Emily Rapp

Emily Rapp
Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
July 12
Emily Rapp is the author of Poster Child: A Memoir, and The Still Point of the Turning World, which is forthcoming from Penguin Press in March 2013. She is also the author of many essays and stories in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Bellevue Literary Review, The Sun, Body + Soul, StoryQuarterly, The Texas Observer, and other publications. She is currently Professor of Creative Writing at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design in Santa Fe, New Mexico and a faculty member with the University of California-Riverside Palm Desert MFA Program.


Editor’s Pick
JULY 8, 2011 10:29AM

Fire Season

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Fire Season

When you take

a series of careful steps

to solve a complex problem,

mathematicians call it an algorithim.

It’s like moving through

a series of rooms, each with

two doors, you must choose one,

you can’t go back.

-From “Lamp Day,” by Matthew Zapruder

 My heart goes with you; your love stays with me.

“That’s No Way to Say Goodbye,” Leonard Cohen

Today I am home from Spain and we take Ronan to see the neurologist. Another trip to the Mind Center, to the drab strip mall sprawl of Albuquerque, the streets ten degrees hotter than Santa Fe and the roads at least one lane wider. The sky is clogged with smoke from the various fires that have been raging across New Mexico for nearly a month. An ominous haze squats on the horizon, swallowing the view of the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo mountains. Firefighters making $12/hour and sleeping in tents are working nonstop. I imagine them living like early pioneers – dirt-caked and sweating, drinking from metal camp cups, taking one quick sip from a communal whiskey bottle before falling asleep on crappy cots in their stinking clothes. Risking their lives for people they don’t know for just a bit more than minimum wage. For the price of a yoga class at the student rate. For the price of three grande lattes without syrup or any extra fluff at Starbucks. The car smells fiery, about to combust.

Before I went to Spain, on the way back from Palm Springs, we flew into a glowing smoky sky, the sun a dull orange bead, a mean eye, the cheap button from a suit jacket that had popped off and now floated like a dim but insistent light: land here.

“Where is it?” my seatmate asked. “Where’s the fire?” He’d been telling the other person in our three-person row that his daughter in Mississippi was pursuing her master’s degree; I love that phrase, as if a degree could be chased down and wrestled to the ground. The captain got on the sound system and reminded us that the burning smell was a result of smoke in the ambient air. “The plane is not on fire,” he reassured us. Isn’t all air ambient? I wondered and stared out into the gray reddish yellow blue blur, the sky like a bruise moving through all its stages and colors at once. I thought of the light in the parlor at Other Em’s Lambeth Road house where I once slept with my ex on dusty couch cushions. Light that moved first through dusty curtains and then through half-empty whiskey bottles to fall in a thick puddle on the floor. Light like a pile of unfinished books. All night we listened to the odd sound of foreign sirens. As the plane tilted, a cloud like a nuclear, pulsing UFO, smooth and flat, appeared through the window. Below it, a swath of clear blue, as if the cloud were a lid or a scab that could simply be lifted away. We seemed to weigh more in the clotted sky, and our landing into Albuquerque felt like a slow sink into a soft pit.

Today in the waiting room at the neurologist’s office we sit with Ronan and Skipit, the “ultra soft” light blue dog toy with elongated arms and legs that makes him look like a stretched out bunny. We’re not sure which animal he’s supposed to be, but Ronan doesn’t care. We watch kids with normally developing brains scribble with crayons at a small table in the corner. Rick cradles Ronan’s head in his hands and lets his body rest on his forearms. I rub Skipit over Ronan’s hands and he blinks his pale-lashed eyes. Five and a half teeth are visible when he smiles.

