There is nearly a lake in the center of the parking lot that my daughter insists I drive through. Why do we have a big truck, she asks, if we can't drive through big puddles? It is a fair question. The splash spreads over the rest of the parking lot, and the children scream. Heavy iron work and fencing prevents rickety shopping carts from being taken into the streets of Camden. Automatic doors do not open automatically, making them too heavy for the littles, I turn my back push into them. Sunday and Monday, everything with a purple tag is fifty percent off, and the ladies won't sell you anything without a tag.
They speak to me in Spanish, because nearly everyone in there is Puerto Rican or Mexican, and the music blares with hits from Lionel Ritchie and Spandau Ballet. They wrap all the little trucks in plastic baggies and staple them shut, mark them with .60 and a yellow card. The clothes organized by size then color, and I find it an Organization Mecca. So much stuff all in their exact right place. I stand in awe of the cleanliness and preciseness of the racks of thrift shop clothes.
I always look for the same things--wooden boxes and interesting dishes and sometimes large wool sweaters that I can wrap myself in, fold my legs under me, and sip herbal tea. An old woman walks past me and my children, and stares at me. She says much too loudly to her daughter, "Who are these people in here today? I never seen people like these in here." And I know she means people with money, searching for petty extravaganzas. People like me.
I find a beautiful bright, almost fluorescent, muumuu, or rather a caftan. I want to be the woman in a caftan, floating through the rooms of my house with a turban and expensive floral arrangements, but I wear moccasins and wool socks, and drink muddy coffee out of hand thrown pottery. That muumuu-ed woman is an elder statesman version of me, and I'm not there yet. I shop at thrift shops on half-off day, and feel utterly alone in a group of poor people and Latina people, even though I was once poor and Latina. I weigh these things in my mind--alone vs. loneliness; happy vs. contented; sober vs. not drunk; vulnerable vs. unsafe. I have always wrestled with identity--half this, half that, half off, half on. I can't quite figure if I am sad or depressed or happy or fine or lonely or just alone. I keep putting myself in groups that seem like me, but aren't. Someone tells me it is my disease, but I think it is more of the human predicament of always being alone in your head while you are surrounded by people.
We spend Easter outside. In the grass, we take the trimmed grapevines, and twist them around each other, through themselves, over and under and over again, tuck them under another vine with its curls, strategically placed for maximum grape-iocity. We make wreaths for no one in particular, and crowns for fairy princesses eventually. Beezus runs off and picks purple flowers to wind into the crowns.
Maybe I will be wild one day, Mama.
You are wild now, my love.
I don't know what to write anymore. It all sounds ridiculous, and besides I'm so broken. My insides feel like they are dying the slow death of too many grey days in a row. The grapevines notwithstanding, I haven't been outside in a dog's day. I just don't have the energy for all that, and therein lies my existential contradiction--I need outside, but I can't muster the energy for outside. I want to drift away, but I am too rooted. I have wrestled with wondering if this is depression, or dry drunkenness, or what. In the worst of my moments, I wonder if I am even a drunk, or if I was just being a tad dramatic when I couldn't stop drinking those years ago. Then I wonder if I am just justifying a drink.
As we turn the grapevines of grapes that will never be made into wine, breaking off the brittle edges, a hawk chased by three crows flies overhead, and I remember that last year my last baby died in me, and in the moments before the bleeding started and the cramping, I saw a raven chasing a hawk in the sky above me. We were camping. And it was the beginning of the end. We have been through so much. How does any family survive the death of a child, another miscarriage, sickness and grief and sobriety and recovery and staying up to late and getting up too early and someone working twenty too many hours with someone who stays in their home 90% of their day? I run inside for some water. I grab Super Hit and a jar of spray roses in my kitchen. Then I go around my house and collect the martenitsa that arrived weeks before. They came from a beautiful mother in Bulgaria, a call for spring and renewal and remembrance. I wore mine around my neck, my children on their wrists, but they are ready to serve the trees. I hung the martenitsa on Lucia's blossoming cherry tree, not yet blossoming, while my children play near my. I hung them for spring and for my babies and for the hawk and the crows. I jab the lit incense into the soil near our jizo and stepping stones that bear the names of our babies, under one a placenta and dark tissue was buried only a year ago.
