Sunday, January 28, 2018

How growing life has left me feeling like a hot mess


I'm going to go ahead and apologize in advance for the amount of oversharing in this post. For those of you who are squeamish about human bodies and their various functions, I'd recommend reading up to the third paragraph (where I casually drop a personal bombshell with little fanfare) and then go about your business. Got all that? OK. Proceed with caution.

So here's me a couple weeks back. 

I'm almost three months pregnant. My waist is disappearing. I have hemorrhoids (which is a really annoying word to have to figure out how to spell by the way) courtesy of pregnancy. As is customary for me during pregnancy, there's a lump growing in my left armpit. Nope. Not the big C. Just some excess breast tissue setting up camp along one of my milk lines. Yeah. That's right. I have a third boob (it's really a thing and before you suggest I go ahead and join a sideshow, I'm not alone). Oh, and then I got a cold sore on my lower lip.

"What happened there?" my little brother asked, pointing to my mouth.

"Cold sore," I told him.

"Oooooo. You mean herpes? You got the herps?" He teased. 

And because I have no dignity left, I sighed. And nodded. 

Just add it to the list.

I'm hormonal. 

I'm overtired.

I'm stressed because I'm due in July and in August the lease is up on our rental house and we have to figure out a place to live and I have to figure out how I'm going to contribute to household income whilst simultaneously caring for a newborn and rearing two other little people. 

All I see ahead of me are lots and lots and lots of dark, scary trees. No forest.

What else? Oh yeah, I just started a long-term subbing gig team-teaching 8th grade science as a learning disabilities instructor. Several kids in my 8th-period study hall tell me they hate 8th-period study hall and that they just want their old and (infinitely more qualified) teacher back. They keep asking me if I'm going to quit. They ask me if I regret taking the job. I answer "no" to both, praying they'll hate me less as the weeks go by. I don't want to dread the 90 minutes I have to spend in study hall every other day. But I still kind of dread it. 

So that's the state of affairs.

A couple weeks ago, I got home from school feeling kind of like a pilot whale that had been washed up on a trash-strewn beach and I found a box on my doorstep. Attached was a note addressed to me in handwriting that I recognized instantly. So tiny and perfect it should be its own font. It hasn't changed in the two decades I've known the writer, one of my oldest friends.

She and I had met for breakfast earlier that week -- only when she arrived she looked kind of grey and peaked. 

"You feeling OK?" I asked. 

She said her stomach was bothering her, but that she thought she'd be fine. 

She ordered some toast and I ordered some apple cinnamon French toast (umm, it was as delicious as it sounds). But before our food even arrived I could tell she was going downhill quickly. I suggested we get the bill. Told her I could drive her car back to her condo. She protested for a millisecond and then agreed she couldn't drive.

I took her home, tried to get her comfortable and waited for Brad to come and pick me up. My friend apologized for the mess (her house has never not looked like a tidy, adorable Ikea showroom -- did I mention she doesn't have kids?) and seemed embarrassed about the fact that some underwear she'd just purchased was lying on her dresser. 

I glanced at the pile 'o panties -– they were all lacy and delicate and ladylike in elegant colors. I told her I was impressed with her taste in undergarments. That she actually wore, like, nice grownup underpants, as opposed to me, whose underwear drawer more closely resembled my own children's (think lots of cotton. All the cotton. And also character themed. Whatever. Who has time for impractical underthings?).

She kind of brushed it off and said she hated pantylines and these particular drawers kept her work pants looking neat and professional (though she added that they don't do much for keeping her butt cozy. Score one for cotton!).

We chatted a little more before Brad arrived. I left my poor friend in a clump on her bed to get some rest with an empty trashcan and a glass of water nearby. I told her to call if she needed anything.

Flash forward to Wednesday and this mystery box she left on my front steps.

Once I was inside and settled, I opened the note in which she thanked me for a silly birthday card I had gotten her and for helping her out. Then she wrote this:

"While briefly discussing briefs, haha, I left out an important part. (Probably because I was actively trying not to vomit.) Classy, sassy undies do solve the dreaded pantyline problem, but they just make me feel good too. (Again, not in sub-zero temperatures or butt cheeks freeze. That feels the opposite of good.) At first, they made me feel a bit uncomfortable, not like myself, but then strangely confident and good. Not for showing anyone else, just for me. Give them a shot. Not for Brad, just for you. This is a carefully curated collection, by the way. I took note of your affinity for cute prints, then I picked a staple, a sensible and a Sue. I think you might like them."

