Sometimes I feel like an overused cliché. Life isn’t about the breaths you take but the moments that take your breath away.
Fuck that shit. Sometimes all I can do is take another breath, surviving breath by breath and when my breath is taken away, it’s only because I’m too fucking tired and numb to feel myself actually breathing.
I was given two hugs yesterday. Two hugs before noon. The first was from my daughter’s third grade teacher. I had forgotten to send lunch money with the girls so I had to get out of my car with my camouflage pajama leggings, black furry boots and yellow furry teeth from not yet brushing. My bright red coat drew attention to me, like a Christmas tree, topped off by a flagrant display of bed head. I delivered the money and had almost made a clean getaway when the teacher approached to ask how my son was doing.
Instinctively I told her enough without telling too much. Watching every word as they floated off my tongue, I painting with a brushstroke large enough to cover the entire canvas with one swipe, recanting how my 12 year old son was struggling with anger, hurt and resentment from having his ultra conservative, right-wing Republican, ex-politician (wannabe),”I will save the world for you” father sent away for a two and half year stint in federal prison for fraud.
The highlights of my lowlights reduced her to tears and induced her to hug me, there in my pajama bottoms, as the kids were making their way to class. She went on to ask if we were “okay” for Christmas. At first I wasn’t sure what she meant. “Okay for Christmas”, I asked? “Yes, do you need help with presents for the kids?” Aside from the obvious, i.e., me looking like a cleaned up version of a disheveled street person, I was a bit taken aback by her offer. So many people have come forward to help us. All friends, no family; family has been busy looking after the convict. I have had help from other moms and dads willing to pick up the kids, feed them dinner, take them to Brownie meetings….but help for Christmas? No. I had already explained to the minions, Christmas past was gone. This year, we are going to be about family. This year, we are volunteering our time to help with moms and dads and kids who are less fortunate than we. This year, we learn the true meaning. In other words kids, this year, you aren’t getting what you are accustomed to getting.
“No, we are fine.” We won’t need help for Christmas, but thank you so much for thinking of us (insert hug here). “This year, we will be a gift to others.” I walked out the door, holding my head a bit higher and praying like hell I wouldn’t encounter another person above the height of five feet on my way to the car.
After quickly showering and attempting to present myself with some sort of professional modicum; a little make-up, a pair of heels, I am off to work for a few hours before my dentist appointment. For the past six weeks, I have opened my eyes each and every day to a cocktail of Diet Coke and Aleve. The soda is my coffee and the Aleve is to get me through the day without the right side of my lower jaw feeling as if a voodoo sorcerer has decided that side of my face needs to fall off. The use of rusty instruments, dull from centuries of neglect was, in my opinion, totally uncalled for. What was my unsuspecting doppelganger dolly supposed to do? But I say nothing because the Aleve works and I know I’m seeing my dentist in December.
Tall, dark and Greek dentist walks in after his assistant has taken it upon herself to ex-ray my roots to oblivion. I am expecting the worst: Root canal, tooth extraction, partials, retainers, braces, TMJ, TMI, fuck it – you’re just getting old and need new teeth, etc. He pushes and prods. He pressures and pokes. Then he looks at me with those big brown eyes and says, “Sweetie, you have never had problems with your dentally boring teeth. Are you experiencing a particularly high amount of stress in your life right now?”
And just like that, I gave into my pain and I lost it, in a dental chair, just before noon on a Thursday. I thought I was being so strong to stand up to these pressures but my teeth gave me away. It’s the fucking holidays so let it flow, let it flow, let it flow. Second hug was administered, immediately, with love. Without knowing the financial strains on me, doc said the ex-rays and biting device, yes I said biting device, as in I am clenching my teeth, would be an early Christmas present. You know that shit only makes me cry harder, right doc? I am known to have the world’s ugliest cry face which is made exponentially worse when accompanied by a bib and goggles.
Once I’ve pulled myself back together, the dental assistant continues with her cleaning, simply shaking her head and saying to me, “the strength of a woman, the strength of a woman, it constantly amazes me the strength we have as women, you know?” With my mouth open, I give her a nod. “And the fight in a mother, there is nothing like it. By the way, don’t worry about the gums bleeding, that’s just stress too, you are going to be okay."
Breathe. I am breathing, and yet I am bleeding from my gums and my heart and my liver and my vagina and from the deepest, most indistinct fear that resonates within my soul that perhaps, I am not enough.
But Friday arrives and I realize we’ve made it through another week. Give me breath, and I will give you life. Life that doesn’t have to come from my body, but life I will sustain nonetheless, as a mother. Those moments that take your breath away are not always the happy Hallmark times; sometimes, they come in the form of unthinkable challenges and struggle for basic survival. Either way, with the strength of a woman, I continue to breathe.