Emotions, in my experience, aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in "sadness," "joy," or "regret." Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, "the happiness that attends disaster." Or: "the disappointment of sleeping with one's fantasy." I'd like to show how "intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members" connects with "the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age." I'd like to have a word for "the sadness inspired by failing restaurants" as well as for "the excitement of getting a room with a minibar." I've never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I've entered my story, I need them more than ever. ~ Jeffrey Eugenides (Middlesex)I'm with you, Jeff. I totally, entirely, 100% get what you're saying here. And if you don't know me already, I'm a bit more simple in my presentation. Because, while I may not be half the writer you are (Look at me, shamelessly patting myself on the back like that. Half the writer. So funny. One ninety-seventh the writer, maybe. Meh. Not.), and my literary choice of life stories may not be quite as dramatic as those you've highlighted in your brilliant novel/s, I, too, have found the need for a chunkier dictionary, filled up with hundreds and hundreds of words for emotions. Emotional hybrids... I like that.
I'm equal parts blessed and tormented by my own emotional makeup. (And no, I'm not referring to the Maybelline Great Lash mascara variety that ran down my face while I sobbed to "Crush" on HBO last week. For the ninth time.) I feel like, the bigger the event (wedding, funeral, Housewives finale), the less likely I am to get teary-eyed; but the more tiny the event, and infinitesimal the moment, the more incredibly likely it is for me to bust out some pretty ugly man-sobs.
Case in point: AJ and Lila started their new "big-boy, big-girl" class in August. Pretty major deal in a parent's (and child's) life. I thought to myself that morning, "I should be crying, dammit. What a momentous occasion, right?! This shows, right here and now, that they're growing up too damn fast! Cry, woman! If I blink my eyes, they'll be in Kindergarten, then it's onto grade school, high school, college, and then it's off to Uganda with the Peace Corps (knowing Lila). Or to the room above the garage (knowing AJ)." [Ohhh, I keed, my little monkeys. I keed!] Anyway, my point is: I didn't cry. Not one tear. Nope, I hugged them goodbye, dropped them off, and then went to work. Pretty uneventful event. I figured I was a lame-o mom, for sure.
But two nights ago, I heard a little stir from upstairs. I opened up AJ's door and realized he had been just standing there, quietly waiting. His tiny little self in his dark little room looking up at me in his navy blue pajamas. He whispered that he had wet his bed and I gave him the usual, "No worries, I was just about to clean the sheets, anyway." I took off his pj's, handed him a diaper, and proceeded to change his sheets. When I turned around (in all of 30 seconds), I saw that he had already put on his diaper and his (randomly matching) clean pj's. And he looked so relieved. He whispered, "It's ok, you are cleaning the sheets anyway", and did a little shrug-slash-head tilt that's become his signature move. I gave him a hug, an "I love you," placed him in his crib, walked out, and kneeled down on the floor outside of his room, quickly enough so I could bawl my eyes out.
I believe, in attempting the genius emotion hybrids of Mr. Eugenides, my emotion at that moment may have been the fear and joy of having so very, very much to protect. Or the incredulousness one feels upon seeing their soul in a different package connecting with the sadness one feels when they realize the impossibility of another ever knowing just how much you love them. There was just way too much emotion going on.
Lila is a strong little thing. She has strong thoughts on what she likes and dislikes, and she is grasping how to pick herself up after (most) falls, dust herself off, and carry on. She can hold her own in verbal tennis matches with AJ, monster truck races 43 consecutive times around the living room at breakneck speed, and swimming the length of the pool quickly enough to ultimately grab AJ's kickboard before he does. She has been known to say, "AJ, you are my brother. But I am your sister AND your brother." She's definitely the shit around here - and I adore her to pieces.
And she's also just a little tiny girl.
We were at a neighbor's house last week and someone had upset Lila. She was crying and, from what I could understand of the situation, it was because another child had called her a ghost. "I. am not. a ghost." she sobbed. Poor bunny. Her beautiful big, tan cheeks were so wet and her tiny little chest was heaving... And then a wonderful gentleman neighbor (who I don't know too well, and who quite obviously has a daughter), told her gently: "Of course you are not a ghost, Lila. You are a princess."
My heart leapt. My eyes welled with tears. Perhaps not even for the fact that Lila had calmed down because of it, but for the fact that the entire interaction was so simple, and yet so, so important to me. The hybrid emotion could very well have been the surprise at my utter fear of children's abilities to hurt and be hurt combined with the pure joy of knowing we, as parents, are meant to support each other and each other's children and, every now and then, we do... And it's beautiful.
9/11 was an emotional day. God, so much more. But what is miraculous about the day is the fact that we all can remember our emotions. From every single moment of the days. I do, too. I sit and remember that I was scared, and sad, and lonely. And that I had so much in common with every single other person I knew. Some lost everybody, some lost nobody, but we all lost our feeling of safety. And we all needed each other at that very same time.
And that's what I think is the loveliest thing about emotions: We all have them, whether we like it or not; when we expect those emotions to greet us, sometimes they disappoint; at the most inopportune times, we stare emotion in the face; and sometimes, at that very last possible moment, emotion finds us, makes us gather up our belongings, start strutting to the door, huff and puff, look back, and ultimately decide to stay.
But are not this struggle and even the mistakes one may make better, and do they not develop us more, than if we kept systematically away from emotions? ~ Vincent Van Gogh