Sometimes I'd sit on one of our swings, holding tight to the chains and dragging my feet in the dirt, praying for the screams to stop. Praying that God would forgive me for the fight I surely must have caused. Praying that no one could hear the violence in my home, the sound of anger echoing throughout the neighborhood like a mad locust's love song. It was all I could do: Pray and wait. Pray for forgiveness. Wait for the quiet and a chance to make it right. My father would have left by then, bewildered by the conflict. I'd hear his car pull out of the driveway and I'd make my move. Creep up the stairs clutching a bouquet of wildflowers, following the sounds of sobbing. And then, the tender, tentative whisper, "Mom? I picked you these flowers." Crying. "Are you alright?" Crying. Crawling beside her shaking, wailing body. "Every thing's alright, mommy. You're going to be alright." Tandem crying. Tears in her eyes and in mine.
I don't know what I was thinking. I guess I thought the problems of grown-ups were simple, something easily fixed with an apology and a bouquet of wildflowers. I honestly believed I could fix it if I only tried hard enough, behaved well enough, said the right words, was the right kind of child. I wanted so badly to heal the wounds, stop the hurt once and for all. I carried it around in my heart, heavy as the boulder embedded in the ground in our backyard. My mom didn't ask me to. I raised my hand for the assignment. I swallowed the heaviness whole, buckled under its weight all those years. It's no body's fault. It is what it is.
Yesterday afternoon I watched my daughter digging into the earth with her bare hands, a pile of collected rocks at her side. I thought in that moment that she was oblivious to everything but her seeking, her private mission. Until:
"Mom, why are you crying?" Shit. These days the tears come unbidden and unwelcome in the oddest moments. They well up and there I sit, leaky as a faucet.
"Don't worry about me, sweetie" I said, trying to collect myself, "Mommy's just a little bit sad."
"Why? Why are you sad?"
"Because I'm silly." I got up and chased her with my tickling hands. I grabbed her at the waist and we fell in tandem, laughing. My eyes were still wet with tears, but I willed myself to stop making them. Not here, not now. I laid on my back while Liv went back to her play.
A few minutes later, in the midst of the very heavy work of not crying, Liv ran back to me excited.
"Look what I found, Mom!" She was holding a small, curved twig in her hand.
"Wow! What is that?" I said, over-enthusiastically.
"It's a smile. A smile for you." And she took her little smile-shaped twig and pressed it against my mouth, willing me with all her precious heart to be happy.
"Now you won't be sad no more. Now you are happy!" My sweet Liv stood in front of me with a belly full of pain. My pain. She has swallowed that heaviness and it breaks my heart.
It is the hardest thing in the world to pretend that I am whole for my child when I am all fragments and loose parts. I ask myself the question over and over, "Is it better to have a crazy mother or no mother at all?" The jury's still out on that one.