I was walking out of the grocery store the other day behind someone who was wearing a Mermaid Bar and Lounge T-shirt. And I thought … One day I’m gonna open up a dive bar and I’m gonna call it The Mermaid. I’ll be about 150 years old and I’ll have badly dyed strawberry blond hair, with about and inch or two of gray at the roots. Every day I’ll show up at the joint in my faded, too-big Mermaid Lounge logo T-shirt, which will be belted at the waist with a bright pink fanny pack (where I’ll keep my smokes — I intend on taking up smoking in my old age). I’ll know everybody at my bar — whether I know them or not — and I’ll tell too-loud, off-color stories as I drape my bony arms around the patrons’ necks and shower them with my bourbon-laced spittle. The stretched-out neck of my Mermaid T will flop to the side, so that one black (or occasionally red) bra strap will always be hanging out. My male employees will make jokes to each other about how that might be sexy if I were about 125 years younger. I’ll never take off my mascara at the end of the night, even though I’ll put new makeup on every day, so my eyelashes will congeal into four or five mucky clumps that the drunks in the place will zone out on in the wee hours as we swap tales of loves lost. Then, when a really great dance song comes on, like Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration,” I’ll lead the charge to the worn out dance floor. When I put my arms in the air to raise the roof, the flesh on my upper arms will sway back and forth slowly and gently, like a front-porch swing in a summer breeze.
A girl can dream.
I’m sitting here drinking coffee out of my favorite mug in the whole world. It’s the mug I got when I was a wee new promoter for Ringling Bros. way back in another life. Another promoter (Dan? Maybe you.) wanted to trade me and I jumped on it. The mug I ended up with has an old circus poster illustration of the Ringling train parked in the train yard. In true circus hyperbole, there are about seven rows of train cars and in between each there are enough people and animals to populate a small continent. I’ve had this mug since 1997. I use it a couple times a week. It makes me happy just to see it because I love trains and I loooove the circus and I love that I have a personal connection to it.
But you know what? Someday this mug is going to break. And it’s going to break my heart for a few minutes as I scoop up the pieces, ponder gluing them back together, and finally toss ’em in the trash. (I have already sworn to myself that if one of my children breaks it, I will NOT freak out and instead will say what I usually say when there’s an accidental breakage: “No big deal. I break things all the time.” That’s at least one patient-mom move I have down pat.) I could put this mug behind glass somewhere. Protect it. But this mug has far too much spirit to be stuck up on a shelf. It wants to live hard — get run through the dishwasher with the other riff raff, incubate hours-old coffee on my desk sometimes well into the afternoons, hang out in the cabinet in the single-momma townhouse. It’s OK knowing that someday, it’ll be all over and I’ll have to find a new favorite mug.
Just about the only certainty in life is that what is here today may not be here tomorrow. Stuff, people, little moments of tenderness, pockets of joy … it can all get washed away with the next tide. I don’t say that to be a downer, I say it because it’s a fact.
I remember when my dad’s mom died. I was 19. I showed up at her house and my grandfather came out to meet us in the driveway and he was sobbing. “Oh, Patricia. She left us,” he said. “She was so quiet about it.” And that was my first lesson in, “Wow. It’s never, ever, ever going to be the same again.” No more gigantic German meals with all of us smushed around the kitchen table, no more seeing grandma and grandpa sitting on the porch swing in the carport, no more paisley dresses. It took a long time for that lesson to sink in. I kept having to fight the impulse that someday, somehow, things would “go back to normal.” Sometimes there’s no going back.
Marriages die, too, sometimes. That’s a little harder to deal with because, in many cases, you have to do part of the killing. It’s bloody. But when it’s done you bury the bodies, swab up the runoff and hope the smell of bleach overpowers the memories of the carnage. Eventually, you hope the smell of bleach will fade so you can smell other things again.
