up around the rushing river

10 february.

we are in fort collins, colorado. the sun is just kissing the blackened sky, bleeding midnight blue behind the reaching arms of spindly treetops. to the west, a full moon slips under the mountains. a silver orb, inviting as a crystal ball, concealed beneath rags of cloud. if i went on a hike in the foothills right now, i'd photograph the moon and talk to her. she’s always been special to me. 

i used to host full moon ceremonies. meeting friends to charge crystals and burn slips of paper full of lists of things that no longer serve us in mason jars. the first time i tried it, i was with jodie. she feels really close right now. like i was dreaming of her. 

this time last year, i made a valentine video for jodie. i knew that many of her loved ones wouldn’t see her before she died, so i reached out to over two hundred of her friends and family and i asked them to record and submit videos of themselves telling jodie what they most love about her. she carried warmth and light that could calm a room of anxious people. her laugh was the best medicine. the sound of it is something i’ll never forget.

*

we took the girls downtown after ‘afternoon quiet time’—a break i’ve carved out in our often too busy days. it’s a time to reset. to nap, read, dream, slow down, connect.

it was warm when we left. the girls didn’t wear their coats, only fleeces. persephone fell asleep on the drive downtown. usually, i’d try to wake her but i let her be. she slept heavily on my chest as i sat on a wooden chair. while we waited for our tacos, nik and lola wrote and drew on a chalkboard. the prompt in the center of the board was, “what are you grateful for?” the board was cluttered with words, but the one word missing from the board was family. i asked nik to write it for me and he did in pale yellow cursive script. 

family. my life has changed drastically over the past few months. it isn’t easy. some days are really, really hard. but, it’s worth it. the fight for love is a worthy battle.

 

11 february.

we packed a cooler bag with green grapes, strawberries, bananas, pretzels, red hot blues, and string cheese. we folded fuzzy blankets into a laundry basket and balanced pillows on top. we bathed and brushed and dressed in pajamas. we filled our water bottles, packed some more basic supplies into backpacks.

we buckled everyone into the car and left for steamboat springs beneath night’s veil. the silver glow from the fat moon illuminated our winding path. up around the rushing river.

*

i sit at a big, wooden table with a slightly warped copper top. my legs are crossed on a similarly oversized wooden chair. across from me, nik writes in a cherry red journal i bought him the day i asked him to marry me. persephone is drawing in between us. in a retro coloring book illustrated with zoo animals. she fishes crayons from a glass bowl. lola sits in front of the fireplace stacking wooden blocks. her halo of golden curls is silhouetted by the bright light coming through the sliding glass door. outside, everything is blanketed with soft white snow. spindly aspen and fluffy evergreen trees sparkle with crystal.

 

14 february.

usually, i like to talk a lot during sex. i like kinky, wild, passionate sex. all over the house, with as much vigor as an artist gives his craft. like writing poetry with my body. but, last night, we didn’t speak. we experienced a moment together without acknowledging it. by simply being consumed. i kept thinking how grateful i was for nik as our bodies were tangled up in one another’s. i pressed my cheek against his, my forehead to his. “thank you,” i said in my head. “thank you for sharing this with me.” i thought about how, really, that moment we shared was all that existed as we held each other. just us. two bodies in the dark.

 

16 february.

transition. last night, nik and i tucked the girls into bed at 7. persephone still nurses occasionally, for sleep or comfort. i laid in bed with her and gave her boobie while nik read lola a new book about a baker who bakes all throughout the night to feed the sun bread in the morning.

nik is a baker and he leaves in the still dark hours of morning to work. he works through the night to feed us sunlight. once effie dozed off, i crawled beside lola. i held her closely while nik read roald dahl’s charlie and the chocolate factory.

once lola was asleep, nik and i sat at the end of her bed.

“hey, lola,” nik said casually. “i love you, buddy. i’m proud of you.” he rumpled her hair and kissed her tenderly on the forehead. i traced her full and rosy cheeks. she is so beautiful, peaceful, cherubic.

in my head, i tell her things. “you are safe here, lola. you will never be alone again. you are lovingly guided and you are so close to the place you came from. you are capable and fiery. the world is yours. you don’t have to worry any more, little love. all you have to do is be.”

*

nik and i talked for hours. we’ve always had these big conversations. i remember when we started hanging out, we would indulge ourselves with hourlong phone calls once our kiddos were asleep. i felt like a teenager. giddy to roll around on my bed and twirl my hair while listening to this big, beautiful mind unfold his thoughts. and he always really listened to me, paid attention to the little details. he’s the first man i've been with who doesn’t ever make me feel belittled. i’ve always felt less than with men and nik makes me feel equal and valuable at all times.

“i was given attention at a young age for being beautiful,” i said. “and somehow, i knew that was something i had and could use. beauty. i haven’t fully reflected or processed it yet,” i said, looking towards the wall, beginning to tear up. “but, in a big way being beautiful has been my greatest struggle. it’s something i tried to cater to. pleasing people with the way i look. it’s an empty way to live. only recently have i freed myself from it. i haven’t worn makeup all month. i don’t think i’ve been this comfortable in my own skin since early childhood.”

“you look so happy and beautiful right now, mama,” nik said. “the first time i saw you without makeup on, i cried. you are so beautiful.” he finished through tears.

i laughed.

“i like when we cry together,” i said.

“i know,” he said.

 

18 february.

i let the day slip away with my friend teal. she is a wildly talented writer and artist. she’s eccentric and wild, childlike in her purity and belief in magic. but, she doesn’t feel it right now.

i listened to her speak of crippling loneliness. she feels boxed in in a town she’s known forever, working a job that doesn’t inspire her, conflicted about taking a leap, leaving, making a big change.

i told her not to give up. that it’s often at the darkest hours, those when we swear we can’t take one more step, that we’re actually closest to realizing what it is that we really want and need.

teal stayed with me all day. some days, we need that. company to distract us from the chaos of our own company. we finished the day with a hike to the stupa at shambhalah mountain center in red feather lakes, colorado. we didn’t go inside. instead, we sat on a bench and wrote back and forth before leaving our poem as an offering.

 

26 february.

on sunday, we went to church with my mom. she sings in a gospel choir and i've been meaning to take nik and lola to see her.

persephone watched my mom from where we sat, felt for her own heartbeat and said, "my heart is thinking about mimi." she then proceeded to cuddle my mom during the rest of the sermon, once she'd finished singing and came to sit with us.

pastor dave, an elegant and dignified man in a suit and glasses, stomped his foot and wiped his forehead to a chorus of "yes, lord" and "hallelujah." he centered his words around shame. how we cover ourselves up. with makeup, with drugs. in search of a new identity. how we try to fulfill the shoes of another, but never can.

pastor dave mentioned a fourth grade student who had hung himself the week prior. "his teacher called me," he said, "and he asked me what i would tell the family and the classmates of this boy." if someone so young feels shame so deeply, what are we doing wrong? we need to love one another. we need to love ourselves. without coverings. 

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