Time, mummified

My phone died this week.

Well, it was close to death anyway and I need a reliable phone. My only hesitation in getting a new one was that this old phone had a voice message on it from my grandmother. Who died a year ago in January. She left the message about two, almost three  years ago now, on my birthday. I am not sure why I didn’t answer my phone when she called — maybe I was driving, maybe I was feeding Sam, whatever. I didn’t answer it. She left a message. I never listened to it, because I called her back right away. I don’t remember the conversation, but I am sure she wished me happy birthday and called me “Zsofikam” and we talked about Sam. I am sure. I kept the message all this time and never listened to it.

At the AT&T store they assured me that the message would transfer to the new phone. It didn’t. But it was still on my old one and when I got home I figured I could play it on the old phone and record it with my new phone’s nifty little voice memo feature. I closed the door to my office so that I could be alone when I listened to it. I set my new phone to record. I hit play on the old one.

Static. A quick breath. Click.

Seven seconds.

Not once during these past 3 years did it ever occur to me that she didn’t leave a message but hung up as soon as my voice mail clicked on. Never.

I am not sure why, but I felt so stupid. And sad, too. But mostly stupid. I was holding on to something that was nothing. And I should have kept holding on to it so that it would have remained something — a promise, a memory, a wish.

I recorded the static and the click anyway.

Sam and I have been talking about ancient Egypt and mummies a lot lately. He is fascinated by the gory stuff — the removal of the brain through the nose, the cutting of the organs from the abdomen, the oils and linens covering the body, the painted face masks and mysterious amulets placed on the bodies. “Why did they do this, mama” he asks over and over.

I try to say something smart about the afterlife and spirits, about living on after death. “What is death?” comes the next obvious question.

“It is static,” I say. “A quick breath. Click.”

Imagine

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I was in Los Angeles last week for six days. I’ve never been on the West Coast before and I was more than ready for some sunshine, warmth on my skin, and blooming trees. The City of Angels did not disappoint. I spent most of my time in a cavernous exhibit hall, away from the heat and the sun, but still… It was heaven. No socks. No coats and hats and scarves. No whipping, cold wind. No gray piles of snow everywhere.

I am always somewhat frightened by how easy it is to imagine another life, away from my real one. Not that I necessarily want to, but the thought is there… Would anyone — other than Sam — notice that I am suddenly not around? Could I slip away to another coast, into another life? I could take the bus to work every day, walk to my office under the palm trees and tall buildings, sit outside on a shady bench at lunch, watching the fabulous people walk by. I don’t know… On these business trips it’s easy to forget that real life would not be all cabs, dinners, and cruising down Sunset Boulevard with old friends. Clearly. But it could be, right? Could it? Is there a life like that out there? Who is living it? Anyone? Leave a comment, please!

I got to spend time with an old friend — or whatever he was back then… Lover? Boyfriend? I am not sure. Anyway, I haven’t seen him in over a decade probably and I was very nervous about spending time with him. Would it be awkward? Weird? Uncomfortable? Meaningless? I didn’t have to worry — it was all perfect and for some reason so comforting. I remembered every reason why I used to love him but at the same time felt OK about not having ended up with him. It all made sense. I felt like I was where I needed to be. It was all right to look back, to remember, to take that trip down memory lane, but there was no need to stay there longer or wish for a different outcome.

I was happy to come home in the end. There are more adventures and big decisions waiting ahead in the near future and I know I have to be clear-headed and focused for all of it. And maybe someday soon spring will get to this part of the world too and I won’t feel so dead and cold inside and out.

That would be nice.

 

Real Estate

For days after we sold our house, I felt uneasy. It felt like the house was still somehow attached to me like a phantom limb—heavy and itchy and restless—and I had to remind myself constantly that it was none of my concern anymore. I didn’t have to worry about shoveling the snow in the driveway or fixing the leaky window in the dining room, and I no longer had to grumble about the cold, creaky wooden floors.

We bought our house eight years ago, just weeks before the housing market collapsed. I don’t think it was love at first sight, but more like comfort at first sight. We could see ourselves living there, hidden among the trees of our wild backyard. We could imagine our furniture in the living room, our pots in the kitchen, our bed upstairs, a crib in the second bedroom. Our small family—not yet in existence—would fit in this small house neatly, comfortably.

Right before we signed the papers to buy the house, we ran into its owner, a middle-aged woman who inherited it from her mother. She lived there with a huge, white dog whose fur we’d keep finding in the most unusual places even years later. “This place really needs a young family,” she told us, waving towards the gray house behind her. I had never owned a house, but I knew what she meant. I knew that this was the place where it was all going to happen—where we would become a family, where we would settle down and be happy.

