The railway lines of Wisconsin are old and fragile, like the veins on a grandfather’s hand. Few are used for freight, even fewer for people. One runs parallel to the county highway I drive weekly to take Biff and Bash to school. Unable to work with a dead laptop, I milled about, catching a few lousy photos on that lousy grey day.
When Bo had decided to take a few days off, I told him I needed him to do more with the kids so I could work. I expected swathes of time to revise the website, write several chapters of Middler’s Pride, and establish realistic writing goals with essay revisions and book proposals. “I need BIG chunks of the day. Six to eight hours, at least,” I said. “Okay,” he said.
Well, guess what didn’t happen. Did I let Bo know it? You bet your ass I did. Every night: “I needed to get that done.” “You’ve got to handle the kids more.” “Can’t you take them out? I need to get stuff done.” “Dammit that should have been done by now.” The days sped by, and what happened? A little bit of reading, barely any writing. And of course, if lack of time wasn’t enough, both computers had to up and die.
Enough pictures. The wind hurt my cheeks like matchbox cars wielded by angry sons. Where was I even going to put these? It could be a week before we have a computer running properly at home. Never mind writing, how the hell was I going to teach?
Fuck never mind. Who was I kidding? Even when Bo had off of work, I couldn’t accomplish shit because the boys hoisted everything at me. How in Heaven and Hell did I think I could make a writer’s life for myself when my family needs ME, and needs me NOW. I may as well have picked up the rails at my feet, slung them over my shoulder, and plopped them by the Rock River to make a fun little bridge, perfect for a child’s adventure into another…
Stop it. The Motherhood Line never veers from its goal. Any car that runs its rails better be Mother-related, or it gets left on a siding to rot.
The lousy day turned to a lousy night. My black mood put Blondie on edge. She hovered on some invisible border, watching for an in. “Mommy, can I do the dishes?”
“No.” I didn’t even look at her as I clanked a new pile into the sink. “They’re fragile.”
“But I wanna help.”
Clank. Rinse. “You can help by keeping your brothers out of my hair.” Clank. Rinse.
She slid back to her chair, face down.
Bo came over from laundry. “I can do that,” he said with a hand full of clothes.
“What are you–” I snatched what was in his hand. “These can’t go together. This is a delicate, and this needs to go in a bag first.” Back to the clanking, rinsing. Thoughts washed in gunk that stuck fast: He PROMISED to help and he fucking DIDN’T, HE failed me, it’s HIS fault, I could have done more if Bo would have fucking stepped the fuck UP
Everything grew so rank inside I couldn’t even read to Biff and Bash. Instead, I complained about what never got done, what has to get done tomorrow by some miracle of God, that I was stupid to think I could even do this writing shit in the first place–
Bo rushed the kids to bed, hardly closing Blondie’s door before hauling me into the living room, kicking the boys’ Thomas trains aside to make room for my ass. “Stop. That. NOW.”
I rolled my eyes at him. He didn’t get it, of course.
“For the love of GOD, dear…look. Just…why don’t you go somewhere tomorrow and work. Do your website,” he practically growled the words, “do your writing. Get out and do it.”
Huh? He had wanted his last day off to be for the two of us. Mom was taking all three kids for the day–no small offer, I promise you.
I could just see it: me in a silent place, new computer all set to go, hours for my work…but…”Don’t you want to go out tomorrow?”
“YES! Of course I want to go out with you! We haven’t gone on a date since what, July? But…fuck you’ll think me an asshole…but why should we bother?” He tossed a piece of train track into the bin, such a loud THWACK would surely wake the kids, if they’re not up anyway. “All you’re going to think about is what you didn’t get done. That’s all you’re on.” THWACK. “It’s like you can’t see how far you’ve come in one year. I mean, you got the blessing of Pete Townshend. You get to use songs by The FUCKING Who for your story.” THWACK THWACK. “You’ve got thousands of people on both sides of the planet”–THWACK–“reading your stuff but all you look at is what you should have done by now. Like nothing you do is ever good enough.” He wiped his eyes on his sleeves as he shoved the bin of train tracks aside. “I believe in you, Jean. But it’s fucking hard when you don’t even believe in yourself.”
My mind and lungs froze on the formation of those words from his lips: I believe in you.
Never had Bo said those words. When I started this all in 2015 he saw it as something to quiet my whines about not writing. Whenever my motherhood/teacherhood/depression threatened to quash it, he would go silent, blink it off, wait for the threat to solve itself, or for me to solve it.
But today, Bo believes in my writing. My writing, and of all crazy things: me.
I had always thought this writer’s path, muddy, cold, and unknown, to be a lonely one. The further I’ve gone, the more I’ve met on this same path: others struggling against the elements of their lives to still press on and discover the treasured language we know is hidden up ahead.
That night, I found a hand I could hold, physically hold, on that path. I grabbed it then. It grabbed me back. And for a good long while we held ourselves together, glued by love, tears, and snot.
I’d given up long ago on finding support for my writing from within my family. I was faith-less, and without that faith, I was blind to the growing support Bo wanted to give me. He may never understand my stories, but faith isn’t built on logic, is it? It comes from Hope. Love. Joy. Sacrifice.
Jesus once said that if you have the faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains.
I’ll settle for rails.