I opened the box and nestled in some tissue paper was that aforementioned carefully curated collection of frilly underthings.

Then I started crying. 

Like. Sobbing. Like the red-nosed, snot-dripping ugly variety of crying.

Her note and gift hit this nerve in me. The one that had long stopped feeling at all ladylike or feminine or fancy or confident or sassy -– all the adjectives I haven't applied to myself in forever. A long, long time. Years even. And here they all were in a little, lacy panty pile on my lap. 

The truth is, I don't know that I even recognize the woman who would wear these things. I don't know if she's still in me. It feels as if she's sort of evaporated into the ether.

I spend so much time just kind of getting through the day, you know? Like, it's enough that I shower semi-regularly, right? It's enough that my pants are relatively stain-free. That maybe I put on mascara. Maybe the shirt I'm wearing is in a flattering color. That's enough, right? And now that I'm pregnant and my body is changing shape all over the place and erupting in hormones, my expectations for looking cute aren't all that high.

My reaction to my friends' gift kind of reminded me that, no, no it's not enough. It's not enough to just get by feeling quasi-presentable. Feeling like I look "not bad." That I've lost something in the translation of my life from young professional to work-from-home mom to whatever it is I'm doing now.

It's not really about underpants, of course, or physical appearance even. It's about that, somewhat, but it's more about confidence. About trusting my inner-compass and the direction of my life. You know, the tending of my person. That little glowing center of me. My soul.

Is anybody still with me here? Am I even still with me here? I don't even know.

What I know is that right now, I feel a bit lost. My soul feels adrift and life seems kind of a mess with all its unanswered questions.

And I haven't even dug into the elephant in the room, or rather the baby in the womb (see what I did there?). 

What about this baby? You wonder. 

Yes! Yes! This baby. We call him/her The Colonel. 

This little, lemon-sized soul that's growing bigger by the day. The Colonel can squint and frown and grimace and grasp now. He or she can urinate, too!

"Wait," Lily asked me the other day. "You mean you have someone peeing inside of you right now? Gross."  

Just add it to the list of gross things about me currently, right behind third boob, hemorrhoids and herpes, I thought.

People have asked if this pregnancy was planned. Which, seems a bit -- I don't know --  nosy or judgy, though I know it's not ill-intentioned. I think they ask the question in order to gauge my level of enthusiasm about the situation and so gauge their level of enthusiasm when congratulating me. 

Brad and I have two other small people. By now we know the mechanics of baby making. Let's just say this baby was not, not planned and leave it at that.

And we are excited. Absolutely. I've wanted a third kid since, like, back before I had the other two. I've always wanted a big family. I'm one of six myself. The realities of parenthood have shaved off the number of children I think I can handle. We're not aiming for six (uhhh, Brad would probably like to point out he was never aiming for six). Two always seemed a little too neat, but three or four feels like just the right amount of chaos. So, yes. Yay baby!

But I also won't pretend this baby doesn't weigh on me. Because life has taken on a certain rhythm. It's been six years since I last had an infant. Both girls are in school now. I've been hitting a groove with this subbing business. We're still getting settled in Virginia (and will soon need to re-settle in another house ... somewhere. Where, exactly? Who knows?). 

I feel as if I've been playing this careful game of metaphorical chess and some obnoxious 7th grader just ran by and flipped over the board (obnoxious 7th grader is redundant. Also, can you tell where I spend my days now?). For the record, The Colonel isn't the obnoxious 7th grader. I think in this scenario it's life. Life is the obnoxious 7th grader. 

I feel like I've gotten one area of my life on task only to find out that the other 90 percent has been sending SnapChats of my ass to the rest of the school for the past 20 minutes. 

Like, what the hell am I doing, even?

The answer is, I have no idea.

No clue. 

I'm hormonal. I'm tired. I'm trying to keep Lily and Jovie alive and raise them to be good humans. I'm trying (and I'm pretty sure I'm mostly failing) at being a good wife. I'm trying to be supportive to various family members and friends who are also struggling through their own lives. I'm trying not to panic about what housing or work will look like in the next year.

I'm dealing with this cold that has turned me into stuffy nosed mouth breather.  

I'm growing another human inside me and that human is peeing in me. 

