Monday, January 27, 2014

All the Words

It has been almost a year since I last posted to this blog. I didn’t deliberately take a hiatus, but time passed, I didn’t feel moved to write about my life (and most of this blog is, in some way, about my life), and here we are. It’s a sunny afternoon in late January, and I’m trying to find some words. The Internet tells me that the baby in my belly, at 33 weeks, is the size of a pineapple. 

“Some words”: that’s the key here. What overwhelms and stymies me is the need to find all the words, all the words to describe the good and the bad of this last year, of momentous life experiences like a pregnancy, a book release, the loss of a friendship, a trip to a foreign country, being unwell, being so anxious that I was, for weeks, nearly immobilized. I’m not much of an essayist. Other writers could take these experiences and find truths bigger than themselves in them, make art, but all I can think about is how enormous life is—how enormously wonderful and terrifying and strange—and to blog about it is the smallest possible act, comic in its smallness, and I’m not sure how to do it. I don’t want to lay myself bare here, because I’m not brave enough; but I don’t want to be breezy and dishonest, either.

So here are some words, some moments—disconnected, out of context. A portion of the bigger truths, cowardly narrow, but at least as honest as I can make them:

The movement of a baby at 33 weeks is legible. I can conceptualize the scale of the creature I’m carrying. Sometimes, when I lie in bed, after waking or before sleeping, he seems to swim sideways, and some part of him surfaces like a fin. The first time I felt him move, at 18 weeks, I was lying alone in my childhood bed at my parents’ house in Kentucky. I wasn’t sure if it was him, or if I was kidding myself. I stared up at the ceiling light fixture, a milky white glass with blades of yellow wheat extending to the four corners. The same fixture that had been there when my parents bought the house almost 40 years ago, so far as I know. The sensation was of a guitar string being softly plucked from an impossible distance deep inside me.

There was a moment at the end of my trip to France that reminded me of nothing so much as an afternoon in my early childhood. A girl—I don’t remember her well, and she wasn’t in my life for long—had come to stay for the day at my house. We played easily and happily together, and I felt for her that easy love of those single-digit years, that tender, unguarded affection that hasn’t even considered the possibility of rejection. Her mother came to pick her up at the end of the day, and I wept and wept. I didn’t think I could bear the loss of her. So there was a moment for me in France like that, when I had to say goodbye to a person I’d known for only a couple of weeks, and all I could do was weep and weep into my husband’s shoulder, sitting on a train, barreling through the dusk.

Hypochondria is what happens with a rational, analytical mind turns its powers to a dogged pursuit of irrationality. The last line of defense is always, “Well, perhaps X isn’t wrong with me, but I would not be feeling this way if my body weren’t trying to tell me something.”

How changing the dishwasher reminds me of you: First it was the mug you gave me. I would have to decide if I wanted to use it for my morning coffee, and why not, it’s a perfectly good mug. Not too big or small, well-insulated, and the color (pink) means that I can see if I’ve put the right amount of cream in my coffee, which is tricky to tell when I use the dark blue mugs. So I use it, and then I put it in the dishwasher, and then I have to unload the dishwasher, and so each time I do that I’m thinking sad and bitter thoughts. And now the mug is tucked back out of reach, so I hardly use it, but simply opening the dishwasher takes me to the same sad and bitter place, which is rough, because unloading the dishwasher, especially the glasses, is one of my least favorite household chores, anyway.

Not this past spring, but the year before, I was photographed by the Google Maps car. I knew it happened because I saw the car drive by. So I forgot about it, and then some months passed, and I thought to go on Google Maps and check to see if I was there, and yes, there I was, backpack hanging off of one shoulder, arm raised mid-stride. In the next view, when the car has gotten ahead of me, my face is blurred. In the third, I’ve spotted the car; you can see a hesitation in my step, a recognition in my face, even through the greasy wash that has rendered me anonymous. Every now and then I go back and click through the succession of photos, oddly proud, oddly unsettled. What a beautiful day it was, and I hardly ever wear a color like that, but frozen-in-time me is in a gauzy pink floral blouse.

