Some tears for the Ocean

I’ve never cried so hard as that day in 2007 when James drove his moving truck down the street.

He was moving from Utah to live with his office assistant/girlfriend and her son 2000 miles away just a few weeks after we’d told the girls we were divorcing.  A divorce which blindsided the girls and I; I didn’t even get a lawyer.  James and Sarah probably began their relationship during summer 2006 when we dug out our basement and I unknowingly insisted he stay with Sarah and her husband Ryan in Blacksburg, Virginia (location of the main office) rather than come home to the unpleasantness of our Utah bungalow.  “Just stay with Sarah and Ryan; its so gross here.”  Naturally, he didn’t reveal she and Ryan had separated.

But on that day he moved, James’ dad was here from Virginia, trying to right the error of James moving.  I said right there in front of Bob, “James, don’t move out there to her and come visit your girls; stay here and go visit her.”   I needed him here and so did the girls.   But he wasn’t listening, didn’t want to; Bob and I talking to him was like trying to reason with a sinking ship.

That very day, Livy lost her first tooth in a bowl of popcorn.   It landed in the large steel bowl then sunk to the bottom and Grandpa Bob and the girls and I searched for it but hanging out down there like a groupie with the whitish crumbs of popcorn, we could barely tell the difference between food and tooth.  But we finally did, celebrating then the victory of finding a lost treasure, in one of those moments that stands there like a trophy.  A stop-action moment More than the sum of its individual parts.

And when he and Grandpa drove off in James’ UHaul, I wasn’t ready.  I didn’t want to see what was going to happen.  Wanted to cover my eyes like in a scary movie, so that my brain didn’t invite in through my eyes what I didn’t want to become part of me.  Both girls chased the truck down the street.  Down Garfield Avenue, where they’d grown up.  Where we’d gotten our first puppy.  Where Livy’d come Home from the hospital, where they’d played with the neighbor kids, and started school.  Where they’d donned costumes in the cold of Utah Autumn to go get the big candy bars from Chuck and Dave’s house next door; where they’d bathed in the safety of familial surety.  And James noticed them running, and slowed his truck and pulled over at the end of our street—next to the orange house he’d eventually move into after the break up with Sarah—and got out of the drivers side to walk around the back of the truck to where Julia and Livy waited like angels on the sidewalk.

And as I was watching this play out from the slight distance of looking outside of myself and my children, there was this moment like at the end of a movie.   Where written into the story is a single epiphanic scene that makes everything pivot to where suddenly something in a character clicks.  To where inside James something about his tender dad looking for Livys tooth has shifted him to the core of his being and he “UNDERSTANDS” and gets out of the truck to hug his girls and decides he doesn’t want to ever stop.   

I’m watching this scene of my own family from my own porch, knowing that the arc of this story would then be to forgive him this fucking shitshow of lying/ dissociation if only he would hug his daughters and not get back in that truck and drive off.  He’d walk back to where I am and tell me he’s not moving, he can’t do that to them, he’ll live here, and fly back and forth to see Sarah.  I saw it all in a flash of “please, god.  Please.” Because that’s what “not being ready” does to you.  It makes you stand on your porch and, in Grief and desperation, make deals like a grifter.

But he didn’t.   James hugged them both quickly then walked back around the truck, got in and drove off.

And that night I cried with the force of a heartbreak I can’t describe, as if something in my body was already living the sense of rejection my girls would feel, and the way they’d blame themselves.  As if I could feel my 9 and 6 year old babies archetypal pain and simultaneously their potential idolization of Sarah—younger, thinner; flashy, uncomplicated, the unburdened “winner”.   

I Could feel that I’d have to let my young, vulnerable babies integrate into the lives of people who didn’t care about hurting them.   

I was living inside the normalization of cruelty.  And rolling myself into the fetal position on my bed that night, I convulsed from the grief and the unrecoverable knowledge that my most beloved connection to both this earth and my own soul might never be whole again.  And that maybe neither would I.

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[Sometimes I don’t know why I write things.  Writing is therapeutic but I don’t reside with this specific grief anymore and I’ve got other fires to put out.   

But the other day, the six year old girl who lost her tooth the day her dad left sent me the writings attached to this post.   A heart-centered, emotional child from the beginning there have been many moments where I did not think it would be possible for her to remain on this planet.  Yet she now writes with a voice that is both herself and her heartache.  She writes with a voice that is both the ethereal and also the days she wanted to die.

So when I say I don’t know why I write, I think maybe it’s because I’m standing on my porch looking down the street, and not yet understanding that the grief I felt inside and consumed by was actually love patiently waiting for this very day]

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I’ve said goodbye to many things in my lifetime; many versions of myself and what I thought I needed to be and have in order to feel happy.

And of course I never wanted that day he moved to happen.   For many years, I felt stuck with memories and reverberations of it to where I even begged God to make the pain go away.  For the foes were real:  How can I bring up my girls to be caring and whole in a world where I’m normalizing cruelty?   In a world in which the immediate pain of rejection is their family?  Because events scar us, and we never feel healed.   That isn’t exaggeration; just look around.

