Some days, some moments, you focus on what’s wrong: all that is wrong, all that is heavy, all that is weighing on you like the proverbial albatross on your neck. You feel slow and sad and overwhelmed and just a little bit more than a little lost. You’ve been under the weather for a while now–a year and a half of cruddy health catching up with you–and you’re tired. You’re tired of being tired. You’re tired of the shadows blurring your vision. You already have really bad eyesight, you know. You wish the shadows, these dark spots, would just move out of the way. As if it were that easy, of course.
You walk outside to water the plants–mums you just got for the front porch, because September is Mum Time, whether the thermometer reads 92 degrees or not–and you see your children. They’re laughing. Riding their toys while holding hands. Your son, so excited to own a BB-8 bike helmet, wears it with the packaging still on (you’re really bad about remembering to take the tags off of things). You gave the kids about a half hour to dash outside in between dinner and the baths and books and bed routine, and they’re making the most of it. David is inside, finishing the dishes. He manages to leave at least one thing on the counter (you sweep through the kitchen afterward, picking up the item–leftovers, Sriracha, maybe a wedge of cheese–and place it in the fridge) but he always, always does the dishes. You’ve just made the lunches for tomorrow’s school day and now stand in the middle of the driveway, the heat from the morning still rising from the concrete at your feet, laughing yourself while you shush the kids, whose voices are so loud they bounce off the exteriors of the homes around you. You know that David, from inside, is listening too through the open windows.
(Five minutes later, you’ll usher the children inside. One of them will be tattle-tattling and another will be in tears. Your minivan will have three new deep, squiggly scratches down the side of it from one of the kid’s riding toys. Your daughter–the second-born who disobeyed you, the one who put the scratches there–very gently mentions, through her apologies and tears, that if maybe you cleaned out the garage she would have a spot to put her toy and wouldn’t have had to squeeze it against the car. You look at her, speechless.)David and I are talkers. We argue tons–about big stuff, and little stuff, and politics and ideals and whether or not wainscoting belongs in a family room. My mother sometimes will say, quietly, that maybe if we didn’t have to talk about everything all the time there would be fewer disagreements. On the weekends, sitting on our bed after one of us (David, always David) has brought the other coffee. During the work day, when I’m getting Cian a snack and he’s come out of his office to get a glass of water. In the middle of the final season of House of Cards, when I’ve paused it to ask him what somebody said and he mentions something about one of the characters and I volley back with a retort and ten minutes later, we’re still hashing out our ways to fix whatever world/political/leadership problem popped up in the show. It’s exhausting. But it’s the bloodline of our marriage, I’ve realized. Without it, I’m not sure if the heart of it would beat so strongly.
The kids are in their pajamas now, under covers and clutching polka-dot blankets, dinosaur stuffed animals, a stuffed dolphin. They mumble prayers and ask for a story and ask what we’re going to do tomorrow (school, babies. You have school). They fight and argue and I finally tell them to stop in such a ridiculous way that each of us bursts out laughing. I turn out lights and walk out of SK’s room to find David, to tell him the story, to laugh with him about it–this thing that is just us, this family and this marriage and these talks.I looked up the word “albatross” right now. I always knew it was a bird–that scary big bird on your neck that I always pictured to look like a giant turkey vulture–but have you ever seen a picture of an actual albatross? It’s a cute sea bird, you guys. An adorable seagull-looking thing you’d coo over if you saw one at the beach. And apparently, sailors saw the albatross as an omen of good luck if one followed their ships (did you know this already?). It’s when a sailor shot an albatross–this is all according to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner–that a curse fell on him and the ship itself. It was good luck until somebody saw it as bad.
You see where I’m going with this, right? (I hope you do, because I’m not quiet sure yet, myself. I just started writing and kind of hoped I’d end up at a point.). The shadows that follow us are real. You know that. I know that. Even though you might have really crappy vision (I’m squinting as I type this) you know that the shadows are screwing it up even further. But here’s the thing. Maybe it’s how we flip the coin that changes how we see them. Maybe those shadows are the obvious: the fears and the health scares and the grieving and the life all lurking over us, hanging off our necks as we try to steer over the waters. Or maybe–hear me out, now–the shadows are something else. Maybe the shadows are the children who tiptoe downstairs after bedtime, peeking around the corner when most of the lights are out, asking for another hug. Maybe the shadows (even if they’re buried emails and texts received on the fly and Facebook messages that get lost in the wild black hole of the internet) are the friends reaching out to see how we’re doing, wanting to share a story themselves. Maybe the shadow is the husband, waiting outside the door to talk, talk, talk some more because that is who you are and what you do and the way to lift yourself up and out of your, well, self.There is a flock of birds outside my window right now, covering the grass between our house and the neighbor’s, searching for food in the dirt below their little feet. The lawn is dotted with their feathery bodies, and you should hear them–loud and cacophonous and frenetic in their energy. Fall is coming, winter after that. And I know that the birds are trying to store up their reserves, build their energy as they continue their flight south. They’re leaving us. But look at how cute those birds are. Look at how small and fast and busy they must be, their message fleeing and passing as they leave, lifting up into the air now to continue on their way.
Albatross. Good luck. Bad luck. Sign of hope or weight around your neck. Shadows of fear and fatigue or shadows of protectors, waiting to help you along your way. Accidental mars in the side of your minivan, or a toddler driving around your driveway in a toy car that’s way too small for him, wearing a BB-8 helmet, patting the antennae on top and saying, “I have a helmet. Okay.”You have a helmet. You have an albatross. You have the light that fights the shadow–or, your shadows are also your light. (Six of one. You say tomato.) Flip the coin to whichever side you’d rather have facing up, if you can. My albatross, right now, brings me coffee in the morning and argues with me and waits at the top of the stairs to find out what I was laughing about with the children. He follows my ship–sometimes leads it, sometimes stomps away only to turn around immediately to be with me, holding the course, finding my glasses when I can’t see where I’ve put them (lots of mixed metaphors here. Bear with me). When I’m floundering, as I am now, as I have been, he waits, patiently, for me to right myself again.
This post wasn’t supposed to turn into a love letter.