And this was when she was a newborn. Although I had never before experienced the achy and exhilarating experience of growing a child.. outside the womb.. of course I knew how insane it all is. How you can break down in tears when they release you from the hospital, because your new real life has barely started, and you’re already nostalgic for those first days and moments of getting to know your child. It starts so soon. The rapid passage of time. And how it takes your breath away.
You know, from about one until age four, Scarlet used to push a toy shopping cart and a doll stroller all through the house. She’d shuffle along in mismatched clothing and a winter hat. Raggedy hair and a lopsided gait. Is it terrible to say that she reminded me of the many shopping cart homeless people I’ve seen? It gave me a specific feeling. It’s all so squishy and mushy and gushy. What is more innocent and amazing than a toddler pushing squeaky-wheeled metal and plastic toys – meant to emulate real, adult contraptions – ’round and ’round the house? With messy hair and glazed eyes. The feeling:
The feeling is a feeling I’ve felt for most, if not all, of my life. My mom and sister get it, Cassidy gets it, and I tried explaining it to Scarlet the other day, and she’s starting to get it too. It’s a spontaneous heartbreak of mysterious origin that occurs when viewing another person’s seemingly mundane actions or belongings. You are touched deep inside in a way that’s difficult to convey. When it happens with strangers, it’s bad and when it happens with people you know and love, it’s worse.
It’s a quick, recurrent heartbreak that occurs from subtle actions and possessions of someone who’s usually a stranger, but isn’t always. My mom gets this squishy feeling when she’s out in public and sees an old person fumbling for their money to purchase something. I get that feeling when I see someone’s glasses fall off. And when I see glasses lying alone and delicate on a table, I get it as well. It’s feeling deeply for someone based on their small actions. Tiny, earthquake heartbreak.
It’s because I knew I’d have to let her go, little by little, but no one ever thinks about that when their babies are young. You’re not supposed to think like that. Nine years in, I know it’s not even true. I think she’ll always buzz and swarm around me – and be drawn to me – the way it’s been with my mom and my grandmother in every direction possible. We are linked.
And sometimes this feeling comes from more obvious occurrences. My first memory of the squishy feeling was watching a film strip (remember those?!) about good manners in one of the lower grades of elementary school. In the film, some “bad” kids run around an old man in a parking lot until he drops his bag of groceries all over the ground. His lettuce rolls away and his eggs crack onto the pavement. One of the kids who is not a “bad” kid and was just yielding to peer pressure follows his heart and helps the man pick up his groceries. Pretty simple message, right? The rest of my class watched the film, got what they needed from it, and ran out for recess. I cried in the bathroom for 15 minutes. And I cried myself to sleep that night.
I was haunted by this poor old man dropping his groceries and having them spread out for everyone to see. It was my first major experience with The Feeling. In those same few years, I had a similar experience in the school library when the librarian read us a story about an old woman who loved her pet chicken and this chicken bought her all the happiness in the world and one day it died and she was alone. And some time later, she discovers that the chicken left her a basket of hatched eggs and now she wasn’t alone anymore. This was an illustrated book, and I was destroyed. It’s not often longterm.
It’s not always that clear and that obvious why I’d be sad. It’s mostly just speculation. Do you get that feeling when, say, you have a house guest and maybe you’re putting towels in your guest room for them and you see their beauty bag or suitcase and all of their personal items or clothes laid out? Or when you see your father’s glasses lying on a book on a table? Or get this one – I get sad when someone gives someone else a gift and even if the gift giver is nowhere in ear shot, my heart breaks if the gift recipient says something negative or unappreciative about the gift. Maybe we got three toasters for our wedding, but I probably wouldn’t even comment on it. And if I thought about each person lovingly buying us a toaster, I’d feel all warm and squishy inside. All I know is that my heart breaks for others sometimes – maybe for no reason at all.