bittersweet days

Today, J and I tried to rearrange our bedroom furniture. I feel a lot of trauma around the physical space of our home – especially our bedroom and bathroom – and I was hoping for a new perspective (a new position for sleep, a new origin for new days, a new vantage point from which to see my life). It didn’t work. Our 1920s cottage, replete with dozens of windows and oddly shaped rooms, doesn’t allow for variation. Our furniture fits here, but only one way. That’s part of the charm of the place. It’s part of what we fell in love with. It’s okay, and it really is okay. New perspectives are coming all on their own. It would have been nice, but it’s okay that it didn’t happen.

Yesterday, we took a day trip to a lovely city nearby, a place we visit a few times each year. It’s a small city with an urban university, which reminds us of the town we lived in when we fell in love. There’s a Jewish deli there (knish with hot mustard is a new weakness), and an independent movie theatre, and blocks and blocks worth of downtown strolling. This visit was an attempt at perspective too. I think I thought that, if we got out of our town, I might find myself relieved of some of the weight of these past weeks. That’s what usually happens. What happened this time is that I was able to see how broken I am. Physically. Emotionally. I discovered how much my capacity to move through the world has been diminished. Or if not diminished, then changed. I think it’s good for me to see these things. I think the fact that I’m starting to notice means I’m strong enough to notice. And it wasn’t a bad day. These realizations are painful, but not horrifically so. We’re through that part of it.

There was even a good deal of joy. We found a restaurant, a place with all the things I love: It was small and cozy. It had several exposed brick walls with suspended artwork, and exposed pipes along the ceiling. The bathroom had thick paper towels in a small basket by the sink. The chairs were wooden and rickety. The food was local and ethical. The had a farfalle dish with kale pesto, which I plan to make all the time now (because…kale pesto). I had a delicious glass of zinfandel. It was a sweet dinner. There’s a new thing about sweetness, though, which is that now it’s always bittersweet. Joy never comes unaccompanied by the weight of grief. I’m learning what that feels like. i don’t think it’s going anywhere any time soon. And there are whole ways in which it deepens joy. I feel like I’ve been let in on that secret.

There’s also something new about the way emotions make me feel. Like in Hemingway’s In Our Time, in the second “Big Two-Hearted River” story, when Nick tries to reel in the too-big trout, and it breaks his line, and he has to sit down because the excitement has been too much. I feel a little like Nick. I have to sit down a lot. The feelings – joy, sorrow, grief, gratitude, expectation – are all a little too big. I’m learning to navigate that. I guess it’s the rawness of grief. I feel a step away from inconsolable lots of the time. I rarely get there, but it takes guardedness, caution, calm. I hold myself in that state because when I don’t, my reactions are too much for me to take. I let go when I can, but most of the time, there’s a tension.

I think this is all okay. J and I are moving. Not moving on, or even moving through, but maybe moving with all of this. We’re learning how to be these new people as we become them. And we’re preparing things for our next child: Her body this time. Our second child. I am so grateful for this. My body isn’t strong enough now, but if I had to, I would try. And it would hurt me. There were times when her female body was a painful thing in terms of our reproduction. Now it’s a shimmering blessing.

There are so many of those. I had a healing phone call last night with a friend I hadn’t talked to yet. She has her own suffering. Her own unknowns. Her own strength. Our friendship is of comfort. I came home to an e-mail from another friend. She wrote about the simple joys of her new life in a new state. About rain after snow and a squirrel’s nest. There’s so much life, and lots of room for bittersweet joy. It’s not Emmett, but it’s not nothing.

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