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I was interviewed about this situation a few months ago, and I won’t be able to breathe right till it gets published. That Jake is still in the public’s mind means a lot to me, but dredging up everything wrecked me. I’m riding a relentless keen. Sneaky at first, and distant, and then you think, “Oh, shit.” You ask me if I’m ok, and I’ll tell you this: I’m as ok as someone surfing a tsunami.
But I do present well.
I’m more than Jake’s mom, and other things are also important to me. I can’t wallow AND show up, and although most days I choose to show up, I’m getting tired.
I’d really love to take a train vacation–just me, my laptop, and a sleeper car for what, two weeks? I don’t know if they have that kind of getaway where you don’t have to get off the train, you just ride the train from California to New York and back again and no hotels in between. (If you know, please do comment and tell me about it.)
Eh, but not like this.
What keeps me afloat is all the other things my life is about. I read or heard somewhere that suffering is optional. Sure, life events can sting you, but then they’re in the past, and it’s how you think about them that hurts you. It’s what you make them mean that hurts you. The events themselves are in the past–they’re not happening over and over except in your head.
So Jake is missing and that’s done. He isn’t going missing over and over. He’s just still not found. And I’m afraid I’ll learn something horrible happened to him and while this will shatter me, it will only happen once for real, and then all the other times I’ll be imagining scenarios in my head. So would I do that to punish myself? Or could I distance myself enough to recognize my son’s free will and natural and logical consequences?
That is the question. Always has been, perhaps.
I keep coming back to the fact that we are to raise our children and then let them go. Many days I feel it is rotten and unfair that I get to do this to such an extreme degree. To not know if he is okay is excruciating. Is he okay or is he dead or is he suffering or is he . . . what?
You know, when I gave my baby up for adoption many years ago, I was so thankful that I got to know where he was. This knowledge was a painful yet peaceful treasure. But now, this son I thought I got to keep, he’s nowhere to be found and I’m made aware that although we hold eternity in our hearts, we have no power over anything but our own selves.
Same as it ever was.
When Jake went to boot camp years ago for National Guard, I binge-watched Criminal Minds. I’m not sure if this was a step down or sideways from my binge-reading Hamilton’s Anita Blake series when he moved out, but it does follow a pattern: stories carry me through, and the more intense, the better the forgetting.
Stories still carry me through, but my ability to handle the unknown in them has vaporized. I have no tolerance for suspense because I live in that space. Until Jake went missing I was a no-spoilers girl; now I read the ends of books and fast-forward through movies to make sure I know who doesn’t die.
In the minutes after I gave birth to Jake I said, “I get to keep him.” Four years earlier I had given a baby boy up for adoption and the experience was fresh in my brain. Today, Jake is gone and my firstborn, who lives in another state, is in my life. My youngest son, also in another state, is off Facebook and living a normal, mostly pre-internet life. My children are far away, and I have mother-empties.
Vacuum, space in which there is no matter or in which the pressure is so low that any particles in the space do not affect any processes being carried on there. https://www.britannica.com/science/vacuum-physics
But life isn’t a vacuum. You hold your breath, sure, but it doesn’t affect anything but your own self. The upside is that you’re controlling that one thing for a minute or two, until you can’t.
Life is also not punishment and it doesn’t punish you for sucking. It’s taken me a thousand-plus days to figure this out. Life doesn’t punish me, I do.
Again I am in the in-between place of knowing/not knowing, going/stopping, looking ahead/looking back. All these places are one for me.
When I was a kid, my mother gave me a small paperback with Joseph Conrad’s short story, Silent Snow, Secret Snow and Heart of Darkness. It was too boring for my nine-year-old brain, but when I opened it a few months ago I felt as though I could inhabit it. And I wondered if Jake’s world looks like Paul’s, with “a secret screen of new snow between himself and the world.”
Paul, the narrator, describes his encroaching fog as delicious: “The thing was above all a secret, something to be preciously concealed from Mother and Father; and to that very fact it owed an enormous part of its deliciousness…it was also a sense of protection. It was as if, in some delightful way, his secret gave him a fortress, a wall behind which he could retreat into heavenly seclusion.” He’s thinking about the pleasurable feeling of dissociation, when you pull away from your self–not yourself, your self. You pull your self out of the present.
I looked up the synopsis and saw that there’s speculation that the story may be about schizophrenia, which made me think of my son’s mental health before he disappeared. I’d begged and cajoled him to see a mental health professional, to no avail. Many times since he’s been gone I have pictured him in a disheveled, crazy-eyed state, with matted hair and fleas in his beard.
But more and more now, it feels like he may be actively choosing to be gone, which creates a new narrative for me. I’m frequently tempted to blame myself, and I imagine others likely do, too, because sons don’t leave good mothers, now do they?
Well, yeah, actually, they do.
They go off on their adventures and make new lives, and if we’re lucky they reconnect with us.
This cold weather + Jake’s ill-fitting boots starts the spiral–I see it coming like a distant swirl that looks like a nonthreatening dust devil but which turns out to be very tornado-y. But not today.
Life goes on. Life-altering events are mulched over and the diamond bits are buried. The pain doesn’t go away, it’s just part of the soil.
Life’s as short as it ever was and I am thankful to be alive. I’ll be virtually holding my breath as I wait to hear back on PhD programs I’ve applied to, and I’m going to read and write more. I’ll finish quilts and start new craft projects and take walks in this in-between place, and I’ll hope. If there’s one thing that 2020 taught me, it’s that the act of creation is the way through.
One benefit of being busy with work and school is that you have no mulling minutes. Everything’s coagulated beneath the surface, cold and solid.
But a congealed bloodclot at any stage is really only a blockage that prevents hemorrhaging.
I don’t have time for a break of any kind: no heartbreak, especially. And I think this squeezed space is part of what fuels my impatience with my schedule.
I think I want time to mull, but I don’t. I don’t.
What does Jake look like now? Has he given up wearing shoes that are too tight? Does he wear shoes? Does he even exist? It seems like a mother should sense these things, and I don’t sense anything. I have no knowing in my bones, just this soft scab that will not bear picking at.
Jake’s birthday is coming up. It’s just another day, without him.