From the Outside Looking In


Tuesday Morning Still Life

I’m not where I want to be.

Mornings aren’t organized. The girls watch too much TV. I consider it a triumph when we carve even an hour or two out of the day to be productive and creative and together. I’ve had a hard time writing. I’ve had a hard time cleaning. I’ve had a hard time keeping in touch. I’ve had a hard time…

I’ve had a hard time.

So I’ve been reading. Medieval history, southern cookbooks, organizational gurus, Tolstoy, Austen (again and again), Early Christian writers, CS Lewis, Harold Bloom, Plath and Dickinson and Auden. And so many biographies. Pages that peer into the lives of the famous, infamous and merely human. Words that connect me to a mortal experience removed from mine by era and value and gender. And I’ve come to love these people - even the ones I’ve hated. In understanding them, I’ve forgiven them or sat back with greater awe in the face of their achievements, even the ones that were never known beyond the walls of their hearts. (Well, not known until some really snoopy biographer was like, “I will find her journals and expose their contents to the world! For money! I mean...for the greater good!” Then whispers, “and money.”) I’d just finished Manchester’s opus on Churchill when I realized I was giving these never-met people more room for imperfect living than I was giving myself.

I know what has happened to me. I know where I’ve tried and where I’ve let things fall. I know the battles I’ve won and the battles I continue to fight. I know the things that brim to the tops of the walls of my heart. What if I started to look at the last year the way a biographer would view it fifty years from now? (Granted the biographer would have to specialize in obscure women that weren’t known beyond their social circle. I am sure there is someone out there in the future just dying to profile “an everyday woman who accepted her mediocrity and turned the shower on twenty minutes before getting in it every morning as a means to avoid her children FOR JUST A FEW MORE MINUTES!” Ahem.)

But really, improbable future biographer of tedium aside, what would an objective, outside paragraph or two about the past twelve months look like?

Her father’s cancer returned the month before her twenty-ninth birthday. The records we have from that time express both her faith and horror at the time of his short illness and quick death. Her relationship with her father was one of the central points of her life. There is little record left by Megan of the year that followed. As she was protective to the point of defensiveness of her family, the silence can be viewed as a decision to safeguard those she loved as well as herself. And while depression was never acknowledged, it seems apparent that it played a significant role in this scene of her life.

It was a time of upheaval. She helped her mother pack up thirty years of life and marriage and move to a new home. Her husband’s career changed. Her children reacted against circumstance and she spent much time healing them and trying to heal herself. She let long sought opportunities fall into the dishwater and worried about little slights. The regret of these unconscious decisions was, at times, crippling. In her few private writings, there is evidence of a minor faith crises and a continued search for understanding. We also encounter a real yearning for place and calling in her journals. (And by “journals”, the biographer would mean the 15 notebooks that each contained about three pages of writing spaced between five years before I moved onto another notebook to “really journal right this time.”)

The quality of the little writing she did during this period varied wildly. Spread from the enlightened to the pedantic, she seemed to be scrambling to find her voice and the words it carried. By the end of the year, she and Riley moved across town to a house with fruit trees and an office for her thoughts. Her later works reflect both the growth and hurt she experienced during this time. The woman we came to know would not have existed without this era of which we know so little.

Hmmm. It’s not the beginnings of greatness (and honestly, it would never get published, sorry pretend biographer), but it might be the beginning of understanding and forgiving myself.

And right now, I really, really need that.

(You might need it, too. What would your paragraphs look like?)

Our Biggest (And Best) Fight

The husband and I when we were basically still fetuses.

Today is Valentine's Day. So in the spirit of love and kisses and all that smoochiness, I'm re-posting a little look into our biggest fight yet. (I say "yet" because we've still got miles to go in this marriage thing and there is plenty of time to have much bigger fights. ha! Happy Cupid's Day!)

