My Heart In the Marketplace

“What comes up, way down at the bottom, is that my heart is still broken from bringing out Writing Down the Bones.”  I gasp. I clutch at my heart. What is this you say, Natalie Goldberg? Broken hearted from producing Writing Down the Bones?

This is the book I have bought so many times over, and I’ve given these copies to many of my friends who could be writing or should be writing or I just want them to think about writing for my own selfish motive of getting to read their words.

And here, in her book Thunder and Lightning, she begins with a warning: she has never gotten over the heartbreak of writing that beloved book that sits tattered on my cover and sewn into my writing life.

“All I feel is aching. I was so innocent – I didn’t know what it meant to put my heart in the marketplace,” she says.

Well, if ever some words will stop me in my tracks, it is these from my favorite writing mentor as my book will be released in something just over 20 days.

Is my heart about to break? Do I have no idea how innocent I am, and will I only learn of my naivete when I’ve put my heart in the marketplace?

And Life Comes Back is generous in all it gives away. Some of my first critics have said, “Oh, Tricia, your vulnerability. I read with a lump in my throat, so aware of all that you were so generously giving away.” And, “I read thinking, ‘sweet girl, you’ve said so much.'” Indeed, I have said so much.

Metaphorically speaking, my heart is about to be available everywhere books are sold.

My friend Natalie Goldberg (you know how I call my favorite authors by their first name once we’ve become so deeply acquainted? I somehow always call her by her first and last. Natalie Goldberg. Always Natalie Goldberg.) continues on that same page, “And now this? Art leads to suffering? But it was true. I’d seen it again and again. I don’t know any writer who’s happy. But what else is there to do?”

I ask the same question: But what else is there to do? Live silently, quietly, and let nothing come of the truth that I know?

Not write? Ha. As if.

Many people have asked me in the last week or so, “Are you ready, Trish?” “Are you ready for your books to hit the shelves?” “Are you prepared?” “Have you done all the things you can do to get ready for the big release?”

Well, I have no idea, you scary people who think out loud.

I feel like I’m standing at the edge of the water, watching the tide roll in. “A wave is coming,” everyone says. “Are you ready? Get ready! Brace yourself!”

How do you prepare yourself for such a tidal sloshing?

Well, in my summers at the beach and my honeymoons at the ocean, I’ve learned just a little about the waves. The greatest lesson is this: if I resolve to stand still and keep my toes firmly planted in the sand, then first of all, the sand is going to erode beneath the soles of my feet in a creepy-crawly way that feels like something is eating at my foundations. And then, even as I stand where I am and fight the current, I’ll get knocked to the ground, the sand will burn its signature into my knees elbows and left shoulder, and I’ll come up sputtering and coughing salt water.

But. If I go a little deeper and let the water wash over me, if I pick up my feet and roll with the waves, if I keep in mind that this is bigger than me, then I’m in for a great and wild ride for however long the wave will roll. That’s the rush that keeps me coming back for more, wave after wave, day after day, summer after summer.

My first book is released in a matter of days. So, my heart could get broken, sure. Natalie Goldberg’s certainly did.

But here’s what I know: when the clock strikes midnight and the calendar turns to February 18, the day of the grand release, I’ll be the same girl. I’ll pack lunches and take my kids to school, if I’m lucky we will arrive just after the second bell, and I will come back home, pour a hearty amount of cream into my morning coffee, and start writing again.

God will do what he will do, and there’s no controlling the waves around me.

So I might as well kick up my feet and feel the rush.

A Letter to Tripp and Tyler

Dear Tripp and Tyler,

Your comedy saved my life.

When my husband died, my world became very small. I was asleep or at Starbucks. I couldn’t bear to be in my home, yet I was terrified to leave. Nights were the worst, because the trauma replayed whether I was awake or asleep. I couldn’t get away from any of it, and I couldn’t take a deep breath.

So, I lay under my covers with my Mac, and I escaped into YouTube. That’s actually a pretty overwhelming environment, so I stuck with one safe channel. I watched Don’t Be That Guy. Shoot Christians Say. Sh*t Nobody Says. Things You Can’t Do When You’re Not in a Pool. Things You Can’t Do When You’re Not a Dog. I watched Linda, who is merely a woman, in the temple workout. And for a few minutes, I was somewhere else. My mind could rest, and I couldn’t help but laugh. And I began to breathe.

I am so honored to write these words to you, that you may store them away and know they are true. You and Tyler are more than ‘the funny guys on YouTube.’ You brought laughter into my life when every light had gone out.

