12. RITUALS AND CELEBRATIONS

Four celebrations marked the end of my craziness and the beginnings of my new life.

Ed’s birthday and mine were two weeks apart, and Ed and Diane invited us to go out for a joint birthday celebration. I felt very fragile and carried myself like a porcelain pitcher. We left David along with Ed and Diane’s baby with Diane’s mother and went out to eat at a restaurant. As we stood waiting to be seated, I watched the waiters and busboys. Slowly they were clearing things away, rolling up dirty linens, putting on fresh table cloths, re-setting tables. The whole room seemed full of people sorting and re-sorting—a normal part of life. Later, Ed and I blew out candles and took pictures to celebrate the continuity of friendship.

Stewart took me with him to an experimental worship service at a downtown church. I stopped by the nursery but could not bring myself to leave David there. I took him with me as he slept soundly in the crook of my arm. Before the slides were shown, the light from the projector cast our shadow on the screen—in that Madonna and child pose. People sat together in small groups, and we were told to write down something that kept us from being whole. “Nothing,’ I thought. ‘I have been torn open, but now I am healed and whole.’ Each small group was to act out a ritual of love. Without speaking, I helped my group to form a circle of linked arms and rock back in forth in one of the secret motions of the universe.

The young women from our church invited me to a circle meeting. Each person was bringing something to share. As we arrived at the home of the hostess, various women remarked on the furnishings: “I never noticed those chairs before.” “Did you get that new wall hanging in Mexico?” and so forth. These kinds of questions were perfectly normal, I realized, not magical signs.

What I had brought to share was a paper I had written in college. It had turned up during some of the sorting and rummaging I’d been doing in recent weeks. The topic was Salinger’s novel Franny and Zooey, the story of a spiritual breakdown. Franny begins to recover when her brother tells her about an imaginary “fat lady,” who wants the best for her and deserves the best from her. Not as a crazy rant, but calmly, tentatively, I tied Salinger’s story to the notion of secret saints. Everyone nodded. They understood. Then each of us was given a daffodil as a sign of spring and hope. We had car-pooled to the meeting, and as we left, the woman driving asked the rest of us, “Have you ever been singing and all of a sudden realized what the words meant and had to stop because you were crying?” Hmm. Maybe I wasn’t so peculiar—or special. Evidently this kind of thing could happen to anyone.

Exactly eight weeks after David was born, the calendar read “Post Partum Party.” I took my last tranquillizer that day. Stewart and I had invited all the friends who had meant to most to use during the crisis to come to our house for a celebration. When the guests arrived, I was upstairs feeding David. Then I came down. Someone handed me a bouquet of flowers, and I walked through our gathered friends with them in my arms. “I love that picture on the wall,” someone said. “What does it say besides ‘Come Alive’? “You look beautiful,” said someone else. “Radiant. You remind me of Cleopatra.”

I had decided to stop being crazy. Of course, I had been helped with therapy, medications, and TLC from my mother and my husband, but it also seemed like a choice. I was beginning to take joy in being with David. At only two months, he had not yet developed a unique personality, but I liked the brightness of his eyes, the way they focused on the light or the fish swimming in the aquarium. I loved his early half-smiles. I could now imagine him growing up and could accept the concept of being responsible for him during the years that would take. I could visualize him taking his first steps or joining Stewart in catching turtles, fishing, playing ball. I hoped and expected that he would have a normal boyhood.

I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Stewart, grateful to him for sticking with me through the hard times.
But, perhaps because of my psychotic interlude, I found the strength to ask for more. I wanted my tombstone to say more than “beloved wife and mother.” I would keep the babysitter I had found and get out of the house once a week.

I would make the time to finish my thesis and complete my graduate degree. Later, I hoped I would find a way to resume the teaching career I had interrupted. And perhaps I could write something that was more than an appraisal of another writer’s work. Maybe a few of the ideas I had written down and torn up would resurface in comprehensible and compelling forms.

I did not plan to give up being an attractive woman in order to be a mother. I was enjoying my new sense of my body—beyond its capacity for bearing and feeding children.

I had chosen to give up the telepathy, the signs and slogans, the sudden flashes of insight. Several times I told my mother that if I lived to be an old woman, I could become a mystic. (Now that I am much older, that idea has less appeal.) For the time being, I put such things aside—not completely discarded, but hidden. I hoped I would be able to locate the things I had learned beyond the borders of rationality—if I had need of them.

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