It took me exactly 24 hours, five shuttle buses, two car trips, four airplanes, and three inter-airport trains to get from Spain to Santa Fe. I went through security three times and was detained for additional screening all three times, which landed me in Heathrow as the “last call” for my flight to Chicago was being announced, in a dead sprint through terminal 5 with my computer held over my head, screaming Wait! Hold on! Please don’t close that door! I was convinced that my ability to make that flight was existential; if I didn’t make it, I’d never get home. Once I was settled, sweating and heaving in my seat (and regretting those weekend cigarettes with Other Em), I burst into hysterical tears as I always do when I leave London. Flying out over the circular Eye and the twisting gray glimmer of the Thames, leaving one of my best friends behind, a dark cold ocean yet to cross, two more planes over farmland and mountains before finally touching down in the desert. I cry because the world is at once too small and too vast, everything knitted together but simultaneously falling apart. Control yourself, I thought, but self-talk was ineffective. I cried until I was finished and then I watched three action movies on my little seatback movie screen.

The nurse walks us into the vitals room and weighs Ronan in a bucket (24 pounds), probes gently with an ear thermometer to take his temperature, measures his head (in the 75th percentile) and briefly leaves the room to get a cuff small enough to fit around Ronan’s arm and measure the pressure of his blood moving through the hidden highways of baby veins covered by fat. “You have a monkey, a giraffe, and a lion on your shirt!” I tell him. “And your shirt is green!” “Uhn-gee!” he replies.

Back to the main waiting room, into another smaller waiting room, then into the actual examination room, and finally the doctor appears with two interns in tow, telling us that this is a “teaching hospital” and that these soon-to-be doctors are here to learn. Tay-Sachs kids in New Mexico – and really, most places – are like unicorns. Nobody has seen one although they are rumored to exist. One baby with Tay-Sachs died this week and another child is dying. I met one of them this March. Ronan is moving up in “the waiting room.” This is the thought I have when I see the eager, scrubbed faces of these interns. And I think about Casey Anthony writing from prison before she was acquitted for the murder of her daughter, expressing the desire to have more children. The smell of aftershave floats into the room.

I’m wary of these newbies, these docs-in-training, having been prodded and treated like a strange specimen of a body by interns before, but when I look at Rick he seems willing. I remind myself that this is not about me, it’s about Ronan. What if these doctors are able to help a Tay-Sachs kid someday because of what they learn here? I am not a child anymore; if they get rude or inappropriate I can and will ask them to leave and perhaps this will prompt them to improve their bedside manner. They seem kind and at least one of them is energetic and genuinely interested. He sidesteps all the annoying platitudes of “I can’t imagine” and “I don’t know how you do it.” He asks us how we are doing and doesn’t flinch at the answers. The other intern takes notes in a chair near the door. He’s as silent as a fearful ghost although he himself looks spooked. Maybe he has a hangover. Maybe he’s been up for 36 hours straight. Rick talks a lot when we go to doctor’s appointments; he’s nervous, I think, and sad. He gives the full picture of what’s happening with Ronan, down to the smallest detail. His attention to our child is almost sacramental. The devil is in the details, and sadness too. Maybe it’s the same thing.

The doctor checks Ronan’s reflexes and we explain that he was recently fitted for splints that he will wear at night to keep his feet flexed, which will in turn help with the spasms in his knees and the pointing of his feet. We chose a fish pattern for the splints, a school of brightly colored fish swimming in a deep blue plaster background. At the prosthetist’s office Ronan’s feet were marked with blue pencil. I remembered being marked with lipstick around my hips, my crotch, my ass, lines like thin red smiles, like skinny, bloody wounds drawn on my body as guides for where the leg should hit, where things should bend and match up, where parts of the made part of the body were supposed to go. All the seams made visible. When the doctor and his silent assistant left the room I flipped over the tube to look at the name of the color – “Cherries in the Snow.” I used to watch those lipstick lines float off in the bath, as if the water were a handkerchief that could just lift them way. Kiss kiss, blot blot and the red bloomed like blood from a wound in the water. Washed away, washed out. It took a few days for the blue marks to wash off Ronan’s feet and ankles.