But waiting on the porch with me that day was the wisdom of a universe.  A universe telling me that love won’t always look like a dad doing the right thing; sometimes love will look like a grandpa looking for a lost tooth or two sisters running after a truck together.  It’ll look like a mom in the fetal position and—as years pass—like an older sister letting her sleepless, anxious younger one sleep in her bed and like that same younger sister writing words that make their mom weep.

Because on that day I didn’t know that the stronger and most-loving version of our selves is a stranger until that’s who’s comforting us into sleep.  For the truth of all of this—of humanity; of the deep reckonings that emanate—is that we actually have no idea how fucking beautiful we even are until we’ve had to fight for one another.

 

And yes, there was still pain after that day, and will be again.  The world will pose as both farce and cruelty and people will not be what we want them to be.  But on that day, the universe told me that “ready” isn’t a point in time, it’s a state of being.  For things are not linear when placed inside the heart, and from agony comes caring to where we can’t truly see one without the other.  Because in the end, our tears baptize us into the love we are and have, and inside the heart, what looks like a sinking ship is merely one arc in a story about the ocean. 

Witness

If you told me as I was snapping these pictures of my girls all those years ago that our world would crash and burn—that we’d be Navigating waters of hardship and heartbreak—and become so vulnerable we’d feel buried under the suffocating ruins of our own lives, I might have given up. And yet had I done so, I would not have arrived to their adulthood so to see the humor and empathy of two humans unquestioningly relying on their shared strength, holding space for each others’ tenderness, and wearing one another for warmth during cold times.

It’s incredibly powerful and I’m blessed to have endured hardship that I could witness such love.

The journey to “Amy Brook”

 

Pic: My younger brother Jeff and I circa 1971; I was about 3.

According to the birth certificate tucked inside my baby book, I was born October 1, 1968 at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View California and my name was “Amy Brook Palleson”. I don’t remember any of the other fluff on it—height, weight, etc.—just that the birth certificate paper was black with white printing and hard to read and that the book itself was a mess of white out and scratch outs and corrections.

We can fast forward now, through memory lane, through years, through the solidification of who I was—Rose and Martin Palleson (dads parents; “grandma and grandpa”), Leeroyce and Deck Hogin (moms parents; gammie and gampie); through aunts and uncles and cousins; through my brother Jeff born in early ‘71, my sister Alex in ‘75, and Clancy and Cindy, my father and mother—Fast forward all the way to the couch in gammies living room where I lay quietly crying at age 13 (or 12? I can’t even remember) because solidity is often invented, and my real dad was dying, asking to see me and only knew me as “Sophie”.

In the way of regret and guilt, I’ve often been to that place where I must explain my choice, that day I learned Clancy wasn’t my dad and that the real one I never knew about was dying. For that was the year I was mercilessly bullied—had started high school, young for my grade; afraid to turn corners; lost all my elementary friends—and would the next year change schools because of it so I was mixed up and scared and insecure and didn’t have much to hold onto right then.

But the bigger truth is that children know what’s expected of them, and that secret was supposed to be kept. That’s why when I was one year old and she left him, Mom had changed my name, that’s why she crossed it all out in my baby book; changed my birth certificate, had Rose and Martin/my dad‘s parents officially adopt me and never mentioned anything. Because that was the new life she’d wanted and I loved her and was supposed to let her live this life. So in a heart bigger than my self, I knew she’d feel betrayed if I went to see him and I never wanted to hurt her—lived my life to protect her—even if that meant hurting someone else (and myself) instead.

And of course he died, and so then did his only memories of his daughter, Sophie Stuckey, the name under the white out.

And there are times when I’ve looked upon that day with judgment of myself for not going to see him. Because it is not like me to extend myself into such seeming-cruelty. To deny a man about to exit this life the chance to see what he had offered this world; deny him a chance to experience closure for a chapter which may have haunted him through health and illness, happiness and hardship.

But when my own child turned 13, I met my world from a different place.

For I didn’t know until then that one choice always speaks many languages. And that the guilt and regret of a young girl who didn’t know what to do was actually the wisdom of a human being caring for another. The wisdom of a human who wanted more for her mom than for her own self, who in so acting, would let her mom then live always inside the world where she doesn’t have to confront anything but the memory of her one year old baby with a new name and their brand new life together.

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Sometimes in saying my own name— ‘Amy Brook’—I can hear my mother defining that new life, and the new hope she had for her and myself.

For that name means ‘beloved by the stream’ and in iterations of selves both past and yet to come, I believe that much of me has lived to bear out the truth of such a name. Beginning in earnest that day on the couch as a 13 year old girl.

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Post script: In yet another facet of this, I have realized in these later years that I was also afraid she wouldn’t love me anymore if I went to see him. Because in the years after I found out Clancy wasn’t my dad—long after Harvey Stuckey had passed—mom would say things like “you’re just like your father!” when we’d argue. Of course I’d never met him so had no idea if what she said was even true but that she was talking about someone I never knew who was dead and who she had left when I was one it was messed up. I think mom had a lot of abandonment issues and that after I knew about my dad, I never really felt like I was just hers anymore, and it made her vulnerable.

Anyways, Please don’t do that to your kids. Say things like “you’re just like your father!” when your kid knows how much you despise their dad. Even if they ARE acting just like the other parent and it’s egregious, give them the space to self-correct and remove the language of shame so that they don’t struggle with the feeling that they aren’t loved or lovable.