“Writers are always selling someone out.”
So wrote Joan Didion in her preface to Slouching Towards Bethlehem.
I recalled this quote last week at breakfast, when my husband asked me over the head of our crying daughter, “Is this going to become a blog post?”
“Of course not,” I replied, indignant. “It’s too sad.”
Three hours later, I sat at my computer and composed this blog post.
Writers are always selling someone out.
Our daughter was crying because she missed Pink Sweetie.
She missed Pink Sweetie because she’d received a letter from Pink Sweetie.
Let me back up: Pink Sweetie was — is — a “lovey,” a soft little blankie with an animal head (a bear, in this case.) Pink Sweetie was a baby gift for Fiona, but Fiona passed her — along with her companion, White Sweetie — to Campbell after her birth. Campbell never passed Pink Sweetie on; she clutched Pink Sweetie, buried her nose in Pink Sweetie, brought Pink Sweetie everywhere — including the ferry across Lake Champlain, where, one fateful summer Saturday, the wind swept Pink Sweetie out of Campbell’s grip and into the water.
Campbell went through all the stages of grief in the course of 30 minutes, from denial to acceptance. We told stories about how Pink Sweetie was having a great time hanging out with the mermaids and Champ the Lake Monster on the bottom of Lake Champlain.
This was over two years ago. Nothing ever fully replaced Pink Sweetie; not White Sweetie, not even the new Pink Sweetie that Fiona bought Campbell for her next birthday. Every six months or so, Campbell would stare into space, tears welling, and say, “I miss Pink Sweetie.”
Last Friday, an envelope addressed to Campbell arrived in the mail. In it was a typed letter from Pink Sweetie, reporting that all was well under the Lake. Like Campbell, Pink Sweetie had started Kindergarten. She’d made a new friend. She’d even visited Burlington, on a seagull joyride. And she promised to wave if Campbell called her name by the Lake.
(This letter wasn’t really from Pink Sweetie, of course, but from my husband, with whom I fell deeper in love as I read it. When asked what inspired him to write and send it from his office, he replied, “My research wasn’t going very well that day.”)
As I read Campbell the letter, her mouth dropped open in amazement. She smiled. She asked, “Was that really from Pink Sweetie?” She said, “I should write back.” Then she got quiet. She stood up, walked out the screen door into the back yard, and sat on a rock. When I found her ten minutes later, she was crying quietly. “I miss Pink Sweetie,” she sobbed, when I asked what was wrong.
The crying and missing continued at regular intervals over the next few days.
One month earlier, it was Fiona who was teary after a trip to California to visit her paternal grandparents. “I miss Grandmommy!” she wailed daily.
And two weeks ago, we had 16 trees taken down in our yard, a concession to our gradual realization that the huge, beautiful trees growing mere feet from the house prevented other vegetation from surviving, brought swarms of mosquitoes, and ruined the roof and deck — in addition to being potentially dangerous.
But our daughters, who’ve read and watched The Lorax numerous times, were indignant. They were especially grief-stricken over an enormous hemlock they’d named “Evergreen,” which shaded their favorite rock and had low-hanging branches from which they could swing. Before Evergreen was felled, our three oldest girls went out to hug him and tearfully say goodbye. They saved one of his branches as a memento. Whenever they play outside, they mourn, “We miss Evergreen!”
“There’s been a lot of missing in our house lately,” I observed.
“Do you miss anything, Mommy?” Fiona asked.
And thankfully the conversation suddenly shifted gears, because I had no answer.
I’m still not sure I have an answer, unless “Yes, and no” counts as an answer.
Missing, in the way that my daughters miss, strikes me as a luxury. It’s the domain of the very young and the very tenderhearted. I am neither. I don’t shed tears over inanimate objects, trees, or people who are far away. I may wish that a favorite shirt hadn’t been trashed because it developed too many holes, I may wish that certain plants had survived, I may wish that I saw distant friends and family more often. These thoughts flit through my mind like gnats and are gone seconds later. But that’s just wistful thinking, not deep missing.
I’m also fortunate, because most of the people to whom I’m closest, the people who will leave un-fillable gaps in my life, are still alive. At the moment.
So, what do I miss?
For a little over a year now, I’ve felt my heart acutely. Not in a medical sense, but an emotional one. Throughout the day, a moment will strike me and I’ll feel my heart ache, swell, bleed. I’ve never been much of a cryer, but now I cry at happy endings, sad endings, church sermons, and especially while reading children’s books.
I thought this might be postpartum hormones, but I think a more accurate term is: missing.
I miss everything, all the time.
I miss the present, even while I’m experiencing it.
Because unless you’re in the middle of a crisis, the present can be heartbreakingly beautiful, crushingly joyful.
Sit with your children watching a sunset, and along with the loveliness of that moment you’re aware of how fleeting it is. You recall previous sunsets, maybe sunsets before children, before you knew all that you know now. You think of other people in the world — those you know, and those you don’t — who are watching the same sunset while suffering pain and loss. You realize that the next time you watch a sunset with your children, it won’t be the same; you’ll all be older, and maybe pain and loss will have found you in the interim. You think further into the future, to when you’ll watch sunsets alone, to when your children will watch sunsets alone.
And you miss it all: the past, the present, and the future. Because it’s all a series of sad and happy endings, all the time.
But you don’t miss the you who didn’t think this way about every moment. Because maybe this is what it means to finally be a grownup.
“Do you miss anything, Mommy?”
That’s what I would have told her.