The Love Mugs

"Wanna grab a beer with me after work?" 

She nods and asks if I'm sure. I'm not drinking as much these days, keeping the wine and beer out of the house for the most part. We'd been using it as a way to cope, me especially, as a way to relax my shoulders from their tensed position. It's been too much, and it's always too much, but now I soothe with sparkling water and tea and the little oils and jade roller I keep in a wooden bowl beside the bed.

"I just need to get away."

What I wanted was to sit at a table, and not have dinner in bed again, our plates balancing on our laps, and one less stain on the linen duvet that I spent my hard-earned money on. What I wanted was to not see work, the hunk of aluminum and the scattered bevy of tools and supplies that litter the yard that isn't ours. What I needed was to just be us, the people who've lost their sense of self and privacy and adulthood and autonomy while living and working on someone else's property, and not look at the construction zone that is our own home, with half finished walls and a ramshackle kitchen with a sagging shelf and a jug-to-bowl-to-bowl system for washing dishes. 

So we went and we sat amongst college students in a college town at a decent pizza place with a bar and had a slice and beer, and we stayed for hours, setting up our own little version of home at one end of a long table. We can make ourselves at home with ease wherever we are, and no doubt because we live the way we do, our homes together fleeting and everywhere. 

We've lived in separate houses, four hours apart, and made home together on those early weekends. She'd drive the miles to see us, me and a tiny babe, arriving late on Friday night and I'd burst out the door to greet her, and we'd kiss so strongly that it's a wonder we were never injured. That first kiss after five days apart, five days of strangely orbiting through our own worlds in our own towns, shopping for groceries and attending class and going to work, sitting in traffic and all the while, knowing that this other person is somewhere far away and doing the same, and you feel strange and distant and close and special and connected all at once. 

There were mugs that have since broken, made by a woman who we now call a good friend, in the place that is the most home either of us know, at a lake that is frozen this time of year. We simply know it in the summer, when we walk barelegged up to Tara's studio, the place that when we met was just her, and now it's her and Cait and Jude and the little one in Cait's belly, and Devi the cat. The mugs were made, and Ellen bought them that only summer I wasn't able to go to the cottage, and the year she left early to come back to see me.

She presented them to me as we sat with summer tans at the edge of my bed in that big old house, these hollow, swirly bits of fired clay with hand-painted love, wrapped carefully in newsprint, and they became home. We'd pack the mugs into our weekend bags and whether here or there, they represented that we were together, connected, and though our houses were big and filled with others, we'd slip into this little shiny globe where we pretended it was only us and we didn't live and shift and shape in different worlds all week. 

Then there was the house, our island, where we didn't stay long. We learned one another there, the stretches of time apart no longer, and heated, passionate arguments took the place of heated and passionate sex, and we tumbled and flailed while still being madly in love until we were better able to smooth out the wrinkles and the dust settled, and we looked up with startling clarity to see we'd fought our way through and come out better for it, and how we'd created a home together, even in the hard places and stretches. 

It was soft and sweet, and we'd exposed the brick around the fireplace and laid a new pine floor, painted and drywalled and landscaped and installed new appliances and drapes. The front door had been painted a deep shade of eggplant, and the bathroom salvaged with tile and a $12 pedestal sink. There was the kitchen table we made together, my design and her brilliance, a metal base and a top with several hundred pieces of scrap wood we'd been given. It stayed with the house when it sold, and sometimes I think about it and wonder if they kept it or know how much love and work went into it, or that it was the first thing of now many that we've built together, the first something-out-of-nothing. 

There's been three Airstreams since, and a rental house next door to where we fell in love. It's not surprising that we built so much there, that so much of who we are and what we've created was born in a place where we could see the driveway she'd rattle down in that old gray Toyota pickup and we'd kiss those incredible kisses and hold on so tight it hurt. I hadn't really thought about it like that until now, that the energy of where we fell in love and made our life together might have been surging through how we made the impossible shift to possible, and we made it so we could work together and work for ourselves, and create things that only we can create if we do so side-by-side. 

I sit in the unfinished Airstream, and it's weirdly home too, though we've made home anywhere and everywhere. We made it in the back of a Toyota after selling Louise and leaving her under the coastal Redwoods, where everything we owned was packed into the back and in a cheap fabric roof box, and we'd live out of that and the guest room at my parents' and Deborah's Airbnb. We made it in June, though she was never meant for us and she was always meant for Jamie and Lauren, because they stepped in and they just fit, like we'd tailor made June for them and we didn't even know it. 

We've made it in dry lake beds in the Southern California desert, and we've made it under the oak trees where the air plants cling to the branches until the Texas wind barrels across the silver-and-gold grasses and they lift up and off and down to where I pick them up and touch their soft tendrils and make strange little art forms on the stump out front. We've made home in daytime parking lots just steps from the shoreline, where we pack up in the dark to sleep on crooked streets and hills. We've made it in the camper of our truck, with a makeshift bunk and air mattresses and the bright lights of Walmart, and under the thick and heavy dripping canopy of the Hoh Rainforest. We've made it along the river at Goldpan, where the air felt like hot sandpaper, like a giant blow dryer was positioned at one end and rushing it through the canyon and carrying with it the sounds of the train whistles as they shifted through the tunnels and along the base of the mountains all through the night. This was the place where I sat in wonder and horror, as the darkest and strangest things I've done wracked my heart with guilt and I spoke apologies into the air to the people I've harmed and broken, as if they could somehow be carried out on the wind to them. 

