burnt.

That first morning I made fried eggs. I scooped out a glob of coconut oil and watched as it seeped to the corners of my grandmother’s cast iron skillet. The heat, turned up too high, made this short task an emergency.  I frantically fanned the shrieking smoke alarm with a nearby cutting board, quickly switched the stove vent to HIGH, and uttered a concise expletive underneath it all.

The next morning my stove demanded a repeat performance. The children cried, covered their ears.
The third morning my youngest asked if maybe we should just eat cereal. I turned to the fridge and held tightly to its door. Crying silently, I promised myself it was just a stove, it was just a breakfast.
It felt like failure. The stove mocking my inability to perform this small task.
I opened the fridge cautiously and felt its coolness hit my face. I searched longer than necessary for two more eggs and reached again for the oil.
—-
It was the only shirt they had. It’s tag said “large,” but it was a medium. It sat in my closet a month before I had the courage to try. Today, courage or not, it needed to be worn.
I put it on.
Turning, I realized he was nearby, eyes glued to his phone.
Me: What do you think?
Him: (glances up briefly) It’s a nice goal shirt.
Me: goal shirt?
Him: yeah, it’s ok, it’s good to have a goal.
——–
His skin held the soft sweetness that only a newborn baby’s could. His eyes a clear blue that lit up with every smile, every sound. His feet kicked to show off their feetness, perfect toenails on perfect toes that I often kissed for no reason.
He wiggled on the changing table as I struggled to redress him from his latest catastrophe. My abundance of caution wasn’t enough, my wedding ring left a red mark on his back, which scarred me more than him.
I finished my task, and carried my sweet boy with me the five short steps to my room. I placed him gently on the floor, took the rings off- leaving them in a small wooden box on the dresser- scooped him back up, and went downstairs to start dinner.
That night after the house was quiet, I turned to him-
Me: I took my rings off today.
Him: oh, ok, why?
Me: Because when I was changing our baby it scratched him and I don’t want to keep doing that.
Him: oh ok.
Me: So it’s ok?
Him: Is what ok?
Me: To not wear the rings.
Him: yeah, it’s fine.
Me: You’re not worried?
Him: Worried about what?
Me: That someone will, you know, come on to me.
Him: Come on to you?
Me: Yeah, like pick me up.
Him: Pick you up?
Me: Yeah, like flirt with me. Because I’m not wearing a ring.
Him: So where would this happen? This flirting?
Me: I don’t know, at the park or something.
Him: So wouldn’t you have the boys with you?
Me: Yes.
Him: Then no, I’m not worried.
Me: Why?
Him: Because you have two kids. No one would want you knowing you have two kids.
———
On the fourth morning everything worked. The eggs were crisp and slightly browned. The pineapple had been on sale and was ripe enough to be easily cut. I also had revived my tiny French press, now perfect for my small breakfasting. The children congratulated me on a quiet morning in the kitchen. It was finally my preference to open the blinds and welcome in this sun and its brilliance.
If there was any particular moment to exhale, it may have been here. There was a simplicity to that morning, that seemed to beckon to me, like an Alice in Wonderland note left prompting my next move. But this moment, was everything but simple, everything but calm. Inside was a cacophony of thoughts, hurts, misgivings, fear.
How did I get here?
The words would burst into my skull at every imaginable time. It mattered not the situation- times when eggs are cooked perfectly, and the house is clean, the children snuggled in close for a night of movies and popcorn. Or after the only dinner choice that needed to be made was- which type of cereal- or when I realized how fun it is to sleep diagonally in bed, and wake up to the sweet silliness of my boys and their requests for tickles.
These words would echo also at times when the pain overwhelmed. Like when my children ask me why I always cry after seeing daddy, or when my house is empty of their giggles and prancing feet and dirty clothes. When I miss their tiny hands and neck hugs so much the inside of my throat feels like it will swell shut and when it doesn’t, it is only replaced with an emptiness that doesn’t even try to apologize for its presence, taking residence and unpacking and settling in for a long uninvited visit. When those sweet voices ask why I don’t want to be around daddy anymore, and when am I coming home, or can I just live in the basement and him upstairs, and why are there now two houses, and can they have another kiss and another hug and mommy don’t let go, please don’t ever let go.
How did I get here?
One day, in the middle of all of this, I remember he said- “they’re so young.” And he was right, he is right, they are, so young. But he said it as though this is a job, and it would one day be over, and that I should stay until it was. And that felt silly, that my job to them would be ever over, or that I could only do this job in this house, on this street. So this, this being mommy, is a thing that I will be always, at every hour and every minute of every day. To be the best mom to them, I need to be the best me to me, and in this instance, to put them first, is also to put myself first. To stand up, to insist- on change, on health, on honesty, on love. Tell me, when, when is a good time to fight for the value of ones life? That somehow, amidst all of this, I am losing additional points for the inconvenience of inappropriate scheduling.
They are so young.
I, too, am young. I consider how many years I have given to this path, to this life, to his life. And I, too, matter in this awful equation. There is no life that matters more than another. Each of these lives- mine, his, theirs- we all matter. I am so desperately trying to choose life.
Somehow in all of this, my life became lesser, and my motherhood and wifehood trumped my personhood. Instead of having mommy be a thing I am also, it was a thing I am only. I should be so proud to live in his house, drive his car, be his spouse. Only his desires matter, his aspirations, his goals. Mine classified as a terciary request, and then only if my chores are done.
What really happened, when you sort past all the…stuff… is actually quite simple. I requested respect. I requested to be valued, considered, and loved. In a way that doesn’t equal me crying on my side of the bed while his snores mocked my misery. I wanted to be wanted for more than what my body could offer to him at his desire and not mine. I wanted to be acknowledged for my contributions. I wanted to be seen and cherished and valued and loved and adored and can’t ever be lived without. I wanted his September promises to be true. I held mine. For years at sea and years at home, for finances kept and dinners made and diapers changed and visits to his family. I held my promises. And in return- in return I was ignored. In return I was laughed at. In return he never called. In return he didn’t care. In return I was never enough. In return I was left alone.
So I am alone.
But in aloneship I have been for some time. This isn’t new for me, this state of aloneship. What is new was that it was uncovered and exposed in an unexpected way, in an unexpected place, with an unexpected outcome. But that’s not what will be remembered. The pain I’ve caused, the lives I changed, the dreams I smashed, seeming picture perfectness disrupted. This is what I’m now buried in. Here I stand, in this uncomfortable intersection, it’s bright, there’s no where to sit, I don’t know what to do with my hands. They fumble, holding my crimson vowel, I’m now just a sad accident where passersby shake their heads and say unhelpful things like- maybe she should have focused on her marriage, or maybe she is just selfish, or maybe she is a bad mother, or maybe she’s just depressed, or maybe she’s unstable, or maybe she doesn’t deserve her kids, or maybe she was after him, or maybe she should apologize, or maybe she should never come around here again… thank goodness she hasn’t come around here again, or maybe she’s not a real Christian, or maybe she never was, or maybe it was planned, or maybe we should stop taking her calls- we were never really friends, or maybe she won’t notice if I just never text her back, or maybe I will call and maybe she will want to hear how awful I think she is, or maybe she will tell me something I can go tell someone else, or maybe I should send her a card with a bible verse about forgiveness and also include how disappointed I am in her, or maybe if we don’t make eye contact she won’t see us here, or maybe she doesn’t know how this hurts us too, or maybe she’s tried this before, or maybe this is just her character, or maybe she is just a bad person, or maybe this is the evil we have all been warned about.
Maybe you have no idea.
Maybe you have no idea of all these years, all these memories, all this hurt, all this sadness and guilt and pain and anger and loss and insistence of being told what I wanted, what I needed, didn’t exist, and to please calm down, and by the way, what’s for dinner, and have you steamed my shirt?
Maybe you don’t know how burnt into my soul is the feeling of him saying- Why are you still crying? Why do I have to call you? Why does it matter where I am? Why are you still thinking about that? Why do you want to do that? Why do they care what you think? Why do I have to kiss you goodnight? Why don’t you just sweep this under the rug? Bury this deep.
And so I did.
And so I was.

