“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked.” Cheryl Strayed
It is on this day each year that I think of your strength. It is also the day I think of your fear, because now I can see 53 right down the road. I have a while yet, but the number is arbitrary. I am close enough to that skin you were in that I am nearly crippled by the thought of how terrified you must have been. You only let it show once. That one moment in your closet when I walked in and you were crying.
“What if I have to leave you?” you said.
God, the fear.
I crawled into that skin so many times in the last couple of years, into that shell you were in the last days. Emaciated, frail, defeated. So very unlike you in all ways. I imagined the weight of the Tibetan prayer beads Mike had put around your neck, how heavy they must have felt on your sunken chest and disproportionate they were to your depleted body. What must you have thought in those moments? What would you have said to me if you had been able to speak, had gained consciousness once last time to impart the words that would get me through a life without you?
I’ve had to guess for 23 years but I think I know.
I made a choice Mom. I rolled all the fear and sadness and loss and emptiness into a tiny packet of dynamite and tucked it into my pocket like a lucky stone to rub when I need reassurance. I’ve needed a lot of reassurance lately.
I am safe. I am strong. I am brave.
I know it Mom. Deep in me I know it. You gave it to me, imparted it every day of the two decades I had the mind blowing luxury of your physical presence. Then you imparted it cosmically over the two decades I have known what it is to live without you next to me. In ways I hear you louder now than ever. Maybe I need you more now than ever so you draw near like you do.
It is all finally clear and I am grateful. So fucking sad but I got this. I am no longer mired in the bereavement, a child left with a babysitter for the first time thinking “will she ever come home?” I am no longer looking back, and I am walking forward with intention in the direction of truth and love and bravery. My story isn’t: ‘my mother died, my baby died, things don’t always work out the way I thought I was owed for the pain I have endured.” I am writing a new one, steeped in the strength and compassion forged from those challenges. The next twenty will look different Mom. I will write the book of my life from kindness and love and forgiveness, just like you taught me. I am not owed anything but I owe you the effort to try to live with as much integrity as I can muster.
On my bucket list is meeting Cheryl Strayed. All I do is quote her because more than any author she has given me that gritty strength I need for this life. Like me her mother died when she was 22. I don’t know what I would say to her, I think I would just cry.
“Nobody’s going to do your life for you. You have to do it yourself, whether you’re rich or poor, out of money or raking it in, the beneficiary of ridiculous fortune or terrible injustice. And you have to do it no matter what is true. No matter what is hard. No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things befall you. Self-pity is a dead-end road. You make the choice to drive down it. It’s up to you to decide to stay parked there or to turn around and drive out.” Cheryl Strayed.