forty

"it walked out of the light"

There are advantages to aging, my friends tell me. Think of all the stupid little things you no longer worry about. I nod and laugh, but I wonder if this is true. It doesn’t seem to me as though I have let anything go.

I meet my friend at the bar I haven’t been to in some time. The menu has changed. The bartender. I ask this new one about his predecessor. “Gone,” he says. “I’m the only guy here.” I explain to him that the old bartender – we’ll call him Ken – would see me through the glass door on my way in and start mixing my cocktail. He nods slowly. “But what if you wanted something else, you know, for a change?” I have no way to answer this so I just laugh out loud instead.

It’s not really true, what I say about Ken. He’d always ask as I sat down. Why would I lie?

It’s still a few minutes before E. arrives. When she gets there, we hug. We talk about writing projects. Things we are reading. We talk about aging. I tell her of my resistance. My childish insistence on denying its realities.

“I don’t know why I am fighting this,” I tell her. “I think I should embrace it.”

“You are supposed to learn to love it,” she says. “Love your pain, love your struggle.” She spreads her arms out wide to demonstrate.

“I feel like I am just angry all the time,” I say.

“Maybe you can learn to love that, too?”

My mother was forty-two when she married. Forty-five by the time I arrived, a pre-packaged, fully-formed toddler. Had she given birth to me, it would have been at forty-two, the age I will turn this fall. It is difficult to imagine having a child now. Not only the physical demands pregnancy and childbirth would make on the body, but that sense of starting again. Of such intense attention and care. Of being completely consumed by the endless tasks of early parenting, the constant vigilance, the sleeplessness. Those early months of being beholden to the needs of this small creature with whom there is no reasoning, for whom there are no real boundaries of time or between bodies. I am very aware of infants when I see them – out walking or traveling. In restaurants and parks. I am drawn to their smallness, the stab of nostalgia for a particular kind of fantasy of motherhood, but I also feel such relief. Not me, I think. Not me.

And yet the fact of it – that I might no longer be able to choose not to have a child, that my body will in fact render such questions irrelevant – is a bit of a blow. Like the early waking, like the constant irritation, like the heaviness I feel in myself, it is an undeniable reminder that my body is changing, has in fact always been changing. That from the moment of my birth has been marching me toward its inevitable conclusion. I am not yet ready to love this.

The year I turned forty, I found myself pulsing white hot. I was alive to my body, attuned to its desires in ways that were startling, unsettling. I was a raw animal, an exposed nerve. Fierce hungers. I explained this to a friend of mine who laughed and said, “Oh that is just your body’s last gasp before menopause.” I was unable to speak to her for days.

I tell my friend that I am going to try to embrace the struggle. Love it, as E. suggests. “Why would you do that,” she asks. “I have always known you to be a fighter. Why give up now?”

I suppose it might be a fair question, but also not an uncomplicated one. “Maybe I’m tired?”

“No. You are the most tireless woman I know,” she says. This strikes me as the kindest thing she could have said. Something I did not know I needed to hear.

The year before I turned forty, I met a writer – an older man who had recently retired from decades of high school teaching – and we maintained a sporadic correspondence for a few months after the seminar we had been in together ended. I expressed to him some of my earliest anxieties about turning forty. Some weeks later, a book arrived from him. It was called Forty: The Age and the Symbol, written by an anthropologist about the cultural invention of the so-called midlife crisis. It traced the traditional and mythological meanings of the number forty, and scanned literary and historical texts for the appearance of the number, the symbol. Assembled the references and evidence to conclude that our understanding of it – the number, the age – has changed over time and will continue to. Intended, I think, to provide some relief to the middle-aged. To suggest that maybe these years of mid life are not so limiting as we might think.

I thanked this friend for sending it, pointed out all that I found interesting and notable in it. I did not tell him that the book did nothing to explain the madness I felt living in my own skin.

