Fair warning: This is a long one that I’ve been wrestling with for a while. And it’s probably not done. Thanks for reading, friends.
A wonderful woman died just before Christmas this year. Nana was my best friend’s grandmother, and she was one of those people who lived her whole life to make others feel comfortable and welcome. The eulogy her nephew gave painted a beautiful picture of her, but one aspect of it has stuck with me through the hectic holiday.
I didn’t have a lot of romantic family stories growing up, outside my parents’. My mom’s dad died when she was young, and my dad’s parents divorced when he was a little older. The how-they-met stories were beautiful, but laced with sadness.
Nana and Grandad, though–their love was one of those that lasts many lifetimes.
And that’s the part I can’t get out of my head.
“Green Armchair” by Jackie Lea Shelley
Nana and Grandad wrote letters while he was in the Korean War, and Nana saved those letters, in a box by her chair, which sat beside Grandad’s for the 59 years they were married. She read them aloud to him, and when she died, she asked that the letters be buried with her. No one but the two of them ever knew what they said to one another.
And yet, they exist. Nana’s daughter Phyllis, her granddaughters Jenni, Crystal, and Nikki, they know they exist. Her great-grandchildren will know they exist. And maybe her great-great grandchildren, whom she’ll never meet, will know they exist.
Jeff and I have a lot of “us” stuff. There are the red notebooks we bought on our first weekend together, in Asheville, in which we wrote the many sweet things we wanted to be sure to remember. “This road keeps on going.” There’s the daily notecard diary I’ve kept for the last two and a half years–just a sentence about every day, but usually about somehing we did together. There’s a townhouse full of art we’ve created together.
I keep thinking about what’s going to happen to all of the “us” after we’re gone.
We’ve talked at length about kids. We weren’t sure, and then we met a few kids we really, really liked (and who really, really like Jeff). We realized pretty early on that we’d be awesome parents, and I had an intense baby fever for about two years. We had some fights about it. There was a lot of sadness on my part about the fact that some of our friends were ready–and we felt like we’d never be ready. We have debt. We have mental health issues. We don’t even have time or room or money to properly care for a dog. I hated myself so much–not only was I afraid I’d never be “good enough” for Jeff, I’d never be good enough for a child. I’d never be the mother that my mother was.
And then one day, it was just over.
It was around the time Jenni found out she was pregnant with her second, a co-worker announced twins, and my friend Megan was fighting (and writing about) crippling post-partum anxiety and a high-needs newborn. (I believe that every person who has ever had a child, a loved one with a child, even a passing glance at a screaming child or parent in a grocery store–everyone–should read Megan’s blog, Figuring Out Home.) At the same time, the fog of my depression had been steadily lifting, and I went days, weeks, months without wishing I could stop existing, or biting, or collapsing into panic attacks. Jeff and I were high on love for each other.
Suddenly, I valued the evenings I came home to Jeff and we didn’t have to report to anyone but one other. We had only to figure out what each other needed. We clung to each other. When one of us lost patience, we didn’t worry that we’d fucked the other up for eternity.
Finally, after a particularly crowded, toddler-filled day at the Natural Sciences museum, I broke down and told Jeff that I thought, maybe, possibly, kids weren’t for us. Maybe my ticking clock had stopped. Maybe we would be better as the cool aunt and uncle, in both the blood-related and choose-your-own-family kinds of way.
And we’re really, really OK with this, most of the time. We’re both in the somehow comfortable place where we’d be perfectly fine either way, with no burning desire in either direction. Al sent me this article by everyone’s spirit animal, Cheryl Strayed, and I’ve read it 18 times and cried at different parts every time.
“Anchored Ship” by sappling
I still worry about the ghost ship, but less. I worry about the standards, like reaching 40, 45, 50, and having regrets, and who will take care of us when we’re old. I soothe myself with thoughts of fostering, adopting, having lots of knee-high pets and nieces and nephews and huge gardens. I added 2% to my 401k contribution. I feel vaguely smug about being child-free, a feeling I hope will pass, but which is a hundred times better than self-hatred.
And then I learn about these letters from Korea, and I can’t reason away the pangs. I fear that all the “us” that we’ve accumulated will be shoved into garbage bags by a cleaning company. It makes me sad to think that no one will ever leaf through Jeff’s sketches and marvel at them the way I do. I fear disappearing. It’s hard to be an atheist and still want to live forever. We aren’t famous. Without children more-or-less obligated to, who will remember us? Who will tell our stories? Who will bury us with our letters?