they say when your children are born and placed in your arms for the first time, you become – truly, finally – aware of your own mortality, of the cyclical, revolving nature of this thing called life and the loss inherent to it.

they say this awareness comes like a thud, sad and sweet and built like a concrete block. wham. hello, it says.  behold your replacement. and the helpless, squalling bundle in your arms opens its eyes and you know, without a doubt, that you will die someday and that you’d die for this child because something as old and raw as pride has risen inside you and you understand, in that instant, that everything else you’ve ever done is ephemeral compared to this.

or so i think it goes.  in reality, that moment kind of escaped me.

it happened out of order for me, true.  my initiation was sadder than most. but it still had its joy, its wonder and beauty. but no sucker punch of oh my god i couldn’t have expected this love. oh my god life is sorrow and beauty all wrapped up.

i already knew.

i think i read too much as a kid to be properly shocked by anything that has happened to me since.

children in books have everything happen to them. they’re orphaned, abandoned, lost, set adrift into magical lands. they encounter Danger and Adversity, are tested to the very limits of their understanding and often beyond. all, in the end, to build character, in the most literal sense of the word.

in books, these lead characters are always a little different from the crowd: some quality separates them, makes their stories worth telling. usually, their differences are redemptive, sources of sympathy on the part of the silent witnesses who read the narratives and stand in judgement or outrage or sorrow at the outcomes. it is the plucky heroine and the bright little chap who shine, and in their shadows the pleasant normal children seem plastic, dull, bovine.

Mr. DeMille, i’m ready for my book now.

i grew up a defacto only child with an absent father, a great-aunt-cum-grandmother as timid and nervous as a mouse, and a mother who by 24 had lost both parents, an adoptive father, a husband, and any sense of long-term planning or agency.  between them, they made for rather stark horizons.  nobody talked about much, but subtexts of loss and betrayal and stiff-upper-lippedness and things unsaid ran under the surface of our lives like an exposed vein of acid. we were all marked by the exposure. the adults could not acknowledge their own scars. whether mine were invisible to them, i do not know.

the other kids i knew weren’t much like me. protected, perturbed by things without happy endings, they seemed to take for granted a world as friendly and secure as a 70s tv show.  by eleven or twelve, i had begun to suss out our differences, conduct a puzzled sort of ethnography on them. they went to Disneyworld and played soccer and cried when their dads went away for work for a week. i watched without jealousy, only curiosity. they were my friends, and yet when i scratched the surface, another species.

tiny megalomaniac that i was, i decided that they must be mere background characters in the great novel that got played out day by day in the trenches of junior high. i – by default – the oddball melancholic  o so attuned to the low violin strings of the human heart, must be special.

i became my own protagonist.

and so i read, looking for models. everything i could get my hands on, from the Victorian children’s classics of orphaned heroines to my aunts’ discarded 70s sexploitation novels about stewardesses and cadres of gymnast bankrobbers, most of which puzzled my ten- and eleven-year-old self. i read my mother’s Norman Vincent Peale meditations and my grandmother’s Harlequins and randomly acquired copies of The Godfather and Tess of the D’Urbervilles. i read the Doonesbury comics my father sent in lieu of birthday presents, even though i understood nothing of the political landscape they satirized.  he was the only person in my family who could have given even a three-word description of Reagan’s politics, or even Trudeau’s. i read earnestly, hopefully, trying to prepare myself to live. i tried to prepare myself for everything, just like the kids in stories.

i think i overdid it.

i’ve lived a life in which no stone of experience has been left unturned.  i’ve cleaned toilets, modelled nude for money, eaten Mr. Noodles for months on end and thrown them up anyway in a battle between economy and the waste and self-abnegation of bulimia. i’ve moved coasts and continents, been married, been divorced, had my heart broken. i’ve loved randomly and loved well, and learned that there’s only sometimes a difference but the difference? is the world. i’ve studied all i could get my hands on, drunk all i could get my hands on, tried most substances i could get my hands on. i’ve stayed up til 8 in the morning and invited the bar back to my place for breakfast. i’ve birthed three babies. i’ve held one as he died.

your protagonist, gentle readers, has cultivated herself as a character for more than two decades now. i am done. i am tired of being a protagonist.

my half-brother and his wife had a son last week. i went to the hospital to meet the new arrival, to cradle this nephew in my arms and suck the new-baby-smell of his head deep into my lungs.

his mama was in the same bed where i stayed after Posey was born, only thirteen months ago. i stood there holding the wee Griffith, my body remembering what my mind had forgotten, all the ways newborns squeak and blink and curl into you like small frogs. and something hit me that finally, for the first time, took me by surprise.

this is all behind me, my wistful dog-in-the-manger, climb-every-mountain, i’m-at-the-centre-of-every-story heart crooned.

and that is okay, whispered back a voice i’m not sure i’ve ever heard before. a voice i’d never read about. but mine. definitely mine.

then a wave of something like relief washed over me, warm and wet and i teared up and smiled at Griffith and i’m sure he thought the outburst all for him. as he should.  him, and Oscar, and Posey, their little clan of fellows and rugrats, a whole new generation to fancy themselves the characters from which stories are wrought. they can have it, that sense of destiny, that specialness.

i’ve spent the last twenty years looking for a story to be in. and now, somewhere in the rush of getting two kids out the door and folding laundry and teaching and dreaming up Ph.D applications and smiling at Dave when he plays Blood on the Tracks for the thirteenth time this week,  i notice i have one. just like that. and it is enough.

i am not Prince Hamlet, nor was i meant to be.

and like nothing else ever has, that shocks me.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

perhaps this ought to be the part where i say i’m done. that this is the swan song, the last post.  i was tempted. Dave made me a gift last week, ordered a book of the blog to date. this post – which has taken longer than any post i’ve ever written to eke out, blindly poke my way through – lay alluringly in draft like a perfect coda in waiting. why write outside the bound covers of…gasp…a book?

but it is not the blog i want to leave behind. i don’t write as much as i used to, true…but i write better. at least by my own, erm, humble estimation. and i owe that to this platform, this space, where i have – after long imagining myself a walking book – written enough to be happy to call myself, quietly, a writer.

so you’re stuck with me. in my new, terribly happily boring incarnation. now please. please tell me about YOU.  i need fodder.