“Open me up and you will see / I’m a gallery of broken hearts / I’m beyond repair, let me be / And give me back my broken parts.” –Ingrid Michaelson, “Be OK”
“Sam is a swirl of every age he’s ever been.” –Anne Lamott, North Park University, April 1, 2004
“There is no other cosmic possibility.” —True Love, about our upcoming wedding, 2003-ish
Preface: I don’t write this to glorify the past but to aknowledge it as a way to live more freely, more fully, in the present. Also, I realize that generalizations and tidy dismissals of any subgroup (stereotypes) can happen any time there is a lack of effort to understand another’s viewpoint and place in the world. What I describe as our culture’s view of mothers is just one example.
I was doing a quick search for an aquaintance on LinkedIn and Marino’s name and photo popped up under the search box because the first two letters of their names happened to be the same. LinkedIn thought I might be looking for him, a Virginian friend-turned-sort-of-boyfriend-but-it’s-complicated character from my college years. LinkedIn was very wrong.
Last time I saw his name was a few years ago. Right before he accepted my LinkedIn connection request he changed the profile picture to that photo. That’s a funny happenstance, huh? In the photo he is seated on a stoop or curb in sunglasses, looking stoicly upward-ish. This second time I’ve seen it–caught off guard–I’m reminded of the one photo I took of him. He had to do research at the Ball State library on a warm spring Saturday and invited me to come along. It was late afternoon when we were leaving, the sunlight a low glowy honey gold. I requested he sit on the curb for the shot. He felt awkward and unnatural in front of the lens but I wanted to distill the moment and him in it.
Social media has that cruel and creepy way of unknowingly reminding us of who and what we’ve worked hard to forget. At night I have dreamt of people long forgotten because Facebook put their face in mine, recklessly boomeranging a situation long passed back to the present. How is it that technology worms into our sleep? What have we lost to an internet so invasively personal?*
I briefly rifled through old memorabilia looking for that picture and did find it boxed up with old photo albums and so many journals in the back of my closet on the floor. True Love’s hanging dress shirts stand guard above them. With the two photos side by side the similarity was notable, confirming my hunch. A journal entry from a post-break-up lunch was nearby in the box. It was probably my idea and I was looking for closure. Apparently, we ate in his campus cafeteria and I had a baked potato. It didn’t go well. He dismissed himself for research, but then I passed him on the road as he was gassing up his new pick-up truck. According to my written account, as I drove up I-69 I composed my own fictional ending in my head. I imagined him rushing out to beat me to my apartment to “profess his undying love.” I don’t remember this. I just read it and hoped I’d meant to exaggerate. I do remember (and didn’t write) that on the drive home I took out my rhinestone nose piercing and forgot about it. I tried to put it back in the next day but it was too late. The hole had closed.
I’m not sure what I was projecting on him in those years. I wanted something he couldn’t give: affection, gestures of thoughtfulness or kindness, whatever comes after intellectual conversation. I had a lot of demands I guess. (By way of context, the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris was wildly popular and influential at our conservative Christian college at this time, particularly among male students. Weren’t we Taylor girls lucky!)
I was very close to God then, but intensely longing–as I suppose most young adults do–for human belonging. I may have been obsessed with something and thought he could cure it. I may have been depressed and thought he could revive me. I have no idea why I fell so hard for him. As a girlfriend he never really treated me particularly well, but I wanted to win. I am an efficient person; I didn’t want my enthusiasm for an “us” to be wasted. I was young enough to subconsciously believe I could demand from the world a return on my investment. Wasn’t that a character builder to learn one can’t will another’s love and devotion into existence.
I’m aware of how pathetic this appears, how bad this looks. You’re probably embarrassed for me. I am a mother after all and married to my love of seven lifetimes were that possible. But no one ever tells you that the old–not stress fractures exactly, but shin splints–in your heart never really heal and become inconveniently, unexpectedly reaggrevated once in a while. It’s not the kind of injury that needs medical attention or derails the train of daily structures. It’s just an annoying twinge that surfaces from time to time in an otherwise whole, deeply blessed life.
I once heard Anne Lamott say of her son that he was never just one age. He was always all the ages he’d ever been. That is true of everyone. I’m 37 but 21 is still in here. Nineteen and 30 and seven are still in here. This doesn’t particularly jive with our societal characterizations of motherhood or of aging wives. We don’t tend to paint mothers with strokes of depth and complexity that we attribute to the rest of humanity. When the ring goes on and even more so when the kids show up and grow up, you are written off as irrelevant, uninteresting, unstoried. This is despite us marrying later in life (if at all) and having fewer children thus shortening the time we are actively mothering and lengthening the amount of time we spend back in what most would call “real life.” Womanhood has changed quickly but outside perceptions of it have not.
Meanwhile we women are too busy scrubbing toothpaste blobs out of the sink, scheduling swim lessons, packing lunches, frying chicken, completing overdue online field trip forms, dashing to work, picking up toilet paper from Target and dirty socks from the floor and getting everyone to sign Grandma’s birthday card to notice. Until we do. And then after the kids are in bed and we finally have a chance to pee we catch ourselves in the mirror, noticing how we are physically seen by the world. We sigh and head to the couch with our wine or hookah or chocolate and a screen.
Going to hockey games with True Love makes me happy. I really enjoy the pace of the game, the element of danger about potential rogue pucks sailing into the stands and fights between players. I like the Zamboni and the sound of the sticks and skates on the ice and of course the soft pretzels and beer and conversation with my very fine companion. We like the laid back but reverent atmosphere of hockey games here in Kalamazoo and its primarily working-class crowd. As a carpenter’s daughter and Chicago South-Sider it’s comforting. But I never remember that I remember.
I don’t remember that I sit down to enjoy the game and then think of the first hockey game I ever attended–a Fort Wayne Komets game as a freshman at Taylor with Marino and his entire dorm floor and their dates in the school-sanctioned group date format known affectionately at Taylor University as Pick-a-Date.
In early March True Love and I went to a Wings game. We faced the Toledo Walleye. Toledo is where my sweet but now mostly estranged friend Bethany** lives. She was an exceptionally gracious and loyal friend who took me and other assorted classmates home with her on many weekends. Those times in that big white house with her large family throughout the year helped center me as I fumbled through that first year of dorm life and higher education.
So it was a fantastic date night but required some mild suppression of a little fringe of heartache for dear ones from almost two decades ago. I went to the bathroom at half time and taped to the back of the stall was the Wings schedule for the rest of March. As I sat there on the pot I saw that March 24 and 25 their opponents would be none other than the Norfolk Admirals. Guess who was from Norfolk and liked hockey? Geez. Of all things. Of all the stalls in all the bathrooms in all the world . . .
It satisfies me greatly to report that Kalamazoo swept Norfolk in that series by a score of 5-3 both nights. Their victory on March 24 secured their place in the Kelly Cup playoffs set to start April 14 against, yes, the Walleye in Toledo. Go Wings, go!
Thanks be to God for the uplift of leaving it all on the ice, for the shadow of mercy under the wings of our Father of blessed forget-fullness. All praises be to the One whose grace fills every fissure, every chasm in the universe, whose wingspan of forgiveness is as vast as the expanse between east and west.
*Yes, I realize the irony of making such a statement in a public blog post.
**In the Bible Bethany was the town where Jesus’ good friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha lived. It is thought that the name means “house of figs” in Hebrew. What a beautifully fitting name for someone with such a hospitable and generous heart.