"Oh, so are you in graduate school now?"
The question came from J~, a new friend, prompted by a passing remark about my application process. I had met her for the first time that afternoon at K~'s house, where she and I and M~, another mutual girlfriend, had gathered. After traveling to Northampton together to see a band (the Wailin' Jennys at the Iron Horse) we were making the long drive back. J~ had her neck craned around in the front passenger seat, and in the slanty headlight beams of the car behind us, her expression seemed bright and eager.
Instead of a straightforward response, I blabbed on and on about my tortured decision to apply, and to which and how many schools, about the pregnancy and miscarriage in the midst of it all, and how I felt okay, actually, about being waitlisted, even though my chances are extremely slim. I've been holding my life open for a child for four years, I said, and hearing this from my own mouth, it felt suddenly weighty and true. Memories flicked through my mind, all the branches of my life's path I did not explore for fear of losing my chance at motherhood. Suddenly the underlying emptiness felt undeniable, unconcealable.
I'm considering being an abortion counselor again, I went on, but I'm not sure that would be good for me, psychologically speaking — or a doula, or a miscarriage doula, if such a thing is possible, but I have internal arguments against those, too...
When I finally stopped talking, there was silence. Nothing but dark highway and a collective, carefully controlled deep breath. J~ unscrewed her neck and said to K~, our driver, "Speaking of babies, [Jane Smith] had her baby."
"Oh she did? What was it?" K~ asked.
"A human," J~ quipped, and the two laughed and bantered about this friend I don't know and her humanoid boy-or-girl offspring. M~ joined in as the topic shifted to more people I don't know. I sunk into my seat, feeling awful.
It was a simple yes or no question. I don't know why I answered the way I did. Maybe it was the novelty of having such animated, genuine attention from someone who didn't yet know my story. Maybe it was shame about the anticlimactic truth. Or maybe it was all the gorgeous mournful music we'd been listening to, loosening the drawstrings around my heart.
I keep insisting that I'm happy. I keep siting all the blessings in my life. But in a moment of weakness, the floodgates had opened and I was as surprised as my captive and unwitting audience at the stinking slurry of sadness and confusion that issued forth. I felt like I owed them all an apology, not for the truth of my feelings, but for subjecting them to it without ascertaining consent, or at least giving fair warning. But it didn't feel right to claim more group attention, so I did my best to let it go.
Here it is, people, the naked truth: as much as I'd like to think that I can root my engagement firmly in the myriad blessings of this present moment, cordoning off the wounded areas of my heart like a crime scene, sometimes I trip over the police tape and fall flat on my face.
But eventually I always get up and stumble around again, and inevitably I remember my belief that the key to emotional resilience is robust, honest emotional process. In other words: grieve to make room for joy.
It occurs to me now that perhaps the opposite is also true: If you take in enough joy, you crowd out the sadness and grieving becomes inevitable.
After saying thank yous and goodbyes in K~'s driveway, I climbed into my car and cried all the way home.
For the time being, anyway, I felt much better.