dirty.

The clouds were angry. They were moving swiftly as if racing away from a storm they preferred to not be a part. They moved so fast that the cover they provided was quickly uncover then cover, then uncover again, overly purposeful in a way that seemed unusual for clouds, because, for whatever reason, I have only afforded clouds attributes of puffiness and timidity.

I wish I didn’t notice such things like angry clouds, but I do. And then a small voice, who had been following my gaze, said quietly: the clouds are dirty. I looked down at the source of this voice, and he said it again: The clouds are dirty mommy, and they need a shower. But clouds are a shower, so how will they get clean?

How will the clouds get clean?

This small human decides God takes care of clouds, but they don’t get a bath, they just get God, and that should be enough.

God should be enough.

And it was enough for him. He had reasoned through to this answer in less than ten seconds and returned happily to his task of investigating ants and dragonflies and the ever present bug unknown that were passing along our sidewalk, content he had solved this problem. So why couldn’t I accept this offering with the same quickness of faith?

God should be enough to make things clean.

I’m at once ruminating in my sin- it is a layer of pollen that covers every conversation, falling on every aspect of my person, clinging and showing itself despite my efforts to brush it away. Nothing seems ever enough to rid me from it.

I feel there is sin that doesn’t just sit on the surface, it’s under and part of every (in)action. But this sin, it snuck up like an unexpected change in season, I found myself stuck out in the sudden cold with no protection, and in one breath felt my entire world change course. I stumble foolishly, hoping there is water somewhere meant for all of this, but somehow, although I seek, I remain caught in a labyrinth that folds only into itself, reminders at every turn of my shame, lost in a system built solely to remind me of pain and lingering disappointment, begging for me to submit myself here, not promising relief, but a numbing solution.

But these walls know nothing of my confession. The confession I offer has been said in silent pleading nights, many times before, legs curled close to my body, hugging tight to the convulsion of pain that steers through me. I cried out to Him. And when I couldn’t breathe, when my eyes were swollen shut, when my pulse raced outside my temples, when the only way I found sleep was through exhaustion. I cried out to Him. What is next, where do I go, what do I do, how do I know what is Truth? Who do I trust, where do I turn? I cried out to Him.  What will I tell my children? What will I tell my family? What will I tell my church? What do I tell my friends? I cried out to Him. Should I return to my marriage? Should I run from this life? I cried out to Him. Where will I work? Where will I live? Will I be able to provide for my children? I cried out to Him. How do I make this right? How do I make this right? How do I make this right? How do I make this right? How do I make his right? HOW DO I MAKE THIS RIGHT???

I cried out to Him.

I never thought about the enormity of her choice until I held my own child. I waited six agonizing hours after giving birth to hold him, and it felt like another nine months. And when I did, I felt a wave of love wash through me and I snuggled this sweet boy close and promised silently to never let go. I was holding the first blood relative I may ever meet. His face a combination of history and future, at once a reminder of a woman I had never met, would most likely never meet, a woman who chose life not once, but twice for me.

I don’t know much about her- her name, where she maybe once lived, what she named me. I often wonder what she looks like and if I see her every day without realizing it, if she is in the face of my sons, in their laughter, in their hugs.

I don’t know much about her, but I have had a few dreams that feel like truth, some more sensical than others. The last one began oddly, as dreams usually do. I had crossed over and found myself in a place best described as a movie theater. And although I was in this place meant for dead, it wasn’t just for those who had lost their lives, but the death of all things. Death of friendship being one. I found a familiar face, one I hadn’t seen since college, ours a friendship that had ended abruptly and for me, for no apparent reason. She was there urging me to quickly sit. She gave me a run down of the rules here, told me to act natural, blend in, and not bring any attention our way. Watch the movies she said. So I did. They were beautiful. I saw a beautiful bride. Her skin radiating and the dress just glimmering. There was sincere clapping somewhere in the audience. The movie at once changed to a side by side with another similar movie- another bride, another dress- the clapping erupted again. And I immediately realized we were watching someone’s happiest moment of their life. I could tell because the feeling of that same happiness ran immediately through my body. I was happy not for them, or with them, I was happy as though I was them. Suddenly there is someone else on the other side of me. He tells me he knows I’m not from here, he knows I’m just passing through. He’s talking so fast, but as I glance back to the screen I realize he’s telling me the story above me as it’s happening. It’s his story. He was a writer. He wrote beautiful novels and poetry and love songs. But no one ever heard them, no one ever read them, because he never dared to share them. He told me how it haunts him, even here. And I knew, just as with the brides’ happiness I knew his truth, full of sadness and regret.