I'm trying not to feel guilty that I don't feel like that pregnant lady in Johnson & Johnson commercials who spends her days folding little clothes and humming to herself, the morning sun lighting up her perfectly contented maternal face. There is no morning sun casting a warm glow on my life. Nope, these days I feel like my life is lit up like an Old Navy dressing room– all Unflattering and fluorescent.

What am I doing? I'm surviving, that's what. 

And l don't mean to whine. I really don't want anybody to feel sorry for me or anything like that. Really, truly, I have the means and desire to care for this one as I did the others. I know it's not like that for all pregnant women. And there's no judgement on those who learn they're pregnant and feel only despair. 

For me, this baby is a gift. A little burst of hope. I know when he or she comes sliding out into the world I will feel joy. 

The reason for my (over)sharing is that I have to believe there is at least one other woman out there who has gotten pregnant with her third (or second or fourth or seventh) child and maybe isn't feeling as doe-eyed about it as she did with the earlier ones. And she probably feels like crap about that, too, right? And to that person I say, you're not alone. I feel you.

And also, because sometimes it just feels better to lay out all the little broken bits of your brain and stare at them for a minute. You know, take stock of all the clutter. Sometimes doing this kinda helps me get my arms around it all.

I texted my friend to thank her for the panties. I told her she was really sweet for thinking of me and they were really lovely, but I'd probably hold off on wearing them ... you know ... until my undercarriage was a little less ... grotesque. 

"When you're ready," she wrote back. 

Right. When I'm ready to be the lady in the fancy pants.

I'm still dubious about that day ever arriving.

***

There's this student in my third period class. This girl is beautiful and loud and strong. Attitude for days. Her aura fills a room. And she's perpetually messing with her hair and her face tweaking her eyebrows, fussing with her false eyelashes, braiding her long, dark tresses. One day she was on her phone when she wasn't supposed to be, I told her to put it away. "But I have to finish contouring," she told me. Her phone was on selfie mode and she was using it as a mirror as she brushed on powder. Of course, I thought.   

So she walked into class earlier this week and looked over at me.

"Your hair looks really good today," she said. I'd worn it down and put some product in it so it was curly. I.E., I made some effort. 

We were chatting during some downtime later in the class. She told me she'd been talking to kids in the other science classes. "They really like you," she says. "They think you're really pretty." 

She was shocked to learn I was married with two children.

"How old are you?" she asked (not entirely appropriate), but I answered anyway.

"Thirty-six." How could she not see that in the lines on my face and the bags under my eyes? 

"What?! I thought you were like, in your early 20s," she said. 

OK. So I know this girl is only 14 or 15. I know her perspective on age is probably a little off. And I don't really need anybody thinking I look 10 years younger than I am- I'm totally fine with being 36. But it still felt nice, after feeling like a bit of a dumpster fire for the past couple weeks, for someone to compliment my appearance. 

More than that, it was having a student take the time to talk to me as a person rather than glaring at me from across the room or ignore me completely. She wasn't the only one who made conversation. 

One of the students in the honors class who hadn't said two words to me in the three weeks I'd been in the room all of the sudden called me over and wanted to tell me about auditioning for the school play and the Disney Cruise she was going to go on. In another class, one of the boys was clearly frustrated about something. He wanted to cool off so I took a walk with him. I asked him what was going on, not at all expecting him to share, but suddenly he was telling me all about a fight he'd had with his new girlfriend.

Another kid had been looking down for a couple days, so when we had a minute I asked him about it. He told me his dad was at a hearing that day to find out if he was going to be deported. His parents ran a family business- his dad doing construction, his mom cleaning houses. His dad had been living here for more than 20 years and was really respected by his clients. I could feel the weight on this kid's shoulder. His face was etched with agony. I told him how sorry I was that he was facing such enormous stress and that I'd keep his family in my thoughts.

And I did. I prayed for them on the drive home from school and before I went to sleep. And when I woke up in the middle of the night because my nose was stuffy and my mouth was dry, I prayed some more. 

At school the next day he came into class -- a little more swagger in his step. "Did you get any news?" I asked him. He smiled and gave me a thumbs up. "We're good," he said. His dad can stay.

Gosh our lives are messy, right? All of them. We're all carrying these unwieldy burdens– even the kids. And we can't solve them all, right? 

I wish I could make sense of the piles and piles of mental clutter laid out before me. But again, no forest. Only trees.



