Love? (a farewell to 2018)
how do you feel?
How do you walk?
How do you communicate?
How do you keep your belly full,
your head high,
your happiness - indestructible?
All on your own?
how do you run your own enterprise,
and not let the weight of the world do you in?
how do you know your purpose?
Is there one? Should there be?
Or how should you judge right and wrong?
A personal agenda or another's?
I want to feel San Francisco
like dim sum on Sundays
and the fog outside my window
and sometimes New York makes me feel so small
I love so many things with such passion
so apparently there isn't enough room for any one thing to be good enough
tell me why everything I've ever wanted seems to fall so effortlessly into their hands
and finds my hands too slippery to hold on
or why my journey is so lopsided
when I know I could show them the world they've never seen
like you always told me
tell me the part where it gets easier
I don't want to fear anymore that I will never earn my spot -
I still need reason and reorientation to believe that I deserve it at all
how much of it is a lie?
How do I breathe,
not like a steam engine,
bursting and bubbling with heat and hurt and anxiety, like my brain cannot catch up to my body,
like my heart is on fire, being scorched at the stake,
but like the cat that snores gently on the side of my bed,
the way you breathed when I was in your belly,
like every transit of air nurtured my growing bones, my neurons into place, my fingers and toes.
How much of it do you see,
does the world see?
It may be more appropriate to ask -
What do I communicate?
Why do I walk?
What do I see?
Why do I feel?
I know you used to have all my answers.
Do you have any more left?
The only response she can muster is initially unspoken, smiling pools of tears gathering under her green-gray eyes. She knows there is much to say, but the hand of time reaches out to pull us away too soon. Me, back to New York, and her, back to San Francisco, to Metier, to my dad, to our tuxedo cat, Bijoux, our blind black lab, Marnie, and to a house that only grows more empty with time. She reaches her arms around me and holds me like the best friend I've ever known. “Sasha, you really shouldn't be so hard on yourself. You are doing everything you should be right now, and that's all that matters.” She pauses to look at me, her eyes bloodshot from salt and tears the same way they always are when we part to say goodbye. “And I love you so much.” The love that will grow inside you from raising a child yielded such a consistency, a commitment, that flowed to her eyes before she could think about it. And there is something about her brain, her devotion to her two kids and my father, her work, everything she feels so deeply, that has an answer I am struggling to understand.
I've never actually asked my mom these deeply existential questions. It's the kind of thing you show, not tell. She's been more of a compass as I've grown up and these questions have revised themselves in my head. Although I ultimately learn to define things on my own, it takes the perspective of those you love to put everything into focus. A perfect allusion is the development of technology – a black and white, grainy screen, being able to interpret efficiencies for higher resolutions over time. Our vision embraces greater complexity, which consequently makes everything harder. But the smaller the pixels and parts, the more beautifully defined and multi faceted the projection. The technicolor, high definition screen that results after years of constant adjustment makes our black and white, lo-fi world that once was, seem infantile. And it is the people and the communities we love who we trust to adjust our personal lens into focus when we independently don't know where to look, where to go. My mom’s influence is an ongoing apostrophe of moral codes in my head (whether I like it or not), shaping who I am, signaling where to go. A lot of it is simply explained by the fact that she has loved me, consistently, emotionally, actively, with the same energy. Even after two months. Two years. Two decades of time going by. We will always be teaching each other what love means. The only difference is that I believed romance could not be found in the same kind of way, and so I found I took her entirely for granted.
You can have your back turned to the love you always had for obsession over love that someone might never be able to give to you.
It seems you can theorize on and on about love but it's as if it doesn't make it any clearer. But it’s possible I am just late to understanding what has always been right in front of my eyes. As if I were to completely fall apart had it suddenly gone away because you didn’t realize how bad you needed it. And you could only feel it in your bones.
Mom, how do I know the right way to love?
The pragmatism in me does not understand the answer.
I’m not sure that it should.
My mom and I's relationship has shifted over the years. She has watched me take those questions and test them in real life. At some point, I joined the same universe as my mom, where it seemed that the regular exercise of attempting to solve these riddles of questions makes you something called an adult. But one thing that hasn't changed, much to my amusement, is her asking about the people I date. We'll talk about my next recording session, filing taxes, how best to invest in an apartment after school. And then, at the shift of a sentence, it's as if it were 2010 again and I had just gotten home from the middle school dance. It seems that the world’s sensationalized handling of love can bring you back to that innocent, optimistic place...right?
