I feel the dark sadness press in like a dam has broken, an internal stopper lifted so the water flows downstream, straight where it wants to go. All my efforts against it are like shakey, rickety barriers, sticks I once lay in hopes of keeping it all contained.
It’s a virus that undoes me: Germs shared between two little boys, kisses and snotty noses passed along to my body. The fevers all show up simultaneously in this temporary home where the toys we packed in suitcases seven weeks ago are getting old, where the sealed-shut windows in the apartment are muted, white polished it seems, so outside this living room are only sounds and vague colored shapes. I want sunshine. I want something to look at.
All Thursday we sit in this living room, the three of us pathetic: nursing fevers and sinuses and ears. It’s our first day since moving here to not have a play date, our first day without a plan. I need a plan or I go crazy.
I mean that literally. When I first went to therapy as a 26 year old, I came in crying about unreturned emails. Hundreds of unreturned emails that I’d never responded to, emails I spent all day thinking about and all day hiding from. It turns out that I’m not so good at correspondence. Also, it turns out that I need to-do lists, even though every thing in my carefree personality fights against them. Same thing with freedom. Though I can be the world’s best at flying by the seat of my pants, I learned that I cry the most on Saturdays, when I don’t know what to do with myself, when I feel guilty over what is possible and what isn’t accomplished.
I need a plan or I go crazy.
I sit on the couch, letting August watch another show and feeling like the worst mom of all time because Brooksie has watched way more TV in his short life than my I-won’t-melt-my-kids’-brains-with-Nick Jr self ever imagined August watching as a 19 month old. But the pressure in my sinuses is knocking me over and all I want is for the boys to sit still on the couch and wake me up if there’s an emergency.
We need to get outside. But outside the front door is a nine-foot wide sidewalk that leads directly to a busy street. August’s fever is too high for him to feel like walking and we don’t have a double stroller. So I decide to make it work. I stick my lanky four year old (who can easily be mistaken for a six year old) in the tiny stroller. His limbs are hanging out everywhere. It’s 80 degrees out but he’s zipped himself into a sweatshirt and I’ve leaned the seat back so he can snuggle with his blanket. I put Brooksie (who also has a fever but who complains less) into the Ergo on my back. His face presses against me. Yes, it’s heavy to push up the hill, especially for my sick body but I need the sun on my face. I think: This is for survival.
And when the people walking past us judge me for pushing a six year old and dressing him in sweats on an 80-degree day, I almost don’t let it bother me.
What I need to do is pray. But I don’t really. I push and walk, which I think God knows is as close as I’ll be coming to asking for help for my soul. He presses in. Then I go home and we turn the TV back on.
* * *
By Saturday, I have three rounds of antibiotics in me and the boys are fever-free. Chris drops me off at the park and they head to the donut place. I forgot my iPod and have exactly two albums loaded onto the music player in my lame phone. So I turn it on and run/walk through the Presidio. There are trails here that I don’t know yet so I’m cautious and unsure where I’m turning.
I run up a hill and feel like I can’t take it. I’m out of shape anyway and my body is not made for hills. (My people are from the plains, you know.) I slow down as I get to the peak of it and then face the downward trek. I think how much running up and down a hill is like these past seven weeks of uncertainty and change. There’s upward haul, the saying goodbye, the hard work of gathering your things and your life in one place and closing that work: emotionally, physically, relationally. All those goodbyes all that movement to reach this place where you find yourself starting again.
And then, now: the downhill slide, when it’s all temporary, still filled with waiting…for our things, for our new routine, new friends. Yet, there are the old friends and there’s the reuniting and I feel like it’s coming at me so fast I’m out of control. I’m running down this hill and at first it was such a relief from the heavy padding of the climb. But now, the momentum is going to send me rolling. I can’t fight the gravity-pull.
I run down into a valley and under a road where cars vroom over my head and arrive at a path I haven’t seen before. I stop when I come to a set of wooden stairs against a hill. I turn toward it, like I’m in a fairytale and this is my stairway toward the illumined secret. One of the two albums on my phone is Rich Mullins Songs and he’s singing one of my favorites.
Clung to a ball
That was hung in the sky
Hurled into orbit
There You are
I love Rich. I loved him in 1997 and cried when he died. No matter how my musical tastes have changed, I will never stop loving him. It’s like my cheese-o-meter turns off when I hear his songs. His sincerity and depth overwhelms my most cynical side. I don’t care if the music is lame sometimes or the lyrics are too much. I believe everything his songs tell me.
I climb the stairs, there in the middle of the wooded park, there in the middle of the city. And at the top, I look around. I stare at the view of my new home.
“You’re on the verge of a miracle,” Rich says, “Standing there.”
I want to understand all of it: How to hold it all at once. The leaving and the reuniting. My feverish four year old who cried in my arms Wednesday night, “I miss Ashlyn, Mommy! I miss Ashlyn.” I want to hold the sweetness of August’s declarations of his newfound commitment to the San Francisco Giants, because “I’m from San Francisco, you know. Not like you and Daddy.”
I want to hold the promises, that mantra I keep repeating to our sons “God always keeps his promises,” I say. And I believe it. Here in all the change, my life placed on a ball hurled out into the chaos. Will we flourish in the spinning?
“You’re on the verge of a miracle / Just waiting to be believed in…”
How much of the miracle is simply discovering my own belief?
“Open your eyes and see…” Rich whispers.
Yes, I say and stand in the quiet for a while. Then I turn and walk back down the trail, arms out, palms open to the sky.