The intern flips the light off and fumbles with his eye light, and for a moment the five of us plus Ronan are sitting in darkness. “Geee,” Ronan says softly and kind of creepily in his scratchy dragon voice. “Ooh, haunted hospital room,” I twitter, but my voice is too brash, too loud. “Ghost baby,” I say, and then feel terrible for saying this. The doctor looks at Ronan’s eyes in the darkness – I see his eyelashes blink, skinny shadows, two feathery doors opening and closing on his cheeks, the curved and shining whites of his eyes, their kaleidoscope colors obliterated by the bright light. The phantom intern flips on the lights and we all look at Ronan. “He seems so well-loved, like just another member of the family.” We nod and stare at each other. I almost say, “Well, of course he’s part of our family; what else would he be?” but I understand that the doctor’s intentions are kind, and that he probably feels as helpless as we do. He’s a brain specialist and there’s nothing he can do but tell us why seizures happen and then write a prescription. He must feel useless, helpless, and stupid. We know how he feels. There’s no future to discuss beyond what’s already been discussed. Ronan’s not going anywhere but back home with us. No doctor will be barging through the door of the exam room with a miracle cure. No amount of words can fill the great space between our parenting experience and the doctor’s. He’ll write us a prescription for a suction machine, I ask if that will be categorized under durable medical equipment in insurance billing lingo, he says he thinks so, and then I reiterate – in a bratty tone I had meant to be much nicer — our decision not to use a feeding tube. More silence. We decide to come back in November; in the smaller waiting room in front of the bigger waiting room where the same kids are still working on the same crayon photos (I watch them through the window in the door), the sweaty-faced receptionist pulls up her giant, complicated computer scheduler on an enormous screen and says, “Okay, Mom, which day do you want?”

On the way home my eyes start to burn. The sky is a hazy, pale blue, the color of Skipit, who is tucked under Ronan’s arm. “The fire is killing my eyes,” I say to Rick, who is sitting with Ronan in the back and reading a book about the lives of homeless people in Santa Fe. Ronan conked out the minute the car started to move. During fire season in Los Angeles I felt like I could hardly breathe and my skin itched constantly. I hadn’t expected it in New Mexico. (“Our state doesn’t have as many disasters as the others,” my seatmate had said confidently as we landed in a fiery sky.) “Do you need to pull over?” he asks. I don’t. We don’t want to do this. Nobody wants to do this. Ronan won’t always be in the waiting room; it’s going to be his turn to go through that door soon enough, too soon. Which day do you want? What a terrifying question.

In the afternoon Ronan sits next to me while I watch an episode of Spooks on the BBC in the comfort of the swamp cooler. Outside the sky is low and muddled. Ronan is big enough now that he can sit on my lap like the toddler he’d be if he could toddle. His head notches between my chin and collarbone, his arms go up around my neck and I hold him as if he’s just come running to me with a skinned knee or a hurt feeling. I say it’s really okay as if he’s asked me if it’s going to be. His skin is soft, his hands are sticky. The back of his head is sweaty in the summer, ringlets twisting around his earlobes. I hold him and hear Rick saying to the neurologist, “We’re not totally convinced he knows who we are,” and thinking what an injustice it is. I’ve heard so many fathers say to me over the years “oh, I don’t really like parenting,” or they don’t say anything at all or they’re just absent, phantom dads, ghost fathers. The kids of those fathers are happily running around. Rick’s fathering, this great gift, feels wasted, even though I know this probably calls for an adjustment in attitude. How can love be wasted? What is unconditional love if not love that expects nothing in return, especially from a child who is arguably as helpless as Ronan? Ronan needs us desperately, without realizing it. He cannot sit up or roll over. Batting at toys is an increasing challenge. He has to wear the physical therapy version of a neck roll in his high chair and while sitting on the couch. He expects our unconditional love, he gets it, and he is not locked in guilt or conflicted about it. I remind myself of this. Unconditional love asks nothing back; being Ronan’s mom is my giant, painful opportunity to learn this. What I am being asked to do feels both entirely instinctive and completely impossible.