Of course, it occurs to me as I'm reading that last sentence that I actually like trees. How they both burrow down deep into the earth and stretch up, up, up into the sky. How their bare branches look like arteries and how they break up the sky into stained glass. How they're so strong and steadfast and wise. How each one is so unique. How their flaws and scars only make them more interesting and more beautiful. How they weather this world and all its tumult so gracefully and graciously.

Maybe I need to think of my clutter as trees. Each their own milestone on my walk through this life. An opportunity to grow deeper and stretch higher. 

Maybe it's fine that I don't see the whole forest right now. Maybe it's OK to be down here under the canopy alongside all these other lost and searching souls, stopping to appreciate each masterpiece in front of me.

Brad says it would also be helpful if I listened to what the people around me were saying. Like the girl who told me my hair looked good or my friend who still sees the potential for me to be a fancy underwear wearer. The students who open up to me. My sisters who tell me I'm wise or my mother who tells me to keep writing. Or, god forbid, Brad who tells me pretty frequently that he thinks I'm an awesome person. 

It's always been much easier for me to deflect other people's positive feedback. To change the subject or say something self depreciating or to assume that they just aren't seeing the whole picture. The whole disaster. The whole forest.

Of course they're not. We rarely get to see the entire scope of any one individual. We're not meant to, I suppose. We take in only what's in front of us. What our eyes choose to see, our ears choose to hear, our hearts choose to feel. 

I always tell my sister that the parts that speak mostly loudly to me about her aren't the same ones that speak mostly loudly to her about herself. When she looks in the mirror, she only sees her shortcomings– her varicose veins or her graying hair or her impatience and failures. I'm aware of her flaws but mostly revel in all her best parts. Those are the ones that sing to me. Her compassion and her beautiful cheekbones and her warmth and her freckles. Her infinite wisdom. The depths of her empathy for the downtrodden. To me, she's a perfect specimen.

If I'm to follow Brad's instructions- and maybe I should given the scourge hormones have laid on my mental health in recent months- perhaps I'll just have to stop looking at the mirror with my eyes and try borrowing someone else's. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

An epiphany in No Man's Land


I finally saw "Wonder Woman."

I'm not, generally, like a super hero movie sort of person. Except for Batman, cuz, Batman. Though, I'm not particularly obsessive about keeping up with the Batman either. I'll happily watch and rewatch Michael Keaton Batman or Christian Bale Batman and am fine with skipping the rest. Michael Keaton Batman might have been my first celebrity crush. Which, considering that "Batman" came out when I was just 8 years old, is maybe a little weird. Nonetheless, I'm suddenly having flashbacks of playing MASH with my friends and including Michael Keaton as one of the people I was going to marry (others potential suitors included Robin Williams and Patrick Swayze. I had eclectic taste).

Where we were? Oh yes, "Wonder Woman."

Gosh. I mean, that woman. Where has she been all my life?

A badass lady warrior who stands by her convictions even as nearly everyone around her thinks she's idealistic and naive and gets some shit done? That is how you empower some women.

You know what, I take it back. She has been here my whole life. This woman. She's my mother, my sisters, my aunts and my friends. I know so many women who are Wonder Woman. You know, they're tireless and fierce and passionate. That's just who we are as people. That's the fire in our bellies. We grow life. We nurture it. We fight for it.

So yeah, Wonder Woman has always been around.

But, I have to say, it was really ... moving ... in an unanticipated way... to see her on screen. It's a super hero movie, so it wasn't without its cliches and kind of cheesy moments. It was predictable and over the top and all that. 

But when Diana, Princess of Themyscira, lets her hair down, throws off her cloak and climbs that ladder into No Man's Land. Damn. My throat immediately clenched. My eyes immediately filled with tears. I was caught off guard. It was as if there was some deeply rooted, unacknowledged part of my being that finally felt validated. Finally felt seen.

See, because right before that moment, Diana is overwhelmed by the amount of pain and horror she's witnessing. She's compelled to help. Help the men get their horses across the creek. Help the crying babies and the desperate women. Help the wounded soldiers. And every time she says she wants to help, she's told that she can't. 

No. No. No. Over and over. 

“This is No Man's Land, Diana. It means no man can cross it, alright,” Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) tells her. “This is not something you can cross. This is not possible.”

But she does it anyway. 

Like women do every day. 

That image of her crouching in the wasteland, taking all the fire so that the soldiers around her could advance. That. THAT.

That is what it is to be a woman. 