Thank you for the laughter.

Tricia

Why I Want to Marry Amazon

Dear Amazon,

I would like to marry something about you right now. Seriously, I’m ready to make a lifetime commitment.

Aside from all the goodness you’ve offered me, a faithful Amazon Prime member, who can absently one-click her way to exorbitant amounts of titles you recommend while nearly asleep under her covers after bedtime, tonight you allowed me to order all of the school supplies for the coming school year, for my first grader and second grader.

School begins in 12 days. Roughly.

The thing is, I’m something of a school and office supply whore. It’s astonishing and embarrassing how excited I can get and to what lengths I will go. No boundaries I tell you. None.

However, I am pretty sure hell is a place where one must spend all her days shopping for school supplies and groceries with small children, and the floor will be lined with matchbox cars and legos for one to step on in the night.

This is my scene in WalMart, Target, or the school supply aisle of the grocery store: take your pick.

The school supply list will ask for 2 Pink Pearl erasers; I will inevitably only find packages of 3. The list begs for 6 glue sticks; I will find only packages of 5. I am asked to buy 6 black fine-tip low-odor dry erase Expo markers; I am faced with packages of 4 black chisel tip. I need to get heavy duty poly portfolio folders, two red, two yellow, with brads; I am faced only with medium duty folders, three purple, four green, and one blue, with ‘tangs.’ (Who the in the H started calling them tangs?)

All of the above with two boys in tow, who are strategically pulling strings and releasing the helium balloons from their little cage on the ceiling.

It’s enough to put a girl in prison, like Steve Martin’s meltdown over hot dog buns in Father of the Bride. When I think of how I might fare in women’s prison, I’m pretty sure I want to follow every rule anyone has ever set. Which means I’ve stopped borrowing Xanax as needed from anyone, since I just learned that’s actually considered a felony. (Oopsie daisy.)

Amazon, my knight in virtual armor, you have washed away my torment. As I click-cliccked my way through the lists, all in my jammies and listening to Songza (Songs to Buy School Supplies To), I may have even splurged on a few duplicates of things that – I assure you – I would not have in the store.

For example, the two red and two yellow heavy duty poly portfolio binders with brads? I went ahead and bought four complete rainbow sets of six. I mean, really, did anyone overdose from extra folders lying around the house? You never know when you’ll need pockets and brads.

(Again with the whorrish tendencies.)

School supplies, you will not take me down this year. But only because I strolled the virtual aisle with my boyfriend, Amazon. It was like eating cotton candy in the evening at a summer time fair, walking under a canopy of white bistro lights and listening to a faraway caliope.

Yes, I will proceed to checkout and confirm my order.

All my love,
t.

The Very Happiest Thing

The worst part of the big dates on the calendar – anniversaries, birthdays, days we shared, days everyone still shares in capital letters on the calendar – is the anticipation.

It’s the pattern. And I know it’s the pattern. But when I’m in it, it hardly matters that it’s a predictable pattern. All that seems true is that I’m swimming in dread and remembering, and anxiety squeezes my entire body like a blood pressure cuff until I really can’t stand it one more minute and I’ll do anything – anything – to make this stop.

There was a point last week when the messages of “I’ll do anything to make this end” were louder and more powerful than the messages of “This is part of the pattern and tomorrow will be better and easier. You are okay.”

If there had been alcohol in the house, I would have drunk it all. If there were mind altering drugs, I would have taken them by the handful. Consequences be damned. Just let me end this. Let me stop feeling. I was terrified of myself.

My crisis team surrounded me, in body and on the phone. If I said the magic words, we were off to the hospital. If my therapist knew we were past the point of management, we were off to the hospital. I didn’t have the courage to say it myself, but I would have let them take me anywhere.

In my bed, weeping, I listened to Jana’s voice on the phone.

“Tricia, you are okay.”

“I am not okay.”

“Listen to me. You are okay. Your mind is wound around all the things that this week represents, with your birthday and your anniversary, and a dozen other smaller things. Your mind is begging you to stop thinking. Your number one job right now is to go to sleep. I want you to take your sleeping pill, lay very still, and whenever anything comes into your mind, you can tell it, ‘Not now. I’m not thinking about this right now. I’m going to sleep.'”

I’m going to sleep.
I’m going to sleep.
I practiced the mantra.

“That’s right. Just like that. Right to sleep. Call me in the morning, or you know I’m going to harrass you with phone calls and texts until I know where you are and how you are.”

She’s not kidding. I love this about her. There could be no better therapist anywhere, no one more suited to me.

