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  • Amy Stephenson

On Writing, sort of

Updated: May 15, 2019

we had a lovely saturday.


we took the subway an hour north, a long train ride still soothes my anxiety even if it’s just the D line. going somewhere, else.


a small child on the subway, in a stroller, with the most expressive face i’ve ever seen, learning to share. wrinkling her brow, cautious, unsure about reciprocity as a concept. the child would offer the snack in her fingers, the mother would bend down and pretend to take a bite, mock delight, but leave the food for her baby, the girl smiling in relief. they went on like this for several stops, it was so beautiful i could’ve watched all day.


the botanical garden was crowded for mother’s day, tiny painted faces running past. i saw a flower so blue and delicate that even while i was touching it i didn’t believe it could be real. it was hanging from a vine, a variety of jasmine, i think, but i’m not great with plants. i wanted to crush it in my fist.


we walked in the gardens all afternoon, by the end i was sneezing and sunburned, i saw a snake swishing through the grass by a small bridge, utterly unafraid of my presence nearby. he sniffed at my toe with his bright pink tongue, the only flickering streak of color in the marsh, seemed satisfied, shimmied away under the bridge. i was happy to have him to myself.


we ate dinner together, the three of us, early. i had a green salad and three glasses of wine and i listened to alan talk to his mother about her mother and his sister who is also a mother. they’re doing well; they suffer constantly—it's hard to live with how the people you love choose to live.


at the end of the day i was cold from the sunburn but i didn’t want to put my jacket on because the sun was still out, my phone said the temperature was in the mid-sixties. i shouldn’t be cold, i thought, and stayed cold. same way i handle sadness, hunger.


on the way out a girl complimented my outfit so sincerely i almost teared up. it felt like unconditional love, her smile. i should’ve seen it coming.


we got home and my feet were swollen and my head hurt from the allergies and from not having a mother on mother’s day and so i went up to the roof to write out the post-cards i bought from the gift shop to my friends, which is sometimes the only thing that helps because my friends offer a touchstone to the now-me, when the then-me tries to drown her, a mirror. magic hour sun made the buildings look like sunsets (mirrors) and the hudson so shiny it looked sharp, the razor wave edges broken by a dozen tiny boats. i tried to find the sadness but i couldn’t access it, not really.


i'm tired of the sadness, mostly. i used to be cynical about it, wondering what the sadness wanted from me, what it was trying to get me to do. but there is no doing, not really, there's only a quiet understanding we have now, my sadness and i. but i am tired. tired of the shell i keep around my heart, to keep my sadness from escaping, infecting. tired even of the tiny bits of light i've allowed through it, the shards growing thin now, on this roof, after a hard day of witnessing love. manhattan down there, a million sad people. i am desperate to know where my suffering ranks among theirs, as though suffering can be quantified and compared, as though putting a number on my suffering could teach me anything at all.


and then like something written into a script with too heavy a hand, the rain started in big thick drops, and i, halfway through the bottle of sauvignon blanc, started sobbing. the knot, the knobby fist in the center of me, closed protectively around the hole, after months of dormancy, of sitting still and dense and suspicious under my ribs and near the heart, suddenly opening up. the hole is the only real thing.


alan came up then, and he got it, the full force of the hurricane of grief that comes on a mother’s day spent with everyone else’s mothers. me wailing in the warm spring rain, the unutterable emptiness of knowing what’s broken and being stuck like that. a 34 year old girl jealous of a baby on a subway car. a girl who keeps the garden snake for herself so she’ll have something to hold onto while everyone else gets to have a mother. a girl who still can’t understand that it doesn’t matter whether you should be cold or not because you are cold and put the fucking jacket on, just put it on. nobody is going to put the jacket on for you, nobody is going to know you need kindness.


i screamed into his shoulder and bit his flesh and he held me like i was going to come apart, because i was, i was coming apart. i shouldn't be this sad, i told him, you had a hard day, too. the rain got worse and one of my postcards got ruined. we went inside, i finished the bottle. i woke up the next morning and saw an old friend for brunch (mirror, proof of self).


dear mom. everything i write is a letter to you.


kentucky, 2010, my mother's third wedding, the last time i saw her in person

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