If you need me, I’ll be in my love apartment

I circle the same three blocks, looking for a parking spot my minivan can fit into, feeling a sense of apprehension and anticipation. I pass the stark white walls of the 1800s fort-turned-museum and the ornate catholic church with its tiny monk statues.

These buildings are markers and judges, watching as I cry, sometimes before, and always after. I find their presence either comforting and protective, or mocking and dangerous. I’m the sinner or the saint. The settler or the native.

I’ve been making this weekly trek for several years. It has become a sort of personal pilgrimage, one I either appreciate or resent, depending on where I am in my cycle of emotions.

Up and down.

Round and round.

The fucking never-ending ferris wheel of my feelings.

Some days, walking up the steep steps of the Victorian house feel impossible, my broken heart not able to pump enough energy into my body. Other times, like this week, I fly up the stairs eager for my time with my very own listener.

“I’m not in chaos.”

I proclaim it to my therapist boldly, as I take my seat on the couch and face him. He smiles back at me in the quiet, thoughtful way he always does.

I try and expand on my declaration, but as I do, I feel the truth of the words slipping away from me.

No, I don’t want to run away from my family or hurt myself anymore. I don’t spend hours curled up crying until my stomach burns like acid. I am not drinking myself to sleep every night.

In those ways, I am not in chaos.

Yet, I see the patterns in my life I still can’t break. I feel the familiar panic, simmering under my skin, ready to first whisper, and then scream, the lies which tear me down. It’s a demon, and it will devour me if I don’t keep fighting.

I fear I’m only at the top of the ferris wheel again and I’ll come crashing back down any second. I want off. I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m so tired.

The walk back to the van is silent, as it always is. I hold my keys in my hand, the longest key sticking out between my index and middle finger, prepared to defend myself.

I didn’t cry on the couch tonight. I held it in, standing fast to my assertion I’m not in chaos, even as the doubts swirled inside. I faked feeling good.

I climb into the empty van and lock the door behind me. I sit until the interior lights turn off and I’m alone in the dark. The paper bird, Leonard, in his soft blue paper cage, hangs from the rearview mirror watching me.

I reach into the little compartment below the radio, past the mints, the earbuds and two kazoos, to the seashell and the dried leaf I know are there. I don’t take them out, I just feel them. I let my finger trace over them both, gently, as I release all I’ve held in, even from my paid listener.

I’m not in chaos.

I start home, the monks winking at me tonight and the white walls looking small and easily penetrable.

I walk into my dark house full of my sleeping family. There is a line of plastic geckos on the living room table, a stack of books, an opened bottle of glue, colored pencils and the “love drawing” my daughter did earlier in the week.

img_8497I sit on the couch and stare at the drawing, thinking of our conversation before I left.

“Do you want to move into the Love Apartments?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said.

“What floor?”

“You pick.”

“We don’t have an elevator, so you might want a lower one, that’s a lot of stairs to walk up. But not the first floor, because the views are better higher up and you’ll want a good view when you write.”

“Whatever you think.”

“You have to decide mom, and I’d act quick. There gonna sell fast.”

I barley glance at her.

“3rd floor.”

“OK.”

I can’t remember hugging her goodbye or saying I love you.

There’s a second picture on the table, a new interior view of the apartments. She must have created this while I was gone, using the big table because of the size of the paper.

img_8496I see “sold” and “BKW” on my new 3rd floor apartment.

I smile and picture myself sitting in a big comfy chair, licking an ice cream from the shop next door and looking out the window at the perfect view for writing. A grocery store, the “Bank of a Heart” and music lessons all within walking distance.

No tall white walls.

No judgmental monks.

No plunging ferris wheels.

I kiss my sleeping children gently, slip into my pajamas and cuddle up next to my husband.

“You OK?” he asks and sleepily puts his arm over me.

“Yes,” I whisper.

Warm waves, surprise thoughts and Cuban coffee

beach

Trudging across the sand alone, a strong breeze hit my face and my sunglasses pressed hard against my nose. The only other person on the beach was a worker setting out beach chairs for the day.

“A storm is coming in,” he says to me. “Probably will have to just drag these all back in a few hours.”

Setting my bag down on the shore, I took off my sundress and ran like a child into the waves. I let the water hit my face hard and push me over. Snapping on my goggles and fighting the current, I swam out until my feet barely touched the sandy bottom. Then I waited for a wave to crest, dived under and flipped around to watch the water crash above me. Surrounded by bubbles, I surfaced when I was out of breath.

When my body got tired I went limp and let the waves push me to shore. I lay gasping for breath on the hot sand. I stood and barely dragged myself to my bag. Eyes closed against the sun, I stretched out and let the warmth blanket me and the calming sounds of the waves lull me to sleep.

“That is a stupid thing to do.”

A strong male voice that was surprising close hit me like a jolt. Startled and disoriented I felt the heat of my body and the scratchy sand under my face.