“So, how are the boys?” She asks me over FaceTime, half joking, half not.
“Mom, I haven't dated anyone serious in a year and a half. Nothing has changed.”
“What about that one guy over the summer?”
“He didn't have ambition. And he was an alcoholic. We were too different.”
“Or that one guy you got coffee with? The one who goes to New School?”
“He definitely has a girlfriend.”
“Isn't there anyone cute in your jazz program? There's got to be someone who's just head over heels in love with you.”
“That would be great if I were remotely impressed by any of them.”
“Hmm. Well, okay.”
The only difference about this conversation, besides the obvious location and priorities factors that change with age (I might be a little less of a nihilist now!), is that it doesn't bother me in principle to be single. I have also never spent such a period of my life diving deeper and deeper into myself. But I do have to ask how much of it has to do with wondering when I'll meet someone who actually sees my worth in the way my mom so effortlessly does - every week to call and check in, flying from San Francisco to try to catch my shows, sharing of memories, fighter for my happiness, childhood albums, and not to mention the obvious - raising my insufferable coming of age (and corresponding fits of entitlement) for years at a time just because she believed so deeply in the person that would emerge from the other end. It was a life changing surrender for her to permanently invest in the person I would become, am becoming, and may become - and trust that it became something beautiful.
But being inside your own head for too long is never good. The “big question” speculations begins. Is my mother’s love only that effortless because of time and observing over two decades of staggering growth within a single variable? Is it because after all the years of being ostracized and outcasted throughout middle school and high school, is she really is one of the only people who can take away something tremendous from my presence and my contributions? The conspiracies you gather in your head only get sillier. And then the fault is questioned in regards to the self (If I grapple with depression and anxiety, does society deem me ineligible, or even worse, threatening, to the idea of love? The market of love? The capitalism of love? Or so they call it?). Logic always falls short.
We sacrifice much with love, much of ourselves. Even if just for the chance to chase it. Brush gently up to it, to just say you had felt it, you knew it. But we can’t ever seem to hold on to it for very long. Furthermore, society seems to push the search for it as something you can have as easily and quickly as picking up a penny off the ground. It is nailed into our heads that these pennies are abundant, and that whenever you see one, whether they're clean or dirty, you should be picking them up. It is made the greatest public shame to have no pennies at all - to pretend to know love than to admit where it may be absent.
I remember that when we talk about relationships with my family during the holidays, it is like recovering disposable mementos from the past. It is ironic to be surrounded by family whom you might love, yet exclusively discussing people who’s love potential is frequently (and unnervingly) temporary.
“Oh, no, she dumped the alcoholic guy about a year ago. She's on to the new guy, the guitarist from Denver.”
“What ever happened to that one guy you were dating? He's done now? Oh, okay.”
It also occurred to me that my relationships have never looked quite right. The first man I ever thought I loved threatened to physically hurt himself on multiple occasions if I broke up with him. The second man I ever thought I loved was marked by moments holding back tears as I watched my him receive the music opportunities I should have gotten.The guy I lost my virginity to sold Molly to my friends and showed up to dates on Xanax. My best friend asked me if I had ever truly lost my entire being in someone and I hesitated. The worst part was that I knew that that was exactly what I wanted, and I didn’t have it. That I was selling myself short, investing my personhood in someone who was toxic for me, just in order to act like I really knew what this word meant. And yes, I had touched it. It felt encompassing. But only for a while. Compared to what my mom has given me, it seems to be that way.
I figured if my mom always shaped my moral code, the most reliable form of love I could trust, I could find some understanding in how she loved - not just me, but others. I wanted to know what could be learned from her own relationships, her own romantic history. What I noticed was that my mom's history of love looked starkly different from what I see out in the world. She only had two serious relationships, one being my dad, and one being the guy she dated before my dad. I realize one of the things I admire about her most has been the ultimate embodiment of patience, a defiance of our times in which love should not be left to age.
“Leaving Tom was super hard,” she said. “He had watched me change as a fundamental human being.
He left notes inside every single one of my kitchen drawers saying 'I love you'. We dated for 10 years, you know.”
“Didn't he come over to our house one time when I was, like, ten years old?” I asked.
“Yeah. He's married and has kids and everything is completely fine. We're still friends to this day, and I don't regret anything.”
“And dad never got jealous?”