alaska.

There was this white, worn ford ranger pick up truck. It drove cautiously. Steadily. Intentionally. It’s driver peering over the steering wheel. I found myself driving behind it for what was easily forty miles, probably more. It was going the speed limit. This truck was going the speed limit, and yet I fell in line, not once looking behind to see if I might pass. Go around. Get by. No, I had no intention of passing this truck.

There was a solace in driving in this manner. In allowing one’s mind to be free in the space of not worrying what will happen next. Will this driver speed up, slow down? Not likely. This driver is maintaining. Going. Plodding.

I was in the middle of a long drive. A drive I was in no rush to finish. I really enjoy driving. I enjoy the long stretches of road when the songs on the radio become a blur of all things country or all things talk, and the best solution to the static mayhem that inevitably happens every twenty minutes or so is to just turn the thing off.

Driving without music.
I never used to understand driving without music.

Growing up we would take road trips, long ones. Florida to Arizona. Florida to North Carolina. Florida to Canada. I would sit shot gun in the family van, my dad driving. That’s where I learned to pop my gum. You know, that ricochet of pop pop pop pop pop pop. That was definitely a learned annoying habit, and I think I finally figured it out somewhere in the middle of Texas, my dad equally laughing and crying that I had, indeed, finally figured it out. I used to tear through packets of Big League Chew. I’d spend hours trying to blow bubbles that would break the Guinness book of world records, because the only goals back then that were worthwhile, were ones that could break whatever record was in that book.