“I don’t care if it’s stupid, just do it.”

A female voice, high and filled with annoyance, answered even closer and I felt around for my sunglasses.

Drool was along the side of my face and my entire body was sticky with sweat and sand. Rolling on my side I saw them. A couple, maybe in their 50s, tan and in matching swimsuits was standing a few feet from me.

“Just hold the damn coconut and let me get the picture,” the woman said pushing the round, brown fruit into his hands.

Could it be they don’t see me? I thought.

“Want me to get a picture of you both?” I said. My voice sounded so raspy and odd that I wasn’t even sure I said it.

“That would be perfect!” the woman said in a very different voice. Her hair was flowing around her face and I noticed she wore a lot of makeup for a beach day.

I dragged my body up and could feel how exhausted I was. Several late nights, travel, wine and vacation had set on me like a drug. My body was more relaxed then I could remember it ever being before.

This couple snapped into picture mode before I was even up. There they stood in a pose that I imagined came from years of comfort and familiarity. His hand around her waist, she holding the coconut like a sweet newborn baby and both with matching smiles that accentuated the laugh lines around their eyes and mouths.

“Thanks,” he said and offered to take my picture holding the coconut.

Shaking my head, I gathered my things as they started to banter about placement of towels and what they would eat for lunch.

The walk back was hard. I could feel the extra weight on my body like I was carrying one my children piggyback style across the hot sand. I silently chided myself for how bad I have mistreated and neglected my body.

When I arrived back at the resort I found a bathroom. I looked in the mirror and laughed. A long, crazy almost hysterical laugh.

Here I am, I thought.

Sand was stuck on me from a combination of salt water, sweat and drool. It was all over the left side of my face, my neck, arm and leg. A crusted layer of sand accentuated the laugh lines around my eyes and mouth. My skin was slightly red and shiny. My hair was a tangled impossible mess.

Here I am, I thought again.

Everything I have done in my life has resulted in the person I was seeing in the mirror.

Laughing at myself some more, I made a half-hearted attempt to clean up and then headed out.

I had no idea what I wanted to do.

Wandering around the gorgeous resort, I found myself sidling up to the Tiki bar that had just opened for the day.

Signs all over proclaimed things like “If You’re Drinking To Forget, Please Pay in Advance” and “Dear Lord…Let this Be a Flip Flop Day.” The bartender was about my age. Her name was Michelle. She recommended the Key Lime Colada.

An older couple from Phoenix shared the bar with me and we talked for over an hour about life, marriage, kids, travel and retirement. I kept drinking until my lovely friend came to retrieve me.

This was four days into my trip. Days that had been unlike anything I had imagined they would be. My friends embraced me with more love than I can explain and I felt full in a way I didn’t know I needed to be.

Amazing conversations driving in the car at 1 a.m. Cuban coffee. Some of the most delicious food I have ever eaten. Creativity. Cuban coffee. Unbelievable sunsets. Spirituality. Did I mention Cuban coffee?

I felt nourished in every way possible. My soul had been feasting and was just so full.

Sitting at that bar a realization flooded my body and I felt a surge of something new.

I did not miss my kids.

For some reason I had imagined I would spend the entire trip pinning away for them like missing limbs that had been cut from my body. Somehow I had told myself that a “good mother” could not possibly enjoy vacation without her children. That my very essence would be crushed and I would weep at the sound of their voice on the phone and be worried anxiously the entire time.

None of that happened.

I did not miss my kids.

I knew they were fine and I allowed myself to be fully present in the experiences that were planned for me. Soaking in it and revealing in this feeling of freedom and comfort, I let it wash over me.

A phrase kept surfacing in my mind.

I feel so adult.

It’s a ridiculous thought for someone who will be 40 in a few short years, yet it was there. It kept coming back and I realized what it was. I do everything with my kids. I have become so into their world that I forget sometimes that I do have choices and life OUTSIDE them.

It’s not that I don’t do anything adult. However, most of my “adult” things involve eating sweets and watching movies my kids are not allowed to. It’s almost like I’m a teenager and I “sneak” these little things as a way of rebelling against my parents.

I am an adult.

I am in charge of my life.

***

On the long plane ride home I sat in the middle seat. The man on my left was flying into S.F. for a job opportunity. He was young, maybe late 20s, he was full of optimism and hope for his future. The woman to my right was in her 50s and was visiting her only child away at college. She was so excited to see her and you could see the pride and love she had for her daughter radiating off her.

When we landed we all said our customary good-byes and headed our three separate routes.

As I walked off the plane I was filled with excitement to see my children. My heart started to pound and I could not wait to see them.

My daughter ran and leaped into my arms and peppered my face with kisses. My boy said “hey” and I got a glimpse at the teenager he will be soon. I gathered them both into my arms and kissed them.

I love my children more than anything in the world.

But I did not miss them.

And that’s OK.

me