I don’t ever remember anyone telling me about this kind of agony; not the physical hardship of the contractions that moved across my body like the ocean tide at sunset, but the bottomless sorrow that can creep in later, when the child that has been delivered forsakes you. There was plenty of mention of childbirth’s pangs, with an impression that once the labor and delivery part came to rest, that everything would cease to be so wrought with pain. It wouldn’t be easy, so to speak, but children are a blessing, I was told, and worth all the heartache that would come knocking at my door.
No one told me there could be so much grief, as if I am ripping my heart, muscle strand by strand, from the inside out, and leaving them to dry in the sun while I feel them disintegrate. No mention that as children grow into young adulthood and try on their independence, that sometimes they try other, worrisome things, too, and it leaves you in a free fall with each other where neither of you has a grasp on how to make it work. It becomes a battle of wills and miscommunication, when boundaries are breeched day after day, the walls closing in on the two of you, tighter and tighter, until you can’t even be in the same home because it is so painful, the dysfunction, that the only thing that gives respite is distance, but even that doesn’t always feel enough.
There was never a parent that said, ‘hey, this may not work out at all’. Perhaps I just never encountered parents like myself, who feel that they have, over and over, done everything that they could, albeit imperfectly at times and with identified fault, yet still come up so short that there is no room for repair. Even when I know that some of the choices my child makes are a direct commentary on the life she has chosen, I feel wracked with endless guilt, quiet anger, and a never-ending sense of failure that is large enough to carry us both. But it is not polite conversation to admit that our children, those beautiful images of our hopes and dreams for the future packed into mirror resemblances of ourselves, can also be the reflections of our insecurities, blunders, and the nightmares of our tomorrow.
No one ever tells you how much you can mourn someone who is still flesh, bone, and blood, but whose spirit feels cold and empty when you approach. I’ve heard of no parenting class where they tell how you about the moments when you feel that maybe you’ve gotten things to a better place, only to have them implode, with your heart catching the soundwave and crumbling under its force.
There is no time when anyone pulls you aside and says, ‘it can feel like your child is living and dead at the same time, and you can mourn everyday while still taking the time to live, breathe, laugh, and love.’ They don’t explain how horrible it feels to feel any goodness while you silently tear tiny pieces of your soul and toss them to the wind, because yes, you can still live. But that existence feels hollow and bereft of the magic it would have if you were whole, if your relationship was intact and not a slowly dying orchid, the petals drying to crisp invisibility, the roots slowly shriveling even though it still looks alive and capable.
How you carry everything you said or did in the pockets of your memory, and you sift through wandering and wishing for the right words you didn’t have to give at the time. You replay the arguments, the struggles, the moments where maybe you could have found middle ground if the earth itself had not fallen out from beneath your feet. You see all of it, the picture reel in your mind rotating images of her first breath, giggling, going to school, growing, becoming, and now distant, bitter, angry, sad, and capable of hurling words so sharp that they tear you to pieces without ever revealing the cuts.
You wander how you can continue to exist despite losing this part of yourself, her cells intertwined throughout your body, imbedded in the fabric of your nuclear existence, all screaming out that this isn’t the way it was supposed to be: it shouldn’t be this hard, this punitive, so full of anguish, and burdened by desolation, because you can never just be only yourself, ever again. The fingerprints of her life cover your heart and soul, the narrow whorls forever claiming the pieces of yourself you had to sacrifice for her existence.
But no one ever told you.
Reflections of a woman spawned in a cement cocoon...