To be doubted. To persist. To deflect and protect. To be patted on the head. To be placated and ignored. To absorb all the bullets and bombs the world hurls at us. To hold steadfast to the notion that this way of living and dying is not the life we want for our children. To inch forward to that vision, despite all the destruction and calamity surrounding us.

That is what it means. 

In the climax, as Wonder Woman is battling Ares, the God of War, he tells Diana that humans don't deserve her protection.

"It's not about deserve, it's about what you believe. And I believe in love."

I won't speak for all woman. But I will speak for the woman I know like myself, this is our mantra. This is at the core of who we are and how we make our choices.

We believe in love.

And here's the thing that's so maddening. Even after Diana crosses No Man's Land, taking all the fire so that the men behind her can follow. Even after she leaps in and out of trenches in single bounds. Even after she fights off an entire battalion almost singlehandedly. Even after she throws a tank and stops a sniper by destroying a bell tower. Even after she saves the village. Even after she proves to be more than extraordinary, the men who witness all of it still doubt her.

Well some of them do. Mr. Steve "Above Average" Trevor still doesn't believe in her mission to kill Ares. Neither does the shell-shocked Scotsman, Charlie. Sameer and The Chief are more open-minded. Nobody suggests that it might be wiser to put Diana in charge of the mission instead. She's left to go her own way.  

And so it goes for the rest of us. In the face of all the doubt, women are left to go our own way.

I double majored in college in journalism and international politics. I didn't study international politics to satisfy some underlying passion for world affairs– rather, I thought it would make my dad happy. He wasn't exactly thrilled to have a child pursuing a career with the biased "liberal media." 

I took a lot of classes on comparative politics, international relations, American foreign policy, terrorism, and international relations of the Middle East, Latin America and Eastern Europe. I should probably know a lot more about the world than I do. 

One of the first lessons you learn in international politics is the difference between realists and idealists– the two competing philosophies that are supposed to dominate foreign affairs. Realists pursue foreign policy that puts national security and economic interests first, idealists believe that foreign policy should promote justice, freedom and equality. Looking back, it seems odd that international politics is divided into just two ways of thinking about how countries relate to each other.

I had one professor in particular– had to take a few classes with him– who was a realist. Which, meant, I guess, that he could justify his belief in hawkish foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. We spent a lot of our classes discussing oil and natural gas and pipelines and why it was important for the U.S. to base its relationships and policies with these countries on our energy demands. Say what you want about media bias, it was fairly clear to me that this professor had some obvious bias and kind of made it his mission to indoctrinate his students to his way of thinking. 

I hated his classes. Not because the subject matter wasn't interesting, but rather because I felt as if I was being presented with just one way of thinking about the world. And it all felt very cynical to me. 

There was a lot of that in my international relations courses though. I got my degree and was left with this sinking feeling that, as nations, we are selfish, paranoid, reactive and destructive. But I don't believe that's who we are as people, as individuals.

I got to thinking about those international relations classes while watching "Wonder Woman." The Steve Trevors who justify overlooking the vulnerability of individuals in favor of the potential advancement of a nation and the Dianas who refuse to ignore the suffering of the men, women and children who are treated as collateral damage. Those, like Ares, who believe humans are inherently wicked and not worth saving and those like Sameer, Charlie or The Chief who are just trying to make their way through the world while waging their own person battles. And all the people who fall somewhere in between. 

I know where I land. I knew where I landed even before "Wonder Woman."

But what she offers is a rallying cry. A visual for the person I want to be. A blessing to cross No Man's Land. 

At one point Steven, yet again, tries to stop Diana from following through on her mission to kill Ares.

"What I do is not up to you," Diana she says.

Right. 

It's time for women to make their own paths. To blaze a new way of being in this world.

"I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then, I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. The choice each must make for themselves - something no hero will ever defeat. I've touched the darkness that lives in between the light. Seen the worst of this world, and the best. Seen the terrible things men do to each other in the name of hatred, and the lengths they'll go to for love. Now I know. Only love can save this world. So I stay. I fight, and I give... for the world I know can be. This is my mission, now. Forever."

I stand with Wonder Woman. Only love can save this world. Only love.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The grace of falling apart and being put back together

A few days ago, during the first of two Polar Vortex Days off of school, I heard a crash then a cry from the family room.

As crying does in our house, it mobilized and amplified, scooting through the front hall, past the front door, up the stairs and into my bedroom. The source of it was a red, smeary-faced Jovie.

