Every time I drive by the church where it happened, I still look away. I drown the memory in a parade of new thoughts and have managed to take Hidden Valley with the casualness I run through any other road. That evening six years ago, I was leaving the church with my toddler in my arms and didn’t realize I was about to step off a curb as we neared the parking lot. I thought I was on level ground. When the pavement gave way under my foot, we didn’t just fall. We crashed straight like a tree, Tennyson’s forehead bearing the full weight of my body in the sickening clap with concrete. I can hear him scream.
I am finding this the hardest thing I have written on this blog. The tears aside, my heart pounds with fresh pain and I am clammy with sweat, replaying the tape. My boy was okay (by medical standards, though I knew cells and neurons had their work cut out for them). And as I walked through a doorway the next day wearing him on my back, I didn’t know he was sticking his head out to the side. BAM went his head against the wall along the threshold. Yes, on the same spot.
I was beside myself when I called my husband. Rather than blame me for my incompetence and idiocy, the amazing man expressed compassion. He had only to imagine what I was going through to feel terrible for me. I will never forgive myself the injuries my son suffered that week. And I will shut off the comments if you try to encourage me out of it. Finger on the trigger.
I peer at myself as I would a lab specimen. I am not one of those people who goes around saying sorry. I don’t wring my hands, gush to please and – as much as I pity them – don’t cry for cats that are run over. I am also well versed in the theology of forgiveness and grace, my surety and the cornerstone of my faith. But when I dissect the narratives in my head, I discover so many threads of quiet self-condemnation it’s as though I’m built out of it. The bruises of masochistic abuse remain well hidden. They are more like innocent white noise of the subtext that plays out in my day.
Even now it takes effort to switch off the autopilot on the self-blame when Tennyson comes down with a cold. Why didn’t I dress him more warmly yesterday? I shouldn’t have given him dairy. My mind reels back through the previous few days to puzzle where I’d gone wrong, what I ought to have done to keep him well. I live with the sense of failure for not keeping my home tidier. Tennyson’s math workbook disappeared recently. But I just organized! I marveled. For days I scoured the car, the learning room, the laundry room, family room, office, and then looped back wondering how I could be so inept at the housekeeping so as to lose lesson books. I asked the little man again if he’d seen it. Then when I presented him with the next book in the series I’d resigned to fast-forwarding him to, my sweet child exclaimed, “Oh, I know where it is!” slipping the magic find out of a crevice behind a poster.
Disbelief. He had hidden it so he wouldn’t have to do his math. My son, who’s made no habit of lying.
I swallow guilt every morning I start him with the book while (and so that) I can get back to readers. I should sit with him more. My conscience reminds me that I have yet to teach him piano and the Korean alphabet. What will I do with myself when I come through? Ah, fortunately for me the Holistic Fault Factory runs a tireless operation. Can’t disappoint Korean management. I’ve spoken of the ongoing struggle it is for me as an artist, caught between my writing and the life outside it. A friend shared a bit of wisdom she picked up in regard to time that I have to digest: receive the gift of your limitations.
Well, wouldn’t you know it? Even when freed up to blog, I’ve felt bad for shooting out more than one post in a day, though a new rhythm is something I’ve had to deal with in the fall school year; I’ve hated to bother you. I refrained from writing about myself in any depth for a full year, not wanting to waste your time with stories of my past. I will sometimes disable the likes, feeling bad for getting “too many”. Simply unable to keep up, I’ve grudgingly learned to fall behind on all the blogs to visit back. I’m tapping into followers and visitors from January – not that anyone’s waiting. So trying to make heads and tails out of this strange creature in the mirror, I’ve a suspicion guilt is something we experience in and between relationships. I feel its weight as wife and mother, and even as blogger.
I grapple with it in connection with my body, eating guilt when I don’t do enough vegetables. As a teenager, I didn’t salt my food. I felt guilty for the flavor. Then there’s the chagrin when I ease up on the work-outs in order to write. And the resentment, those other days, in not being able to open the windows of my mind, let my words out, is actually the sorrow of being untrue to myself. I’m crazy. Annoyed every time my mother cries about all the ways she (says that she) wronged me in my younger years, I think people derive a certain pleasure in the self-incrimination. It is possible – God makes it possible – for us to live free from our failings and remorse. Why are we afraid to let these go? Why do we resist grace?