Thirty years ago, I would sit in the university library at a desk close to the top–twenty-six floors up–and look out the window instead of studying. That was who I was, the person who dreamed out over the landscape, saving the studying for the last minute, late at night, squirreled away in some drab place.
Things haven’t changed all that much. I’m sitting at a desk in a college library again, trying to look out a streaked window over the edge of a carrel. I have no studying to ignore though; this time the studying belongs to my son. He’s dual enrolled, in his final year of homeschooling and his first semester of community college. I feel old and out of place here, very conscious of the fact that my last bit of formal education, aside from a couple of classes here and there (anatomy and physiology for a third time? really?), ended twenty-six years ago. I’ve always been plagued by a dream of realizing I’d forgotten to go to calculus for a whole semester, and that I have to ace the final the next day in order to pass the class. This month, for the first time ever, I dreamed that I was the instructor who forgot to teach the class, not the student forgetting to study.
It’s grey here, and we’ve had a roller coaster of up and down temps for weeks now, creating a constant layer of ice on the ground. I creep up and down our walkway, slip and fall in the drive, remember the time that my husband broke his leg on a similarly iced walk over a decade ago. The only broken bone we’ve had since then was a toe, my daughter’s, cracked when she kicked her brother.
If life has seasons, this one is coming to an end. Not the parenting–that is forever–but the times of making pizza on Friday nights and arguing about whether toppings should touch, sneaking out on weekdays to see movies together, climbing on the fallen tree in the sanctuary across the road, catching the roosters abandoned in the woods and bringing them home. It’s meant to be that way. The goal of parenting is to give your children the space and time and energy to become their own people.
But what happens after that?
Lately I’ve also been very conscious of what depression steals when it settles in. Those stretches of time when I’ve provided the things that need providing, but haven’t been able to feel the things that need feeling. The instances of joy I’ve lost, and how much I want those moments back. When you struggle for a long time, that struggle is part of who you are. I cannot separate life into sickness and health. Minds are minds. Mine is this one. I can still resent the hell out of how it’s shaped pieces of my time.
This last eighteen months or so has been a battle between the depression and the knowledge that my kids are actively swimming farther and farther into the world. When the depression was at its worst, the only question was how to be here, now. How to hold it together enough to do the one thing that was essential to me. In a life full of accidental careers and mercurial interest in anything, parenthood has been my one true thing.
And now everything is transition, and I’m working to imagine what lies beyond.
There’s a woman who stands outside the Chinese market where I buy my dried mushrooms and seaweeds and sauces. She’ll ask me for a dollar or five, I’ll give her what’s loose in my bag. She’ll call me darling or dear, say God bless. Sometimes we hold hands for a minute, sometimes we just grip each other’s arm, or pat a shoulder. What I want more than anything is her story. What I’ve always wanted everywhere, from everyone, are stories. Not the stories about who someone thinks they should be, but who they actually are. Who we’re supposed to be is terribly boring. Those stories are mass produced and sold on the newsstand.
But who someone actually is? The little bits of self they give out in slivers of light when they aren’t even aware of their shine? That is what I crave. I’ve been reading Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey for a class I’m teaching. The third sentence of the book is this: “Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary.” That is the place I want to see in everyone. I sometimes joke that I’m an emotional vampire; what I mean is that I feed off of these things in other people. And when I’m not? Then I’m populating my imaginary world with the secret bits of my equally imaginary companions.
“In The Library Of Souls” is six years old now, give or take some months. I don’t write about things that don’t feel completely possible to me–I’m lazy that way–and I do believe that somewhere, in some corner of space that we’ll never see, we are writing our own books. Not the mundane, the tying of shoes or the cooking of dinners. Instead, the pages hold something essential, the one true place, our one true heart. I don’t know the contents of my children’s books, or my spouse’s, or even mine, but I can hope. It’s a story I’ve written in my head, if not on the page. It is the story I tell myself every day.