More Than Words

MuirBeachEvery night she turns on the light in her closet and leaves the closet door open exactly one inch. She arranges the pillows and stuffed animals just so, and comes to find me wherever I am in the house: stacking the dishwasher, on the loo, plotting my next Word With Friend (turns out “yids” is an acceptable word), inspecting the lines around my eyes I could swear those three were not there yesterday…

“Mom will you come kiss me goodnight?”

Every night she asks.

I smile. Say of course in a sweet voice. Or yes with a hint of exasperation. I’m tired of this question, night after night. Or I mumble okay. A word in the affirmative. Every night.

And every night, after I’ve kissed her, she asks, “Will you tell Dad to come kiss me goodnight?” Every night.

I felt, this week, that I was drowning in words. Goodnight words, request words, instruction words, necessary words, words of love and words of thanks. Ridiculous words, hopeful words, fighting words. Written words, words of encouragement, crying words, and words from faraway.

So many words. And none of them my own.

I read extraordinary essays about complicated children, and confusing experiences and thwarted relationships. I listened to the doctor tell me how to treat poison oak, and to the pharmacist promise to let me know when those meds are available. I heard about little boys who tell white lies, and big boys who make me proud, and I didn’t get to talk about her Math problem because the conference was canceled.

I cursed the man who flipped me off as he pushed me into oncoming traffic, but only in my head. And on my way back I half-heartedly tried to find him so I could remind him a Stop sign means Stop even if you’re in a hurry, and that speeding cars and crashing glass can break my bones but giving me the bird will not harm me… but of course he had safely vanished down the tree-lined street and I never got to use my words.

I thought about these lines from a poem I studied in high school, “Not Waving But Drowning”:

Nobody heard him, the dead man,

But still he lay moaning:

I was much further out than you thought

And not waving but drowning.

I wondered whether the poet, Stevie Smith, could possibly have meant the man was drowning in words. Of others. And of his own. Words that he never got to say, or think about, or write. Because he had writer’s block. Or his children’s words drowned his out. Or maybe they needed his words before he had even created them for himself.

Or because there was no one to hear when he slammed his bony elbow into the doorpost, so he whimpered “Fuck.” But only in his head.

I stood in the shower and drowned in words that were around me and on me and in me. I felt them buried in my heart and ringing in my ears. They tumbled and splashed, cascaded through my hair and clung to my eyelashes. And by the time I reached for the fluffy green towel, they had slooshed down the drain.

I have been drowning in words. I wished they were my own.

“Will you tell Dad to kiss me goodnight?” she calls softly to my retreating back. I sigh. Yes.

We pass each other in the doorway to her room. His brown eyes lock with my green ones. He smiles. I smile back.

Sometimes, no words are the lifeline you need.

With love and deepest gratitude to Jena Schwartz for giving me a space to hold onto my words, even as they sloosh down the drain. Inspired by the poem “Not Waving But Drowning” by Stevie Smith:

Nobody heard him, the dead man,

But still he lay moaning:

I was much further out than you thought

And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking

And now he’s dead

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,

They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always

(Still the dead one lay moaning)

I was much too far out all my life

And not waving but drowning.