Maybe Things Could Be Different
On Motherhood: A letter—call it a remembering, call it a poem—to myself before and after I became a mother
A letter—call it a remembering, call it a poem—to myself before and after I became a mother.
BEFORE / How you walked through the home goods aisle of a shitty department store in the Mojave and told him you didn’t want kids, you said leave if you want to, I won’t change my mind How you flinched at the sight of a pregnant woman walking across Venice Boulevard in the dead of summer You drank vodka sodas at James Beach until the glass fell from your hands and you hollowed out your insides on the shore of the Pacific You stumbled and laughed and told your roommate with the tattoos how pretty she looked— how much you loved her When the singer with the long hair went down on one knee in the middle of a dirty Hollywood sidewalk you took him by the hands but you both knew he didn’t mean it He had a daughter and he said he wished it all had happened with you You said me too but you both knew you didn’t mean it Bottles clanking in the sheets, you fell asleep with your legs wrapped around him at the Roosevelt hotel and left before morning to meet your boyfriend for breakfast How you went to a party in Silverlake dressed as Twiggy in a canary yellow baby doll dress and Mary Janes to embody someone other than yourself How when your boyfriend and his friends got wasted you piled them all into his bone-white BMW He slurred I love yous as you drove down the 101, marry me he said and you said you’re a mess His best friend called you the devil from the backseat and you thought maybe it was true When you left Los Angeles and thought maybe things could be different, maybe you could be different When you went to Hawaii with the artist with the perfect face and held his sister’s newborn baby for an entire afternoon How your body ached from the weight of it all When you watched her struggle to cover herself in the wet sun to breastfeed her son you said the whole thing looks like a burden How you went to Europe with the artist in the fall and you sat in a Parisian cafe, sipping cognac, talking about your dreams, your fathers, and what made a good song How you stretched your arms into the smoke-filled night and said this is enough, art is enough, we’re enough How you trailed off and the statement turned into a question neither of you could answer— It is, isn’t it? When you holed yourself up in a 1940s house in the Blue Ridge Mountains to write— to find out where you came from, why it hurt to love and be loved, and if it really was enough You wrote a book that no one read and it left you with nothing of yourself to hold onto When your brother had a daughter you said she’s perfect How you held her in their sun-lit apartment in Michigan you called her your magic girl and you felt happy, for him and for you Then you told the artist with the perfect face I love you You meant it and he said it back but of course you already knew How you said I want to have a baby and the words made your heart flicker and your hands shake How the artist said he knew you’d change your mind and you thought back to the department store in the Mojave, your rigid confidence and the cool of his palm on your sweating neck How the word mother still filled your mouth with salt but you swallowed it anyway You said maybe things could be different— maybe I could be different / AFTER How you took three pregnancy tests after Thanksgiving and it finally made sense why you couldn’t keep your eyes open When you told the artist in front of the Christmas tree he picked you up and his eyes filled with water How you were both scared but you were happy When you cried on the back porch on the Mother’s Day before the baby was born, staring at the wine-colored irises and telling the artist I can’t do this, I don’t know how How you said you could never be a mother When he said, you’re doing it, this is it, don’t you see that you already are? How your son came into the world through a severing of your body, your being—you were split in two When you heard his cry you knew you’d already let him down How you shook as you held him and you told him you were sorry How he stilled and he quieted and showed you you’d been wrong How you struggled to listen and how it hurt to trust but for the first time in your life, you understood love How you thought maybe things could be different, maybe I could be different When you abandoned your novel at eighty-thousand words not because you wanted to, but because you questioned the worth of every word you wrote, every second you spent with your art instead of your baby How this was only the beginning of being pulled between the worlds of writer and mother When you asked, why can’t I be both? How you answered back you can, you are but you still don’t know if you believe it When you introduced him to your mother in the hospital and she held you both as you cried When your father met him a month later and your son fell asleep in his giant hands How you thought back to how they didn’t show up for you but maybe they could show up for him When you heard the artist with the perfect face sing him lullabies in the dark, his voice an embrace and you said we have everything need How you held him against your body, night dissolving into day How time could no longer tell you how to live or what to fear When you walked by the lake in the warm summer rain and you told your one-month-old son to notice— to listen to the sound of the trees and the taste of the air How you said this is the thing we have to do to find our way back to ourselves How he taught you how to shed the layers of self-doubt that had made a home in your bones When you found your way back to the writing How you wrote him letters about everything you know and everything you don’t and saved them in a book by your bedside When you played him This Empty Northern Hemisphere on vinyl you cried and you said see, this is what art can do if you let it How you hiked the mountains that are always blue, to waterfalls and ridge lines with his warm body against your chest How you found an entire untouched universe all wrapped up in one tiny being— the meaning of presence and the answers to the questions you’ve been asking your entire life How they were there all along but you were too broken to see them How motherhood has taught you to unclench your hands, to let go and say this is no longer mine to carry How it was never yours in the first place When he said mama under the black walnut tree and you stopped waiting to be happy When you said there is home, there is us, there is this, now How you kissed his berry-stained hands in the copper sun and your ceaseless need to leave yourself settled to a comforting thrum How you found a holiness to this slow, unglamorous rhythm When you said things are different now— I am different
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Read this Mother's Day evening, sitting beside my boy while he chatted and splashed in his bath. Maybe it's just the summer weather encroaching, or the inevitable losses that go with raising baby farm animals, or the fact that everything feels like it hits extra deep all day every day, but every time I open your latest essay I end up with tears in my eyes. You touch those intimate little details of what it is to meet and mother yourself as you mother your child, and I love coming here and recognizing what I already know in my own experience and having it rounded out with the perfect, unique elements of your own.
You are such an epic writer. Your writing is so clear and crisp. I continue to find it so incredibly difficult to write about motherhood now 2.5 years later. I don’t know why. But when I sit down to write I find that there’s just too much, it’s overwhelming. You perfectly captured the profound pain & beauty of motherhood. Thank you for sharing yourself with us.