Published on March 1st, 2018 | by Tara Dorabji0
Ask a Mutha: More on Love
For this installment of Ask a Mutha—I asked more mothers to tell me about their hearts. To share with us how they love. After all, life is an evolving relationship with love. Here is more from mothers on love. This is the second part of a two piece meditation. – Tara Dorabji
By Susan Ito
It’s almost midnight when I tiptoe into my 95-year-old mother’s room in her assisted-living facility. Her nighttime caregiver has called in sick and I’m the backup. Mom is purring softly, curled like a shrimp on her side. From the light through the crack of the bathroom door, I assemble my bed on the floor: A gray foam mat, a down comforter and pillow. I ease myself down, eyeing the lump of her body on the bed. If I see a foot emerge from underneath her quilt, I grab my glasses and my body tenses, ready to spring to my feet if she wakes.
I almost lost her this year. Her determination to go to the bathroom independently keeps me vigil from the floor. After two major hospitalizations and too many falls to count, she’s been unsteady on her feet, especially at night. She forgets her walker, leaves it willy-nilly and lunges to grab it. She stumbles to the bathroom every hour or two, anxious about wetting the bed. One bathroom fall this year led to bleeding in the brain and surgery. Another fall could be fatal.
I remember when I used to hover over my infant children like this—listening for their snuffling breath at night, startling awake when they moved or turned in their sleep. One of my daughters now lives thousands of miles away in Canada. The other lives nearby and helps her grandmother—bringing her chocolate, cuing up Harry Potter on the television. Their days of needing me have dwindled.
When the sun streaks the sky in watercolor pink and gold, I’m tired, but my heart is tender. We’ve gotten through another night together. This is what love feels like. When someone wakes in the night and doesn’t know where they are. They need the bathroom, or a drink of water. When they call your name and you say, “I’m here.”
Susan Ito writes and teaches at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, Mills College, and Bay Path University. She is the author of The Mouse Room and A Ghost at Heart’s Edge: Stories & Poems of Adoption.
LOVE: IN DARKNESS AND LIGHT
By Tara Dorabji
I was born a poet in hopes that I could create a poem that rewrites love, to smooth out the jagged edges. Love pierces my heart, a fish hook with a barb, when my 22-year-old son calls to tell me I have no right to call him son.
This too is love. My body shaking at the end of the call. The next morning, my ten-year-old daughter says, I know you don’t want to talk about it, but just give me the punch line.
Love. I want to say. I’ve learned that love knows boundaries.
When I cup my hands like they are holding water and bring them to the lips of my lover and whisper, If you want me to go, tell me that you don’t want to be with me, and I’ll walk. I am unafraid to leave. At 36, I finally let a lover break my heart. I don’t want to hurt you anymore, he says, hurting me in new, unbearable ways, becoming conditional, temporal when I wanted to believe in endurance. This pain too will end, like our love. He says the words, I brought to his lips, I don’t want to be with you anymore.
We don’t see each other again, or at least that is how I remember it. I learn that it’s ok to let my heart weep, that the pain in my back is my body shedding its own tears. I am no longer afraid of heartbreak.
My son messages me on Facebook, saying things too ugly to rewrite and demanding that I not call him son, issuing a threat, an ultimatum, like a gun to my head demanding what money I have in my pocket. I am quiet. Or maybe this is silence that binds me to generations of women, who become silent to protect their sons, husbands, lovers. This is a silence that allows violence to enter our homes, for it to breed, and swallow our words.
Sometimes, love does not find words. Sometimes, love becomes a prayer. Sometimes, love waits. But I know that the only moment I have is now. I will not be able to breathe back into existence the moments we don’t share, or the parts of ourselves that grow apart. Love can atrophy.
Death teaches me more about love than birth. I clean out my grandmother’s house after she dies. I start with her knives, sharp and worn with years of use. I take the rolling pin, her Ziploc bags, wax paper, and cookie sheets, warped and aged. Her pants are handmade hanging by the waist in her closet – slacks worn for decades, treasured and hemmed. My heart aches when I bag them up and deposit them at the Salvation Army.
This is one of the most intimate acts of my life. The taking of her sacred and treasured items. And so many of them will be cast away. She loved me with a fierce love that she baked into cookies and jams, preserving herself in sugar. But of course, her love had a dark and manipulative side, too. This is the debt of love, to accept this darkness and learn that it was hers, not mine.
I hope that one day, the shadow of my love will exist only between god and me. Can I become a love poem—a star full of light, born from dark matter?
My daughters are ten, twins. Our love is sharp rocks and smoothed glass marbles. We fight. We scream. We are an isosceles triangle – us against the world. I learn not to stretch myself too thin, reaching them, so our hands and feet fit snugly together, our base stronger. Part of love is nourishing ourselves, I hope to teach this to my daughters in living example. In our house, almost everything can still be solved with a hug. I marvel that this is true for me, too. Though there are very few arms that I will let hold me in this way.
The harder things become in life, the more small joys come my way. A fresh steamed crab on my doorstep. Fried chicken for my birthday. A pod of humpbacks. I settle for fleeting magic along the way. These too are acts of love, the easy parts. The most jagged sides of our love, we save for those closest to us—this is the love that endures.
I marvel at the ocean, the moon and its tremendous faith in waves. The dedication the ocean has, sending wave after wave to lap upon the shore. As if she, the sea, believes that one day, she can polish this heart of mine.
Tara Dorabji is a writer, Director of Communications and Development at Youth Speaks, radio journalist at KPFA, and on the Board of Directors at Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation. She is published in Al Jazeera, Huizache, Good Girls Marry Doctors, All the Women in My Family Sing, and Chicago Quarterly.
A WINTERED HEART
By Lisa Factora-Borchers
Over the winter holiday, I attended the wake and services for a sweet five-year-old girl in my partner’s family who died from natural causes. At the wake, we stared straight ahead into an open casket where a tiny body lay in a coffin with a handful of children’s trinkets. Propped against the creme lining of the casket, a page ripped out of a Christmas coloring book with a picture of Santa. She died two days before Christmas. There was nothing to say. What words would even dare to try to come out?
Her first birthday party had been an explosion of rainbows—the decor and the cake. After countless surgeries and health complications, what better symbol to celebrate survival than the bittersweet mixture of light and rain? At holidays and big family events, I caught glimpses of growth. The years went quickly and I treasure those glimpses of her, always with her medical backpack that she could never go long without.
I hesitate to write of an abbreviated life—one with an ending that bears all the wrong and impossibility a parent can imagine. Yet, I need to make sense of the seemingly unbreakable wintry ice on the world and overpowering cruelty of death coming for a child.
I write when things don’t make sense. Not that logic always springs forth from writing, but something close to it does: acceptance.
Coffins that small haunt the grieving and the living. At the burial, one maroon tent stood against a muted winter landscape—white ice, grey tombstones, black overcoats, and dead beige grass blades peeking from under patches of snow. I can still feel the wind ripping through the tent, sliced by the small coffin, and hitting my stone face, cutting through my clothes and pricking my bones. My heart has not yet fully thawed. I’m not sure what will come out when it does.
Winter is here, and a sacred little girl is gone. While neither grief nor hauntings can be timed, I’m hopeful that when the seasons change—when the thrush of lime begins to grown into green, and the topsoil warms the ground, a rainbow will accompany the bittersweet arrival of spring– a celebration of survival.
Lisa Factora-Borchers is writer and the editorial director at Bitch Media. Her work is widely published and she is the editor of the anthology, Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence.