I woke this morning and watered the garden. I nurtured the trees. I walked around the house caring for the plants in every room. Even your old room, where plants never used to grow. There is one there now. It sits bravely in the corner where you hid out for years. I have changed this room. I have brightened it, opened it up to all. I have painted bookshelves and created a semi-circle of inclusion, arraying the furniture around the family portrait taken on that long-ago day. The very same day that our son was born.
I sat in my chair, directly across from where your chair used to be. But now, instead of facing a dark corner, I am looking at the picture that was taken by a photo journalist on Easter morning.
Somehow, I had managed to get both the girls into their Easter dresses, white gloves, and hats at 5:30am. I had put on the prettiest dress I owned and a hat, despite the ache of our son’s weight bearing down on me.
I wanted us to be something we were not. The gloves, the hats, you wearing slacks at 6am. Was that one of the signs that you loved me? The slacks at 6am? Instead of kissing me was that what you did instead?
The photographer froze my image mid contraction. I am looking down, breathing through it, and our oldest has placed her hand on my stomach, on her brother. You are holding our youngest daughter; both of your faces are obscured. Only the blackened bottoms of her sandals show. And your hands, holding her firmly.
I have always loved your hands. Strong and capable and secure. The wedding ring that you have not worn for a long, long time shines from the tight grip you have on our daughter.
Our faces are obscured. Our sadness is hidden from view by hats and gloves and your wedding ring.
The picture had been posted on the front page of the newspaper the next day. We had no idea that we had been photographed. It was the next day that the nurses came in laughing, the front page of that section opened to our family. We looked at it over the head of our newborn and we smiled at the nurses. I remember wanting so badly for that picture to be a symbol that things would be better. That we would be, what I wanted us to be, and not what we had become.
Later, that night, as the hospital slept, I picked up the paper and as it always goes, I saw clearly in the dark. I could see that the edges of the photo contained the fantasy and that outside those borders, lay the reality that I couldn’t understand. So, pushed it aside, and held our newborn, brushing my lips over his beautiful head, breathing in the scent of hope.
I got up and I watered the first plant to survive in your old room. I moved onto the others in the next room. The orchids and the vines in the front window. The ferns and the rubber plants, their vibrancy filling me with their energy. Lastly, in the corner, tall and slender, her stalk too thin to keep her upright, is the first plant you ever bought me and I think the last.
I remember your small smile when I told you that her name was Stacy and feeling your eyes on me as I placed her on top of the TV cabinet you bought for me. That little apartment, the one I could barely afford as a single mom, looked so real to me with my first ever brand-new piece of furniture, and Stacy sitting proudly on top.
Now she sits on the floor, too tall for the top of anything. Stacy reaches for the sky though she is root bound. She is 19 years old. She bends and folds when it gets windy and I am afraid that when I do find the courage to replant her, that she will not come out of the pot, her soil so hardened. She has become used to making do with what she has. Will she die if I try to change that? Even, if what I am offering her is better and healthier and new?
This morning I wanted to go upstairs and lie in bed with you. Snuggle up to your back and whisper boo on that small mole on your back that looks like a ghost. I wanted to draw silent letters on your back like I used to, my breath a whisper on your neck, my breasts pushed against your broad back. I’d whisper, guess. Your deep voice would rumble out the right answer every time.
I miss you.
I love you.
Why wasn’t I enough?
I can’t do that, though. And I couldn’t have done that even when you were here because you slept in your chair or on the couch in your room downstairs. The space around you growing smaller each day until finally it held just a table, a TV, your remote, and you. The wall around you let no sunlight in. Or questions. Or concerns. The TV lights flickered on your face of stone. You sat, just under the portrait, turned away, your back to what we were. What we had.
I want my family back. The hope and the promise that is contained in that portrait from so long ago. I want to feel as if things will get better. That your bitter words and their definitions of me will change and that you will come, your strong hands knocking at the door that you once had a key to…and that I would open that door to a face full of remorse and longing for me. For our family. For us.
I want that so bad that my days scroll through the hours, my tasks, my conversations are all a montage and the song playing as my life rolls by makes me yearn for you.
But, the you I want, is not the you, that you are.
You tell me that you gave me your all and I ache so bad that I feel as if I will split open like rotted fruit and ooze out all my wasted flesh.
I want to howl. If your all was the words that you have left me, the silences, the curl of disgust on your lips when your hand or hip accidentally brushed mine. If your all, was the wall that you built around your corner in the family room, just under the portrait–if that was your all, then I built a whole life based on a dream destination and now I am left with a mirage.
Wanting your love, hoping for your love, begging for your love with each packed lunch and hot dinner. I thought, that someday would come. So, I ignored so much of our every day.
I lay on the couch that you used as a bed and your smell is gone. I am trying to find the signs, the gestures, the lights at the horizon to find my way. But I am drowning in a sea of sorrow and regret.
I want to wake up with you next to me. The promise of the day like shafts of sunlight on my face and I want to roll over and write on your back…
My heart doesn’t know how to let go of my hopes and dreams and goals for our future. My heart doesn’t know how to stop loving you. It never understood how to do that no matter how cruel you were. Instead, my heart stopped loving me, so it could conserve all its energy to continue loving and hoping and withstanding you.
My heart has made-do for so long that I am not sure it can survive this replanting.