In Anne Carson’s “The Glass Essay,” the speaker is struggling through the end of a love affair. She visits her mother and her ailing father and reads Emily Bronte. She describes a series of visions that come to her while she attempts to make meaning of this time. There are thirteen visions in all. The piece concludes with the last of these. I read it as a kind of passing from the fierce clutch of a thing to perhaps what might be an embrace:

I saw a high hill and on it a form shaped against hard air.

It could have been just a pole with some old cloth attached,
But as I came closer
I saw it was a human body

trying to stand against winds so terrible that the flesh was blowing off
the bones.
And there was no pain.
The wind

was cleansing the bones.
They stood forth silver and necessary.
It was not my body, not a woman’s body, it was the body of us all.
It walked out of the light.

all that glitters

I had a lovely childhood friend, E., whose father was a florist. For my thirteenth birthday, he sent me flowers. At that time (perhaps even still?) the delivery of flowers seemed magical. An unexpected delight appearing at your doorstep – fragrant, beautiful, lush. I received many gifts that year, I am certain, but those flowers appearing as if summoned from a dream garden somewhere, were the best gift of all on that day.

We found each other, after decades, online of course, our social networks possessing their own seemingly magical qualities. I feel such pure moments of happiness when I see the tiny digital images of him and his partner on some beach somewhere, looking tan and happy. Seeming joyful, at peace. For all its myriad complexities, this – getting to see someone you care for, happy – is one pure gift of the internet. And at least for today, I will not interrogate that particular joy any further.

So I am a crier. I cry all the time. I cry at mayonnaise commercials. At greeting cards. In movies. At the theatre. In the line at the grocery store. Over drinks. Over breakfast. I have wept in every coffee shop in a 5-mile radius, I sometimes joke. But this is not untrue. It has gotten worse as I have gotten older. My friend P. says she is the same.

I blame it on forty, and I wish sometimes that it were not the case, for example, driving into work this morning, stopped at a traffic light, fishing around in my glove box for a clean tissue. It is inconvenient, I think, to be so – emotional. Surely, there was a time before this year, these recent years, where I could get through a day without touching up my eyeliner furtively at my desk?

I know women who don’t cry – they get angry, P. says. She tells the story of a woman who smashed beer bottles against a stone. I would like to be like that, once in a while, I say. I would like to feel the thrill of that kind of physical exertion.

At home one afternoon, I assemble some empty jam jars and salad dressing bottles and prepare to bring them out to the backyard, out on the brick patio. But then I think about all the broken glass and how tedious it would be to clean. How we would find shards of glass out there in the spring when we run out barefoot. I can’t muster the energy. I put the jars back in the recycling bin. With crying, at least, there is little to clean up except oneself.

So, there is E., childhood-internet-flower-sending E., and there are others, too. My grade-school friends I loved so dearly. Even a couple – but only a couple – lovely ones from high school that I do genuinely wish I had been able to keep up with better over the years. We are all scattered though, all across the country, with our lives and our lovers and our children. Our careers. Our passions.

It has only been recently that I have embraced the idea of celebrating my birthday beyond a few close friends, family. As an adoptee, there has always been something unsettling about the annual reminder that what is known for others, is unknown for me. That the date itself has been estimated – assigned. I tell the stories sometimes, of the births of each of my children – mostly because I was so fortunate, the labors short and deliveries easy, relatively speaking. I cannot help but be curious about my own birth. Did I enter the world quickly, eagerly, impatiently, as my son did? Or was I tentative, holding back?

Two years ago, though, when I turned 38, I decided to celebrate. I rented out a movie theatre and projected video games on the big screen. I invited everyone I knew – people I had been friends with for years and some I had just recently met. I made it a family event, so we could all be together, and made – crazily, compulsively – 400 cupcakes in the week before. It was lovely, but exhausting. By the time the day came, I was – truth be told – a little tightly-wound.

