I turned off the street from the city. It is one long street that starts at the zoo, and goes on and on, through the ghetto, the burbs, passed a few universities. And then it keeps going to the farms and the Amish and another country really. If you keep driving long enough, I guess every street takes you somewhere else. The convent is a left, a right, a right, a left, turn at the Virgin Mary, take the curves, back in the trees. So close to the city, but it feels far. As the crow flies, it is nineteen miles from my house. As the traffic sits, it took me two hours. God lives back here. You can tell by the number of seminaries, convents, retreat houses. Maybe he lives in that ranch house with the stable out back, and the stone wall. He definitely has a stone wall. No, he has to live in one of Frank Lloyd Wright's usonian houses. Wouldn't that be cool? There is one around here, right? That thought gets me into the convent.
I pull in. There are women sitting out front smoking. I wonder if any of them are nuns. Do nuns smoke? I just want to be cloistered. I just want to be a smoking, cloistered nun. I miss smoking some days. The ritual of a cigarette. I sit near smokers when they are around, just to remember. I have been running for four days to prepare for 36 hours on a women's spiritual retreat. I shop. Fill up my husband's car with gas. I do all the laundry. Prepare the extra room. I mop, sweep, dust. I answer emails. I make lists. I make lists of my lists. Somehow, in my haste, I forget to fill up my own car with gas, as I sit in traffic, I wonder if a quarter of a tank can last nineteen miles or two hours, whichever comes first. It occurs to me in traffic that I forgot my toothpaste, my Zyrtek and Tylenol and my thyroid medication. When I get there, I realize that even my registration got lost in the mail. After all my planning, the most basic parts of this weekend are gone--health, lodging, food...I never checked that my check cleared.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God's world by accident.
What if God speaks through other people? What if God is sending me signs? Maybe God wants me to be itchy and bloated and in pain.God seems to be telling me to go home. I ignore him. Rather I plead with him.
Help me, God. I am ready. I want salvation. I came here despite all the adversity you sent me. Did you want me to stop or keep going? I want to let you in. I am here to feel your breath on my neck, to open the door to you. I am here to be in meditation and prayer and give you my will. God, please show me how to give you my will. Show me how to let go and let God. I have been in control so long that the reins have rubbed my hands raw. They have grown into my skin. I open my palms and they still sit in the grooves, darkened with dried blood. I have been controlled for so long and fucked up so much, I don't even know if I am letting go or holding on tighter.
Maybe God is telling me that none of that really matters if I am right where I am supposed to be. Maybe God is teaching me about control and how little of it I have. Maybe God is throwing me off my game because He thinks it is fucking hilarious when I stammer and geek-out. I have the exact amount of money in my wallet that I owe for a new registration. Well, plus an extra four bucks for a bottle of water and a little nun-made gift for Beezus. I run into a friend at the registration desk where I am flustered and upset and she tells me that she has extra thyroid medication for tomorrow. It is my exact prescription. It is uncanny.
Perhaps nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God's world on purpose.
I wanted to be a nun once. When I was girl, I came home from catechism class and told my father. He shook his head in disappointment. He grew up in Catholic school with Catholic guilt and Catholic shame. Not me. I grew up admiring the people of the cloth. Their reasonableness, their education, their sensible shoes. Priests and nuns were the only people before university I'd ever encountered who wanted to discuss God intelligently. There was a mystery, levity and serenity in the habit of God. I didn't think I would fit into convent. I liked bawdy jokes and nun wind-up toys. When I discovered sex, I realized I didn't want to fit into convent. If being a nun was my calling, sex wouldn't feel so damned good.