As divorces go, I’m damn lucky. There hasn’t been a lot of backbiting, there haven’t been custody wars or money battles or too much rehashing of what got us here. That was a conscious choice. It was a decision to not make this unpleasant reality the most tragic, damaging drama in my life. But it’s still hard some days.
And this is the tough part: The family, as it was, will never be the same again. We still have family dinners sometimes. We can all be together in the same place at the same time. But now and forever, I will have an empty house a few nights a week. There will be no one tucked into little beds to check on at night. I will not know whether the munchkins have kicked off their blankets or dropped their dollies or are sleeping on their faces with their butts in the air. And I will never again creep into the bedrooms that we decorated before they were born — when they were still inside of my body — to look at them in the dark.
Because we’re so darn amicable, Tom doesn’t mind if I go into their rooms when I’m at the house that used to be mine so I can check out their clothes and see what they need now that the weather is getting colder. I try not to go into their rooms most of the time because … well, it gets me. Getting into their little drawers and putting warmer bedspreads on beds and straightening up (I can’t help myself) … it feels so normal and yet so not normal at all. I can feel the ghost of myself in those rooms. I expect to walk into the bathroom and find myself sitting on the floor giving someone a bath.
I’ve been in the single-momma townhouse for about a month and a half. It’s not quite home yet, but it’s getting there. I’m dangerously close to getting organized. I found some childcare (finally!) so hopefully I’ll soon achieve that work/life balance thing that people talk about and I won’t need to set the alarm for 4 AM anymore. I’m seeing my friends. I’m dating here and there. I’m living in this kooky little town where I’ve wanted to live for years. I’m tremendously proud that I paid my first round of bills with no problem. I’m exercising. I’m finding all kind of things to look forward to and get excited about. Every now and then I have to look around and say to myself: Hey! I’m doing it! Do you see me? I’m actually pulling this off!
So I just need to understand that these pockets of sadness are going to come up. No, not sadness. Grief. Something has died. It is sad. And I’ve learned over the years that you can’t get around grief, the only thing you can do is move through it. So I will. I’m committed to feeling rotten now and then, with the knowledge that something new and fresh and bright and green is popping out of the ground right now. I need to understand that my kids are also adjusting — mostly the biggest one, because she’s old enough to understand what’s going on. I need to respect her feelings and her right to have them, even though it might be painful for me to hear about her sadness sometimes. She’s mostly OK, but she hits those pockets, too. It’s going to happen. Of course it’s going to happen. But she loves the townhouse and the neighborhood and the kids and overall, I’m crazy proud of how well she’s handling the whole thing. And the little guy — well, he’s just a little piece of joy and is happy to be wherever he is most of the time. Hopefully he’ll still feel that way when he starts his new “school” next week.
Change can be really, really hard. That doesn’t make it bad. This change right now feels more like a metamorphosis. I heard once (and I’m not entirely sure that this is true, but I like the concept) that when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly it doesn’t just go into its cocoon and grow wings — it actually turns into a big pile of goo and reforms into something entirely new. And getting out of that cocoon is no small task — the butterfly has to beat its new wings into the sides of the cocoon to break free. It’s literally a bloody mess. But the butterfly has to go through this process because if it doesn’t — for example, if someone just came along and opened the cocoon — the butterfly wouldn’t get blood circulating through its wings so it can fly. (Thanks, Ms. Maryann, for the butterfly story.) It’s a great metaphor for raising kids. It’s also a great metaphor for raising myself.
So I try not to shy away from the hard stuff too much. I want to live this life. I don’t want to be stuck up on the shelf behind the glass. I want to sit right there on the kitchen table in the middle of the action, even with the risk that I’m going to get knocked to the floor. I can take a fall. And ultimately, I’d rather live big and go out in a pile of jagged pieces than be stuck up on a shelf, watching life happen as I get dusty and faded.
Oh, little blogmuffins. I have two more blog posts I want to jump in and write RIGHT NOW but I haven’t the time. These little stolen moments with you make me feel sooo goooood, though. I promise I’ll come back soon. I hope you’ll meet me here.