On Warmth

Our house was cold today. It is a drafty house anyway, and the air outside was damp and cold. The trees are beginning to drop their leaves. The holler was at its loveliest during this past week, which means that the long, gray winter will set in soon. At a meeting yesterday, we talked about the seasons, and folks were divided. One woman said that the joy of seasons is that, once we’re getting sick of one season, that season changes. A man who had lived in southern California said, “But what if it was always just pleasant summer?”

And I savored that thought: What if it was always just pleasant summer?

This morning, while wrapped in the warmth of my blankets, I had the most pleasant dream. I woke up at the usual time, the time when I would usually take Reed to school, but I realized that I could go back to sleep. I slipped easily back into my dream, and I floated between the dream and wakefulness. Just when the dream was reaching peak pleasantness, Reed opened my door and said, “Mom, can I have a snack?”

“Of course,” I said, then settled back in for more dream.

Then, he was back to the door, “Can I have Goldfish?”

“Sure,” I said (selfishly, because it was too early for Goldfish), then settled back in for more dream.

Then, at the foot of my bed, “Mom, can you open the box for me?”

Finally, I sat up. I struggled with the top of that damn Goldfish box.

“I’m sorry to keep disturbing your sleep, mom,” Reed said.

“Oh, honey. It’s okay,” I said. I said this very tenderly because what I really wanted to say was, Thank you for being the kind of child who lets his mama sleep in on the weekends.

Reed has been apologizing a lot lately. The other day, he asked me to help him open one of those little cheese rounds–the ones in red plastic–because he didn’t know how to do it. I said, “First you pull the string, and then….”

He interrupted me, “Oh, I know now!” he said and grabbed it out of my hands, then he quickly looked worried. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“Why? You didn’t do anything wrong,” I said.

“My dad would yell at me about something like that. He would say that I’m being rude,” Reed said.

Maybe it was rude. I don’t know. Maybe I am too easy on Reed. The other night, we didn’t get home from soccer until quite late. I told him that he could wait and take his shower in the morning, and he said, “Don’t tell dad. He’ll think that you are being a bad mom because you let me go to bed without showering.”

And so Caleb and I are at an impasse. I think that he is a bad father because he is too hard on Reed. He thinks that I am a bad mother because I am too easy on Reed.

And Reed? He’s trapped in the middle of two people who think that the other is bad. I don’t see how anything good can come out of all of that bad.

I had a really tough week. There is stuff going on in my department at work that brings me a lot of distress. It makes me want to avoid campus. It makes me feel unsafe there–not in a physical way, but in an emotional way. My emotional health necessarily occupies a lot of my time and care. I am not fragile, but I wouldn’t describe myself as entirely strong either.

Someone in a position of authority dismissed my concerns because that person didn’t feel the situation affected me directly, and maybe that person was right, but all I can say is that my fear, and sadness, and anxiety over the situation are all real, and I hurt, and while I am someone who is maybe more likely than many people to hurt for others, that is not necessarily what is happening here. I am hurting for others, but I am also hurting for myself.

I am hurting because I am realizing the legacy into which I am bound. I can leave the small town that I grew up in, but I can never really leave the men who called me a “fucking dyke” in high school because I didn’t fit into their idea of what a woman should be. I can leave my abusive husband, but I can never really put his voice behind me. I can leave my workplace, but I am bound to encounter all of the same problems elsewhere.

None of it matters anyway because, at night, when I am in my home alone, I will turn on my television, and all of those voices will be right there in my living room. They will be glaring at me from the screen, and though I might have left everyone behind in an attempt to escape, I will still find myself alone with an abusive man.

There is no escape.

The other night, I picked Reed up from his dad. When I got home, my brother called, and we talked for a long time, for over an hour. Finally, when Reed realized that I wasn’t going to stop talking, he came and stood in front of me and whispered, “Mom, Dad’s new wife is pregnant.”

I stood there, looking at Reed, my brother chattering on the other end of the line. I told my brother that I had to go.

I thought to myself, “Well, that’s no surprise.” I thought to myself, “This is exactly what I predicted would happen.” I thought to myself, “It’s like Abuse 101 to impregnate the victim so quickly.” I thought to myself, “Wow, it’s really true that abusers have patterns.” I thought to myself, “That asshole couldn’t even give the son he already has time to get used to the new marriage before thrusting this upon him.”

I reached out and hugged Reed, “How do you feel about that?” I said.

“Good, I guess?” he said.

“You’re going to be a great big brother,” I said.

This morning, I cooked Reed his favorite breakfast. As he was digging in, he said, “This tastes so good.” He said, “Thank you for making this, mom.” Then he said, “I am glad that you and my dad are divorced because you are really nice, and my dad is not, and because he abused you, he probably always would have won, and then, I wouldn’t have gotten to enjoy your niceness except for when my dad went on vacation.”

All of which was a very ten-year-old way of saying, “I remember how we lived, and I know how it would have turned out.”

It was good for me to have the reminder—not just of Caleb’s anger, but that, for as long as I had stayed with Caleb, Reed never really would have gotten to know me because I was eclipsed by Caleb’s anger.

Today, Reed let me write all afternoon in my loft while he read a book on the couch. We have a comfortable pattern. It may not be the most exciting life, but we are happy. Still, the house stayed chilly. Finally, when I needed a break from the chapter that I was working on, I came downstairs. I put on an episode of Bob’s Burgers. I said, “It’s kind of cold in here, don’t you think?”

Reed said, “Yes, but my blanket is so warm. My blanket is so big. There is room for you too. Here, mom. Why don’t you share it with me?”

Reed is not a physically demonstrative person. He hates hugging. He hates cuddling, and he was born that way. He didn’t even like to nurse when he was a baby.

Still, he is very loving. He loves in different ways, like sharing his blanket. I shared that blanket with him, and it might not have been the same as having an ever-present summer, or an escape from an abusive marriage that didn’t somehow involve lasting trauma, or a workplace that felt supportive rather than divisive—but it felt like a lot. It felt like a moment of great significance.

I can’t change much, but I know that, by changing my own future, I changed Reed’s future. As we laughed at a silly show together and shared a blanket, we both felt loved, and we both felt safe.

We both felt warmth.


The turn on our road right before our house.