“No,” she laughed. “Your dad isn't really that kind of guy. Thank god. But he understands – we shared so much time together. You can't just let that kind of thing go. I do love him, but in a different way. A reminiscient way. I'm not in love with him. He just saw me become the person I am today. That's meaningful.”
“So why was it dad instead?”
“Well, he's your dad. You know.” It's as if her initial thought of him was stopped short of words. “He's incredibly smart, funny, cute, everything I could have wanted and more. And I wasn't expecting to be with anyone at that time, but Stephanie had set us up and I figured I would give it a chance. And it just kind of went from there.” She pauses for a moment as if to think, but without the pained face of being lost in it. “We had kids together. I don't know. It's hard to explain. He's my life partner, and it's been hard as hell. But you go through all of that because you make this commitment, this feeling, that just overrides everything. Makes it all worth it.” And I knew the rest was something lost to words. As it always seemed to be.
I also realized why my mom and I are so drawn to artistic lives, even if we are also on the pursuit of intellectualized ways of thinking and seeing. We often seek some sort of intuition and higher moral understanding in a world that is based on everything but. The power of time and intuition are not valued as a society that relies on calculation and efficiency and capitalism more than lived, learned, wordless experience. Humans have always had the chemicals in their brain that enable them to be capable of this, for years before language was invented. And it is something that we have much more patience for, and yet take much more for granted, with friends and family, where it may already exist in its purer form. That's how that feeling of love that my mom has for me exists, or me for my best friends, or the hardest one of all – love for oneself. Dare call me an optimist for once, but I’m stressing the importance of finding answers in using your intuition. And in this case, to use it to access the love abundances you already have. How it feels throughout you, not just with a “lover” in the stereotypical sense, but the entire waking world.
It seems the one thing I thought my mom couldn't answer for me, or who's answers don't correspond with what I see out in the world, is possibly the first thing she ever taught me. She just didn't need words to teach me it, and in a world of anecdote and analysis leading to a lens focusing in all the right places, a feeling is the last thing you would consult. But it was there, showing me before I knew words as a baby, holding me, bearing me, even when I learned to do it all on my own. It is no wonder that I am upset, looking for that kind of sacred understanding and love in a guy who saw a photo of me on Instagram and wanted to get a drink once. I know they will not cry like my mom every time I get to see my mom now, so overwhelmed with feeling that she can't speak, saying goodbye to me at the airport as if I now am one step removed from her life but held just as tight and loved just as much as I was as a child. A tolerance and trust in change - the ultimate fear of the western world. It cannot be summoned by words or even sense. I learned that to be a signature feature of love. It’s all to say, I am still learning how feelings can become just as viable reasons as the logical ones in our incredibly stiff society. But if I can love anything like the way my mom loved me, loved the people in her life, then maybe my compass has learned of a new direction. And when I think about the absence of a significant other in my life, I think it was about defense all along - the kind of love my mom knows sets a standard that puts my tinder dates and forgotten men to shame.
Dear mom, the ultimate teacher of one of the most difficult things in human existence -
I have been feeling
I have been walking
I have been communicating,
keeping my belly full,
my head high,
my happiness – becoming indestructible
to those who treat it like the temple that it is,
All on my own.
I admire the mindset you have
even when the weight of it all does do you in.
you know your purpose,
if there is one, if there should be one at all
how to you judge right and wrong
balance your personal agenda or another's
I want to feel San Francisco
like jasper romping and barking at fort funston when Cole and I were kids,
and flower beds inside golden gate park
and New York's chaos can pay its price to obscure all of that
thing they call feeling
I love so many things with such passion
it will only be a call to work that much harder
I know one day I'll get loved the way I want to because you do
which is stronger than what falls into who's hands
and who slips
and what journeys are lopsided or straight
I know if it was easy it wouldn't be fulfilling,
I will breathe like a steam engine,
when my heart is on fire, being scorched at the stake,
and I will breathe like the cat that snores gently on the side of my bed,
I will breathe way you breathed when I was in your belly,
like every transit of air nurtures my growing bones, my neurons into place, my fingers and toes.
I think I know what to communicate,
Why I walk,
What I see,
Swinging between your hands and dad’s on Mississippi St.
Why I do actually feel it all so much.
And so it is love. Nothing less, no more.
Dedicated to my mom and dad, Sheri Evans and John Berliner. Thank you for everything.
Copyright Sasha Berliner (2018), all rights reserved.