The other night, Christopher and I were curled up on the couch in front of the fire watching the movie, “The Kids Are All Right,” and there’s a scene at the end where the two Moms are dropping their daughter off at college. In my head, I was practicing my very rudimentary arithmetic: in ten mere years, I’d likely be dropping my eight-year old daughter at college for her freshmen year, a mere almost-doubling of the time we’ve already had with her on this earth. An impossibly sad realization: how much longer will she allow me to towel her off after her baths, allow me to marvel at her compact, exquisite little body that is growing by leaps and bounds? How much longer will she snuggle into our bed at night, spoon up against me, her sharp knees and elbows jabbing into my back, reminding me of her warm presence? How much longer will she burst out with impromptu ‘I love you, Momma’s,’ unbidden, unasked for, entirely a result of her exuberant affection?
And then, there’s the knowledge of how my own nature suddenly darkened around her age, when self-consciousness and self-loathing came sneaking in, when I began to understand that I had to restrain myself, hold myself back in order to be acceptable and earn (or at least what I believed I had to earn) love? After all, by nine, I was climbing up counters and reaching for the Flintstone vitamin bottle to attempt an overdose because I concluded that I was unacceptable to myself. I could not bear to be me.
At the same time that I was doing my arithmetic, Christopher was calculating his own. He turned to me and said, “You know you have to be there with me when we drop our daughter off at college, don’t you?” His implication was not only that he would need emotional companionship to survive the momentously happy-sad occasion, but that, ten years from now, I needed to be there.
“You know what I mean,” he said, again. “You need to be there with me. You need to be there with us.”
The not-so-subtle subtext: I need to stay alive, not just for the next hour or day or month or year, but for the next ten, twenty, thirty—however long my natural clock might tick and tock.
His reminder was necessary because what IT (depression, the bipolar disorder, the eating disorder, cutting) refuses me is a glimpse into the future. IT is stuck in the past and is fanatically tied to this moment right now, no other moment but this, no other possible feeling but this pain in this moment, this need to hurt myself right now, this need to starve myself right now, this need to purge right now, this need to slice open my arms right now, right now, right now. IT is the oppression of RIGHT NOW; IT believes in immediate, impulsive action. No future thinking allowed, no admittance of hope, no belief in change.
His reminder was necessary, too, because of where I’ve been these past few weeks—back down in the black well. Awful, terrible, pressing urges to damage what remains of myself, to end my life—unbearable irony in this season of comfort and joy and hope. Exhaustive effort summoning up the appearance of presence amidst all the presents.
Be here. Simple instructions. Why then do they seem like the complex, utterly inscrutable instructions to some IKEA-self-assembly brain, complete with missing screws and bewildering diagrams?
Be here. More command than choice. Because really, what choice do I have when my living is essential to those tiny, fragile little lives who, despite the upheaval and craziness of me being their momma, love me with their fierce, wild abandon?