A Bloody Mess

I don’t want to write a poem tonight. I want to bury my hands in these tomatoes, torn from the garden before the Polar Vortex stole my summer, before we ruined the Earth, before I ruined my daughter’s life. My daughter who, two years ago, proudly backpacked twenty-one miles in three days with me, never once saying it was too steep, her legs were too sore, that I was too much. My daughter who won’t even talk to me now and told me on our last camping trip that she only brought Vans, wouldn’t do a hike with me, and hates camping.

Instead I chop the last carrots, mince the onions and garlic, boil the water so the tomatoes will shed their thin skins and slip through my hands into the pot like the bloody mess that they are. The bloody mess that I am.

Now her sour mouth that she so frequents in our house has moved to the online classroom in bitter words towards teachers she barely knows, and just like everything, of course it’s my fault.

It’s my fault that I cuss out Trump and Republicans and incompetency with guttural indifference every chance I get.

That I share my opinions too blatantly with everyone I know, hence why I have so few friends.

That my girls think they can say anything they want to anyone they want and not regret it.

That I can grow a garden but not be strong enough or patient enough to save it when the time comes, when the weather report comes in and I leave half the green tomatoes on the vine, give up on the remaining zucchini, its parched flowers sucking up the snowflakes like lifeblood, half of the basil dripping from the kitchen basket, waiting to die.

Isn’t that what we are all doing, as Hemingway loathingly loved to tell us? Waiting to die?

I wish she could be in my arms again, mimicking everything her older sister said, taking two pieces of anything–sticks or pasta or dolls–and creating endless stories with characters as varied as the high school she now attends. I wish she could be my Spain girl who translated everything for Daddy by month two, who made a friend on day one, who was the only one who wanted to learn all about the Roman coliseum on a date day with me in our small city.

I wish she could be herself, not this hollow version of herself whom I fear I’ve created, carved out, destroyed.

And I wish she would come out of her room and eat her favorite meal, pasta with my hard-earned, homemade sauce, just the way my Italian grandmother used to make it with the cut-up carrots to sweeten the acidity, to tone down the bitter taste, to remember why fresh is best.

But it’s a snowy September, I don’t have a poem, and all I can do is say goodbye to my gardens.

They’ve grown up. And they hate the snow.

That Smile

On Monday she starts high school in the middle of a pandemic, and can I say how scared I am that she turned fourteen today? Not because of remote learning where she’ll miss out on all the things she loves the most–the feel of clay spinning on a wheel, chatting with friends at lunch, swirling her beautiful dress at the Homecoming dance–but because I’m afraid she’ll lose her sweet self to adolescent angst and hate me, and all of my words and questions and worries, as bitterly as her two older sisters seem to on any given day.

I can’t ask, “How was your class?” without it seeming like an intrusion. If one is crying, I am not allowed to know why. If one is angry, I must leave the door close or there could be an outburst. If one is happy, it’s not because of something nice I did or something funny I said–it’s something I couldn’t possibly understand, some teenage colloquialism or TikTok phenomenon.

And my baby is sweet, kind, and generous. She has her faults, as everyone does, and probably doesn’t get the attention I need to give her, and her studies have suffered because of this. But the thought of her entering high school terrifies me because parenting is so hard on a good day and so horrible on a bad day, and how many good days do I have left with four teens in the house?

It becomes a daily mental battle: what did I do wrong this time? What could I/should I have done? Why didn’t I…?

And I just want that sweet face. That eternal gratitude. That picture-perfect family that is really anything but. I want her wishes to come true because I helped her, not because she had to figure everything out on her own.

I want to feel safe, not scared. Because if I lose her sweet love, what love is left?