My lost friend pulls me back, tells me not to get caught up with him. She told me to go, to keep looking. I said I would, but I had no idea what I had come here to find.

Suddenly I was outside. I did have a car. I didn’t have keys for it, but I had a car. I opened the hood and started to poke around to see how I might get it to work and suddenly my friend is there again. She’s mad. She said to stop making a scene. To just drive the car. I told her I didn’t have keys. She said plainly- you don’t need keys.

Oh.

So I got in and drove. I drove with that feeling I was being followed. Looking immediately for a place of safety. I found it in between two apartment complexes, and what my safety was, was amazing. There was a luscious green bank with the softest grass I had ever felt. There was a small beach and the smallest, blueist ocean with perfect waves. I laid back and was buried in comfort. As I settled in a creature popped out of the grass, ridiculously close to me. He was all the colors at once, and every few seconds would glow bright fuschia or burnt orange or olive green. He handed me food, knowing I was hungry. He told me I had to keep going, and told me where. I asked him to join me but he said he had no feet, could he have mine? And then he lunged for me. I immediately rolled down the bank and started running. The beach turned back to city streets that eventually gave way to a winding river. It was there I stopped. I saw them dancing, the bottoms of their colorful skirts just barely touching the top of the water. Their white blouses shining bright in the sun and the crinkly red, blue, and yellow embroidery sending me back to a time in my childhood where I had seen these dresses before, those dances before.

I knew at once they were costarricense. I was running to catch up, worried they were only a mirage. I followed the river around and there they were- two Costa Rican women, maybe they were in their thirties, maybe older, and one was holding a baby girl. As I looked at her I could sense her truth, just as I sensed the others back in the movie theater. She held the baby out to me. I said, I don’t think I can, I mean, I think you’re my birth mother and I think that’s me, I don’t think I- and then all the sudden I’m holding this baby, this baby who is also me, and my birth mother smiling at me and nodding yes, yes, of course, all of that, because we don’t speak the same language, and as she passed this baby to me, I felt her pass the weight of her entire heart. And she says to me- esto es lo mejor- this is what is best- and I felt it with the full sincerity of her being, the sadness and guilt and pain and love and hope and faith, all wrapped up together as she handed me her child, and in her eyes an understanding- esto es lo mejor- and finally, I understood it too.

Sometimes the most painful decision is the best decision.

I looked down at this baby, mesmerized by her acceptance of me, and then back up to muster some sort of thank you in broken Spanish to this brave woman, but she was gone. I knew she had joined the group ahead, dancing and singing down the river, joining in with their strong voices that caught the wind and filled the air.

And then it was over. I woke up in a fit of coughing, and was quickly reminded of the fading Alka Seltzer cold and sinus medicine that must have put me in this hallucination dream. But it felt so real, and I remembered every part. I could still hear those voices, and see the wide brown eyes of a peaceful child.

Sometimes the most painful decision is the best decision.

And so I am once again where I have been many nights before. Not sure what is real, what is truth. Holding close to the coolness of my sheets, I have nothing left to cry, nothing left to ask. I lay still.

Esto es lo mejor.

What is done is done, there’s no erasing it, and no way to make it right. The only thing now is, what is next. And my choice is painful, it hurts to places I’ve never before felt, but it is what is best.

And maybe one day my sweet boys will understand the choice I made, and feel the sorrow and guilt and pain and love and faith all wrapped up together as I continue the journey of finding the water that will make me clean.

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.

(un)comfort(able).

I grew up giving to Goodwill, or the Salvation Army. We held rummage sales at our church, and my parents would volunteer, which meant I would volunteer. And yet in my adult life, giving away things seemed more of a selfish act, wanting to clear away clutter or free up space in my closet. If some place wanted my leftovers, they were doing me a service.

