Maybe the problem is I died.
I had moved to New York, the latest in a long line of cities—but this city was different than San Francisco or D.C. or anywhere else I had lived. I wouldn’t find a job in New York. Would cough for a month straight. Would step into a subway car full of blood.
All these things happened, and many more, before I gave up, in a way, said goodbye to that life which was not a sustainable one, at least not for me, and returned home.
I was told by mothers: When you want to give up—that’s when your baby will come. So I decided to want to give up early. Three hours in, ten hours in, fifteen hours, I said I was done. The midwives laughed. I wasn’t really joking.
But the mothers didn’t tell it right, not exactly. It’s not when you want to give up; it’s when you do.
It’s when I prepared to die, a surrender the father of my child could see in my eyes (like a light going out), and it terrified him. I remember looking at my bookshelves, all those words I had read, all those stories I was never going to get to write myself now. I remember thinking: Well, I’m dead—but at least this baby is going to be born.
Because there is no way to withstand that pain. How could that be livable? How could that be survivable? Twenty-four hours. Placental abruption. No medication. No intervention. I still don’t know. The only thing I can figure is, I did die.
I know the moment I gave up in New York. When the man with the long arms and the scarred face dropped his laundry basket, and I flinched because he was going to touch my hair, touch my face, finger my skirt, call me bitch, as had happened in the city again and again and again… Every day.
Then the man only waved. He was mentally challenged, possibly deaf; I could recognize the clotted tone in his voice when he called out a cheery hello to me. I said hello back. He grinned, picked up his basket, went on his way. I leaned against a sick tree on the street and wept.
These last seven years have been a series of giving up, a surrender that only continues. When I failed to get my first novel into an editor’s hands. Or my second. Or my fifth. When I didn’t get a tenure track job. When my family changed.
I gave myself up too. I’m not me, anymore. Not the me that I was. I’m thinner, sharper, harder. All my innocence is gone. At first I minded. At first I missed it. But with its passing came this: I know what I can do. I know what I am capable of, which is everything. I know what many people never do: my own will; my own strength to endure, to survive--and not just to survive, but to live.
You’re not fully alive until you’ve been dead.
I came back—and I came back changed. The life I had before was not going to work. The road I was on—I lost it. I found this new path. It found me.
And we’re walking.