June was insane. I finished a draft of my third novel by writing every day for thirty days, no excuses, including weekends (I logged about 40,000 words). During ten of those days, my husband was singing in California, leaving me to parent our 12, 13, and 14-year-old on my own (read: forage for brightly colored foods like pop ice and cheese and binge-watch old episodes of House while the kids played too many video games when they should have been sleeping).
(Photo by my son, Ivan)
By the time my husband finally came home in early July my youngest sister and her three kids were already visiting our home to celebrate Independence Day. Then, suddenly, my grandmother passed away, and my middle sister and her three kids drove thirteen hours to join the rest of us during that hard time. The last seven days are a smear of lipstick and tears.
And, to quote Sarah Mclachlan, I’m so tired that I can’t sleep.
A few things come to mind: 1). Life happens in contractions. There’s the normal we get bored of and there’s the pain we resent. 2). We don’t appreciate the respite without the strain in-between, and 3). You can still get a lot of stuff done in chaos, but you’re always glad when you managed to work ahead and can somewhat avoid that I-can’t-feel-my-feet feeling.
And then there’s this. God is always good, even when life isn’t.
As I type, my daughter lies sleeping next to me. We’ve been up since 5:00 A.M, stuffed stray shoes in backpacks, filled coffee mugs one last time, because my sister and her kids left to return to their home in VA while our town still slept. They were with us for over a week, a blessing we didn’t anticipate because we hadn’t counted on the winter storm that painted our city and theirs in clean, thick white. We couldn’t have been more pleased.
We did a lot in our eight days of togetherness–a little homework, a lot of Netflix watching, video game playing, late night giggling, drawing, even poetry reading. We took turns cooking our favorite comfort foods and tossing paper plates and napkins into a continually popping fireplace. We stared at one another’s messy hair and naked eyes and smiled comfortable smiles.
We are rich in family.
I told all six kids that after they’d piled into one room to spend their last night together. Rich as Croesus. Not everyone is. And just like with material wealth, those who live in abundance should seek out those who don’t, in order to bless them in small or big ways. My prayer is that some of what filled our house this week will spill over into other lives that intersect ours–to pay it forward, somehow.
In the meantime, I’ll keep warm this winter from inside out, my heart stoked with the orange embers of sister love.
My sister is coming to visit tomorrow, and it’s at just the right time. It’s always at the right time–one I can hardly plan and didn’t know I needed until after she arrives. Then she parks the van, and the kids tumble out, and I realize I almost wasn’t making it before but that I didn’t know it.
And then I feel that jolt, you know the one, when you jerk in bed because you think you’re falling off the edge, and your heart is left racing at something that never happened.
Sometimes my heart races when she and I are sipping coffee in my kitchen because, what if she hadn’t come right when she did? But then I tell myself it’s just a bad dream. Because she always comes when I need her.
I wake up to a fast heart because there are minutes over coffee that I’ve already wasted,
and I can’t remember what day it is.
So I hurry on a wrinkled cardigan I grabbed off the floor (I’ve stopped picking up around here),
and I find you in the middle of the kitchen, with crazy hair and childhood eyes, and
you’re sipping my memories with careful lips.
You see that my face is blotchy, that I look like something from the future, but I don’t mind,
Because my future will have you in it, and we’ll sink together as we listen to
Dvorak and watch Wheel of Fortune, in three of those gliding chairs.
Sister, me, sister. Each a perfectly good reason to take a writing break.
We have family staying with us for several days. There are sisters and kids everywhere, lots of goodness and extra pairs of shoes by the back door. Since I’ve been out of sync with my routines for weeks now, I’m tempted to get antsy when I think of the days ahead, though I love each person under my roof.
I’m tempted, I say, but I’m determined not to give in to the feeling. Because I’m understanding, more and more, that life is just a handful of breaths–and that God and people are the only real things when it all comes down.
Routines should serve us and not the other way around. So the thing I’m going to do this week, if I don’t do anything else, is to look my people in the eye. I’m going to be here, listening and remembering, not writing my novel in my mind, or grumping about the watercolor days.
I will stay awake.
This morning I returned to earth at 9:21 a.m. The sounds of a made-in-the-eighties cartoon pressed through the doors of my bedroom, elbowing past the hum of my floor fan, and tapped my subconscious on the shoulder. One of the dogs had curled himself next to me, wedging me on my side. I suppose it was my tingling right arm that brought me back in the end. I felt for the dog’s back and pushed him over, sitting up halfway. I blinked away eleven hours.
The first day of getting back to things.
It has been eighteen days since I’ve truly slept, paid attention to the kids, written, or been quiet for that matter. I’m worn. Every day I’ve spent with family (first husband’s, then mine) has been a gift. I am reminded that, other than my faith, my family is really all I need in the end. And if I had the choice to surround myself with my sisters and their children on a more permanent basis, I would. I’d wrap them around me like a mink coat, aware of the luxury.
But I am a girl who longs for quiet, who craves routine. These things are important for my long-term survival. I’m ready to slip back into the familiar warp and weft of my life, such as it is. Ready for the odd moment of fruitful nothing.
Husband leaves for Africa next week so life won’t be strictly normal in the days to come. But I will spend many night hours staring and thinking hard and writing when he’s gone. When he arrives home he’ll recognize me. I’ll have put myself back together, one word at a time, and returned to earth for a longer stay.