And it was mostly true. We were mostly happy, mostly settled. We battled with the wild raspberry bushes in the yard, with the ice leaking through the old roof, the paint chipping off the shingles. But the place was ours and I was surprised by how much that mattered to me and comforted me. I felt anchored, secure.

Then we decided to move to another state for a new job. The house was on the market for what seemed like decades, various strangers walking through our rooms critiquing everything from the ceilings, to the size of the kitchen, to its location. I felt insulted and protective of our little nest but also a bit resentful of its stubbornness. Why couldn’t it just let us go? Yet when we finally received an offer on the day the moving truck arrived to pack up our boxes, I felt no relief, no joy. The financial burden was lifted, the responsibility gone, the worry relieved.

Our tether gone, we were free to go. And yet…

I walked through the empty rooms one last time the day of the closing. I only cried when I got to my little boy’s room where he and I spent so much time awake in the middle of the night. I was taking the little boy with me obviously—he was sitting in the car outside—but I felt like a part of me was left behind among the soft yellow walls and the baby blue closet, and the view of the yard.

Read the rest at Full Grown People…

In no particular order

The universe has a good sense of humor and a great sense of making everything happen all at once. So in the past two weeks or so, in particular order:

1. Is it weird to be talking about your boobs in front of the world? Or at least the world of the Huffington Post. But why not? It was fun and who knows what might come out of it? Also, that headline… I think anyone with a brain would believe that I cried after my surgery. Ah, HuffPo! You adorable sensationalizer, you!

2. We moved. To Connecticut. I haven’t decided yet how I feel about all of it. So far I love our new place, the more urban feel, the signs on the highway pointing to New York City, just down the road. But I miss Maine, I miss my friends, I miss my creaky, old house.

3. We sold our house. This happened in just the span of 24 hours — in the morning no buyer, by the evening it was negotiated and gone. Again, mixed feelings. Financially it’s probably a really bad move. But emotionally and in the long-term, I think it was the right move. We wanted to move, we wanted to do something different, we wanted to start a new life. And the house was weighing us down. We are closing on the deal on Wednesday and in a way I really don’t want to see who bought it. I want to always imagine us in there, even if I do recall quite clearly how often I uttered “UGH! I HATE THIS HOUSE!” while we were living in it.

4. Stomach flu. Sam. All night.

5. Working from home. I haven’t done it for long yet — a day, really — but I know that I will have to come up with a new routine, a way to get out of the house, meet and see people. It will be an adjustment. I also feel like I will be more productive and that I will be able to be more present when I am home with Sam. I hope.

5. Things to look forward to: LA in March. NYC in May. Budapest in May. London in the fall.

Moving on

I was happy in this house. Not crazy, delirious happy, but happy. I wasn’t sure about it at first – the creaking floors, the yellow walls, the old doors and glass door handles, the wild backyard – it all seemed very foreign. It was clearly meant and built for someone else. I wasn’t sure how it could ever feel like home.

But eventually, room-by-room, it did. It’s where I learned to scrape paint chips off the wood floors. It’s where I learned not to be afraid of the basement. It’s where I first sat in front of a working fireplace on a cold winter’s evening. It’s where I learned to negotiate with painters, gardeners, plumbers.  It’s where I first raked leaves, shoveled snow, mowed grass, clipped rose bushes, grew tomatoes. It’s where I really became a wife. It’s where we fought and laughed and got tipsy on Christmas Eve, and celebrated birthdays. It’s where we found comfort in snow storms, in grief, in the quiet darkness of our bedroom. It’s where I became a mother after a night spent in our comfy armchair in the living room, surrounded by pillows, like some kind of an animal building a nest for her baby.

When we bought this house we once ran into the previous owner and she was happy to hear that a young couple was moving in. “This house always needed a young family,” she said. I wasn’t sure what that meant. But as Sam slowly discovered the house it all became clear. Just like he transformed us into a family, he also transformed this place into a home – first with his newborn baby smells and sounds, then with his toys, then with his small body discovering the space around him.

Suddenly our fireplace was a fire station dispatch center. Our living room was a pirate ship. The closet in the dining room the best hiding place for treasure – and for pirates. The kitchen counter was the best place to eat a snack while I cooked. The bathtub was the bottom of the ocean full of exotic fish. Our bedroom was a movie theater with popcorn and ice cream and snuggles.

It’s our last night here and it’s hard to imagine that tomorrow the messiness of our lives will be neatly packed in boxes, ready to move to some new space – still cold, unlived-in, unfamiliar, its beige walls full of hope and expectation.

Leaving the familiar warmth of our house is still unimaginable, even though it’s going to happen in less than 24 hours. I comfort myself with the knowledge that we’ve done this before – made a house into a home and made a life together in it. We can do this again, right?

Five Pounds of Flesh

This essay first appeared on Full Grown People.