After that party, and the scale of it, I started to imagine what I might do for forty. I envisioned something grand – a ballroom, perhaps. Dancing. I stopped short of releasing doves from the rooftop, but really, I was embarrassingly close to that. Even then, the idea of forty had started to take hold in my imagination – looming and growing the proportions of myth.

The thing with having all these people – the ones you are glad to have re-connected to as well as the ones for whom the reemergence is perhaps more complicated – is that you reveal yourself to be something of a hoarder. As if to say to an uncaring universe: Look at all the people who love me. I will keep them close to me, enumerate them, line them up, holding hands. See now: Let us count how many times they can encircle the earth.

I have already had more celebrations this year than one person should be allowed, by law I think, to enjoy. And there are still more ahead.

In my vision of the ballroom party, what I imagined is that it would be that evening, that one magical evening, which would reveal all the love and all the good wishes of the people around me. That it would make me feel something. That it would make me feel loved, celebrated. Whole.

Of course, what I am learning, what I am trying so hard to learn, is that it is rarely the big, showy moments, the large dramatic events, that reveal much. It is instead, those small quiet moments that I tend to overlook, that I take for granted: when, after a meeting, P. says, want to get some lunch? And when J. stops by the office, just to drop off a gift. And when W. sends a postcard written in her own beautiful hand. And when I run into M. on the street and we stand there, talking on the corner while the light turns from red to green and back again. The hundreds of moments, the thousands of beautiful, perfect fleeting moments that shout out love! - if only I would listen.

So, the party: No disco ball, no doves. No cupcakes. No ballroom. Just a little place to gather, for friends to come by. To share a drink and maybe a little dancing. A quick chat if the music is not too loud. And yes, I’ll probably cry. I’ll blame it on my age.

I am holding on to the tiara, though. The one I bought at the party store with the flashing lights and “40” in glitter. That I’m keeping, so don’t even try to take it away from me.

in the company of mothers

I meet my long-time friend L. for breakfast. “Please tell me,” she says, as she slides into the booth, “that you are not in crisis.”

I laugh. “I’m not,” I assure her. She sets her bag down and adjusts her sweater, says, “Oh, good, because everyone else around me is.”

“You missed all my crises,” I tell her. “I’ve already had mine without you. You were gone all summer. I couldn’t wait.” We laugh. She orders tea. She has a complicated life and she fills me in on the various turns of it.

I have not seen her in months. I realize as she is speaking how much I have missed her. She reports on the people in her life, people we both know. Of jobs lost. Of a divorce. Of difficulties with her children. “It’s been a challenge,” she says, “the summer was not easy.”

“But tell me about you,” she says, as she folds her napkin and sets it down on the table. “How have you been?”

I have known L. for years. Our paths crossed through an organization where I worked part-time for a few months during college. I sat next to her at lunch at a meeting one day and we started talking. I had no idea, of course, what she would come to mean to me.

How she would tell me, in the quiet dark booth of the deli a mile from her house, about the child she was made to give up for adoption.

How she would tell me the stories of her own adopted children. How I would come to watch them grow, witness them, at a distance, in their own fierce struggles.

How she was searching for her daughter. How she said she would never stop searching.

How during the long process of my divorce, I went to her. She made us tea and we sat in her kitchen and looked out on the bay. A lawyer by training, she drew up a checklist of things to ask for. What’s in the best interest of your daughter, she said.

How before I left for Korea, she called me and told me how loved I was.

How she told me that she had found her daughter when she found her. How I was happy for her - so happy - but also a little scared about losing her.

How during some difficult days of my marriage, I sought refuge there. She was kind, but direct. You already know the answer, she said. There are things you have no right to expect, she said.

After our plates have been cleared and we linger there with our cups, I tell her about the past several months. My struggles with 40. When I get to the part about realizing how much I wanted to be found, her eyes well up with tears and she reaches her arms out across the table to put her hands on mine.

In this moment, I look at her, the tears in her eyes, the kindness of her face, her arms outstretched, the strength in her hands as they clasp mine. My god, I think, and I can feel something hard in my throat as my own eyes fill. I have spent my whole life wanting mothers, and there are mothers all around me.

