Here I sit at my desk in the upstairs room. My husband just left for a hunting weekend, and we put our kids on the bus an hour ago. I did the dishes, vacuumed the dirty floors, and lit the candle I bought the other day when the house was hot and I couldn’t stand another minute of sitting in this upstairs room trying to write.
This morning, I took a minute to read a few essays online that I had bookmarked, one of which suggested starting an essay with the words “Here I sit,” which seems as good a way as any to start an essay. That line can always be cut later.
So, I type “Here I sit” and start thinking about today. This morning, I read for a bit before seven o’clock when the kids came out of their rooms and climbed on the couch with me, each of them tucked under my arms, their heads on my chest. I pulled them closer, then thought, Remember this. I think that a lot. I’m sure some of it will stick.
I made breakfasts, then lunches. I drank my coffee and talked to my husband about his trip this weekend. Then we all played cards, a habit we started last year once everyone was ready for the day and we had a few minutes to wait for the bus. Last year, I taught my daughter to play rummy. Last week, I taught her gin.
She can barely hold all the cards in her hands, but she’s learning. I was around her age when I learned these games. My grandparents taught me after I watched my grandfather and my mother play the most intense card game I’ve ever seen. “What game is this?” I asked them. “Gin,” they replied. I knew I wanted to learn. I also knew I wanted to be very, very good at it.
They sat at the kitchen table, engaged in this battle called gin, several times that summer. I sat with them, quietly observing. The table was wood veneer and oblong with four large swivel chairs that banged into the table as I swiveled them back and forth. “Knock it off,” I was told, the chair bumping the table and disrupting my mother’s concentration. My grandmother stood at the sink that overlooked the backyard. In her hands were a dry cloth and a dish she’d just washed.
She was the one who played cards with me the most. She taught me how to count my cards and keep score, and I remember her handwriting being so precise that it was unsettling. Her penmanship was perfect. We did a lot of things together that year – craft projects and gardening, watching videos in her new VHS player. My grandfather was sick, but I didn’t realize it then. He didn’t have much time left. I’m not sure anyone knew how little time we had left.
A few months ago, for a class I was taking, I ended up writing about my grandparents and the summer when my brother and I went over to their house every day. It was the summer I learned to play rummy, the summer my mother went back to work after leaving my father, which has always put a damper on how I look back at that time. But as I wrote, word after word, line after line, I realized how magical that summer was and how much I loved it. Maybe I didn’t know my grandparents all that well, but I loved how I felt when I was at their house, how my grandmother set up her old typewriter for me in the basement, how she let me roller skate down there while listening to the oldies station. I memorized the words to all those old songs. I carried them with me.
Now, looking back, I think that time at my grandparents’ house was a saving grace. I have happy memories from a time when my family was falling apart. I had a place to belong when suddenly I didn’t know how I fit in – with mom or with dad or with both or neither. Even though my grandmother was the kind of lady who wore a neck brace for a week after a mild bump in the car or who sometimes ran around the house screaming that she couldn’t take us kids anymore, even though she hid her smoking from me and she wasn’t a touchy-feely kind of grandma – despite all that – she showed up every day and gave me space. She taught me how to play games and, also, how to entertain myself. She read the stories I wrote. She turned up the volume on my favorite oldies songs.
Last week, I wrote to a writer friend to ask her a question about writing about the past, especially painful, uncomfortable things. I told her I’ve been afraid to write because I’m afraid it might send me into a spiral. She told me that she’s gotten used to the uncomfortable feelings. When she writes, she puts her judgment aside and writes with curiosity. It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to not know how something will end or if it will all tie together in a little bow. Just see if you can write another word, another line. Keep writing.
I’ve been setting aside whole days to just to write. I do nothing on those days but write or read or re-read what I’ve already written. I still feel afraid, I still feel uncomfortable, but I’m trying to lean into those feelings and accept that they aren’t going anywhere. They are part of this process, and I have to be okay with that. They aren’t wrong, they aren’t bad – they just are. I carry them with me when I write and I carry them when I don’t.
So, here I sit, putting one word on the page after another, believing that sometimes those words will take me into something that hurts and other times they might lead me back to something I didn’t realize was there – something good, something special. Sometimes I might be the hero in the story and sometimes the villain, but the story, whatever it is, is still worth telling if I can stay curious and open.