It may come as no surprise that I’m ready to bid 2016 an exuberant BUH-BYE! It hasn’t been my favorite year, guys. I know at least a few of you can relate.
Yes, obviously, it was the year we had to say goodbye to our foster son, BlueJay, after nearly a year with him. But it was also the year my father was in a bad car accident. Six months later, he’s mostly recovered … or, as he’ll tell you, he’s “getting better every day.” Also, much less importantly but still annoying, it was the year I sprained my foot on our annual family beach vacation so completely that even now, four months later, it’s not quite right (but, you know, getting better every day). Plus, politics. Which I won’t get into here except to say ugh.
I sent Ryan off to full-day kindergarten this year, and that was harder than I expected. And while he’s in school, I have been diving into my big project — writing a memoir of our year with BlueJay.
I’ve always suspected that such a book must be challenging to write, and yet so many memoirists write in a way that feels effortless to read. Writers like Mary Karr, Dani Shapiro and Joan Didion walk us through some of the most difficult times of their lives without putting the weight of their own grief or anger or confusion on us, the readers.
Writing a memoir is a very different experience. To write a memoir is to pick at a scab, watch it bleed, and allow it to heal just until it has formed enough that you’re able to pick at it again. At least that’s how it has felt for me.
My memory is notoriously pretty awful. I’m the sort of person who will tell you a story three times if you don’t stop me and say you’ve heard it before. In order to be as accurate as possible, I have to fully dive back in. I need to flip through a year’s worth of photos and watch every last video I took while BlueJay lived with us. Multiple times. I re-read everything I ever wrote during that time, including essays, journals, emails and text messages.
To write a memoir is often to put yourself directly back in pain’s path. When I wrote a section about BlueJay’s incredible tantrums, I dug through memories I didn’t particularly want to re-examine. Afterward, I was so emotionally drained that I very nearly fell asleep in my car waiting to pick Ryan up from school. The day I wrote about our last 24 hours with BlueJay, Mike came home on his lunch break to find me crying on the couch, the pain of missing him more raw than it had been in months.
I have an especially hard time writing about the good moments with him. Memories laced with happiness and love take on their own weight if I also consider how fleeting it all was. And then, I can’t help it; the thought creeps its way in … my God, I might never hear that laugh again.
I am writing about a time of my life in which, in every other way, I am actively moving beyond. I am not crippled by heartache the way I was in the early days and weeks after BlueJay left. Sure, I have moments. Now and then, a memory bubbles to the surface and I miss him so fiercely that it feels like it has been only days — not months — since I last wrapped my arms around him and kissed his cheek. But as time passes, those moments float outward from me, untethered buoys in an open ocean.
Our time with BlueJay was a gift. A complicated, difficult, wonderful gift. But now, we are making decisions about how to grow our family in the future, and those plans are starting to take shape. We are preparing for our next step.
I am ready for new paths, new challenges and new memories.
I am ready to give 2016 a polite handshake and a curt nod. I’m ready to pivot and greet the new year with open arms.
Let’s do this, 2017. Let’s do this.