This is a story in three parts.
Before we left for the trip, I heard this wonderful quote: "The end is built into the beginning." At it's most basic level, it is an obvious statement about the fact that once we are conceived, we are all dying. Some may be closer to their death than others, but it has always been such a strange statement when you're told that someone is dying. What does that actually mean when death will happen to all of us?
I didn't mean this to be a downer of a post.
I'll start over.
I was fixated on another meaning in the statement (which comes, by the way, from Synecdoche, New York): that the way the event or relationship or situation ends is built into the beginning. You can predict how it will go. I think back to my first days at graduate school and it makes perfect sense. The tumultuous end was due to the tumultuous beginning. I should have known how it would go based on those first days and perhaps, had I been smarter, I would have cut my losses when I saw how the beginning went and not allow the natural end to play out at all.
The word synecdoche means to use part of something to describe the whole (it can also mean the inverse). For instance, Pinocchio is entirely defined by his nose. This one trait--the fact that his nose grows when he lies--is the defining characteristic used to describe the whole character (if you saw a cartoon where a bird told his mother a lie and his beak grew, what is the first thing you'd think of? Pinocchio, right?).
With infertility, we often have this limitation of our body define the whole. I am an infertile woman, it is the trait you know me by best. And it is a strange concept, this separation of the whole. I am a firm believer in holistic approaches--holistic teaching or holistic medicine--and yet, I not only allow this element of myself to serve as a synecdoche, but I encourage it. I have a blog where I discuss it, make it the focus even in the title. Perhaps it is just our desire to make ourselves smaller, more manageable. Our whole selves are too messy, too unordered. Taking out these small elements are like making a meal of tapas.
Human experience tapas.
So I am an infertile woman.
I am a Jewish woman.
I am a baker.
My experience in Western Massachusetts was also more varied than I give it credit when I describe it with a single word. When I think of the entire space, I think of it as two sided, black-and-white. On the sunnier side are these memories of tashlich by the Bookmill, cleaning the Kosher K, the stacked rocks on the way up to the Peace Pagoda, riding my bicycle around the top floor of my co-op, the smell of the Haymarket, swimming in Shelburne Falls, tea with Norton Juster. All pleasant, happy things that made me think that I wanted to go back to reclaim the space.
But truly, it's the darker side that I allow to define the place. I really struggled here.
I already told you the story of the end. It was the first ending. This week, we had four days between two events and Josh and I decided to create a different ending. I was excited during the drive, looking forward to seeing family, eating at my favourite burrito place, buying used books. If I was going to create a synecdoche of the place, I might as well choose one of its sunnier traits. You have heard, of course, of Take Back the Night. Well, this was my version of Take Back the Place.
But as we exited the highway, I started to feel ill. I didn't want to be up here at all. I always describe this feeling as my nervous system being inflamed. I could not calm down and I didn't want to be in my skin and I felt like I should burrow in somewhere dark and deep and not intake any more stimuli for a bit.
But we were already up here. With two kids in tow.
Driving through town, it was interesting to see the places that caused me such anxiety were gone. They had changed. They had gone from a bar to a bank, a burrito shop to a coffeehouse. I had been trying to remember the name of a bar all afternoon, asked my cousin when I saw her before I left. Josh drove up the street and my heart was pounding, waiting to see the sign, confirm my thought. But the bar was gone. Vanished. There was a restaurant in its place.
It made me feel a little sick to see it gone. It made me feel a little relieved.
It was like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Someone had changed my history. Knocked down a sign, put another in its place. A walk down a staircase that replays in my head all the time is now becoming fainter, the staircase entirely gone, the store gutted and repainted and refurbished.
And like that film, I couldn't decide if the erasing of memories were a good thing. On one hand, it felt like I was trying to grab at air when the store was so clearly changed. I couldn't picture it suddenly, this scene I always imagined, because I was staring at a wall where the staircase should be. I bought my coffee and left, feeling like I couldn't take back the space because it was taken back for me. It was like liposuction instead of dieting. The work had been done by someone else.
But does it matter if you like the end result?
And on the other hand, did I want my memories erased? Aren’t they part of what makes me who I am now? If those memories are suddenly gone, will the empathy, patience, and self-assertion I gained by the experiences also be gone, making me a different person, perhaps not instantaneously as the removal of a sign signaling a new store, but a slow-fade into a new Melissa, one who does not remember why she wanted to figuratively install anti-virus software on herself in the first place? And without remembering, will it make me simply feel defensive rather than self-assertive? Aloof rather than protective?
On the first night, after we came back from visiting my cousin and her husband, I crawled into bed with my daughter and started to cry as I watched her sleep. I don’t even know why I was crying—was it because I was scared of the world we were releasing her into? We are raising her only to release her and we need to trust that the world will treat her well. Or was it because if she had been around back then, I would have had a harbour to return to at the end of the day. There was a woman in my program who had a child and I always thought that no matter how terrible her day went, she could go home to that harbour.
But really, wasn’t the ChickieNob the reclaimed ending more than the trip? Weren’t the three of them—Josh, the ChickieNob, and the Wolvog—the replacement of the past? And when we get down to the blood and bones, weren’t they with me the entire time—ideals I carried with me for Josh, literal cells for the twins. Half of their DNA was inside me from the moment I was born. They were tucked away inside an organ, and I didn’t even know they were there. If I had, it all may have gone differently.
I went to the bathroom to write this thought down on a post-it note because I didn’t want to forget it. Actually, I wanted to remind my children this in the future when they are in one of life’s maelstroms. That everyone they will love as a harbour in the future is already inside them and with them—either in their cells or in their ideals or in their longings. Those from us and to us.
And then I went back into bed and fell asleep.
Part One Fini; two more to go...