I think about my aunt, of course. Her utter devotion. From before my mother’s own illness, how she stepped in to fill the gap that my mother’s absence left. How she mothers me still. In every possible way.

About A., who I met in my first job after college. How she mentored me, cared for me. Brought me into the lives of her own children, who were not too far from me, in age. On weekends, she would cook for me and we’d spend the days together. How careless I was with her. I can no longer remember the circumstances that precipitated our falling out, but I remember being angry and petulant. Ungrateful.

About the women who have given me things that I have needed, have led me to the lessons I have needed to learn. About B.’s mother, who reached out to me, even after the divorce.

About M.’s mother, who writes me letters to tell me that I am like a daughter to her. Who took us in, my daughter and me, as if we were her own all along.

And L., about dear, dear L. who has been, for so much of my adult life, a constant, steadfast presence. Who I know I can call when I don’t know where to turn. On whom I have come to rely for a kind of clear-sighted, hard-won wisdom. One that does not judge. One that wants only what is in my own best interest.

The waitress comes by with coffee pot in hand, then hesitates and walks on as she sees us, our cheeks wet with tears, our arms locked.

Outside the restaurant, L. and I embrace. I have told her that I have come to understand the longing. That I am learning to manage it. Like a chronic illness, I say. Learning to live with it. That is good, she says, that is right. There are questions you will never be able to answer. We all have them. You learn to manage them. You learn how to manage it all.

The morning is bright and cool. I hold my car keys in my hand as we stand out on the sidewalk and talk for a few minutes longer. I don’t want to let her go this morning. We hug again.

“You are doing well,” she says. “You are doing just fine.” Let’s not let so much time pass next time, before we do this again, she says.

She tells me she is proud of me. She tells me that she loves me. And as I walk back to the parking lot, holding back new tears, I believe her.

I believe her.

all night, I dream of water

I dream of water, of floating. The water is dark, but I am not afraid. My mother takes my hand, walks us out into the lake, until the water is up to her waist. She lifts me up, holds her arms out under me. Put your head back, she says, close your eyes.

She says, close your eyes, but I keep them open so I can see the sky. Vast, blue, cloudless. There are people all around us – splashing, shouting – but for this moment, there is just the blue of the sky, the quiet lapping of the water beneath me and all around me.

There is just the blue sky and the water beneath me. And my mother’s arms, holding me there, floating. 

a little red bag

I began this project at a time that was fraught – a time that I was searching. The idea of turning forty hit me hard – harder than expected. I was looking for a way to make some sense of it, to catalog the days – to help me find my way.

So today, on the eve of the day when it all turns over, here’s something it has taken me nearly forty years to learn:

You spend your whole life – every hour of every day in one way or another – wondering why, how it could be that you were not wanted enough to be kept. And how once you were lost, why you are still – all these years later – not wanted enough to be found. And that question – that very question – that wakes you in a panic in the night; that casts a long dark shadow over anything you make or accomplish or try to be proud of; that leaves you feeling empty and alone even when you are surrounded by people who love you, who have dedicated their lives to loving you – that question has no answer.

You are asking the wrong question.

You are waiting for an answer that will never come.

Not from the parents who take you in, buy you sundresses and party shoes. Who applaud you, beaming, from the audience of your dance recitals, your spelling bees, your graduation speeches.

Not from the friends, who gather round you, send you letters and cards and notes. Who call you on the phone to talk you down from your fits of rage. Who take you out dancing when you are feeling sad.

Not from your husband. Who holds you while you cry in the night. Who covers you in a blanket when you are cold. Who brings you coffee in your favorite mug before you can ask. Who carries your fears with him in and out of your days. Days that are a whirlwind of carpools and music lessons and trips to the grocery store. Not even from him.

That answer – that one single answer – does not come. Will not come.

And so in the mornings, when you prepare yourself for the day ahead, you try to remember that the piece of you that feels missing will always feel that way.

