I’m in Chicago to do some early private events for the paperback release of my novel The Ramblers. The book hits shelves this coming Tuesday, October 4th, which also happens to be my 38th birthday and the day I will go apple and pumpkin picking with my baby’s kindergarten class. A book birthday + a real birthday + cute kids picking festive fall fruit? Sign me up! It will be a good one and I’m looking forward to it. But.
For now. I am here. Here.
Here at this very moment is a Starbucks near my cousin’s home where I’m staying. It’s damp and gloomy outside, but I don’t mind; it feels like fall and fall, in any iteration, is my favorite. I’m sipping coffee, surrounded by strangers, stopping, thinking.
Something remarkable happened yesterday.
That something: I went to visit Dad’s grave in the Lake Forest Cemetery. It was my cousin’s idea and it was a good one. We were already nearby because I’d just done a wonderful luncheon with the Lake Forest Bookstore at the charming Froggy’s French Cafe. I’d thought about visiting the cemetery the night before, as I was falling asleep, but the thought brought a swift surge of resistance and anxiety. This stuff is hard.
But we went. It was a drizzly, not-so-nice afternoon, but the green was so green. My cousin and I got out of the car and we talked and walked toward the family plot. My heels, which I never wear, sunk straight into the ground. This made me laugh. And I thought: I am here and I am laughing. We talked, my cousin and I. She told me stories about my grandparents and great-grandparents that I didn’t know, stories I tucked away to bring out later.
And then there it was, the little modest plaque with Dad’s name and dates. So simple. So him. Surrounded by bright green grass. I looked at it and I filled with slivers of memory – of that day when we said goodbye to him there, on that very plot of earth. I had been six months pregnant that day, full of life, Middle Girl kicking me inside. And now here I was more than eight years later, a different person and also the same.
I remembered one of the last times I’d done this, that I’d visited Dad’s grave. That morning, I was brutally hungover. I’d pickled myself in Pinot Grigio the night before in a familiar and futile effort to numb and avoid, but that morning was awful because I felt so sick and so sad.
But yesterday was different, new. I was clear and calm. I was okay. I asked my cousin to take a picture of me and she did and we laughed as she worked to get the perfect shot. This all felt subtly wrong because Dad was a proud Luddite and very private to boot, but it also felt purely right. Because I am my father’s daughter, but I am also my very own person. And I want – and need – to share pieces of who I am and what I have been through (these two things are deeply, inextricably linked for all of us, I’d wager.)
After she took the pictures, we looked at them together and I pointed at one, the one above, and I made a joke about how my hair looked good and I turned to my cousin and said, I cannot believe I’m at the point where I can be here and laugh and make jokes.
Here’s the thing: I miss Dad. I miss him so much, but the missing is different now. It’s hard to explain, but worth trying. Instead of feeling like there’s this huge hole at the center of my life, I now feel like there are tiny, almost invisible holes everywhere. I know they are there, but they are less obvious. If I’m not careful, I worry that I will forget that they are there, that the fabric of who I am has irrevocably changed; it is weaker, and it is stronger. Both.
But then there are days like yesterday when the threat of forgetting seems foolish. At the luncheon, I sat at a table with seven wonderful book-loving women and they peppered me with questions as I stole bites of salmon. The woman next to me wanted to know about the process of writing my first book. I can’t recall the exact question, but I do recall my answer: My book was in a desk drawer and then Dad got sick and so I pulled it out and polished it and found myself an agent. I realized that life is uncertain; this lit a fire under me.
I do this sometimes. I get personal, maybe too personal, when I’m asked about my work. But this was me telling the truth. After my talk and taking questions from the group, as the afternoon was winding up, this same woman came up to me and tears in her own brown eyes, she put her hand on my shoulder and said, nodding, her voice wispy, Your dad would be proud.
I thanked her, but I’m not sure she knows what a gift this was, this sentence. Isn’t that amazing? That a stranger with a big heart can utter words and those words can unlock something inside you?
When I think about Dad, when I allow myself to think about Dad, I wonder what my life would be like with him here. I imagine him with my girls, pacing the sidelines of their soccer games as he once did mine. I imagine him barking at the television set during a political debate. I imagine him sitting with Mom at the head of the dinner table.
The imagining is beautiful and torturous. Both.
Yesterday was important for me because it showed me that time really is a balm. I am not just okay in my life, but I am strong. Not perfectly strong, but strong. I can face it and feel it and I can laugh.
I’m not sure what this is. These words. I know they have something to do with self and place and history and change. I know they matter and mean something. I know I’m better off for having written them.
And last night, guys? I did this exquisite event at the home of Christine VanDeVelde. Christine and I have been in touch in the ether for a long time now. She’s a fellow writer who hosts evenings not unlike the Happier Hours I host in New York. She gathered the most phenomenal group of women and I stood in front of these women and I rambled on about my book, but not just about my book. About myself and my life. I was breathless and happy talking about motherhood and blogging and drinking and not drinking. And after? I connected with so many smart, thoughtful people and, guys, look at these insanely cool cookies! Christine sent me home with a bunch to bring my darling girls. They will freak and I’m already picturing the forest green mustaches 🙂
Back at my cousin’s place last night, we stayed up in our sweats talking and talking. I devoured a pint of faux-ice cream. When I finally got in bed, my body and mind were so tired, but also so peaceful. And I slept, well and long, and woke up and looked out at Lake Michigan and the gorgeous gray skies above it. I packed up my laptop and went out for a walk and ended up here. I sat down. And I wrote.
Because this is what I do, how I process, how I see.
I’m so happy to be here.
In this city.
In this moment in my messy life.
On this rich, rambling path of missing and of moving on.