F**king Pussy,” choking on my sobs.

I beat the bed with a red spatula – the one my friend Kristen brought me the day I moved into my apartment – whacking it until I was exhausted.

I wrote a letter in red marker – one I will never send. It wasn’t kind or generous or understanding. It didn’t speak of my gratitude for him in my life, or that my heart would always be open to his friendship – even though this too was true.

I didn’t write it to garner a response, or to guarantee he would remember me a certain way.   I wrote it so I didn’t have to hold the pain myself. So I didn’t have to pretend it didn’t hurt when it did.

It felt good. And hard. And when I was done, I wiped the Alice Cooper mascara rings from under my eyes and went to sit in a church basement with the people who taught me I didn’t ever have to drink again – not even during times like this.

I miss him. Our friendship. Our deep connection – emotional, spiritual, creative, sexual.

But I do not miss what I saw in my friend Saturday night. The twisting. The anxious. The uncertainty.

The holding on to what was, what could be, rather than what is. The hearing only what I want to hear – what fits my story.

The trying to wedge myself into a sexy stiletto of a relationship – the one that gives me blisters.

Dressed up for the party...no date necessary.
Dressed up for the party…no date necessary.

And as R. told her story, I felt gratitude. Gratitude for his “bad behavior.” In walking away without a word, he made the choice for me. A choice I had made a month prior, in a moment of strength and clarity, when I told him I couldn’t do this. That I needed more. A choice I ultimately could not stick to it.

It all reminds me of when my girlfriend A. divorced me a couple of years back. When she told me I was “too much.”

“I am sorry you feel that way,” I said, rather than, “You are right. Please show me how to be strong like you” – which was, at the time, more my style.

At that moment our karmic contract was broken. We were done.

It has been more than four years since we had that conversation at her home in Long Beach. Over the years I have reached out just a handful of times. She never responded. And then I stopped trying.

I thought being told I was “too much,” was the worst thing that could happen. It wasn’t. And in the process, I learned that I wasn’t either.

I thought “being left without a word – abandoned,” was the worst thing that could happen. It wasn’t. And I learned that I wasn’t either. That that is an old adoptee fear. Old language. He simply chose a different path. And he chose not to tell me about it. It was never about me.

Perhaps that was our karmic contract. Or at least part of it.

R. left the party early. Perhaps to see her Mr. Come-Here-Go-Away. Perhaps to twist and perseverate.  I’m not certain.

But I stayed. I ate cake and talked with friends about the book proposal I am working on, the contract work I recently secured, and about dancing a master class with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.   Anything but him. But us.

And on the way home, I thanked Mr. 700 Miles – for many, many things – among them, his “bad behavior.”