Sunday, July 31, 2011

Synesthesia

I'm a journalist, a reporter. When I am seeking information about a thing, I ask people about their experience of it. My husband says I interview them, implying I'm a little too intent, and maybe I am. People don't seem to mind, though. Mostly, they are surprised and then gratified that someone sincerely wants to know how it was for them. From the time I knew myself, I have wanted to know only this: What you experienced, how you felt, were you changed. It is why I decided to become a journalist in the first place.

This seemingly unquenchable thirst to know how life is processed in other bodies of consciousness arrived full blown, well beyond simple curiosity. As a child, I made up elaborate stories about people who passed by me in the street. Seizing on clues of gesture and expression, of dress and urgency and the company they kept, I surmised where they had been, what they might be feeling about it, where they were going next. I studied them surreptitiously, having been admonished by my mother and my older brother in sharp whispers, "Don't stare!" "You're staring!" "Stop staring!" from the time I was very young.

When I discovered there was such a pursuit as journalism, it seemed like a magnificent blank check, a license to ask people about their lives, to not have to make up their stories any more. I could finally learn the truth about what they thought, how they survived the moment-to-moment buffeting of emotion, the incessant unspooling of thought pictures like flickering home movies in their brains.

Lately, I have been interviewing women who are mothers about how it was for them when their children first left home. I get all sorts of answers. This is the one I got today from the wife of a man I grew up with, and whose children are both now grown.

"After they left," she said, "after the second one went to college, I had this core of loneliness inside me. I couldn't explain it to anyone but everything around me just felt so vast and empty. One evening I came home from work and realized I had forgotten my keys and Charles was still at work and there was no one inside to let me in, the house was dark and quiet and still and I just sat on the front steps and wept."

"But in time," she said, "you grow close to your husband in a new way. You've shared so much and it has bonded you. And now you get to go out and have adventures together. After a while you realize there is nothing stopping you, your time is your own, and you get giddy again. And then when the kids come home to visit it's a big celebration and a joy you share, but you're okay when they leave again. You really are okay."

I loved how she said all this, the way her eyes opened wide at some points, the way her shoulders slumped when she recalled sitting on that step and sobbing into the empty night, the way she clapped her hands a little, without even realizing she was doing so, when she talked about getting giddy.

I can feel the promise of what she describes. That tenderness I feel towards my husband, remembering how, when we were first married, I had the insistent sense that we were two giddy children playing in a sandbox, having the time of our lives. It's almost like synesthesia, that sandbox feeling tonight, after a terrifically busy weekend with my cousin who came to visit us from Maryland, and our friends who were visiting from Jamaica. Everyone has left now and it's just the two of us, puttering around the house, him reading, me here typing, brushing against each other and feeling as lighthearted and playful as children, and it seems to me that this is one sort of adventure.

As for the other sort, we lay in bed last night coming up with a list of places we want to go. On it were places he wants to see and places I want to see, and for the first time both lists were equally important, as I itemized the places I know he wants to go, and he itemized the places he knows I want to go, and wordlessly, we agreed to visit them together, and I'm thinking what is the world, really, but a map on which to carve new paths and scatter particles of dreams like so much play, hardly more complicated than when we first sank our eager fingers into the willing sand.


16 comments:

  1. This post is tender and poignant....something I hope for, long for also. We will see....
    P.S. I too used to make up stories about people. I would sit in Mass each Sunday and look around me and make up stories about their lives, imagine their mysteries.....and then I went on to wanting to become a nun. Go figure.

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  2. This is a beautiful and hopeful, generous piece of writing -- I'm always amazed at how you write of such intimate things so simply and powerfully. What this makes me think about, though, is how different my own experience will be when my sons finally leave as their sister will always be with us. I'm wondering whether you've interviewed or spoken to those with a disabled adult living with them -- either a parent or child.

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  3. Wow. You been holding out on us.

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  4. Gabriele, i never truly left. I just stood here wringing my hands! lol.

    Kathleen, i used to sit in church and do that too. But a nun! You have a compassionate heart, and one that knows the mysteries.