And so, maybe - just maybe - fixing it is not something you have to address right away.

My mother used to tell this story: When I was in kindergarten, we lived about a half mile from the school I attended, and so she would walk up to meet me, and we’d walk back together. I was always happy, she said, coming from school, and we’d walk holding hands. Sometimes, I’d skip ahead. But as soon as we got in the door, I would cry for no discernable reason. We’d step inside, she’d close to door behind us, and I’d stand in the middle of the dining room, and cry. For several long minutes, I’d be inconsolable. She’d ask me if something happened at school. If I was hungry. If I was tired. “You didn’t answer. You’d just sob and sob,” she said, “like your little heart was broken.” This happened every day for about a month. “And then one day,” she said, “like whatever cloud had been following over you had finally passed, you stopped.”

A year ago, I was at a week-long professional seminar at a university with people from a number of different countries. One night, walking back to the dorms with a young man from Nigeria, he asked me about myself, about where I was from. I told him I was born in Korea, but had been adopted and grew up in New York. I gave him some more details about my life – where I lived now, my husband, my children. We were walking, the evening was warm. We were waiting at a stop light when he asked: “Why do you say that you were adopted?” His question took me aback. I hesitated, so he continued. “You had parents who raised you, right?” I nodded. “So you are not an orphan. You are many other things, but you are not an orphan. You should not identify yourself that way.”

Another kindergarten story: One day, we were told we could bring in a toy from home. Something that we would share with the class. Tell a story about it, why it was important to us. I had a red vinyl bag that I took to school with me – it looked like a little briefcase and it closed with a buckle. My mother: “We were getting ready to leave, and you said you were going to pack up your bag. You were in your room for a long time. You came out with your bag, and it was bulging. The buckle could barely close. As you got to the door, you dropped the bag, and everything you had packed in there came spilling out on the floor. Little pots and pans, your stuffed animals, your dolls, your books – you even had some ribbons and bits of fabric in there, your shoes – It looked like you had tried to pack everything you had in the world into that little red bag.”

All of this – these concerns and anxieties – of being lost, of wanting to be found, of never being loved enough, of a wound that will never fully heal – it is old music, it is tired, sad music, but it resurfaces over the years, at unexpected times, in unanticipated forms.

There are the expected moments, of course: When you get married. When you give birth to a child of your own. When your mother dies. Mostly, you know that these are coming. You can prepare yourself. You can surround yourself with the necessary care.

But there are the moments that are impossible to know, impossible to prepare for:

When you are walking on a warm night in Cambridge, with a fellow student you’ve just met and he asks you why you call yourself an orphan. And later, in your dorm room, you lie in bed and whisper the word “orphan” over and over again until it has no meaning at all.

When you read a book about a missing girl and the man who spends a decade trying to find her. And when he finds her – in another country, having traveled the world looking for her – he tells her that he has never stopped loving her, would never stop, would never quit.

When you see your child at the age you were, hear the language she uses to love you, see the ways in which she knows you – your voice, your face, your arms – how she follows you when you leave the room, if only for a moment.

Those moments leave you reeling, breathless. Make you come up short. Like you have run for a very long time but know that you still have very far to go.

Forty is an important birthday, a colleague says to me, although we had started talking about other things. You shouldn’t waste it. “Use it to do the work you need to do,” he says. “Maybe lighten your load a little. You know, put it all down for a while.”

I think about my little red bag from kindergarten. All the little pots and pans. The stuffed dog. The spool of ribbon. The shoes I wore on the flight from Korea.

It is not as simple as that, of course. To empty one’s bags and live – unencumbered – in the present moment. To live forward, as the adoption literature suggests. But what is the journey of our lives if not to try, to keep trying, to fail miserably – utterly, completely – and then to try again.