There it is, anger again. I want to do what Roz, the top spy, does in Spooks after the death of the man she loved, another spy. I want to say, with a straight face, that I’m over it, that I’m fine, that I’ve accepted the basic facts of the situation, that the love of my life just exploded in a car bomb, and then I want to leave the empty wineglass and go into a room alone and throw some electronics around, break some picture frames, scream and wail and have a big fat fit. I think about all the kids who don’t have anyone to love them; or all the friends or former students of mine with stories about their parents saying what should be impossible things; cruel things that cannot be taken back. People beat and murder and abuse and neglect their kids. I think about chloroform and duct tape and the DNA analysis of hair. Kids are betrayed and left and abused and most of the time their abusers, these criminals, get away with it. They deserved better, no matter what they could do or what they looked like or what they might have become or done with their lives. They deserved to be valued as part of a family, as human beings. Why is that so difficult?

Firefighters in New Mexico set controlled burns around the fires – they start smaller fires in order to control the biggest ones, to prevent them from raging out of control. These controlled backburns are essential for containment. Real or set, in both cases the trees end up as charred husks, row upon row of smoking skeletons made of bark and ash.

I wrote a lot in Spain in my room named after Goya; possibly too much. I wrote while crying in that giant farmhouse of empty and echoing rooms, one room full of ceramic pots the size of professional basketball players and an old olive press with rusting metal arms, a hallway phone sometimes ringing and ringing into the darkness in the middle of the night or during siesta, nobody awake or motivated to answer it. I felt like I was back in Dublin in 1994 – no internet, no distractions, one communal phone ringing at all hours in the international dorm where I first lived before finding my own apartment, people with families living in a dozen different time zones. Hello? Hello? What? Who? Sorry? Say again? echoing in the hallway, the person who answered trying to understand through language barriers or a bad connection who was wanted and who was calling from the other side of the world. Footsteps up the stairs and then down the hallway, followed by a knock on someone’s door, sometimes mine. You could smoke in pubs then, and I hung my clothes out the open window to try and rid them of the smell. A new language for interaction has emerged in conjunction with the necessity of smoking outside of Irish pubs – “smirting” – smoking and flirting. But in 1994 you could smoke and flirt indoors and blow smoke all over the room or in somebody’s face. At any pub at any moment you might look up and see the flickering red points of cigarettes being lit, the quick flash of a lighter. In Spain I fed Euro coins into the telefonica beneath its round plastic dome and tried to cry softly so that my voice wouldn’t echo up the stairs into the ears of my neighbor staying in Lorca.

In Spain I wrote through fits of rage, my little set and barely controlled grief fires that ultimately contained nothing, pounding away at the keyboard in my monkish twin bed, on the terrace with the ants and the persistent biting flies, sweat dripping down my legs from the buzzing hot computer on my lap, at the drafting table at the end of my tiled corridor that was meant to be used by an artist who cancelled her residency at the last minute. I did cardio drills using my friend Amy’s DVD – jumping jacks and high knees and fast lunges in my underwear until I almost passed out from the heat. I roamed around at weird hours eating bowls of muesli with fatty whole milk and cup after cup of strong filtered coffee with heaping spoonfuls of sugar. At dinner I smiled and laughed and ate my dinner and then went up to my computer and raged at the lump of mountain divided into even squares by the bars on my window, watched the nightly scattering of limp fireworks over the highest point of the pueblo, an abandoned hotel half-built and baking in the sunshine. The Spanish economy is in the shitter, with 40% unemployment, folded up cafes and nightclubs along the Mediterranean, half-finished luxury hotels, young people protesting in the street. The cover of The Economist warns: “If Greece goes…” Spain is not a “robust” economy, it’s a desperate one. The government changed the motorway speed limit from 120 to 110 kmh in the hopes of collecting money in speeding fines, but everyone obeyed the new rules, and so three weeks later they changed it back. This story, told to me by a British shopkeeper, prompted him to refer to the current Spanish president as “a tit.” Spain, apparently, has less potential than other countries in the EU; it’s one of the bad seeds, one that could make all the other plants rot.