When my first husband and I split, I thought again that I should join an order. We didn't marry through the church. Maybe I was still eligible? My passion is social justice. That is what I told myself. Maybe I belong with women who believe in social justice, not social life. The monastic life appeals to me, after all. Celibacy. Abstinence. Sobriety. Self-flagellation. Self-discipline. All that sounded good. Like the opposite of everything I ended up doing, and what I ended up doing made me miserable. The end justifies the means especially if the end is caring for the meek, the poor, the weak, the hungry, the diseased. If I become a nun, maybe I will do some good in the world. Even if I don't know what I believe, I can still be a good person. Fake it til you make it, honey. I prayed for a sign. Direct me to my calling, God. But nothing came. Just bourbon and brown girls with guitars. I heeded their call instead.
It is all or nothing with me. I am either a drunk or a monk. That is the kind of person I am. If I can't get behind it, I get in front of it. Black or white. But then I remember I am brown and white and honey and grey and sometimes slightly greenish.
The retreat house looked like a nunnery. Can I call it a nunnery? Not a Hamlet-type nunnery, but a nunnery-type nunnery. One that makes nuns. The rooms were sparse but perfect. A single bed, a rocking chair, a desk, an oscillating fan. It was a spiritual retreat led by a Dominican nun from Yonkers. It was my first night away from Thor. Meditation. Prayer. Coffee. Discussion. Lettuce and water. Meditation. Prayer. Coffee. Discussion. Lettuce and water.
I could get used to this life.
It was fine. I slept fine. I felt fine. I needed the alone space. No one touched me. No one grabbed at my boob, or my hair. Not one person pulled off my glasses and cackled. There were other women after all, looking to strengthen their relationship with God too. When I had a moment, I painted. I attended all the sessions and smiled at the other women and made chitchat. By Saturday afternoon, my breast was engorged, and I was in physical discomfort. I thought I prepared to wean him. He only eats before bed. And I am done with breastfeeding--emotionally and physically done. I thought the sore, tight breast part would skip me. But I found myself clutching at my breast and crying.
I miss her. I miss Lucy.
Engorgement reminds me that she died. Engorgement reminds me that no one suckled once.
What do you do?
Oh, here we go.
I am a writer and artist. I mean, I stay home with my kids. No, wait, I guess I'm a writer.
What do you write? Are you like a real writer?
Is anyone a real writer anymore? She is smiling. She seems warm. Maybe she is genuinely interested in how real of a writer I am. Does she mean real as do I make money, or am I authentic? Do I write with my heart? I write with my heart, but I make no money. I am a drunk. I write about my broken heart. I make no money. I don't want to talk to people, and also need to talk to people, especially adult women people. But I don't know how to talk adult women people anymore.
I think I am a real writer. I write and people read it, but I don't usually get paid. So, no, I'm not a real writer.
There is laughter. Laughter is good. I made someone laugh.
You are young. You can do it all. How many children do you have?
I'm not young at all. I feel old. My bones are old. My hips are creaky. I have grey hairs, lots of them, even grey pubic hair, if you want to know. My soul is used up.
I am not as young as you think. I have three children.
Oh my goodness, how old are they?
Four and one.
(blink.) I don't know how to answer these questions. Can I disappear now? I just want to touch grace. I just want to be whole.
My second daughter died. I mean, she was stillborn at 38 weeks of pregnancy.
Oh, I am sorry. I can't imagine.
Thanks. I never know how to answer that question. It is so complicated.
Is it? Is it complicated? Why is it complicated? Why do I need to qualify every answer? Just answer her. You can't take motherhood from someone. She was my child. She lived in me. She grew. She died. She lived life. Why does this still feel hard to say? Why, when I finally get comfortable saying this, does it become uncomfortable again? When will she speak again?
How old are your children again?
Four and one. A girl and a boy.
They are so young.
Yes, they are.
You really need this retreat.
Yes, I do.
Are you away for the first time?
What kinds of things do you write?
Oh, fuck, I have no idea. She doesn't want to hear about how now I write about the grief. I sound like a horn with one note. Griiiiiiiiiieffffffffffffffff in g flat.
Essays, I guess. I wrote a novel, but I haven't looked at it in a while. I write poetry sometimes too. What do you do?
I'm a nurse.
I love nurses.