Hello from Amtrak train 171, currently rolling through Virginia, carrying me to Starr Hill. Me, only me. Well, me and a few hundred other people, including a law student across the aisle asleep on her books, two women with small babies who met when they were seated together in front of me and seemed to enjoy themselves, and an older woman across from the with a cell phone in her hand, a blue tooth in her ear, and a small, fluffy dog in a stroller. A working dog, no doubt.
But no children of mine are on this train. It’s the first time I’ve left Jackalope overnight. She’s fourteen months old now, talking a tiny bit and walking a few steps at a go, climbing everything she can and half the time falling on her head. I set the Bean up with a flour measuring project at the table and turn my head for two minutes; she finds a chair, moves it across the room, climbs onto it, and somehow finds a measuring cup. “Jackalope! You’re not a food!” I hear the Bean say last week: she can apparently climb onto the table itself now. Still nursing and quite attached, so here’s hoping she (and Sugar) survive.
Here they are, for reference:
The Bean was quite pleased with his black hair.
I’m going because Starrhillgirl invited me, because I am losing my tiny mind, exhausted with work and kids and more work and then the rest of the work when they go to bed and then up with Jackalope half the night and then trying to do more work in the morning before I go to work. I couldn’t kick the flu the whole family had and finally went to see my doctor about it, who said, basically, your biggest health problems are exhaustion and stress. Just because I was asleep on the exam table when she walked in! And because I keep having panic attacks. What does she know, anyway?
So here I am, rolling South into the arms of Spring. This afternoon I’ve watched red embers of maple flowers and the nearly unseeable bright green willow whips in northern New Jersey become golden newborn oak leaves and globes of white pear trees and bursting pink cherry trees and electric purple magnolias. I’m just past Manassas now, and the rolling fields are green in that lush, assured way, even under grey skies. There is skunk cabbage in the woods, and glimpses of red dirt. Red dirt! Thank you, pathetic and irresponsible farming practices of the European invasion for hardwiring me for an emotional response to ruined soil.
It is likely I will be back through this part of the country or nearby in June, when I plan to take my mother’s car and drive home to Brooklyn from the Dumb Wedding, which I suppose I should make travel plans for. Not feeling any happier about that prospect than I was, but I do want the kids to know the extended family that is likely to attend. The whole thing just makes me weep with rage.
As does church, apparently, which is a pity, as I’ve always liked Easter services so much. This was the first year I’ve found myself jealous of Mary Magdalene. Meanwhile, I’ve joined a chorus that is singing Walton’s “Belshazzar’s Feast,” and I don’t find I’m having much trouble finding the emotional conviction for the vengeance bits.
A lifelong friend sent me a scanned version of a picture her dad took many years ago, one I grew up with on my mother’s dresser. My mother is wearing her medical school graduation robes, so I am about 18 months, give or take. (Pause to feel outclassed again: she had a baby in medical school. I rarely manage to shower.)
So many things compete for my attention in this picture. There is the strange and reassuring and maybe worrying but certainly inescapable fact of Jackalope’s resemblance to baby me.
There is the feeling I miss, of being my father’s darling girl, however difficult it has always been to get him to pay attention.
And there is the way my mother is looking at me. Do you see that? I had one of the truly great mothers, and I wonder if someone like my father, who didn’t, can ever really understand what it’s like to miss that. It’s every day.
That look, that’s why it makes me SO FUCKING LIVID to hear him spout stupid platitudes about being “sad for us but happy for her,” how “her suffering is over.” She was sick, not suffering, as she was sick for most of her life, even in that picture (see: Outclassed). But look at that picture and tell me she would have traded an end to the real pain and exhaustion and bodily troubles she lived with — lived with, as in she was living every day, her whole life, never dying — for the chance to meet her granddaughter.