"Mama, I was playing with the Sophia ornament and it falled and now it's broken and I didn't mean to break it and I'm really sad because I loved that ornament because it was so pretty..." She trailed off succumbing to another fit of sobbing.

I sighed the sigh of a mother who had just been home with two spastic children for two weeks of holiday break replete with play dates and cookie making and present wrapping and Christmas Light cruising and family movie dates and bouts of pink eye and road trips to Pennsylvania and visiting all the friends and seeing all the relatives and returning home to an empty refrigerator and a car crammed of all the stuff doting grandparents and aunts and uncles could buy that needed to be unpacked and stowed away. The sigh of a mother who'd sent her kids back to school for two glorious days before the arrival of bomb cyclones and coinciding sub-zero temperatures that made her wish humans hibernated in a cozy cave somewhere like the sensible mammals do. 

The sigh of a mother who, not 10 minutes before, had suggested to the two sweet little apples of her eye that there were certain ornaments and decorations that should just be looked at and not really played with. Like, for instance, the aforementioned Sophia the First porcelain figurine that now lay on the living room floor in 10 or so pieces.

Suffice to say, it was a heavy sigh.

I gave Jovie a hug. Told her I was sorry the ornament broke, because I know how much she loved her. And because I'm the parent, I also mentioned the part about how she really shouldn't have been holding it to begin with and that maybe next time she'd remember to listen  ... yadda yadda yadda... [insert all the generic parental warnings and scoldings that I hate. Hate. HATE. having to issue because I'm all but certain they're ineffective at best and at worst I'm setting my children up for a lifetime of self-loathing and doubt.] 

I picked up the pieces of Sophia and deposited them in the trash.

Jovie continued to mourn the loss of the ornament. She found me throughout the day to tell me so.

Later in the day I opened up the trashcan and stared at the ornament. I remembered that poem I shared back in June. The one I'd chalked onto our sidewalk.


Maybe there was an opportunity for kintsukuroi here. Maybe I'd given up on Sophia too soon. 

I fished her out of the trashcan. Got some Gorilla Glue and got to work. There were a few other Disney friends who needed some rehab, too. Elsa had lost an arm, Elena her feet and another Sophia had been decapitated. 


I put everyone back together. 

Imperfectly.

The ornament took the longest.


When she was more or less whole (maybe less whole, but more hole is accurate) I performed some kintsukori, painting the seams of her broken parts with gold acrylic.


It felt good to fish something out of the trash and put it back together. To be reminded that being broken does not have to mean being thrown out. Being unworthy or being overlooked. Being lost forever.

The inspiration to retrieve the ornament from the garbage came from the oddest places: A pair of books about the Columbine shootings.

My niece Hannah, gave away books as favors for her "Beauty and the Beast"-themed wedding last August. I'd picked out "The Hour I First Believed" by Wally Lamb– ever since I read "She's Come Undone" he's been a go-to author of mine. In the novel, Lamb tackles enormously weighty subjects– Columbine, for one, but also Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War, PTSD, broken prison systems, race, gender inequality, marital discord, familial secrets, Greek mythology and more. The narrative stretches back to pre-Civil War New England and lurches forward to the present day as the protagonist, English teacher Caelum Quirk, and his wife, Maureen, struggle to rebuild their lives after April 20, 1999, when Maureen's witnessed the horrors of what happened in the library at Columbine High School in Littleton, Col. The couple move back to Caelum's hometown of Three Rivers, Conn. to his family farm that boarders the woman's prison his great grandmother founded, and are faced with waves of grief and pain. 

It's not exactly light reading. But I'm not much of a light reader (see that time I read a book on the history of cancer). I stuck with it because Lamb, as always, does such an excellent job of capturing how messy, complicated and paradoxical we are as humans. How we have such deep longings for spiritual and human connections. How we all arrive in this world relatively unscathed and then life happens to us in unpredictable, sometimes cataclysmic ways, and we're left to reassemble ourselves and move forward as best we can. 

I mentioned to someone I was reading this book (who, I can't remember)– and they suggested I check out "A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy" by Sue Klebold, mother of Dylan Klebold– one of the shooters behind the Columbine tragedy. So I did. I read both books concurrently, Klebold's book was my downstairs reading and Lamb's was my upstairs book. They complemented each other perfectly, not just because of shared subject matter, but also because of shared themes: How to make sense of the monstrous deeds, how to sort through the wreckage of a life, how to put it back together. 