One Sunday night, I found myself in a church van, with three other people I had just met, plus our church’s pastor, headed out to the City to hand out blankets, jackets, jeans, socks, underwear, and lunches to the homeless. I didn’t necessarily want to be there. I hadn’t volunteered. My husband had volunteered. Then he got sick and suggested I take his place. I went because it seemed like the right thing to do, especially because they were short handed on a night when most of the country was tucked warmly inside their homes or sports bars rooting for two football teams they had some sort of interest in and watching the most expensive commercials of the year. I, however, had a lifetime of not caring about football, so I had no alibi.

All of the serious reasons I didn’t want to go could really be bundled up into one reason of not wanting to go: I didn’t want to be uncomfortable. The first sign of uncomfort was in the unexpected thoughts this stirred in me of my birth story. I don’t know much, but I was told my birth mother lived on the streets in Costa Rica. I think she already had boys, but I was her first girl. Not wanting her daughter to endure that life, its difficulties and vices, she put me up for adoption. I have managed to compartmentalize most of my feelings on this topic, until recently. I am wondering now if they have been simmering just underneath the fabric of my every day life, and this experience enabled a fissure of escape, but I just can’t be sure. I am forced to accept these emotions are here, stirring in me, giving me uncomfort and pressuring me to look into faces that remind me of a life from which I was saved, faces that could easily have been mine, faces that may be my brothers, my mother.

What I wasn’t expecting, was that our night seemed enveloped in grace. These men and women, having almost nothing, were polite, gracious, thankful. They were seeking just a bit of comfort. They asked first for blankets. We only had four that night, and they went to the first four who asked. We helped these men and women, with what we had, as best we could, locating sizes and colors to suit. The hours leading up to this night were full of personal doubt and dread. The first stop we made erased these feelings entirely and I was finally able to shift my focus towards the service we were sharing.

Why must I always approach a new situation by what it means to me? Why must I fixate on my own feelings of comfort or discomfort and inadequacy instead of pausing to consider the intent of the experience?

Service of this sort seems inevitably tangled between personal feelings and motivators and the actual helping of others.  I drove home with images of faces, eyes, hands, all wanting the same thing, seeking to fill a desire for a moment of comfort from a world that, for a wagon wheel of reasons, has led them to this space.

I thought of the men sleep-resting on a sidewalk, taking shelter provided by a building alcove. I talked with a few who were still awake and handed out personal hygiene bags. One man took it and immediately asked for a different one with soap. I thought they all had soap in them. But I looked through my bags and found one with the biggest bar of soap that I could. True joy in his eyes. Immediately I thought of this basic need. How often I wash my hands, the faces of my children, their hands. Take a shower. Wash my clothes. To be stripped of this ability, to the point where when someone hands me a basic needs kit to look first for soap, caused in me a sadness that lingers. I am unable to find a place to put this sadness, to categorize it, so that it can be a “thing I know what to do with,” instead of a “thing that confuses me,” or a “thing that makes me feel guilty,” or a “thing that I ignore.”

When I came home, I washed my hands, my face. I tucked myself into bed beneath my four blankets, the warmth of my husband making up for the slight chill of the sheets. I couldn’t sleep. I felt a glutton of warmth and comfort.

Hours later I woke to cries of my youngest child. I went immediately to his room, scooped him from his crib and just held him, wrapped him in a blanket of fish and turtles made by his Nana. I held him long after his cries went to whimpers and the whimpers back to snores. I slow smelled his hair. I wanted to pause this moment, a moment of true gratitude for this safe, warm place to let my son sleep. Gratitude for a painstakingly uncomfortable choice made by a woman who gave me life, but whom I’ll never meet. A choice that would take me 28 years to understand, and only after holding my own son and feeling both magnitude of love and weight of responsibility for his precious life. Gratitude to be in this exact space at this exact moment and the billions of choices that brought me here.

As I went back to my room, I paused at the top of our stairs, out a window that showed a glistening pavement. I always love when it rains, but this time I felt again that uncategorizable sadness. The first image being of a woman who had done a little sing-song dance of thanks for a weekend of no snow. The second, of a man who had built his bed of cardboard boxes. I thought of how, out of all the jackets we handed out that night, only a handful had any hope of providing shield from the rain that insisted on falling early that morning then persisted throughout the day.

What had started in uncomfortableness was ending in uncomfortableness. And yet, of the two, I will take the latter; the latter having provided me a new context for what matters in service. Giving me the opportunity to disconnect the (un) from comfort. To focus on my (able)ness to give comfort, and to begin to sort through the uncategorizable sadness that lingers.