    Elizabeth, perhaps you will avoid feeling that wrenching loss of your babies, although i have been told you do feel the loss of each one as he/she grows up and away. But that final leaving wont happen. I was so struck by your recent post about eating dinner with Sophie, the familiar loving companionable feeling of it. i guess this passage differs for every family, depending on the circumstances. i think i seized on my friend's answer today because what she described is what i hope for. i think if one were caring for a disabled child, then your post about eating dinner with Sophie while your boys played with their friends outside would have been the answer that gave me hope. All I really know for sure is that we're all making this up as we go. Arms full of love.

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  5. Angella, as the others said, this is a wonderful, well-written post. You really brought me into this "life stage" and your experience of it. Bravo!

    It brought to mind my former boss at the NYT, whose children both left home while she and I worked together. She was initially quite depressed, but then found that new freedom you mention, and she and her husband are doing well now!

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  6. Glenn, hey there, friend. How so?

    Steve, fellow journalist, thank you. our experiences at this moment are so different, and I'm touched by your comment.

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  7. There is a great sense of peace here, of having regained your footing and your graceful, affectionate language. Much to recommend about looking ahead and not behind. Each has its time. xo

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  8. I remember that day when you both first sank your fingers into that sand. You infect us with your giddiness now just as you did then. I hope and pray that we all don't recover.

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  9. Wow. Yes. You got it exactly and journalism is lucky to have you, as are we.
    My empty nest did not seem to last long enough for my husband and I to even begin to get giddy. Children moved out, moved back in, moved out again- each time another stage and another set of emotions to deal with. And now there is a grandchild who comes to visit several times a week and well...
    I will say that when Mr. Moon and I do have time just to ourselves, we do feel giddy.
    There are so many different layers to children growing up- not unlike the way it is when they are merely growing.

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  10. I think you're a great blogger. I do however understand the delicate line you're standing on, since your blog is available to your family and friends.
    I also understand writing intimate stories and suddenly feeling naked. I write with my guts, and sometimes I hold back because I feel like i should have more bounderies. But writing makes me feel so much better, makes my issues less tabboo and there isn't anything wrong appearing vulnerable.
    I have so much faith in your abilities, as a journalist, as a blogger, as a friend, but first and foremost, as a mother and a wife.
    Before the kids, you and your husband were a team. You will find yourselves again, and you'll no doubt enjoy it, knowing that you raised a fine and smart set of kids.
    Hugs.

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  11. sometimes i wonder if i'm just weird. i raised 6 children over a period of over 30 years before they all left home. I was so ready for them to move on. It has been sort of like Ms Moon mentioned with the moving back, grandkids visiting and hardly much time to get back to the days before it all started.

    My children, my sister and I constantly make up stories about people everywhere, all the time. We couldn't stop if we wanted to, which we don't.

    Wishing you all the best as you identify and begin your next phase.

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  12. What a beautiful post, Angella. I don't have kids and yet I feel like I can empathize completely because you have shared your heart so well.

    A quick funny (?) story: My first semester as a college sophomore I took a Human Sexuality course, and the professor spoke of a study that showed empty-nest parents very frequently bought a new mattress after their kids moved out. He grinned at the class and asked us how many of our parents had bought a new mattress within the past 6 months. I laughed at all the shocked faces in the classroom - it really was three-quarters of the class who said their parents had - and then suddenly it hit me that MY parents had just bought a new mattress! It's funny and sweet to me now, but what a moment of horror that was for me at the time. :D

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  13. Marylinn, peace comes with embracing what is, especially when what is has its own virtues. love to you.

    Bruce, dear brother, looking forward to many giddy days ahead, all of us together.

    Ms. Moon, when i read Elizabeth's comment, it helped focus me on the fact that each of our stories is different, and maybe we just have to find the sweetness in each unfolding.

    Miss A, faith is a beautiful thing. thank you, and love.

    Kristin, i think maybe i should have had 6 kids. two grow up much too fast! i know you and your sister make up stories, and no wonder your children do too. What wonderful stories!

    ellen, ha! we just happened to have bought a new mattress a month after our son went to college. coincidence? love to you, my friend.

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  14. It made me happy to read this. I see beautiful adventures in your future as you step into this new phase.

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