This photo was taken exactly a year ago.
That baby was only hours old. She had been born to two of my very best friends, and though they live in Montana, I was en route from Idaho to Ohio and able to take them lunch and steal some time with them.
I had never held any baby that young but my own.
About a month ago, Reed asked me, “Do you think that my dad gets so angry with me because I look just like you?”
Reed is always quantifying how much he is of us. He will say, “I am 70% you and 30% my dad.” His ratios change from time to time, but he is always mostly me.
I recently had this realization that Reed reminds me a lot of my dad, and because we (Reed and I) both adore my dad, Reed latched on to that. He said, “I am most like Grandpa!”
Being like Grandpa probably feels like neutral territory.
The truth is that Reed is 100% himself.
At Christmas Eve dinner this year, Reed told a story about Caleb and his new wife. It was a cute story, but I did what I always do during those stories. I smiled and disassociated. Then, I saw my mother looking at me with pity, and I felt very present. I felt sad.
Later, while I was getting Reed ready for Christmas Eve service, he brought the story up again, and for the first time, I said, “I need you to not tell me stories about your dad and his wife right now. I’m sorry.”
I have never done that before. I have always wanted to protect him from my sadness, but we had come to an impasse. I was going to be upfront with him, or I was going to cry.
He was quiet, then looked at me compassionately and said simply, “That’s understandable.”
I skipped Christmas Eve service. I did this instead.
I told that story about Reed to a friend today at lunch. We were sitting in a brewpub, and there was a handsome man sitting at the bar alone near us. I told her that story, and many more.
When the man finished his beer, he put on his hat and got up to leave. He stopped and made direct eye contact with me. He smiled a kind smile. His smile told me that he had been listening.
Shortly before, my friend had said about another friend who is in her sixties, “She has just never met someone to keep her company.”
I had said back to my friend, “I think that is going to be me,” and I am finally hitting the point where my friends no longer protest when I say that.
And then, there was that man standing there smiling at me, and I know that smile. I have seen that smile before. It was an “I would take you home right now” kind of smile. It was also a tender smile.
There is a certain kind of man who can handle the vulnerability of a battered woman. There is a different kind of man who can handle the power of a woman who is successful. I have yet to find the combination of these men.
Maybe that stranger was the man, but I will never know.
He probably wasn’t.
I was visibly grumpy around Christmas. I finally apologized to my mother. I said, “Christmas is just really hard for me. It is hard for me to know that Caleb is married and expecting a new baby, but I am still alone.” I choked up, then grew embarrassed because I am not as strong as my mother. My mother never chokes up at anything.
My mother said, “You just need to choose what to focus on.”
I said, “You need to do more research on abuse and PTSD. You need to learn that it is not a choice.”
She apologized, but I left the room. She followed me then and said, “He may be remarried, but you have done the right thing. You have placed yourself first, and that is important.” She said, “I know you could have had someone. I know you have had options.”
The truth, though, is that a thirty-something woman will never have as many options as a thirty-something man.
While going through an old photo album of my mother’s, I found this photo that was taken at my best friend’s wedding.
Caleb wasn’t a handsome man. Not even close. He knew that. He used to brag about how men didn’t need to be handsome; they only needed to be funny.
I look at that photo and think of how young I was. I wonder how much time I wasted.
We all know that women can’t get away with only being funny. Women need to be young. Women need to be pretty.
Last year, when that photo with my friend’s newborn was taken, I was sleep-deprived because I had spent the night before with someone younger than me. Not indecently younger than me, but young enough to be exciting.
And it had been fun. Carefree in the way that being with a younger man should be.
At one point, he said, “Kelly, I like you.” At another point, he said, “I like your body. You have a nice body.” I wondered if he had read this because I knew that he had read my blog. I appreciated his words because my body is always still a little bit broken.
I remembered the man I had been with before him. That man had told me that he could never read my writing because he didn’t want to feel sad. This past summer, that same man told me, “I feel like an asshole because I don’t read your writing.”
I thought, You are an asshole. I thought, You claim to care about me, but you don’t want to know me.
I said, “I like it that you don’t read my writing,” but I was lying to myself as well as to him.
After that night with the younger man, I felt energized and appreciated. I patted myself on the back for being able to have casual flings. This was also the time when my book deal was in the works, and then, I got to hold my friend’s newborn baby. It was all too joyful. I felt a lightness that I hadn’t felt in a long time.
2016 was going to be my year.
2016 has been my year, but it has also been a year of undefined grief.
I had my heart broken by the man who couldn’t read my writing, the man who wasn’t a casual fling. I realized that I want something real, and that casual flings aren’t satisfying to me in the way that commitment is. I realized that something real was not within my grasp. I realized that I need to grow comfortable with being alone.
And now, it is possible that I have grown too comfortable with being alone.
I have written a book, and I hope that it is something beautiful, but it has ravaged me.
All of this is a very long way of building up to this: I am a Christmas baby, born during the most “wonderful time of year,” but the first time that Caleb beat me was on Christmas Eve.
To me, Christmas illuminates all that I have lost.
Still, at my lunch today, when I said to my friend that I thought that I was going to be the person who would be alone, I didn’t speak with sadness. I didn’t speak with regret. Choices are hard, and I have made some wrong ones that I now have to live with, but being alone has been the right choice.
Tonight, Reed said to me, “Do you think that being a single parent makes someone a better parent?” Reed assumes that single parents are better than married parents because his lived experience supports this. And I’ve got his back. Sometimes, I miss the memories of us with his dad as a family so much, but I don’t miss the memories enough to try and duplicate that with someone else.
The Salmon river is frozen right now. The other day, I walked over the big bridge in town, and I saw ice stretched out on to the water. I remembered when Caleb and I walked our dog near that river. Our dog ran out on to that ice and slid into the river. I screamed. Caleb stretched out on that thin ice. He grabbed our dog’s paws and pulled him out.
Reed was five weeks old.
As Caleb stretched on to that ice, I thought, “I am going to be raising my child alone.” I thought, “What have I done?”
But though the ice shook and heaved, it didn’t break. The black water ran beneath it–hard, and fast, and cold.