Being a good mother is essential. My family is essential. It is also not enough. That is okay.
love is rebellion
when you begin to crack like scorched earth
and the sun’s traitorous kisses leave you like a sparrow’s egg
when what was demanded of you since the day you arrived
falls further into memory with each sunset
love is mutiny
when your shadow covers more sand than it should
when your body is soft
like your will
and keeps moving after you have stopped
love is brazen
when all you’ve made evaporates
like dew from a cactus’ spine
and the only thing you bring to each dusk is that
small drains on this plane’s resources
are still breathing
love is madness
when you’re the molted skin
of the creature you once were
and changing winds
leave you flailing
for how or where to spend yourself
and anyhow, you’re spent
you miss her
all nerve and knowing, instinct and ease
you regard her waffling, wilted remains
then you survey the terrain that shaped these remains
brittle, broken, careless
beating down on every beating thing
and you realize your contempt is borrowed
from a place that only ever wanted to hollow you and move on
and the taste of venom rises to your mouth again
fuck everything you’re supposed to be
you whisper tenderly
with a flick of your forked tongue
there’s pixie dust in the water
off this island coast
where time is liquid
so i am both mother and child
and can learn the things i never did
about how to fall
and how to fly
there’s place on this rock
where hands and feet press concrete
to shape the land
but it is the land that shapes
as it did mothers and fathers
great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers
whose ashes conform to the landscape
there is family in this place
sprawls like family
stings like family
deep like family
thick like family
there’s sacrament in these cups
their origin unknown
intermingled as the stories that flow with wine
on docks, on decks, in kitchens
there’s story in these beams
creaking beneath my feet as they are lifted and dropped by the tide
whispering things to which they have borne witness
battles and confidences
(marginally) true tales
hymns and bootylicious
curses uttered over failing motors
prayers of gratitude
and other pacts
feet that have pressed them
running-running-running, slowing, but never ceasing to return
to the rites observed here
there is pixie dust in this water
so I stand where beam meets sea
falling into the deep’s embrace
I’m contemplating getting work done. I know.
It started innocently enough. I spent one too many days of my recent Sunshine Coast getaway leaping from deck chair to kayak with dangerous alacrity on account of my bump-festooned lady garden. I know better than to shave down there, but seriously, who are the people who have time to wax every time they’re going to put on a swimsuit? I had just gotten myself and my son out of a kayak and onto a dock when an older gentleman from a neighboring cottage approached to help me pull the craft in. Was I thinking about my child’s safety? Yes. Obviously. Was I thinking about not letting the kayak drift out to sea? Also, yes. But I was simultaneously looking around for a pair of shorts to throw on as quickly as possible (because, clearly, the man’s first order of business was going to be to take a gander at my crotchal area and get weirded out). It was with one leg through my shorts and one arm around my kid that I told myself, You’re pushing 40. You don’t have time for this shit. As soon as I got home, I googled “Best Laser Hair Removal.”
I found a top-rated place, and started reading the reviews. Unlike many places that perform this service, this one specialized in more extensive cosmetic procedures. Most of the reviews were not for their hair removal services but for Botox and fillers. I’d heard about lip fillers before, but, as people seem to be quite comfortable with posting their own before-and-after photos along with their reviews, I saw that many people had gotten under-eye fillers. As in, get-rid-of-your-bags-and-dark-circles-fillers.
Since switching to the revised sleeping schedule that follows giving birth, I’ve had permanent, ash-coloured, pits below my eyes. I, who once wore makeup only to weddings, have now become a person who does not leave the house without a generous application of foundation and concealer, primarily because I want to look like I am still living. I also sometimes wear makeup around the house, lest I slip into a coma from walking too close to a mirror.
The sudden realization that someone could inject something under my eyes to make me look all rested and perky danced before me like a desert oasis. I found myself contemplating it, despite the fact that I have long considered Getting Work Done to be solely the territory of insecure starlets and desperate housewives – and despite the fact that the injections generally seem to shut down the part of the brain that lets you know when to stop.
I casually broached the topic with my husband: “What would you think if I got some injections under my eyes to fill in these dark circles?”
“Wouldn’t sleeping also do that?”
“It’s never gonna happen.”
He nodded, ceding the point.
“But what if you get a freaky frozen face?”
“It’s not Botox. It’s just replacing the fat that I’m losing in my face.” But even as I said that, I was thinking, While they’re in there, they may as well Botox those weird wrinkles I have under my eyes. Oh crap! This is how Lindsay Lohan started! I was brought back to the present by my husband’s voice.
“They’re going to inject fat under your eyes? Whose?”
Good question. “I think it’s synthetic.”
He sighed and then looked at me.
“You do realize this is only going to get worse. We are aging.”
It was true. What was I thinking? I would not bow to the demands of a youth-obsessed society. I would not rail in futility against time’s inevitable onslaught. I would accept the coming of age with grace and dignity. I would be an Audrey Hepburn, to use the immortal words of Liz Lemon, not a Madonna. I dropped the subject and just made an appointment to talk to someone about the lasering. (Having a permanently tidy undercarriage was somehow a much easier sell.)