In her memoir, Sue Klebold details the story of her life, her son's life and her family's life in the years leading up to and after the Columbine shootings. Every page is weighted in heartbreak, guilt and regret. This isn't her attempt to redeem herself or her son– she knows forgiveness isn't for her to ask for and probably wouldn't feel deserving of it anyway. Rather, she sifts through all she knows about her son, or thought she knew about her son, to try to make sense of what happened. Not that she can. And she seems to know that, too. How does a mother reconcile the kind, funny boy she raised with the monster responsible for the deaths of 12 students, a teacher and the injuries of more than 20 others? She can't. She recognizes that as much as she thought she knew her boy, she really had no idea what was lurking inside his head.

As I read the book, I couldn't help but think of my own high school experience. I graduated from a large, affluent high school in the D.C. area. I was a junior when Columbine happened. It was one of those events that brand themselves into your personal narrative, no matter how close or far away you were from it. As a teenager, I felt immediately connected to those students half a continent away. I remember sitting in the newspaper room– where I spent most of my time the last two years of high school- shell-shocked. My classmates and I attempting to process that level villainy and despair. Learning about who Dylan was– at least from his mother's perspective and that of his friends– I realized I knew kids like him. I was friends with them. No- not kids who went on murderous rampages. But kids who were introverted. Who felt like outcasts. Who could've been facing debilitating depression or social anxiety and who were daily teased and picked on by other kids. 

I recalled this one incident- I think it was junior year. Someone had called in a bomb threat. The whole school was herded out to the football stadium and seated in the bleachers. At one point, two boys I was friendly with went out on to the 50-yard line of the football field and kissed each other. Why? I don't know. I don't think they were, like, together or anything. I think they were bored. Maybe it was intended to be a joke or a statement of sorts. I remember a bunch of guys from the lacrosse team running them off the field. Beating at least one of the kids up. I remember one of the boys coming back to a class we had together with his lip split open. 

As Klebold writes about the environment at Columbine– the bullying and teasing- I thought about this long-forgotten day. Because the dynamic was the same at my school. It's easy to sit on the outside of any situation and pass judgement and damnation; it's harder to realize just how much of ourselves is reflected in those we cast stones at. 

Parents, educators and those passionate about mental health should definitely pick the book up. Also, anybody wanting to deepen their well of empathy. At first glance, Sue Klebold could easily come off as someone who is just trying to tell her side of the story for personal gain or redemption or who's trying to profit off a tragedy. But I don't think either is true. She's donating all proceeds of the book to research and charitable organizations focused on mental health research and is passionate about raising awareness about brain illness and suicide. Maybe, after years of silence and feeling like a pariah, she is looking for the chance to explain herself- to share with people who assumed she was a terrible parent– ignorant or unloving or uninvolved– that she was really none of those things. 

She's just human. Like the rest of us. Fumbling through this life. 

Whatever her reasoning for writing the book, I'm glad she did. I've found softness in my heart for people who might otherwise be considered beyond redemption. The broken ones who belong at the bottom of the trash bin.

I was re-reading my old journals from the years leading to and following Columbine– trying to see if I'd written anything about the tragedy in the days following it (I hadn't). I'm not sure why I didn't reflect on it. 

Looking back the period in my life between my freshman and junior years was rife with tragedies closer to home. There were family members struggling drug addiction, the feeling as if siblings I'd always been close with were drifting away and becoming people I didn't recognize. I had a mentally ill aunt who committed suicide and a grief-stricken grandmother who came to live with us in the aftermath, slowly fading away into a shell of herself before passing away seven months later. A friend from school– not a close friend really, but always a friendly face– committed suicide the fall before Columbine. He was just 17. Then, of course, I wrote about boy drama and friend drama and school stress. And a lot of non-specific rambling about feeling lonely and ordinary and like an outsider, which I'm pretty sure reading back was reflective of significant (though undiagnosed) depression.

Is this what they mean when they talk of "coming of age"? Columbine was just the tiara on all of that. Sept. 11, 2001 would be the crown just a few years later.

So, you see why this idea of kintsukori is so appealing to me, who at 36 is basically an assemblage of little chipped pieces. 

And for everyone, really. Because we are all, I think, the same. Cracked by the quakes and tremors of existing in this place. We are called, each of us, to pull each other out of the trash bin– even (and maybe especially)– the most broken, hopeless looking cases. We'll find our own humanity and our own grace by glueing each other back together. By lining the cracks with gold and silver.