Bathtubs are a rarity in Oaxaca. I can count on one hand the number of tubs I’ve seen here in the past decade. Yet some years ago I decided I wanted to be able to immerse myself in water (at least partially) and partake in this healing and relaxing ritual from time to time. I went to the fancy, evil grocery store and bought one of those large, opaque Tupperware tubs. I remember pulling it into the aisle and sitting down inside of it to make sure that I would fit.
I’ll admit that the Tupperware-tub-soak leaves quite a bit to be desired in the larger scheme of bathing. There are several disadvantages:
1) Oaxaca is a water-scarce region so it isn’t often that we can indulge ourselves by utilizing the quantity of water needed to fill a large Tupperware tub
2) our water heater isn’t powerful enough to generate half a tub’s worth of hot water, so I also have to heat a large pot of water on the stove and bring it upstairs for a satisfying bath
3) my large body hardly fits in the Tupperware tub: I either have to have my legs and feet hanging out (in which case, I can submerge up to my upper chest with some maneuverings); or I have to cross my legs and scrunch myself into a little ball, whereby the water covers my upper half even less
4) it’s a bit of a logistical nightmare and not always relaxing.
During the Days of Hell when Rafa was dying inside of me, when Yeyo and I fought over the water and the cistern and who knows what else, I got my translucent faux bathtub out that Friday night after screaming and yelling and then writing and feeling empty inside. I sat in very lukewarm water in our spare bathroom and looked at my large belly. It was the first time that I noticed how different my body looked. Deep inside I think it was then that I realized, on some level, that Rafa was gone.
I have not taken out the Tupperware tub since that night… in all these 25 months. Until this past week.
I am participating in a virtual women’s sexuality circle called La Cueva del Serpiente (The Serpent’s Cave). A few weeks ago, we were invited to design a personalized ritual to work with our sexual histories. The unexpected twist was that after we designed our rituals, we were asked to pass them on to another woman in the circle. The ceremony that was gifted to me involved a bath.
So last Monday evening, I pulled out the hard-water stained Tupperware tub from the closet. I drew my bath and added dried rose petals from my first grief circle; I drizzled in some oils and lit some palo santo; I made myself a drink and found a comforting playlist. I was keenly aware of the way the memory of that last bath in the tub weighed heavily on my heart.
Semi-submersed in the hot water, I felt relief and relaxation. But I was also filled with so much sadness and my mind wandered down the familiar path of “what if” again. My many tears mixed into the Epsom salts in the water and mingled with the fragrances of lavender and ylang-ylang. I listened over and over to a song that, in my heart, sings my story (you can hear it here for a nice accompaniment to the rest of this blog).
I saw how clearly I am still holding on to hope. Despite deep, intense and difficult conversations with my beloved about the future; despite a recent visit to the OBGYN (postponed five months due to COVID); despite my own genuine ambiguity about what I really want for myself in this lifetime – despite all of this, I am holding onto the hope of just one more pregnancy, just one more chance at getting this thing called mothering “right.” Under the surface, somehow this hope keeps me afloat in these intensely challenging times. I’m still coming to the edge month after month. Even though we haven’t decided as a couple that we’re really “trying again,” as the idea of losing another child is essentially too much for my dear husband to bear (understandably so)… even though I’m now 46 years old… even though it seem that we’re really coming to the end of days on this planet… I’m still holding onto the tattered strands of hope that I might be the biological mother of a living child.
It reminds me a little of my perspective on this whole fuckshow of a world we have going on right now. There is so very little hope that human beings (or at least homoeconomicus) will survive what’s coming (or what’s already here). Yet something in me still clings to the faint and unreasonable hope that our species will “make it” (for reasons unbeknownst to me). The odds that this is not the end of the world and the odds that I will have a healthy biological child feel about even at the moment. And I know that both are possible. Maybe that’s the trickster in me: the part that still believes in miracles.
I also see how with this hope I’m preventing myself from fully acknowledging and feeling the huge and gaping hole left in my life by Rafa’s death. I see that there are still many corners and expressions of grief that I have yet to explore. I’m still not sure if I have fully gone down into the deepest crevices of my sadness and loneliness.
The truth is that I am not so well these days. PMS comes on like a furious and uncontrollable bitch switch that I seem to have little control over. I am irritable, frustrated, overwhelmed, cranky, angry, pissy, defensive, annoyed and never feel at rest. That is the truth of it. There is a part of me that is deeply avoidant to feeling all this shitty shit-ness. It’s the part of my that keeps busy, that has to keep endlessly adding things to the to-do list so that I don’t feel the gaping hole of absence and loss. Not surprisingly, that’s also the productive, praise-seeking, accomplishment-addicted part of me that is constantly looking outside of myself for some kind of sign of my worthiness. What incredibly sophisticated avoidance techniques our addictions offer!
I run frantically around (in my mind) feeling so frustrated, so overwhelmed – so always-behind. Under many layers, I believe that I do this to prove to myself that I am worth something, that I am not nothing. But ironically, disappearing and becoming nothing is sometimes my heart’s most tender and precious desire. Occasionally, I would so love to be nothing, to become invisible or at least translucent.
The truth is that the sadness is a heavy weight to bear. Looking around at our world these days does not lighten the load; it often increases my desire to disappear. Part of me wishes that I could say that the situation of the world inspires me to work harder, to try to change things… but I’m starting to see how this kind of response to the fucked-up-edness of our world has sometimes been part of the way the world got so fucked up in the first place.
Two months ago I wrote about longing for some respite from “this threshold-like” present I’m living in. But I’m starting to realize that the limbo is simply reality; it’s the dull ache, the lostness. Months into this pandemic, centuries into the dominance of the colonial mindset; under the looming threat of this all-mighty (though made-up) monster we call economy… the world is burning down. And I see that THIS IS IT. This is what we’ve got: uncertainty, fear (terror even), sadness, tenderness and trembling. It doesn’t mean there is no joy. There surely is. Our world is achingly beautiful in gazillions of ways. Someone took this photo of me during Muertos the year Rafa died. When she saw it, a friend of mine said: you look sad and happy at the same time. And that’s what we’ve got folks – the sadness always with us now and the goodness we know we are.
So just for today, rather than run screaming from the shitiness – which is what the busy part of myself urges me to do – I turn towards the shit. I can’t say I welcome it, but I turn to look. I feel that here, in the muck, Rafa has something to show me. I realize that I don’t really relate to my son as if he were still here, still teaching me things, as a living child would be. But I would like him to be more present in my day-to-day – to guide me as other ancestors do. And to be able to open to that, I have to turn toward the sadness and suffering I experience.