I went with the intense place that had all the rave reviews – partly on account of the reviews, and partly because it looked expensive. Firing lasers at one’s vulva, I reasoned, seemed the sort of thing one should not do on the cheap.
Deciding not to waste precious and rare moments involving a babysitter for a laser consultation, I brought my 2-year-old son along. A sandwich board was sitting out in front of the place, promising that they could make me look and feel better. There were images of pretty people on it, smiling broadly with perfect teeth. I felt a little sick.
I approached the door to find before-and-after pictures of a woman’s face that had been treated for sun spots. I paused. They can FIX those…? Oh Dear God. I am Donatella Versace. NO. I forced my gaze upward and pushed open the door.
Having decided approximately two and a half seconds prior that I would not descend the slippery slope of skin alterations, I entered with a certain aloofness. The room was spartan and immaculate, and the receptionist was a flawless representation of the current standards of physical beauty. A TV was showing an episode of The Doctors wherein Ken dolls in white coats were touting some sort of treatment (presumably offered here) whereby ugly people are made acceptable. My son looked at it, and I felt sick again.
Next to me sat a man who looked like he’d spent a fair amount of time there, and I don’t think it had made him feel better yet. He smiled at me a bit shyly. I smiled back, blushing somewhat, like I’d just bumped into my neighbor while we were both buying sex toys. I glanced around, sizing up people as they came and went, wondering what they were in for, wondering if they were wondering what I was in for. Probably those hideous dark circles, they all thought.
A nice-looking young man came out to the lobby, and a quick glance at his arms indicated to me that he was there for the same reason I was (albeit, I imagined, for a different body parts), so I glanced up at the technician who accompanied him.
She was young and svelte, with raven hair, alabaster skin, and pillowy lips. Either she had won the genetic lottery, or they really did fantastic work here. I decided it was an 80-20 split, and stood up and smiled as she glanced down at her chart and said my name.
She took my medical form from the flawless receptionist and ushered me back to her office. I settled in with my toddler squirming in my lap. She gave him a quick smile and began to ask the standard questions. Then she stopped, stared at my form, and forced herself to continue before stopping short again. “I’m sorry,” she said finally, “This is so unprofessional. But I can’t help but notice that you’ve had a laparoscopy.” Her voice tightened, “I’m having one in two days.”
She was still composed, smiling, but in that tightness I heard all the fear I felt seven years ago upon being told that I would have one tube stuck through my belly button and another just above my pubic bone to probe all my internal organs looking for a disease that I may or may not have. A disease that may or may not make me unable to have a baby.
“It’s no big deal!” I said quickly. “They put you under, and you wake up, and it’s done. They do pump your abdomen full of gas, which, weirdly, hurts your shoulders, but other than that, I have very little memory of the recovery – that’s a good thing.”
She looked relieved, but also like she wanted to say more.
I ventured, “If you don’t mind my asking, what is it for?” Then I quickly added, “You totally don’t have to answer.”
She hesitated, then told me. Suddenly, we were plunged into the kind of conversation you rarely have even with close friends. In muted tones and short sentences, we spoke of fear. Of longing. Of pain. Of sex. Of the isolation and deep loneliness of being completely misunderstood by everyone who is supposed to understand.
She glanced at my son, who had long since left the confines of my lap and was across the room getting way too excited about a doorstop. “I see that you…”
I told her it took a long time. That the laparoscopy helped me with the pain but not fertility. That IVF didn’t work. That nothing worked. That just after being told that there wasn’t anything else medicine could do for us, we got pregnant naturally – “spontaneously,” as they say in the biz. Part of me hated saying it to her, because I know how it feels to hear those miracle stories – everybody has a friend of a friend who got pregnant after starting the adoption process, or giving up, or learning how to relax. You learn to hate those people. But here was my son, wandering around her office, and there is no addressing his existence without acknowledging that it is the kind of miracle, fairy tale ending that everyone in this club longs for.
I shifted topics and asked, “Has anyone joked about having fun trying yet?”
Her eyes rolled to the heavens, and her perfect brow descended to her desk with a dull thud. She looked up, “My mother actually told me that this is great birth control.”
I grimaced. She took a deep breath, “I don’t want birth control.” And then she almost whispered, but it carried all the anguish and desperation of a scream, “I just want a baby.”
My eyes brimmed, because I know that scream so well. And I just wanted to take her in my arms and whisper, “Courage, dear heart.” But we were still in an office, and she still had to talk to me about lasering my hooha.
She did, briefly, and she answered all my hooha laser-related questions. As we left her office, she paused to kick the doorstop. It was a noisy doorstop (the very best kind). The boy’s eyes widened with wonder. I took his dimpled hand and led him toward the lobby.
Before I turned to leave, I said, “Good luck,” and I did my best to infuse the words with a strong hug. The TV was still flickering in that most plastic of places where I had just had the most human of encounters. I passed the flawless receptionist, who smiled at me. It suddenly occurred to me that she, also, likely had a soul. As did hairy arms guy, and sheepish frequent customer guy, and perhaps even Donatella Versace. And, perhaps, even my own self, who may or may not end up getting work done. And who the hell cares either way.