New Starts

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It’s an illusion, right?

That a new year can wash away any parts of the past that cling to your heart like tar.

The election.

The negative pregnancy tests.

The loss of a friendship.

Your mother in August, on the phone and nauseous with morphine withdrawal as she recovers from surgery (her 20th? 23rd?): the replacement of a hip her surgeon described as “rotten”.

Nazis with tiki torches.

April 18th, arriving and passing again. (Your baby, if it had gone full term, would have been two.)

New cyst, same ovary.

That thing in the White House, spewing bullsh*t, coating the country in residue. 

In March I started volunteering with hospice. My first patient, Mrs. B, was a 94-year-old woman with wild tufts of hair and arms like the bones of a bird. She dozed and drifted and fidgeted in her bed, hands scratching the blanket, and on a couple of visits smiled, once when I greeted her and once when I held a picture of my cat, Marlow, inches from her face — her gummy grin surfacing, then gone. (What a miracle a smile is, that flash of joy even in a body diminishing by the hour.)

I read poetry to her from Lorna Crozier’s collection The Blue Hour of the Day, poems about symbols and animals and angels of silence. Did she hear any of the words? I don’t know. We were two strangers meeting at the border of death: one there to let go, one there to witness. On our last visit I brought a yellow rose from the bush in my front yard. She took a deep inhale, her nose brushing the petals, and a week later the email from Monica, my volunteer coordinator, arrived: Mrs. B passed away a few minutes ago.

Where did she go? Somewhere, maybe, with rosebushes, or another ethereal plant or bloom that smells more hopeful than we can imagine.

That same month, Joe and I went to see a specialist at a clinic in Marin. He was a tall man in a white coat who I could tell worked long hours and tried his best, brisk as he was. Explaining what endometriosis does to fertility, he said, “It’s like having one hand tied behind your back.” It doesn’t sound that bad, does it? Like, there’s still hope?

But when you’ve had a miscarriage and then, two and a half years later (following this appointment), three failed iui’s in the span of six months, that “one hand” starts to feel like a weak metaphor for missing out on motherhood.

I started volunteering with hospice because after the election I knew we all needed to amplify our kindness. One way, I kept reading, was to increase engagement within our own communities. A group of women started meeting monthly at my house: a “huddle” inspired by the Women’s March, which outlined 10 actions in the first 100 days of the presidency. (I still struggle to call it a presidency.)

I was so grateful for these smart, kind women who were just as outraged as I am at the racism, sexism, ignorance, hypocrisy and overall evil emanating from the people making laws in the country. We sat in a circle and talked about local politics and national politics, upcoming rallies, threats to Planned Parenthood, the cement factory trying to move to Vallejo, Hillary (sob), town halls and city council meetings, Vallejo immigrants in fear of deportation, health care bills, Russia . . . you get the idea. And we wrote Get Out the Vote postcards, together and on our own, to Democratic voters across the country where special elections were coming up. We called the group Huddle to Rise. It was my saving grace following the inauguration: a place for venting, and for hope.

Why does everything come back to hope? The older I get the more I see what courage it takes to keep hoping in spite of every reason not to. All the optimists: you are to be admired.

There’s an acupuncturist in town who specializes in fertility. I’ve had the consultation; I’ll see him again soon. This won’t be my first dance with Chinese medicine: I did six weeks of acupuncture in Portland before we moved — needles everywhere, still no baby. Oh, and the manifesting as you lay there, gazing up at the ceiling and then closing your eyes and envisioning it all: the positive test, your growing belly, the heartbeat and the ultrasounds, giving birth and then holding your child in your arms, safe and healthy on the other side of 40 weeks. Let’s call this next round hope, call it a last ditch effort, call it you never know. Call it finding out my health insurance will cover 12 sessions. For now.

All that said, 2018 does feel like a new start, if I want it to be. (I am tentatively buying in.) But why bother with a new start if you don’t recognize all the joy that life offers, all the joy it gave you in 2017?

Joe cooking pozole as I write this, a Mexican soup we fell in love with in Aticama.

My mom’s laughter on the phone, despite all her pain.

The pink of the sky at sunset through our living room window.

Sitting around a fire with my sister Abby on the California coast, telling her stories from Melbourne, hearing her stories from San Pancho.

Waking up to cat meows.

Seeing Rosie in her wedding dress in New Orleans, singing Summertime on the dance floor of The Dragon’s Den.

Holding our niece Hazel, 7 months old and so pure, so clear with light.

Walking Matanchen Beach in Mexico (shown above), first thing on a December morning with Joe, free of worry, free of sadness, filled with gratitude.

Obviously these are just some of the highlights I have felt, seen, heard, touched in the last year. Every day brings something that makes me pause and think, I’m lucky.

On Saturday Joe and I will be on the streets of Oakland with friends, marching in the Women’s March, an act of resistance, but also again, of hope. I go because I know it’s important to add my voice, share my perspective, and learn, learn, learn. It’s the same reason I write. It connects me to you. It takes me out of myself and into that middle zone where we all exist. Thank you for listening. xox

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16 responses

  1. Taking about fertility to people who have never had to experience the ride can feel like trying to communicate in two different languages. You have written so beautifully a tiny piece of what it is like. Take some solace in knowing you are not alone. There are others out there, we know, I promise you, we know what it feels like. There is no magic words, no secret that you haven’t discovered, just breath and take time to enjoy all the good moments in everyday. Thank you for sharing. Xx

  2. You are such a beautiful (and talented!!) soul, writer, friend, human. Reading this makes me feel like we’ve sat down together and had a visit. You have such an incredible voice full of strength, tenderness and truth. I miss you and thank you for sharing this. xoxo

  3. Courtney, thank you for sharing. So intimate and real. I feel like we’ve had a brief chat to sum up the years that have gone by. Life is both torturous and sublime.
    What a gift. So much love to you,
    Kelsie

  4. oh, how I’ve missed your words. I wish I could squash the miles with one hug and tell you everything will be okay but we all know hurt doesn’t disappear with a wish. You are so strong and beautiful and raw, thank you for being so brave and sharing your voice. You have such a gift.

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