On the nights when I did walk into Mojacar the bars were empty except for a few tables where bald or gray-haired men wearing flip-flops sat chain-smoking over tiny cups of espresso. When I got lost on the unmarked roads I asked a man working in his garden – “pueblo?” – and he made a circle in the air and stuck his finger through it. “Gracias,” I nodded, not sure if he’d offered me directions or a lewd gesture. Later that week Other Em and I watched a first communion procession, the tiny brides of Christ parading down a thin cobbled street, their stiff white dresses going limp in the heat, the priest sweating and swaying and singing off-key under his moving tent, cross held close to his chest, women holding open fans next to their faces to block the sun and rolling their eyes at the priest’s singing voice. I made plans to go to Morocco – my Tay-Sachs gene originated there, so why not check it out when I was already this far south? Maybe I’d meet a relative wandering through a souk in Marrakesh. I realized I’d become too skittish to travel on my own. Newness frightens me. I find this depressing. I’ve always liked reinvention and renewal – some might even accuse me of being addicted to the “fresh start.” Instead I sat at a desk in a turret and wrote all day and into the night.

This was not necessarily a healthy way to live. Kierkegaard wrote Fear and Trembling in a fit of grief; he wrote in his journals that he sat down at his writing desk, barely to see out of his own eyes. Fifty years ago this week Ernest Hemingway shot himself in the head. His behavior up until that point had become increasingly erratic and paranoid. In Casper, Wyoming he tried to walk into a propeller when the plane he was traveling in landed for refueling. I was happy to be writing in Spain, but I also felt the tip of the propeller against my cheek, the cool, bright point of the blade. Casper is a flat city of wind. People talk about it as a given, like the sun rising. Wind is weather: “the wind today.” If a fire started there it would burn all the way to the horizon. In the same newspaper where I learned about Hemingway and read the latest developments related to the Los Conchas fire near Los Alamos, I found these stories: the parents of an abused girl were given prison sentences, I can’t remember the length of time, but it could never be long enough. The girl was 14 and had maggot infested bedsores and weighed 45 pounds. She had cerebral palsy and was mentally retarded. The murderers of another seven-year-old girl who was dumped in a ditch in 1958 were found. Her family lamented the loss of this “athletic and beautiful” girl who was “going to be something.” I read another story about migrants who are brutalized on their journeys from Mexico and Central America. One of them asked the reporter, “Should I go back? What do you think?” On another page I learned that a lock of President Lincoln’s hair is worth about $35,000 at auction.

There are so many rooms in the house of grief, so many basements without lights, and so many people inside, waiting to go somewhere else, to cross some border, to live, to die. In the Denver Airport on my first trip back home during this fire season I ate a bowl of pasta covered in oil at the bar attached to a bakery famous for its cookies; an odd pairing, but apparently a popular one for those passing through to wherever was next. On either side of me sat men with empty pints stacked up in front of them, light slanting through the drying froth. The waitress looked at her drooping face in the mirror and sighed. She wasn’t pretending; she wasn’t going to make nice while grumpy, lonely people ordered drinks at her bar. “Everyone leaves,” she said, shrugging, when one of the drunk patrons asked her if she liked her job.

“Can I pay you for this big cookie?” Someone was asking.

“No; I can’t ring up cookies at the bar.” The bartender slid a tube of lip gloss from her jeans, slowly applied a slick pink coat, and slipped the tube back into her pocket.

“It’s just a cookie. Can’t you just ring it up here?”

“It’s a cookie, which means it’s not a drink. So, no. No, I can’t.”

I am a skeptic; who isn’t? A cookie is not a drink. The bartender started up the dishwasher, a surprisingly domestic sound: dishes being rocked and rinsed, the soft thump and roar of clothes tumbling in the dryer. Those sounds from the closing, dozing edge of the day, sounds from home. You choose a particular door and you cannot go back, you cannot walk back through it.