The surgeon sat between my legs on a low stool, his left hand gently cradling the curve of my right breast as he drew dotted lines and circles on my skin. I was sitting on a hospital bed, my feet dangling off the side and I wasn’t sure where to look. His touch was measured and medical, but the intimacy of the moment took my breath away.

“This isn’t awkward at all,” I joked, trying to break the silence in the small examining room. The surgeon laughed with me, but never broke his concentration on the measurements—between collarbone and nipple, the space between breasts—mapping out where cuts and sutures and skin will go.

He quietly explained his strategy for the surgery to the resident sitting next to him, but he continued to focus on my breasts. I was in danger of breaking out in giggles and making his precise lines go wiggly, so I tried hard to concentrate on something else … anything. His wispy, graying hair. Sun-kissed, rugged cheeks. Blue eyes. Broad shoulders, sculpted arms, big, secure hands. Concentrating on him clearly didn’t make things easier. His breath smelled like chocolate.

This, I found the most reassuring.

Read the rest at Full Grown People…

Four

In the end it’s all a blur.

The time for huge, earth-shattering milestones is over — now every change is small, almost impossible to see from one day to the next. Yet here we are at the end of the another year, you are four, and all of those tiny shifts have added up to you. Funny, stubborn, loving, impatient, sassy, cuddly, smart, infuriating, joyful you.

I mean, I don’t remember if you learned to put your shoes on this year or last. Or whether this was the year that you started brushing your teeth on your own, or learned to put away your toys, or built your first Lego house, or figured out how to put your train tracks together. These are all very, very important skills, but in the end they do not matter and I know that they will get lost as years and years and years of memories pile on top of one another.

I don’t remember a lot about this year — but that is not your fault. I know that “death” entered your vocabulary in the past 12 months and maybe that is something to note and remember, even if it’s nothing to celebrate. You probably don’t know how many adults around you kept going because of you amidst all the death and sorrow that visited us. Lunch bags had to be packed. Lullabies had to be sung. There were books to read, playgrounds to discover, sea shells to collect. There was no time for feeling sorry for ourselves and for that I am grateful.

I do know that this is the year that we first talked about serious things: death, for one. Cemeteries and what we and the dead do there. Your belly button and how it connected you to me and why it does not connect us anymore. Or maybe it still does? Marriage — well, we still need to talk about this one, because you tell me that you want to marry me several times a day and I have not yet had the heart to tell you that that’s not going to happen.

I do remember that last year the answers to your questions were usually simple: That’s a cat. Cows say moo. Bananas are yellow. This year none of it was simple and many times I had to take a breath — or several — before giving you an answer. You have a knack for bringing up the difficult stuff in the middle of the grocery store, or at standing at a red light. But maybe to you the questions are still simple — whether it’s about life and death, the poor beggar on the side of the street, or the color of fruit — maybe it’s all the same to you: a question to be asked and answered and filed away in your little brain for future reference. I think I did an OK job with my answers — I never lied, never sugar-coated, or denied.

I hope that was useful. Although, who knows? That’s what I lost this year: my certainty. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s all the deaths, but suddenly I am so aware of the millions of ways I can mess you up. I know I have to make a decision about how to raise you every moment of every day and so I do, but with the knowledge that in 20-30 years we’ll both look back and you will probably fault me for whatever ails you in life at that point and I will apologize. I did my best. I am doing my best. I often comfort myself with the fact that in the end you will be OK. I mean, we all turn out OK. A little damaged, a little funny, a little unusual, a little different — but overall OK.

I don’t want to sound like this year has all been about sadness… Four’s been special — more so than your previous birthdays — because I think this is the year that we fell in love. Not like baby loves mama love, but real love. At least that’s how it is for me. You are such good company, such great entertainment, comfort, challenge. I feel like I am always “on” around you, always ready for whatever you throw at me, and that makes me feel truly alive.

I am especially grateful this year that you are still a little bit in that not a baby, but not quite a big kid phase. You let me hold you — and what’s more you want to be held and cuddled and kissed. You still find comfort by climbing in bed with me and snuggling up really close. We were by ourselves a lot this year and I think we both got through it by sleeping close, your sweaty little head on my pillow, your breath on my face. I know that this phase will pass and there will come a time when I will have to beg for a half-hearted peck on the cheek. So for now I enjoy every slobbery, messy, sticky kiss.

You are four. It’s a simple, glorious achievement. We will celebrate with cake covered in that thick, buttery icing. You will run around with your friends at your birthday party and scream and laugh until you crash from all that sugar. I will put you to bed that night and tell you the story of the day you were born — on New Year’s Eve, during a Blue Moon — and I will tell you how incredibly lucky I am that my year ends and begins with you. Every year.