My life is so completely different from then, even though it looks much the same. This year, my chakras opened, grew receptive yet protective from those whose sharpness and dark judgment, even in their genius, wounds the way I see myself. I can no longer open to them. Yet I do want their approval, and therein lies another contradiction of confidence. It is why I cannot write, and need to write. "You must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on." Thank you, Beckett.
Weeks ago, I went to a convention for people in recovery, and we were each given a rock. The workshop leader told us to write a character defect we would like to get rid of on the rock. I sat next to my friend, and we stared at each other. "I don't know what to write. If I start, I won't stop writing. This rock is too small for all I have to release." He nodded. The workshop leader tells us to write only one thing, and when we write it, we have to act as if it has been released already. Don't overthink it, she warns, but be specific and make in manageable. "Don't just write FEAR on the rock," she warns. "You can never release all fear." The friend on my right groans, and we all laugh. He scratches off the word Fear from his rock. She warns us, jokingly, but in all seriousness, not to photograph our rocks then put the picture on Facebook. We are releasing, she says, that is holding on. The friend on my left says, "I have something, but I don't know if I am ready to release it. I'm still so angry." It was the first thing that came to his mind. I tell him to just write it. I thought of many things, but the one that screamed to me was the Need For Validation, so I write it down. Jokingly, I say to my other friend, "What do you think of my defect?" And he laughs as we walk to the tidal river that runs to the Atlantic Ocean, and she instructs us to pray, then throw the rock. And I throw the rock as far and long as I can.
The three of us, me and my three friends, make a pact to call each other on our defects if we see each other using them as a crutch. Last night, one of those guys reminded me that I was using my crutch. Then he hugged me and whispered, "Progress not perfection." And as I write this, I wonder if my whole blog isn't a need for validation. Validation for my tremendous grief in the early days, and later validation that I can write or have insights or that I'm an okay artist, or decent person, or a good parent. And as the comments left my blog, that validation left. And I wondered what I was doing here, opening my heart and being so brutally honest for all the internet to read without the words of comfort that served as a validation that I must go on, though I can't go on, but I will go on.
Dirt under my fingernails comforts my broken soul. I reach through the soil, pull out stones and rocks and hard knotty roots of plants that have long been upended. As we turn the earth in our side bed, we heard a squeaking, loud and persistent, and my daughter declared a MOUSE in the HOUSE! We searched through the dark loamy bed, and saw a furry thing, curled into a fetal position, crying. A MOLE! A VOLE! A MOUSE! EL RATON! But no, it was a teeny tiny baby rabbit, waiting for its mama. His eye sealed shut with early spring, and his nest disturbed in our vehemence to make a place to plant veggies. The children screeched in excitement. A BABY BUNNY! I search the area for more babies, but it was just this one. Fur from his mama lay bundled next to our shovel. We didn't notice before. So we took him to another spot, not too far, and dug him another hole, put the fur in there, cover it with grass and lay the baby in there. I place her in the womb of the earth, the hole that mamas dig for their babies. And I say the prayers that I myself need to hear myself:
May your mama find you before the hawks, baby.
May you stay in your hole only long enough until the danger passes.
May your vulnerability be your greatest strength.
May your fear make you alive and calm.
May you nourish yourself in earth and warm yourself the Spring sun until you are strong again.
* Yana's words about the tradition of Martenitsa. These are"white and red yarn, worn as an adornment on one's wrist or jacket from March 1st until the end of March (or until you see a stork or swallow that have returned from Africa to nest). They symbolize new life and renewal, health and purity, and passion...the custom may have reminded people of the constant cycle of life and death, the balance of good and evil, and of the sorrow and happiness in human life."