That little girl who died of starvation and maggot-infested sores was a human being. So was the little girl with “potential” who was murdered and dumped in a field. So are all the nameless, faceless people traveling on hot trains and being raped and robbed and beaten trying to get to this country that will brutalize them further. They are human beings. They don’t need to have potential to be valuable. And they live, even though their lives are truly the stuff of other people’s nightmares. Their stories matter, even if we never hear them. Sitting at Java Joe’s with Ronan on my lap, talking to our new friend Bob, who reads the paper there every morning, I read those stories and felt myself flinch in every possible way. Sure, I am a writer, it’s what I do, but it’s not the sum total of who I am. We are not what we become, what we do – are we?

And who has the right to life? In many pro-choice arguments, the deformity or ill-health of a fetus is cited as a reason to abort. I get it and don’t judge it and I absolutely believe in a woman’s right to choose, although I do realize that according to this criterion Ronan and I would both fall in the “abort” category. I can be pro-choice while admitting that the tenor of the debates can still disturb me, or least unsettle me. If my mom had not been my mom and ultrasound had existed when I was born, I might have been terminated. Nobody wants a baby with a birth defect – it’s all over warning labels. ____ CAN CAUSE BIRTH DEFECTS. But I did live and now I’m here and I’m a human being. Even Casey Anthony –  as repulsive as I find her, as sick as those pictures of her daughter make me feel, the little girl, now dead, balanced on her mother’s knees and smiling –  is a human being. Making her a monster is the obvious choice; it’s too easy. If she is a monster, then everybody is. And we certainly all have the ability to be monstrous; that’s part of what makes us human, too. I would never have wanted Ronan to suffer a single day with Tay-Sachs, but he is here and I do love him and he’s a human being. We count.

Whatever that means. Who counts in this world and how much? Who does the deciding? Who has “potential” (i.e., value) and who does not? In 1990, before I went to Los Alamos for the first time, our pastor showed us a poster covered in hundreds of black dots. He said, “One of these dots represents the amount of nuclear power needed to blow up the world.” Then he told us that the hundreds of block dots remaining symbolized the amount of nuclear potential the United States currently possessed. Potential: a tricky, slippery word.

Parenting Ronan for these three years is likely the most important and most difficult work I’ll ever do. There is no task here except loving. It’s so simple that it’s almost impossible. I will not be negotiating naps or video game time with Ronan. I will not be having awkward discussions with him about sexuality, or later, more in-depth conversations about the meaning of life. He doesn’t care. He makes me not care. He makes me just want to say what I want to say and not care. Which makes me, weirdly, care very much about saying it well.

And there’s ego again, something Ronan lacks. People try all their lives to kick the ego; Ronan has no choice. I’m all about ego; sometimes I can feel it pouring out of me. I love love. I love accolades and awards and attention. Who doesn’t? I was taught not to brag, so instead I brag in my head. I like to be the sparkle in the party, the glitter in the conversation. Or I used to be. What’s at the root of this desire? Fear. Fear that I will be forgotten. That my life doesn’t matter unless it matters to everyone else. Ego ego ego. The love I have for Ronan obliterates the ego as much as it uplifts it; maybe both are required. I’m not worried about maximizing Ronan’s potential to do something important with this life. Instead, I’m accompanying him through his short life, to its end, from first to last.

I’ve gotten it wrong for all these years, fretting around about what people think of me, if they see my “potential” or “value” however that is measured: looks, achievements, money, number of beautiful children, number of books or publications or famous friends, etc. Everyone has a list and we all check it twice, three times, again and again and again. It doesn’t matter if the world loves me, and it doesn’t even matter that much if I love myself. It doesn’t matter if anyone loves what I write, or cares about it after I die.

