Techno music is blasting at Chili's. The clatter of stacked plates on trays erupt from the nearby kitchen. A cacophony of voices; plates glancing against each other with the force of swords in battle; glasses set on tables like mallets against sheet metal. Lights vibrating like strobes. Silently, I rest my head on the table. It is Mother's Day. 8 PM. Three hours of driving from Durango and we are in Española where the streets are lined with fast food Walmart chain link desperation poverty, and nature has been tucked away behind the concrete asphalt—just far enough away that it is lost. Forty-five minutes from home. They have to eat. My body is screaming, dying, assaulting me. My legs are going numb. A pain from my lower back rises up, wrenches my neck, twists my jaw and binds my head. I cannot cry in Chili's and so I keep my face still, impassive, expressionless, vacant.
"Happy Mother's Day," Devin says and smiles at me, checking.
And so I am struck again with the brutal reminder of what I'm doing wrong. Carpe Diem. I am supposed to be having a good time. I smile and the stretched, thin smile just makes it worse. I hate myself in this moment—for being the wrong mother. The mother of whom it is said constantly by one child to another, "She has a headache," the mother who needs it to be quiet, the mother who isn't having a nice Mother's Day, the mother who wishes she wasn't in Chili's, who can't eat anything normal at restaurants, who needs to support her neck—and can someone get her a place to rest her back, the mother—the only mother—who is too tired from watching soccer games to walk steadily to the car, the only mother in the world who gets frustrated at the sound of her children's laughter because it's like a bomb going off in her head. (There was a time, wasn't there, when laughter was not like a bomb going off in my head...I wish I'd known then how lucky I was.)
And I've just had it. I'm through with myself. I give up. I am supposed to be able to accept this pain. I am suffering because I resist it. If I could accept it, then it wouldn't hurt so much. If I could accept my children and their loud, bomb-blasting laughter and repeated getting up from the table into the walkways and the path of servers, then there would be no suffering. If I could accept that I can't accept it, then there would be no suffering. But there is suffering. There is tremendous suffering. And it is contagious. It infects everyone at the table as they hang by their fingernails on the expectation of my delight in Mother's Day, making small talk and glancing at me nervously. I am so—disappointing.
There is one job given to me worth doing—to be a mother—and I am screwing it up. And I cannot seem to figure out how to do it better than I am.
I think there is some lesson here, just out of reach; just behind a corner, that I can't see yet. I tell myself I am not supposed to see it yet. I am supposed to hang out here, increasingly desperate, until I am ready to learn something. Meanwhile, my ego is having a temper tantrum: throwing blocks and spitting, pulling hair, refusing to accept reality—just wanting anything other than the body and the familiar set of thoughts and emotions I've come to know as "me"—wanting to cut to the chase, come out on top; be crowned as a winner, able to laugh at my former idiocy, and have laurels set upon my brow. I want very badly to be an inspiration to everybody, unearned, and I don't want to spend time with the ugliness of pain and fear and disappointment and wanting things I cannot have. I want to to have survived.
This is what I'm like: I am not good with pain. But I like the after. I like the accomplishment of having lived through things. I feel elevated by the times I've spent with darkness, the prayers I've prayed in desperation, the emptiness I've stood in and stayed with and learned from. But I don't write much to you from there. I write from the after: the bliss where a child is suddenly handed to me, wrapped in warm receiving blankets—not the moment when I'm screaming that I cannot do this, that I want you to shoot me, that I don't have what it takes. I want you to see the victory and not the sobbing, bloody slog that took me there. I don't want you to see me scream.
But here I am anyway. When I am in pain, I shut down. I focus my eyes on a nearby tree through a window and I wait for the pain to go away. I pretend that I don't have a body, that I am astral projecting somewhere else. Every time someone speaks to me, asking if they can do anything, it disrupts my small sense of relief. When I am in fear, I press it deep down like a seed, far into the soil, so deep that the light can't get there, and I stand on top of where it's planted and bite my cuticles. When I am angry, I breathe deeply and focus on a stillness that I think is inner peace. I am shocked when fire blazes out of nowhere—anger out of nothing. Because I really wasn't angry. I was sure I was doing fine.
I think—have thought all my life—that I can get 'round myself; that I can cheat, that there's some way to get quickly to the moment of glory without paying the price of pain. Maybe this is why I get to have fibromyalgia and migraines and TMJ. I don't really believe in divine plans per se, but I do believe that the Universe just keeps presenting us naturally with opportunities to master things we haven't yet been able to learn. (The more I think about it, the more I think these two ideas are basically the same thing anyway.) If I have failed to learn how to live with myself while recovering from alcoholism and bulimia or getting divorced or having three kids or falling in love, then I get to keep developing chronic painful conditions, so that I can practice noticing that I can't really escape suffering. The Universe is boundless, generous, infinite. I get every chance I need to learn again.
At least, true or not, cast in that light—I'm doing this exactly the right way. I'm just a child being raised and making mistakes as I grow up. I'm up in the walkway of the restaurant again and I'm causing a disturbance, but I still get a chance to sit in a restaurant once more. No one ever takes the chance away. I still have my menu and my drink and my fork; I am taken here again and again, no matter what kind of scene I make.
"Suffer, Child," the Universe seems to say kindly. "Suffer your physical frailty. Suffer the pain of not being who you think I want. All these ideas are yours: 'Should be happy,' 'should be well,' 'should be calm.' Suffer as long as you need to. I will wait for you. There's all the time in the world."
And so my instruction is to suffer and really do it well; really notice it; to not give it short-shrift—to suffer so well and so authentically that I'm right there with myself—to finally just give up and let the suffering be there.
I can't do it yet. But I'm trying.
So—all this is to say: Happy Mother's Day. It's fine just the way it is.