(excerpt from The Hierarchy of Weeds)
December has taken hold like a giant unwelcome beast, straddling my heart and home. Mornings are especially difficult, as this house seems to welcome cold air, giving it sanctuary during the night. I am alone again in my preparations for Christmas, the decorating, shopping and cooking have, as they always have, fallen heavily upon my shoulders and I don’t mind really, but I am tired.
My husband has found his own sanctuary, the casino, and it takes the place of golf when the weather turns cold, but unlike golf– the casino takes more that it ever gives back–and I long for the husband that is lost to me every winter, with grass clippings dried on his shoes. I miss the man who sleeps contentedly in front of the TV after lunch, exhausted but happy.
The smell of coffee brewing in the kitchen wakes me before the alarm each morning and I quickly put on a pair of socks and grab a sweatshirt before descending the stairs. I can actually feel the temperature drop with each step and I shudder but forgo turning up the heat as it would only cause the upstairs rooms to get too hot and stuffy. My coffee mug gets warmed first in the microwave and then I sit for my morning ritual of local news. I recall a dream I had last night and try to make sense of it. A giant bird and me. I’m standing on the deck looking towards the greenbelt. I’m covered in white stuff. I know the bird is enormous yet I don’t actually see it because I never look up. I’ve been crapped on by a giant bird.
We are waiting to go to church on Christmas Eve and our grown boys are here with their sister, watching Dumb and Dumber in the living room as I make pies. Their laughter is balm against a wound that has started to fester in my heart. I’ve promised myself to heap on the balm as I wait for Danny to arrive. He’s still playing poker at the casino but has called twice to say he’s on his way.
It snowed in the morning, Christmas 2007, big, wet flakes that fell like tissue paper cut outs, turning to water even before making contact with anything and I cried, carrying out a tray of banana pudding for the kids, watching through the window at how calmly the flakes fell, I thought again of my dream.
Our Christmas tree finally makes sense. After years of collecting random ornaments, our daughter has declared the theme ‘rustic’, and it all works beautifully now. The house will soon be filled with friends and our Christmas celebration will be underway in all it’s glory and tradition, built on years and years of predictability and shared expectations. But it all happens so fast and again I have that feeling of missing out, being too busy opening 10 cans of peas and pouring cider and making sure everyone has a napkin and a place to sit and I dart about like a hummingbird from one person to the next making sure, making sure, until someone reminds me to sit down and eat and I do but it all tastes like cardboard because I’m so exhausted.
I’ve received a book on dream interpretation as a gift from Glenda’s mom and I carry it to the table, tucked under my arm, while balancing my plate full of pumpkin pie and whipped cream in one hand and a mug full of black coffee in the other. A natural separation has occurred leaving the kitchen table full of women and children and the den with it’s couch and chairs full of men, facing the TV. My daughter sits at my side and gives me one of her hugs that always lets me know I am loved. I take a big bite of pie and thump the dream book with my index finger for emphasis as I explain, “this is the perfect gift. You’ll never believe what I dreamt last night. And I don’t usually dream…”
“Mom, everybody dreams.” My daughter reminds me. But I don’t usually remember mine and I explain about the bird, and how I’m standing on the deck covered in bird poop. Glenda’s mom takes the book and begins searching for anything to explain my dream but finds nothing.
Glenda and I have been emailing each other recently about our love of writing and I mention our ‘secret lives as writers’. Children are beautiful in their utter and complete honesty and the word ‘secret’ tugs at Genevieve, Glenda’s youngest daughter, prompting her to proclaim, “Mom has a contract!” As if in slow motion I turn to Glenda. Outwardly I am calm. Internally, I am folding like a house of cards. You are a better writer than me and someday you’ll be a published author. I knew she’d had some stories published on an internet web site, but this was different. Having a contract is different. Glenda’s mom, Hilda, has given her full attention to the dream analysis book and is reading intently, not reacting at all to her granddaughter’s revelation. I am stunned to learn that something so wonderful was supposed to be kept secret from me and I know that at that moment a giant wheel in the universe has shifted and changed the mechanics of our friendship forever. Glenda has sold a novella to an online publisher. There is potential for a hard copy too. She tells me of her excitement. Glenda’s mom looks up momentarily at her, at me, and then returns to the book, thumbing through pages quickly and then stopping, concentrating again on reading some passage, an interpretation of a dream. Glenda recants how she could hardly see and think clearly the day she received word via e-mail that her work had been accepted. I ask, “Why didn’t you tell me?” She shifts in her chair, “It’s embarrassing.”
That’s not true! How could you say that! You and I have talked about writing. How we love it and admire those who are published and successful. You have your validation! You can now say you are a published author.
I quickly retrace in my head every conversation we’ve had about writing and I’m embarrassed and ashamed that I’ve shared so much of myself with her. A year ago I felt as if God wanted me to share my story; as if my life and struggles were worthy of sharing. I spoke so passionately at the time but have accomplished nothing! Reading about writing, watching movies about writing and thinking about writing is all I’ve done. And all I’ve done adds up to nothing.
I feel my daughter’s eyes on me. Is my pain and hurt displayed for all to see when I think I am safe? There are some dreams and hopes a girl should only tell her mother, for a mother will tread lightly around the exposed heart of her child.
I’d made the mistake of sharing too much, of seeking mentorship and praise from someone who couldn’t offer it and I had no business expecting it from her anyway. I felt a fool. The table is an island and we are each alone. We wait in awkward silence for the spell to be broken. Glenda’s mom looks up from the dream book and adds with a shrug of her shoulders, “She’s been writing a long time; since she was a little girl.” There is a warning tone to her voice. I’ve ruffled the feathers of a protective mother.
I’ve managed to reset my mood by offering to put on another pot of coffee, cut some more pie and move on to another discussion. My children love me. My children love me. I have all I need. I have all I need. It’s been another wonderful Christmas.
We walk our friends out to their cars, staggering awkwardly with so many bags of gifts and plastic containers full of leftovers. Danny is washing dishes in the kitchen, clanging plates as the sound of running water fills the now empty house. The arms of Morpheus will surely take me quickly tonight and under warm flannel I turn away from my husband in anticipation of sleep, but more so that he won’t see the tear that has spilled from my eye, a single tear so heavy and dense that I close my mouth for fear it could drown me should it slip past my lips.