I’m going to sleep.
I’m going to sleep.
I practiced the mantra.

“Mommy? Are you crying?” Tyler stood in my doorway.

“Yes, baby. I’m crying.” I’m crying a lot. A lot.

Tyler is a fixer. He is impelled to bring me things that might help the problem at hand. He brought me tissues. He brought me the Cinderella doll. “Here, Mommy. Here.”

“Here, Mommy. Look at this.” I opened my eyes to see the picture he had drawn and framed himself (he took a different picture out of the frame by my bedside, replacing it with this one). It’s a picture of our family of four, and we are all a bunch of floating heads. The boys and I are clustered together, and a couple of inches away toward the upper right, is Robb. He’s portrayed with a good measure of black. “Here, Mommy. I made this. Look.”

“I can’t look at that right now, lovey.”

“I’ll be right back.”

He came back with his bound book of pictures, Tyler and Daddy. “Here, Mommy. Look at this. When you miss Daddy, you should look at this.”

“No. No. No, Tyler. I cannot. I can’t.” I felt the panic rising again, and I was afraid I might lose myself and yell at him. I was supposed to be falling asleep. That was the plan.

He climbs into my bed and sprawls himselff across me, his head resting on my heartbeat. “Hey, Mommy?”

“Yes, buddy?”

“Do you remember the night when daddy died?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Do you remember when you needed to give him medicine, and you asked me to go away?”

I do not clearly remember this, but I can picture it. I probably needed to give Robb some dosage of something, and at the same time, three-year-old Tyler was trying to climb into the recliner and into the middle of everything. I’m sure I said something like, “Tyler, not now. Please be somewhere else.” And this is what he remembers. On the day that daddy died, I asked him to go away.

“Mommy, I watched and I watched. I stared and stared. And do you know why? It’s because I wanted to see what someone looks like when they die.”

It doesn’t matter that in this story, the part he remembers, we had no idea that death was imminent. His memory is his reality.

“And now I know what happens. They just – poof!” His hands model a small explosion of pixie dust.

“No, baby. That’s not what happens.”

“Oh, I mean the person becomes invisible.”

“No, that’s not what happens either.”

“Well, what happens?”

I am supposed to be sleeping. That’s what Jana said. But there is a six-year-old in my arms, listening to my voice through the muffled, echoed caverns of my chest.

“His spirit left his body. But his body stayed.”

“Then where is his body?”

“The doctors took it.”

“Well, I want it.”

“No, you don’t, sugar. You think you do, and I know how that feels. But you don’t want his body. It’s not how you remember him. His body is empty now. His spirit is what we loved most, and his spirit is in heaven with Jesus.”

“Oh. Well, I want his body. I want him.”

“Me too.”

And suddenly, I realized that this is another moment he will take with him. He remembers that fleeting moment when I asked him to walk away, and he was only three. Now he is six, and memories have more cognitive space to take root. He will remember this night, his mommy and her puffy eyes, her frantic voice that became softer and softer as the sleeping pill took effect. He will remember how he tried to help. He will remember that I had no answers that were good enough. He will remember this.

I breathed deeply. I stroked his hair. “Tyler, do you know you’re the happiest thing in my life?”

He lifted his head to look at me, “What? No, I didn’t know what.”

“Oh, sweet boy. You are. You are the happiest thing in my life. You’re the reason I am alive, buddy.”

His smile consumes us both. “The very happiest thing?”

“The very happiest thing.”

Dear God, let this be what he remembers of this horrible night on the edge of my existence.

Birthday Cake

Sometimes I’m not sure if I really remember something because it’s genuinely my memory, or if it’s because I’ve heard the story so many times and seen the pictures so many times that now my brain has created its own file for the memory.

 

It’s like when you get a recipe from someone, the first three times you make it, you have to give them credit.  “This is Robb’s salsa.”  “This is Kate’s lasagna.”  “This is Melissa’s spinach dip.”  But after three?  It’s your own.  Claim it, baby.

 

So my early memories are kind of like that.  They may have at one time just belonged to someone else, but I’ve visited and referred to them so many times that now they have become mine.  I’ve claimed it.

 

There’s a picture of Baby Tricia, one year old, smashing her chocolate cupcake with white and blue frosting. She’s laughing and happy and round and curly and all baby on the brink of toddler.

 

I think of that picture, that little girl, still an only child, not yet walking but very articulate.  I want to say, “Smash it right into your face, baby girl.  You’ve got the right idea.  This is what birthdays are about.  Every chance you get, roll yourself right into the cake, Sweet Pea.”