What does matter is love, given freely and unconditionally and without agenda. That is what is being asked of me. I love Ronan, this unique being, this created person, this human, without thought to what it might lead to for me, what it might say about me, or what it might make others think about me. I didn’t always, but I’m learning. People like to think is brave, but it isn’t. It just is. I love him now, because he’s my son and because it’s inevitable, and I’ll continue to love him for the rest of my life until I die, because that, too, is inevitable. And it doesn’t matter if people think the situation is tragic or the saddest thing in the world. This is MY son, my baby, my “handful of earth,” as Neruda says, sitting on my lap, coo-ing and squawking into an approaching thunderstorm under a dropped and thickening sky, the wind whipping through his hair as if he were on a roller coaster, feeling the fresh change in the air. Oh, I love him. But that love will not chain him. There is nothing expected of or for him. In that love he is free. That love leaves people speechless; there is no chatter around that love because it is too busy being settled and calm – it has no more thinking to do. People pay a lot of money to feel the way Ronan feels every moment of his day. He doesn’t reflect the love between Rick and me, he does not say anything about our relationship, he is not the embodiment of our hopes or dreams. He reflects himself. Like those people trekking across borders, stumbling across steaming deserts, like that girl who was denied her basic needs, including love, he is a person living in the world right now, and when he’s dead he will have been a person, a human being, who lived. He matters because he is and when he’s gone he will have mattered because he was.

Ronan is making me realize the writer I was before I decided to say I was a writer. A writer who wrote on the 66 bus to Harvard Square on the back of receipts and with pens borrowed from a nearby passenger (I still haven’t mastered that “take a notebook and pen wherever you go” habit that is supposed to be so important for creative minds); a writer who wrote through the lectures in French Feminist Theory (Lacan, you are yet a mystery to me); a writer who wrote sitting on a bag of ice in a steamy top floor apartment in Boston during the summer; a writer who wrote with gloves in an unheated dorm room in Dublin. I didn’t give a rip who saw what I was writing then; I was just doing it. As my friend Chris says, “We just need to write our books.” The rest of it doesn’t matter. The love, the accolades, whatever. I can write, I cannot write. Ronan has reminded me that the only way to be a writer is to be one with nothing – and everything – to lose.

After the July 4th party at Rob and Lala’s I give Ronan a massage with his mango scented body butter, which reminds me of all the late night baths I took at sixteen, combing through the bubbles, searching my skeletal body like a map for what was wrong, tearing up the body like a piece of lace, adjusting, stretching it to fit those tight corners, groping for the seams as if finding them would give me permission to rend them. I was so scared of the body, so scared of being inside individual moments that I obliterated them, starved them away, and then went back during bath time, scouring and searching for damage, rubbing mango body butter into skin and bones. I was too tired for the hear-and-now, and that was a relief. Not anymore. The here-and-now version of parenting is the only one I have, perhaps the only one I ever will have, and yet it isn’t about having anything, not really. It’s about living, which is different than having, claiming, owning, carving, grabbing, sorting, judging.

Last year Ronan snored through the fireworks that boomed through our Los Angeles neighborhood, rattling the thin walls of our studio apartment. We went to a pool party in the Palisades and I bounced him as he screamed and then, in a rare moment of calm, chatted over his head to someone who was involved in the making of Law and Order: Los Angeles, which I now watch on Hulu. A different year, another life. In those twelve months a new world has bloomed, terrible and true.

This year in Santa Fe individual fireworks were discouraged because of the fires and the drought, but there was still a city display visible from our back yard. Rick and I watched a few explode in the middle distance, and then we went inside, slowly closing the door that leads into our house, careful not to wake our child sleeping in his room.

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As a reader, all things stop for this. I am learning so much from you, about writing, about parenting, about balance. Thank you.
Thank you for posting here. I read all and am greatly comforted by your writings.
There are many essays here, all fine. Your questioning goes to the heart of things.
you got it right, it's all about love
love is a super power
This is brave and inspiring in a variety of ways. Gorgeously well-written, poignant and a host of other cliches we use when we're too blown away to come up with original accolades. Thanks for sharing.
Beautiful. That's all.

Blessings to you and Ronan on your journey.
The fire in Santa Fe is a disquieting setting for the moving story of your son and also your writing in Spain. I enjoyed this. Is the fire out yet?
Thanks for this. As I read, I felt like an involuntary time traveler on a trip I wanted to stop, but could not. Fortunately, I can read it again.
Certainly the best and best written piece I've ever read on OS.