Today seems as good a day as any for that. 

fossilized in rock

In a collection of excerpts from writers’ journals, I stumble upon Gretel Ehrlich – travel writer, poet – and I am moved by her explorations of love, loss, struggle, and the way she expresses the fullness of her life. In the spring of 1985 (her 39th year), she writes this:

 All these pent up lusts, passions, sorrows, rages at political corruption, corrosion of the spirit, unnecessary deaths, discriminations, impossible loves…what are these? Why do I collapse across my writing table, the sun full on me, the day spectacular, and cry? Why do I feel, not bored, but unused (in the best sense) by a society enslaved? Against mediocrity, against a society that refuses to find solutions to real problems, but only tinkers, whose ingenuity is restricted to the perpetuation of the frivolous…against this and against the living dead, the brain-dead, the dead-beats, the heartbeats that make no noise – what sharpness and number of swords could prick holes into the dogma of greed?

This – my journal, this project – has been, I have come to understand, a record of the struggle of my own 39th year. A year when the inward struggles come up squarely against the outward self. A kind of mid-point. Looking to the past, looking to the alternate possible present, to the future and its myriad unknowable manifestations – all the while, moving inexorably forward in the present moment.

And when the present moment is as luminous as it is (my own ample life, in all its richness, and here again, Ehrlich: “I don’t cry about my life, but cry because of its fullness.”) it is difficult not to want to dismiss the struggle.

But it is very much present.

I woke this morning early, so early, before even the suggestion of light, with the single thought: where does all the past love go?

And by love, I don’t mean romantic love, although certainly that is a part – but all the love – all the passions and rages and longings and imaginings – all the wishes and the worries that we have had for ourselves and for the people whose lives touched our own. All the energies we put into this person or that, or this cause or that. All the life force we have poured out of ourselves, into the lives of others – beautiful testaments as they are to our human capacity to feel deeply, to live fully – where does all that go?

Rick Bass, from his journal, “An Oilman’s Notebook: Oil Notes:”

Nothing can truly disappear. It can only be rearranged, so that it gives that appearance.

The hydrogen and carbon atoms are not smashed; they are not destroyed. Their form is merely altered.

It has something to do with fear, I think.

Fear that there will be a time when I will not remember what it was like to live with such intensity.

“I was once your age, I had those feelings too,” my mother used to say, as a way to preface some admonition, some prohibition that made me think quite the opposite: If you ever, ever felt this way, you would understand. And rather than admonish, you would give me comfort. And rather than forbid, you would coax my own wisdom from me. It cannot be possible: You were never, never my age.

Talking about one’s children makes it simple, wraps it all up in platitudes: “I don’t know where the time went.” “It all has gone by so quickly.” “Wasn’t it only yesterday,” and etc., etc., ad nauseum. In this way, we can talk with other people in acceptable ways. Not drive ourselves mad with probing, without trying to plumb our own depths, all while standing around with our salon manicures, dressed in corporate casual.

We don’t have to say, coffee in hand at the open house, picking at the cheese cubes with plastic tongs: This daughter of mine, in all her radiant beauty, as she opens up to the world, reminds me – in ways that I cannot fully articulate – that I am moving closer, each day, to my own death.

(Please don’t misunderstand: I am thankful for blessings such as these.)

I will admit it: I am nostalgic for those years when I walked around like an open wound. There was the feeling that something essential about who I was, who I was trying to learn how to become was right there – throbbing at the surface, waiting to be discovered.

And as the years went on, I learned to manage (with varying degrees of success, as anyone who has ever been close to me can attest) that level of vulnerability. As we all do. We learn to modulate our passions. To become in control. And of course, this is a necessary social imperative, to control one’s passions. But where, I can’t help but wonder, does that life force – that passion, that flame – go?

There is much more to say, but time, relentless, moves forward, and so I again turn to Gretel Ehrlich:

At every moment, we’re fractured this way, going toward death, then life, so there is, everywhere, a constant movement, a swelling and deflating, an urge to accommodate opposites. Life magnetizes death and death magnetizes life; we grapple at the edge of things, save ourselves though we don’t know it, thrash in the current, hold out compasses that do not give us true north, and leave behind only the beautiful, dunelike, evanescent ripples of each foray, fossilized in rock.