The pizza was long gone, and a tired but happy almost-eight Adelaide was slumped against me, enjoying the deliciousness of a rare Netflix binge, and we talked about why we do this to ourselves, why we are always seeking something else, though it's not just something else, it's something more. 

And in the risk and the clamor, there is discomfort and sometimes pain, and we know the out. It's there, like a rotten carrot dangling to the side of all of this we're doing, there for the taking and the ease, it is the life we had, and the life we left, willingly and ably, to see what else was out there, what else we could do and feel and experience and be. We are certainly messy and wayward, and our families and friends and all of you look on in bewilderment and confusion right alongside us, but we pass on the carrot and trudge on in the darkness and dream big dreams and say, look what we've already done, what else can we do and make and be and experience and feel? 

I think about the mugs, how one broke in the rental house one Sunday as I was moving things out of the kitchen to install shelving for the landlord. It slipped from my palm so quickly there was no time to save it, and I fell to the floor as if I'd been shot, a wailing and strangely primal NO escaping from the lips that can kiss so hard they feel as if they might shatter. I cried and cried, holding the broken bits in my hands and hoping they would cut them open so that I could bleed too. The other broke here, under the oak trees and air plants with the sky above so big and open it's as if you can see the curve of the Earth, though that makes very little sense, as if the sky is somehow entrapped by the confines of the roundness of the planet. The mug slipped from Ellen's hand, and it's fitting, I suppose, that we each broke one and it's not lost on me that they each broke when we were serving others, doing something for someone besides ourselves. It was strange anyway, to see one without the other, and it was somehow a relief it was gone too, and she picked up the pieces in her hand as I had, and I don't know what she did with them. 

We sang to old and ridiculous songs on the way home and I watched the glitter of the lights in the fields, the little groupings of small towns you can see from far off here, and we stepped into a dark Airstream parked in a driveway, the one without switches or working lights and laughed and stumbled about in the darkness. 

I Am (Not)

I am not your experiment.

I am not your guinea pig.

I am not your trophy.

I am not your question.

I am certainly not your answer.

I am not to be hated.

I am not a source of confusion.

I am HUMAN.

I am a worker.

I am a contributor.

I am the person in line with you at the grocery.

I am a wife.

I am a mother.

I am a person.

I am just the same as you, though I’m also different.

I am a woman who has sex with another woman.

I am a woman who cannot have sex with my partner and make a baby, but my body is capable of making a baby.

I am a woman who has made a baby.

I am a woman who loves another woman, and when I love her, I show her.

I am a woman who loves her in the way maybe even you don’t know how, because your love is accepted and therefore easy...there it is.

I am a woman who loves my child, maybe fiercer than you do, because someone could take her away because I’m gay, though she is mine and came from me, she was born from my body.

I am gay.

I am a woman.

I am a woman who loves a woman.

I am capable of making more babies with the woman I love, it just takes a different method.

I am possible.

I am real.

I am your neighbor.

I am your friend.

I am your sister.

I am your daughter.

I am more than you know, and I need you - straight you - straight, easy you - to stand up. To be there. To stand up for me and my heart and my family.

And how does it go?

If you are not for me…

You are against me.

The Middle Ages

Looking back is not the same as looking forward
You can’t see what it is you’re heading toward
All that’s visible is what’s left behind
The dreams distilled and the dreams discarded
What made you leap or left you empty hearted
In the moment and in the fullness of time
Now you see what it is that you would have changed
If only you’d known
Where you’d be and to be here is very strange
Waking up alone
In the middle ages
All along you paid close attention
To the answers when a voice asked the question
How’d you get here, where do you belong
17 makes us brave and so full of nerve
35 makes us pause but we’re undeterred
Never say die and so we push on
And some come to a place of reckoning
Try to fix what they find
I arrived with the questions still beckoning
In the back of my mind
To the middle ages
Now you bitch about your job
What’s wrong with folks today
The price of gas and milk
And the guy who begs for change
He’s camped out at the light
You hide behind your shades
And will the green to flash
To speed your getaway
You’re racing to keep up
Or just to be on time
That’s what you tell yourself
When the emptiness inside
Threatens to break out
Clouding up your eyes
You just have to pull over
We used to dread lives rendered ordinary
We always said we’d own a grander story
But the only kind worth telling somehow
Is the one about a jolt that makes you listen
That jagged lightning bolt of recognition
That love and kindness are all that matter now
And way back in the back of your mind you heard
Something getting through
Like some beautiful passage without words
Welcoming you
To the middle ages

- Mary Chapin Carpenter