So we would take these road trips. I’d have my gum and my mad libs, the occasional irritated round of I Spy with my brothers, and conversations with my dad. The conversations with my dad would go something like this:

Me: Dad, can we listen to the radio?
Dad: No.

………

Me: Can we listen to the radio now?
Dad: No.

………

Me: What if I just turned it on really low?
Dad: That’s even more aggravating than if it was on all the way. No.

And yet, on shorter road trips we would listen without question, and we’d listen to the oldies station. I know every well-played 50s and 60s song by heart. Occasionally we’d even listen to this cassette with some old guy on front with an enormous bushy grey beard and a twinkle in his eye. No, it wasn’t Santa Claus’ greatest hits, it was some guy who I’d later learn was Kenny Rogers. Those were the days. For those trips we’d take his Corolla, and I’d sit in the backseat, near the window if I was lucky, and when we’d get to the part of the drive where the pavement gave way to gravel then dirt, my brothers and I would take off our seatbelts and we’d giggle and scream as that Corolla hit every bump as my dad drove into them like he was in the Dukes of Hazzard, our heads just shy of hitting the top of the car, and for this one time only we’d fall onto each other without worrying about who was touching who. But that was a short road trip.

So I guess I didn’t really understand why there were times when driving with music made sense and other times, when it just wasn’t even an option.

Until I had kids.
Children.
Small humans.
That make sounds and noises, loudly.
And that talk. And have opinions.
And words.
So many words.

When driving in silence there is somehow an ability to turn the back of the car noise into road noise and, if you’re lucky, it just disappears. Focused on the road, sure. But lost in thought, pure thought.

That’s why I love a good road trip. A long road trip.

And that’s where I was, when I had been traveling for days, alone but with my children, and I found myself behind this white ford ranger pick-up, complete with rust and camper shell, and I was overwhelmed by a sense of safety and a remembrance of someone I had once loved, still love.

The last time I saw a truck like that old ranger I was not driving behind, but sitting behind the wheel. I was probably twelve. I could barely reach the gas, if I had to break I would probably have had to stand straight up. But there I was. Actually driving. Scared out of my mind. My grandpa said, “why not?” He said he was driving by the time he was eight. And he said when he got stopped, he would just say he was ten and he’d be back on his way. I asked him what I should say if we got stopped, and he said, no hesitation, that he’d just tell the officer that my 12 year old eyes were better than his 72 year old eyes and it was clearly a better risk to just let me go ahead and finish the drive and also we’re mostly there anyways. Oh, and twinkle toes (his name for me), don’t forget to smile.

A few years earlier this man, my grandpa, had driven that white ranger from Florida to Alaska. Alone. When I asked him which hotel was his favorite, he just laughed and laughed. When he finally caught his breath, he told me the finest hotel in the world couldn’t beat listening to the crickets and a sleeping bag laid out in the back of his truck.

When he finally made it to Alaska, there was a story about him getting cut off the road and his truck going down the side of a mountain. He was somehow able to climb out the back of the truck and back up the mountain with not much more than some bumps and bruises, on him and the truck.

To me, this man was a super hero.

There have been times when I’ve been scared to drive to a different part of town. There have been times when I have refused to drive because I didn’t know the way, I didn’t have a map, and I didn’t want to try.

There have been times when driving alone, in all that silence, just would not have been ok.

But the thing about my grandpa, when my grandpa wanted to go somewhere, he got in the car and just went.

Anywhere, everywhere. Gone.

The first long road trip I remember taking on my own (and with one small child) was from Florida to Maine. I plotted and charted. I packed blankets and snacks. Overnight bags and car chargers. I made plans with friends, family, all those who I hadn’t seen in years but would take me in, in a heartbeat.

I planned, then I went. I drove. I stopped on my terms. I stopped on the toddler’s terms. But I went.

I was aware, constantly, of being alone.

After two days, however, I found my “I’ve got this” face, and just had fun. I sang, we sang, I ate entire bags of gummy worms, blew through gobs of double bubble, threw disgusting amounts of chicken nuggets to my back seat driver, I missed exits and phone calls, and just drove.

And what a range of feelings this brought.

It reminded me first of the feeling when I was behind the wheel, at 12 years old, the feeling of being overwhelmed with a power of which I wasn’t yet ready, but was offered. Something that someone else recognized I could achieve, accomplish, or at the very least, TRY, even when it hadn’t even occurred to me that it was something I might want to do, love to do.

I had a feeling I could drive forever. Why stop at Maine, why stop at all?

I had a feeling that I wished I had tried this earlier. I wondered if these new acquaintances, these feelings of confidence and self-reliance, might stay for the long haul, and why had it taken so long for us all to meet?

So I drove. First cautiously. Then steadily. And ever so intentionally. And there was a solace in it, in that space of not worrying what might happen down the road or if I missed the next exit. I got lost a couple times, sure, but I was finally right where I needed to be- behind the wheel, listening for the crunch of gravel and the occasional cricket- and finally on the road towards my Alaska.