May these ripples, these bits of energy and pixels of light, leave a record of my journeys out. May they point me where I need to go. 

more, on forty

These are strange days.

This writing is a kind of waiting. Anticipation for the longer projects. For a time when I can see a path to something sustained, something that requires more of me than this lovely morning hour, before the light, before the press of the day has begun. 

This morning, the pre-light is blue, the air is cool. The house is so still, the men folk asleep in their beds.

These days are full of longing. How can I explain this longing?

I ask everyone who will speak to me: What was it like for you, turning 40?

Did it wrap you in a blanket of memory and desire?

Did it carry you in its teeth, shake you till you broke?

Did you weep, every day, nostalgic and wistful? 

Did your body glow with light, with desire? Did you tremble with wanting?

Did you make lists of the things you still wanted to do? This year, I will do this. And next year, this.

My friends send me words – books and letters and poems. They say: This, too, shall pass. They say: Hold on tightly.

And: You are in your power. Be there.

This does not feel like power.

This feels a little bit like madness, a little bit like fever. A little like the days as a storm moves in, the air crackling with what’s to come.

When I can manage it, when I can find the time and the focus, I am working on a collection of forty short pieces for this year of forty. This magical number forty. I say it over and over until the word itself loses meaning. Let it soak up meaning.

Let this waiting be a kind of meaning.

Forty days & forty nights

Forty weeks in the womb & we are blessed

Forty sons, forty daughters & forty tribes of thieves

Let a team of forty wild horses carry me home to you tonight. Give us forty years & forty more. 

I dream a highway back to you, love

I have Gillian Welch’s “I Dream a Highway” in my head this morning.

Oh I dream a highway back to you love

A winding ribbon with a band of gold
A silver vision come and rest my soul
I dream a highway back to you

I find myself hurtling toward 40, a time of reflection, of taking stock. I like to think that the “you” is a former, perhaps more authentic self. The self of youthful dreams and possibilities. A self that believed that more was possible than was not.

Through my adolescence, I wrote compulsively. I wrote short stories, poems, kept a journal with religious fervor. I wrote letters – long, meandering, blushingly raw letters – to everyone I loved. It did not matter if they wrote back; some never did. The act of putting pen to paper grounded me.

I send a letter, don’t know who I am

I dream a highway back to you.

In college, I was in love with a man who didn’t love me back. I wrote him letters and sent him my terrible poems. The impulse was to pour myself into him, to fill him with my words, my voice. I wrote myself into his life, imagined a life together. I chose not to see what I did not want to see.

I wish you knew me, Jack of Diamonds
Fire-riding, wheeling when I lead them up
Drank whiskey with my water, sugar with my tea
My sails in rags with the staggers and the jags

I dream a highway back to you.

I write to be heard, to be known. To claim space in the world. Even if only to one person at a time. Here, these words are for you. And these, too.

I’m an indisguisable shade of twilight

Any second now I’m gonna turn myself on

In the blue display of the cool cathode ray

I dream a highway back to you.

These months leading toward 40 have been strange and highly-charged. I am in a constant state of arousal – in every sense of the word. I am raw. An exposed nerve. I find myself crying at the post office, in line to buy stamps: I see a woman holding the hand of her toddler daughter, in a dress like my own daughter might have worn. Or, I see an elderly couple bickering softly in the grocery check-out. Or my son writes his name in big blocky letters beneath an outline of his own small hand.

What will sustain us through the winter?
Where did last year’s lessons go?

Sometimes, I think about what will happen next as if my life were not my own. As if some external force were shaping it, and I only had to keep showing up, moving along in the expected ways.

What will the winter hold? The next year? The next decade?

I don’t know, but I’m holding on.

Walk me out into the rain and snow
I dream a highway back to you.