When Riley and I got married we had known each other for ten years. We had been best friends for nine of them and I had loved him for six. I knew him. Knew the music he liked, the way he looked when he was worried, and that when he said something was “great” he meant that it was shoot-to-the-moon-and-back fantastic. I thought that living with him would be more of the same. Young, foolish Meg. Living with a man is a wonderful, infuriating kind of thing and it is never more of the same. His sports consumption alone was a shock. Any sport, all sports, all the time. I once walked in on him and his brother watching a re-run of a mens college volleyball game …. from 1998. We had only been married about a month when I became (and remain) very territorial about food. Riley eats quickly and in man size quantities. I eat slowly and…in man size quantities. Ordering pizza brings out the worst in me. I actually start throwing elbows to keep him away from my slices. Down, boy, this half is for me. And then finally the most startling revelation of all, this man, who I have known since he was a boy, and I speak different languages. At times we cannot understand each other.  And never had that been more obvious than it was after the birth of our first child.

Things changed after Margaret. I loved my husband and daughter, but couldn’t feel much else. The postpartum depression slinked about the house until well into Margaret’s first year and the shock of first time motherhood had leveled me. I couldn’t pick myself back up. When I finally stopped crying on bathroom floors, I decided that must mean I was happy. Riley and I didn’t fight, but we didn’t laugh, either. I collected recipes I never cooked and started books I never finished. I had lost myself and couldn’t be bothered to do a thing about it.

One night Riley came home from school, the baby was asleep and I was watching TV on the couch. My hair was pulled back, I was wearing three day old jeans and a t shirt I slept in the night before. I didn’t get up when he walked in.

Hey, Riley. I’ll make grilled cheese for dinner. Just give me a minute.

His eyes were grey and he looked so upset. I stood up.

If you don’t want grilled cheese I can make something else.

He shook his head once and the words came out,

Megan, I married a girl that wears lipstick. You’re so different now.

His sentence landed between us and for the first time in a long time I could feel something. I was angry. Angry at my wrinkled t-shirt and stale dreams. Angry about the dishes in the sink and that I hadn’t written in over a year. And I was furious with this man that could walk through the door and tell me I had changed, before he had even said hello.

He tried to explain himself, we fought and I wouldn’t listen. And then he left. Because I had told him to, had told him I couldn’t be in the same room as someone as selfish as him. Someone that couldn’t understand what I had been through, what had happened to me. Get out, I said. I don’t care where you go or how long you stay gone, I just can’t be here with you now. The car pulled out of the driveway and the house was quiet. I cried on our bed, my body stretched from one corner to the other.

How dare he? Who the hell did he think he was? He married a girl who wore lipstick? Was this the 1950′s? Didn’t he know that in the past year everything had changed? Life had become deeper, but it had also become harder. He left for school and work everyday. He walked in the world before returning home. I walked with a stroller before returning home for story time and diaper changes and a third change of clothes after the seventh time I had been spit up on. Yes, he had married a girl that wore lipstick and dresses and earrings. Someone that ran to the door when he came home. He married a girl that wanted to write and explore. Someone that could look at herself and be happy with who she saw. Didn’t he know I missed that? That I woke up at night panicked because another day had gone by and I had become an even vaguer version of myself? My life had grown and there was no room for who I used to be.

Didn’t he know what I had given up?

And that final question shocked the tears dry. Didn’t he know what I had given up? And I knew he did. He understood exactly what I had given up. He married a girl that thought she could do big things and wanted to live a hundred bright colors at a time. He married a girl that wore lipstick. And then Riley had seen me put away dreams and settle for what I thought life was supposed to be. My husband had watched the woman he loved pale and wilt.  And that man, who was driving in the dark somewhere, had come home to tell me I didn’t have to give anything up. In his own crazy, seriously-what-dialect-is-that language, he was trying to say, Please Megan, let me help you have it all. And I, acting on preconceived notions and frustrated with myself, had told him he was selfish, told him to leave, told him to be quiet.

He came home and I met him at the door. I was sorry and he was worried. We spent the night talking and then not talking (if you know what I mean). I was married to a man that could see me even when I couldn’t see myself. Early the next morning, I fell asleep to the sound of his breathing and didn’t wake up once. The next day I showered, made breakfast and kissed him before he left for work.

And then I put on some lipstick.