In Boston, she bought us all dinner at the very good seafood restaurant, the one that would be in the backdrop of all of those terrible photos of the finish line of the Boston marathon. She did it in memory of her father. I didn’t have the words then, either. I sipped my excellent martini and wished I could say what I knew in my heart about goodness, her goodness, but it would have just embarrassed her, anyway.

She—another she—delivers a chocolate chess pie to my doorstep, because of a joke I made on Facebook. Again, there aren’t any words. I haven’t been hungry like the world tells me I’m supposed to be, I have never in my life been this indifferent to food, but the pie, still warm, is exactly what I want and need.

I go get the pregnancy test because my right breast is lumpy. I think, either I’m pregnant or something is wrong. It turns out I’m pregnant, but still, I think something is wrong. So the first ultrasound I get is not of the baby but of the breast, that uncertain terrain—it feels as if a hot, dense thumb is pressing up from under the skin. I go home from the first visit with a yellow sheet, a carbon copy, a list of options careening down the page toward devastation, and the one checked is “Probably Normal Tissue.” A month later, at the follow-up, I have advanced to “Normal Breast Tissue.” On the ceiling of the exam room is a backlit picture of a tranquil garden, like the kind you see at a Chinese restaurant.

They let me hold their sweet baby for a long time, I think it’s at least an hour. I love them, and I love her. Her hot weight is balanced on my hard mound of stomach, her soft cheek on my collarbone. We are at the kitchen table, eating cake. We all laugh because her little hand is resting in my cleavage, but that, too, feels like a gift.

Songs he seems to like: “Mr. Blue Sky,” by Electric Light Orchestra; “You Make My Dreams Come True,” by Hall and Oates; “Take On Me,” by A-HA.

Sometimes the worst moments are the best moments, when we’re lying in bed, and I’m tucked under his arm, and the scale of the love I feel seems proof of its fragility. I don’t know why I deserve it, and I don’t know what guarantees I can hold on to it. We met when I was seventeen—half my life ago. In another seventeen years, our son will be the age I was then. I don’t know how to process this. I don’t know how anyone manages.


Niels said...

Dear mrs. Goddard Jones,

Outsicking a cold, I'm reading now the Dutch version of "The next time..". Reading almost 3 thrillers/detectives a week (public library) I sometimes have special experiences. I am stunned by your ability to observe and describe emotions, nature (lightfall), characters, psychology. Your story really touches me, takes me on a vacation in the world of that people, that place and that time with all kinds of elements I can intensely relate to (e.g. feeling lonely and confused as a child/teenager). In many ways your observations strike me intensely. I guess you must be a very sensitive, gifted, intelligent and very nice person to be able to write like this. Your book thus is far from "another detective" for me: it really strikes some chords inside.

thanks for this wonderful ride,
Niels Zeelenberg,47, Arnhem, Netherlands

Holly Goddard Jones said...

Niels, thank you so much for finding my blog and for the very kind and thoughtful response to Next Time. What a thrill it is to imagine my book in a library thousands of miles away, finding such a generous reader. It means a lot. Again, thank you.

Niels said...

Thanks. And I agree with that great nurse Sara: there really was a time when none of us-fan or not-could escape Mariah Carey's earwurms echoing everywhere in- and outside of us:-) Did you now that once a big city US restaurant customer sued his restaurant-really happened-for the headaches he got from Mariah dominating the speakers.

what do you think. Must be that ugly melisma thing (Whitney, Mariah, Christina) and that "showing overwhelmingly how overwhelmingly good my pipes are"-thing without the elementary art of restraint and mastering.

must be that.Never heard these stories about Donna Summer, Barbra S., Pointer Sisters......

I'll check the web for new books!

Best of luck
Niels Z.