It’s like I closed my eyes for two minutes. Maybe it was just a blink. I swear, it couldn’t have been that long. Fall came and went. My daughter now too old to be taken door to door by her mother, made plans to trick-or-treat with friends. Did we even buy a pumpkin this year? I don’t think so.
And then Thanksgiving came and went. Just another nondescript day where I willed myself not to work. Willed myself to take a holiday. Willed myself to not let the grey sense of purposelessness settle into the cracks of a daughterless day.
It was a good day, a day like any other. At least that’s what I told myself.
But often when I spend holidays alone, it starts off good but I can almost feel the gloom edging in from the horizon. Like if I don't keep really clear, if I don't stay the course and keep focused, it might catch up to me. Not just the not-having-Isabelle thing, but also the loss of my family of origin. The pervasive groundlessness of being orphaned in this world. So strange how I can go 364 days without missing them at all, and then a holiday shows up, and I feel the loss of them, like something that aches in my bones. On one hand, it's incredibly free and liberating to be a free-wheeling gypsy in this world, but there's another part of me that wishes I had roots, that wants to belong. Deeply.
And I know, I know, I know... I belong to my daughter. I will always belong to her. And for that I am so grateful. Sometimes, there's just that little piece that sneaks in, the piece of me that wants to be a child, that wants to have parents that love her, that wants to be watched over. So, on alone-holidays, I wrestle with the old ghosts and with the reality of watching my daughter move more and more into her own life. It's good and beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time.
So, I sat and I counted breaths. And then I watched the clock and told myself, "Just a few more hours and the sun will go down. Just a few more hours and then you can sleep. Just a few more hours and it'll be over with."
This year was, by far, the easiest of any of them. I had my piano. I felt physically good. I live in a house that I love. And I have people in my life that I love deeply.
“Do you want to watch Elf tonight?” she asked. The tree was up, and our house smelled like Christmas. All the outward signs that this was a valid request, yet I struggled with that question. Didn’t we just watch that movie? How could a year fit in the slip of time that had barely passed?
I couldn’t do it. Not yet. Not that night. I couldn’t bring myself to give permission to the passing of twelve entire months. Wasn’t it just sunny? Hadn’t we just gone to Back to School night?
Time is passing too quickly and I feel like I haven’t been present enough, not still enough to witness it. It’s like I want to dig my heels in and lean back, the way my dog does when she wants to stop, railing against the leash line so that she can smell some fascinating lump of dirt.
That’s what I want to do.
I want to linger in those first days at our new house, those days when it was hot as hell outside and we were so eager, relieved, grateful.
I want to go back and re-live entire days in slow motion. Like that day that we packed up to go to Big Sur. The day we planned to go to that concert where we didn’t have tickets. The one where my daughter and I stood outside the gate hoping that they’d allow us in. Yes, I want to live that day again and again. Or the ones spent camping. Or the one where I learned how to lay on a trampoline. Or the ones spent watching the sun sink into the Pacific, while soaking in hot water. And all of the hours spent reading poetry, or listening to it read aloud to me. Those are burned into my heart. And yet, I still want to keep them. Relive them inch by inch.
All those dark mornings, bulletproof coffee in hand, spent chatting with my girlfriends. Always with that cackling coven of coyotes echoing up through the vineyard, sending chills up my spine. All those countless hours, until the roosters spattered and coughed and until the sky started to turn pink and then blue, spent nerding out the details and nuances of things that might matter only to us. The intricacies of the written word, the shared heartaches of living a semi-public life, the moments of private desperation, humiliation and tragedy. To have friends like that, the ones who are taken to their knees right along with you, yet never stop believing that things will be okay — those moments. Those hours. I want to keep.
I want to take every sunset walk with my daughter and put them in a bottle. I want to take every drive to school, every conversation we’ve had and put them all in a box. I want to take every time we said, “I love it here” and write it on a green sticky note and wallpaper the now black, winter vineyard, bringing it alive with our love notes. I want to keep all these memories, these moments, safe.
So I guess looking back, I can’t say that I’m glad that 2016 is over with because I don’t even really feel like I fully inhabited that year. And yet, there are so many moments that changed me, shaped me. There are so many minutes that I want to wrap in linen and pack in wooden boxes, carefully protecting them from the onslaught of time. Of forgetting.
And also, I need to shift my attention to the coming year. These next weeks, minutes, months. I must look forward and inward so that this year might be lived at a pace that doesn’t make me dizzy. So that these next moments hold their infinite worth and depth.
Because, no matter what, I refuse to spend even one more second, blindfolded and sleepwalking.