When I was a young teen, I started having panic attacks and becoming aware of how often I was afraid. I was afraid of so much all the time. One night, I even became aware that I was afraid of the sky. I was afraid gravity would suddenly loosen and I would fly off the world into the sky. It was such an absurd yet terrifying fear. It was second only to my fear of death and, in fact, felt almost like it was the same fear as my fear of death.
I blame it on Michigan. The sky in Michigan is not quite as big as the skies out west but there are still places where it feels enormous. Driving through farm country today, I was reminded how big Michigan skies can feel. Except, today, I noticed there is no more fear in me about the skies.
Now, the sky feels more like a blank slate or empty canvas. It feels like an opening onto some kind of future I've yet to figure out. But, then, it occurs to me, that's what it always felt like. The difference is that the wide-open possibilities of that sky terrified me when I was a kid. And now, I'm aware that whatever that future is bringing my way, I'm game. I'm willing. I'm open to it.
One of my favorite things about being a teenager was driving with the windows down and the music way up on a warm summer night in Michigan. The kind of night that still has all the soft sticky edges of a hot day but is just starting to prick with the chill of darkness. You could wear a light sweatshirt or a jean jacket and not be too hot. You could still have your swimsuit on and not be too chilly. It was like driving through cotton candy.
My first real kiss happened on a Michigan summer night like this -- in an apple orchard on a swing set. I remember that I was wearing a white tank top and ripped up jean shorts and that my boyfriend's hair smelled like Alberto V05. I wasn't cold at all but he offered me his acid-washed jean jacket and because it smelled like him, I took it. I had it for a month before I gave it back.
The first time I climbed a mountain, I crawled on my hands and knees at the summit. I had the strangest sense I was just going to topple right off. Very old men were walking past me without any problems. Children were running by me. This wasn't a difficult mountain or summit. I had just never been so close to the sky before.
I've gotten closer to the sky since then. And I've managed to remain perfectly upright almost every time.
When I started writing for this blog, my mother had recently died. I wanted it to be about the lessons she gave me, about her cooking, about how her cooking and her domesticity was a greater gift than I had ever noticed before and that I could use it to heal the pain of not just my own life but her life as well.
Then, this blog became something else. And sometimes it seems like this blog is something in particular and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it's just like this. About the open, empty, enormous sky.
I started writing other pieces before this one. I want to tell you the story of the most beautiful night of my life. I want to tell you about my trip last weekend to my brother's cathedral on the yellow dog river. I want to finish the story of my grief for you because I want us both to believe that grief has some end.
But it doesn't.
Like my mother's lessons, it remains with me, wherever I go, whoever I become, no matter what sky I'm under. But sometimes the sky is soft and beautiful and so big that anything is possible. And I let go of the need to make sense out of any of this. And I allow this place, my home, to hold me. And I'm not afraid anymore.