As a child, you lay on your father’s belly while the New York Yankees run bases on a small black and white television in your old apartment. Your small frame, so thin your mother has to “take in” every pair of pants you own, rises and falls with his breath. You remember so much of that place, your first home: the blue curtains in your parents’ bedroom, the brown living room furniture.
You can still hear the hiss of the steam against your mother’s knuckles as she irons, and you can still tell just by voice the entire cast of The Young and the Restless. There is noise, and there is silence. There is nothing but you on the chest of your father. There is nothing but the rise and the fall.
You develop early, and the boys notice. You try desperately to get out of gym class, to avoid the mile, the volleyball game, the warm-up jumping jacks, and swimming, anything that involves buoyancy. Boys like this about you-the idea that you have breasts make it possible for them to touch one.
Girls hate you, make fun of you, call you names and chase you home. For protection, you befriend the tough, unhinged girl from a broken home. She wears black tights, denim skirts, and a Metallica T-shirt, every day. She punches other girls for you, helps you carve a boy’s initials into the softness of your thigh, and teaches you how to smoke weed behind the church in your neighborhood.
You stay with a man because you signed a car loan together. The thought of your parents discovering this ridiculously irresponsible act becomes a seed. Soon, a weed will grow, and grow, and grow. You don’t know how to let something die, so you keep feeding, watering, nurturing.
You lie at night in a cold bed and feel something like a boulder on your chest. You watch as it presses against your breath.
You carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. This is the official diagnosis from your mother, your father, boyfriends, an ex-husband, and a therapist you saw exactly three times in 2004. The world is heavy. It is cement at its center and molasses against your skin. It will push you down like a worm into the dirt.
On a warm, spring day in a small river town, you walk under the path of a million elms. Their leaves hang like open arms over you. The husband is gone, the car loan is gone, your body is more your own than it has ever been. Those branches pluck the boulders from your shoulders like they are dandelions gone to seed. You are tall, and your shoulders will never again know the weight of small mistakes.
You make decisions for your daughters. Where they will sleep, what they will wear, how many cookies they can eat, what they believe, and who they will watch die. But you don’t regret any of it.
Your heart is a muscle the size of a fist and will pump against the pressure of regret. Burdens don’t weigh what they used to. Boulders are balloons- full of air. At night you lie in bed with the man you love and watch the rise and fall of his chest. You wait for the heft to come, but it never does.
This is 39.