Whenever my husband travels for business, I have the same thing for dinner almost every night. I will own that it is so disgusting that I will not eat it in front of him or my children. It is always post bedtime when I sink into that delicious and rare moment in time that is uniquely my own space. I take a bag of pretzels and dump them out on a plate and then I cover them with a slice of American cheese which I then microwave.
Everything about it is wrong.
It tastes amazing.
I suspect that the actual taste of microwaved processed cheese melted on top of pretzels has little to do with gastronomic pleasure and everything to do with the taste of freedom, the taste of what it feels like to not be wanted or needed or touched. It tastes like the freedom to unravel.
Mentally, sometimes I picture that this is what is happening at the end of these days that are both centuries and mere moments long. That after a day of logistics and questions and to dos and toys and tasks and dishes and laundry and diapers and none of which are bad, I literally imagine myself wrapped in their love and tasks, like gauze slowly winding and tightening itself around me all day long. I wear it proudly, like a corset. It keeps me cinched in, and from instinctively pursuing things that are hard and emotionally complex. I am not sure this is bad. But at night, in the dark when no one is around and the cheese is still bubbling on the pretzels, I literally unravel myself. Layer after layer. I am scared that if I unwind too much too far or too fast, I will reveal what I fear to be true. That there is nothing underneath my corset of loving. That the process of loving and doing has become so all consuming, that I am losing the person at the center of it.
The next day, pre-dawn, I smuggle myself out of the house much like a cat burglar to go for a sorely needed yet far too rare early morning jog. It strikes me as strange how much I feel like I am getting away with something, escaping while they are all still asleep. Why does love always come with this requisite push and pull? I need them close, I need more, I need myself, I need escape.
As I run, the sounds of Bon Jovi and vintage Sambora fill my ears. I think of the lost art of the guitar solo in all of its faded glory and perfection: equal parts embellishment and improvisation. Another bygone relic of my 80s youth, it gave that band member used to working so hard to blend in, a rare moment to give everything to just the opposite: standing out. It is so easy to blend into their needs. But in doing so, have I missed my chance to solo? Am I using this season of mothering as an opportunity to love or hide?
The next morning the kids are up characteristically early. There is no time for my pre-dawn jog. We are in the driveway by 7:30AM. Everyone is still in their pajamas. My girl takes off on her bike and I follow with the baby in the stroller, me shuffling along down the street in my striped bathrobe. I am only marginally surprised and slightly saddened by how comfortable I am walking down a public street in my bathrobe. Next door, the neighbor is getting into her car for work. She looks so professional. I feel embarrassed and untogether. But I wonder, what would I look like put together? It would involve more than pants. How do I give love without becoming love? What more do I need? What more is there to me? What lurks beneath my all-consuming love for them?
I don’t want my neighbor to see me so I go into the garage to get the baby’s toy car and push her in it. I hide behind its broken tire and her needs.
Several hours later, that same baby mercifully gives in to her nap. In the silence that fills the house, I feel my volume amp up. I carefully creep toward the computer and pry it open. Though I am nervous, I approach as many have done so before me: with little thought and full feeling. Equal parts improvisation and embellishment, I move my hands lightly and quickly amongst the keys.
Carefully pulling back the layers of them, I greedily go in search of me.