I sit on the wooden porch swing, kicking my legs up and down as I swing in the air. The baby monitor is on the patio table. I hear the white noise machine running and I know I will hear her voice soon. She wakes up frequently these days.
I look at at the pond as I’m swinging. It’s April. I hear the bullfrogs. Swinging in the evenings on this screened in porch calms me. I think about how just six months before this, I did not want to buy this porch swing because it was too expensive. My husband had insisted it was a necessary purchase.
“When we have company, people will love sitting in this swing and looking out at the lake,” he said. “We entertain all the time. We need this swing.”
“It’s not a lake. It’s a pond,” I whispered under my breath.
And now, I know this purchase was actually a wise one, but not for company…for me. I don’t analyze why, but simply accept that I have become a person who needs to sit outside and swing every night before I can go to sleep. I look down at my legs as I swing. They are tiny, almost birdlike. I miss my thickness in some odd way because these birdlegs are not truly me. They were borne from the womb of a deep anxiety in which food feels like poison. I swallow even the most delicious food that I once enjoyed, and it feels like I’m ingesting a needle, as it painfully moves down my throat. This is what happens to me when I grieve: I do not want to eat.
I have been sitting here 30 minutes when I hear her cry on the monitor. She is 22 months old, and used to sleep through the night like a champ. Now I cannot remember what that feels like. I am now accustomed to getting up all the time to rub her back or rock her or put her back in her crib or in bed with me to sleep. I make my way upstairs to her room. I pick her up and we rock, rock, rock, and I sing to her. I sing everything from hymns to the Beatles to church camp songs. I do not even like the Beatles and I don’t know who I have become. But this is now me. I am a boring, bird leg girl who sings Beatles songs and spends her nights swinging on the porch.
When she is asleep, I return to the swing. It is now starting to get dark. I do the other thing I do which calms my spirit: I call my Uncle Roy.
My uncle is one of two or three people who knows the truth–who knows that I am now this girl (actually a 32 year old woman) who swings on the porch swing at night and does not know how to sleep or eat. Everyone else I see everyday believes I am calm and maybe even pretty and have this cute baby and friendly husband and that I have my life together. I do not want to be a person who fools others, but I don’ t know how to be me in this world. And so every time someone says anything nice to me, I actually feel worse, because how can any compliment even be true if the person they are complimenting isn’t even me?
And so as I am swinging on the swing, talking to Uncle Roy, I begin to tell him all of this. He listens to my anxious heart. And I begin to ask him crazy questions, because I’m a ball of nerves. I tell him a story of how earlier that evening, I confronted my husband to ask him where he’s been going every night after he eats dinner. I feel like his pattern is changing. I wonder if he is with another woman, but I don’t really want to think about that. I just want him to give me an answer that appeases my spirit and that I can somehow make sense of.
Because none of my life makes sense to me right now. None of it.
My husband proceeded to tell me he is leaving every night to meet with different people because he is “networking.” I ask for more clarification, and he proceeds to tell me that he is a leader in the community, and he must network. I become quiet, as I can tell my questioning is irking him, but he doesn’t stop talking. He tells me that I would never understand what he’s doing because I’m not a leader. In fact, he tells me: you’re a loser.
My husband called me a loser. I am anxious because I have a husband who calls me a loser.
How effed up is my life right now? Like, how do I even tell people who ask me how I’m doing that things are kinda not the best right now because my husband calls me a loser?
And then my uncle makes a joke. He asks me if I made the L sign with my hand and put it up to my forehead since I’m such a big loser to show my husband what a giant loser I am. And I just start to laugh and giggle at this thought. It feels so hilarious to me and I realize that something awful can also be funny at the same time.
I find comfort in this dichotomy. The dichotomy makes sense.
That night, when my daughter wakes up again, I sing to her. This time I sing a song I used to sing at vacation Bible school: “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart! I’ve got the peace that passes understanding down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart today.”
She stops crying. I stop rocking. I feel joy. I know it’s joy because it’s laughter and kinda like peace even when everything in life really is kind of jacked up.
I understand that joy is a friend to hope and faith. And it cannot be accessed unless you believe in laughter and tears at the same time. You must believe that something can both be awful and depressing and yet freeing and funny.
Joy is knowing that a dichotomy of hope and pain coexist. And that joy and happiness have nothing to do with each other. Happiness is a moment in time. Joy simply exists WITHIN you.
I do not tell you these things to tell you that you should settle for an awful life. I do not tell you these things because I believe you should accept disrespectful treatment from others.
Instead I tell you these things so that you know that joy is at the foundation of faith. And it is accessible to you even in the darkest of hours. It is not a feeling dependent on other people. It is a KNOWING in your spirit that life is still going. That God is still there. That feelings are temporary.
It is a reminder that tough times will not last, but tough people do. Do not stand still, but be still and know that you will know what to do. But you must first believe in joy.
This photo was taken that summer I couldn’t stop swinging.