I stood at the river bank and envied the water. Despite the scattering of debris left by my careless fellow humans, the water flowed, disturbed yet determined. Twisting, turning. Making paths around, over and through plastic water bottles, lost toys and a used condom. I longed to be like the river, to keep to my path and maintain peace amidst internal chaos. I rolled up my pant legs and stepped in. Balancing myself on two half-submerged rocks, I reached down and extracted an empty bottle of Light Beer from the sand. I turned it over and poured the water out, feeling my stress ease into the river along with it, and my tears.
I woke up that morning feeling inadequate and sorry for myself. I wanted to do more, be more. More than a mom. More than a receptionist. More than someone who spends her barely-existent free time watching indie films and reading books. My friends were child- and care-free. They were brilliant, ambitious, creative geniuses who won awards and accolades for their artistic, scholastic and political achievements. They traveled the world and met interesting people, engaged in conversation about white supremacist patriarchy and the evils of capitalism. They had dinner parties with sexy women who had multiple letters behind their names. I wiped noses, kissed boo-boos and changed sheets on pee-soaked mattresses at three o’clock in the morning. We all chose our paths, but somehow I felt like I hadn’t been told the whole story before I chose mine – or maybe I didn’t want to believe what I’d heard.
I salted my self-inflicted wound by social media-stalking my crush’s lover: an amazing writer who combines the same words afforded to all of us, and weaves them into a beautiful, soul-stirring tapestry of poetic prose. She’s a natural – artistic and dynamic and free, the perfect other half of a boho-chic power lesbian couple. They traveled the world together, wandering in love and lust. I hadn’t had a vacation in seven years.
So I went to the river – the only entity that can hold all my tears, listen to me bitch and moan, watch my pity party of one and never judge. I knew She would help me find my purpose. Give me something to do – a way to be more. The awards and recognition wouldn’t come, but peace was guaranteed. The love I’d been looking for whispered to me through the rippling of her waves.
I wasn’t prepared for the remnants of an abandoned party. I wanted it to be just the two of us, the river and me. I wanted it to look like it did when I last visited, six months earlier. An unrealistic expectation, I knew, but it was the one area of my life that I’d hope had gone unchanged.
Aluminum bins overflowed with paper plates, red cups, and cardboard boxes that once contained 24 cans of beer. Squirrels and ants dined on leftover rib and chicken bones and birds picked at the dried up baked beans and cole slaw. Trash that wouldn’t fit in the cans besieged picnic tables and accompanying benches. A forgotten football sat alone next to a tree whose heavy branches kissed the water’s surface. I wondered if maybe the football, now without hands to appreciate its form, was left unsure of its purpose, or if it was happily at rest, no longer subject to be sent spinning through the air to fulfill someone else’s temporary desires to end their boredom.
I sat on one of the rocks and planted my feet, burying my toes into the sand. I watched the minnows scatter, then return and swim between my legs. They knew me. They remembered me, and welcomed me home. The birds, full from barbecue side dishes, sang melodies in worship of the sun that blazed above. I felt a fullness that couldn’t come from eating and released a sigh of gratitude.
It’d been six months since my mother died from a drug overdose, and it left me empty. The depth of this void was unimaginable and unexpected. I’d felt like a motherless child for 15 years ago when she abandoned my sister and me, and I’d often felt like (and sometimes hoped) that she was already dead. But three years ago, when she came back, she told me she was clean. She lied, as parents often do.
I felt numb. Part of me was relieved, and that made me feel guilty. I didn’t want to admit that I loved my mother. She’d hurt me. Continuously. Made promises that maybe we both hoped she’d be able to keep but we both knew she wouldn’t. I often found myself angry at myself for wanting her to be the mother her sickness would never allow, and angry at her for not being what I needed. There were times when I wanted her dead so I wouldn’t feel the pain of the reality of our estrangement. So when she died, I was confused.