I know I’ve been inordinately quiet lately. There are socially respectable reasons for that. I’m launching a new novel in three weeks. (Count them-three!) My third literary love child, The Long Ride Home, will be welcomed into the world first at Albuquerque’s Bookworks on September 8, and then at Phoenix’s Changing Hands on September 9. The Long Ride Home is already getting great reviews. Kirkus loved it, and so did School Library Journal. Brandon Hartman of Second Time Books wrote this gorgeous review. So I have hopes for this baby of mine.
As if all that weren’t enough, the day after my second book launch, I fly off to Philadelphia to be the writer-in-residence at my beloved Rosemont College for the fall semester. I’ll be teaching two classes for the Rosemont Writer’s Studio while I’m there, as well as doing various readings, signings, panels, and appearances. I can’t tell you how stoked I am about all the good things that are happening in my life. In addition to being kick ass, all these opportunities are keeping me very busy.
But if I said that was why you haven’t heard from me, I’d be lying. My life has been weird and wonderful and excruciating all at once lately. I’ll just cut to the chase and tell you about the excruciating part. In June, I was teaching at Rosemont’s summer writer’s retreat when I found out my beloved mother has stage three breast cancer. I felt like someone punched me in the stomach when I heard. Not that I didn’t know it was coming. I’d seen the worst lump, and clearly, something was wrong. Mom had gone in for her biopsy results the day I left. So I’d tried to emotionally prepare myself for the worst. As is usually the case with these things, my emotional preparation did nothing to stave off the ugly, black, curdled grossness that came to live in my belly when I got the news.
Currently, I’m spending tons of time with my momma and my big brother on our family’s land in the New Mexico mountains. We hike a lot and talk a lot and look at the stars a lot. You’ve never seen stars until you’ve seen stars from the vantage point of an isolated New Mexico mountain. They are so close you can touch them.
We spent some time at a spa in Colorado, dipping in hot springs and getting massaged and eating things that were bad for us. I have this amazing feeling of being closer to my family than ever before, which is saying something, because we are a really tight knit clan.
A few nights ago, right after the 24th anniversary of my precious father’s death (I got a tattoo to memorialize it—this year, I am exactly the same age he was when he died), a storm knocked the power out, and I dreamed magic dreams.
In one of them, my brother and I were sleeping on the floor in my mom’s room in sleeping bags we used to own. (When we were kids, one of us slept on the other’s floor every night. We couldn’t bear to be apart. The scene at the beginning of Beauty of the Broken where Iggy and Mara are holding hands, watching the moon, is me and my big brother all the way. But I digress.)
In my dream, my dad was sitting on mom’s bed, watching over all of us. He said beautiful things to me in that dream. I woke up full of hope to a night that was the blackest black I’ve ever seen. There were no lights for miles, and storm clouds shrouded the stars. In that silent darkness, I felt strangely happy, more content, more myself, more at peace, than I have ever been before. I touched something at the core of me that is unmoved by the darkness. I like that piece of me. She’s come out to play often lately. She came into her own just this year, barely in time to see me through all of this madness.
But even my zen-ny core can’t always save me from feeling the mess. I am also scared and sad and sometimes a little bit desperate. I feel raw and unready to speak to anyone outside of my family at great length. When I sit down to write, nothing comes. I want to say so much, but I think I want to say it with paint or interpretive dance or underwater basket weaving. Something that doesn’t require me to name my feelings, and make them poignant, or funny, or captivating. I lie awake until four every night praying. I can talk to God, but she doesn’t ask me to be pithy. I run every evening. (I’ve lost 16 pounds in a month, partly due to the running, partly due to the fact that my mom and I are doing a plant-based “cancer be gone” diet together.) While I run, I cry because the sunsets are pretty. And because I’m out of the house, and alone, and I don’t want to cry at home in front of my mom, because she already feels shitty enough, and she doesn’t need to be worrying about me. I see deer every time I run. I’ve decided to believe every single one of them is a sign of hope.
So that’s why I’m being quiet. For the first time in my life, I don’t know what to say. I want the people I love to stop hurting. That’s all I know. I guess it’s not all I know. I know I will be off to the East Coast in less than a month. I know I will return from my residency in time for Christmas, and to help my mom during and after her surgeries. And after that, I’m off to teach in Mexico. And then France (I think). And then, my mom and I will maybe travel together, if she’s well. She wants to cash in her life insurance policy and travel with it. I want her to do it. This is how I live right now. Halfway in this magical mountain space with my family, halfway in an imagined future full of cathedrals and ruins and sunsets over mosques.
That’s all I got. See. Wasn’t that boring? This is why I’m not writing right now. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to turn all that is happening, all that I’m feeling, into a cohesive narrative. Always, my heart is full to bursting. I just can never figure out quite what it’s full of.
Outside my window, crickets are singing in tongues. Wind strong-arms cedars. The stars hang heavy and close, like they want to sneak in through the glass and lick me. I’d probably let them if they asked nicely.