It’s A Big Sky by Brittany Ballard

It has been so hard to focus on writing this piece. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I’ve gone from an A to a D cup in 4 months and I no longer have ankles, or if this baby girl dinosaur-fish-insanely-sci fi-surreal-real-being in my belly keeps tap dancing on my bladder, or I can’t stop checking Facebook for God knows what even though it makes me depressed, or Mercury is doing something in some kind of Virgo eclipse retrograde, or the fact that I lost my dear friend Edith suddenly last week and she left behind a 7 year old son and we had a coffee date set for tomorrow so I could ask her about how to be a good mother, because she was such a good mother, and I wonder if she still is a good mother, as those lessons don’t die when she does…right?  Or maybe it’s been hard to focus lately because my dreams have been like psychotic breaks – full of explosions, drowning, losing my baby in the supermarket, finding my baby as an old woman trapped underground, everyone drinking wine and trying to get me to drink another glass while refusing to listen to me as I try to move us all towards freedom together….I don’t really know why it’s been so hard this time….

So – maybe I should start with asking myself: what is a truth I can only discover by writing it down? And maybe I should start with a theme? Ok, Britt. Choose “home” as your theme. Home. Okay, so here goes. A home heartstorm if you will:

What is home?  Actually, let me start with what home isn’t and find my way back into it. Maybe I could write about how I:

Moved 5 times in the last 5 years and during too much of this time I had no internal compass and I still beat myself up for putting myself in a place where I stayed with a man who grabbed my neck and told me I couldn’t write and pushed me down and kicked me out and I went back and back again to try to save him and not myself.

Or I could write about how my home is currently being foreclosed on and my ex-husband and I are battling the mortgage company and the banks work with the courts and judges to ensure we lose the case, and we just found out our lawyer is working for the other side and she’s addicted to blow, so we have to sue her too, and we would have already lost our house if we didn’t have money to pay lawyers to prove what is clearly true and criminal like we saw in The Big Short, and this has been going on for 6 years with no end in sight.

Or perhaps I could write about how currently I live in said house with my baby daddy and we live off of very small fees for our very big art and very small unemployment checks and we cook because we love to, but also because we can’t afford to eat out. And at any moment we will be evicted as we prepare ourselves for our baby girl to join us in this world, and a big fat part of me wishes we could just be nomads cuz I can’t stop thinking about how we are the only animals who live in the same place we poop, and if we keep moving then I won’t have to keep cleaning, and I won’t have to figure out how to kill these rats and moths and ants while I’m growing life inside me.  And maybe our neighbors would actually say hi like they did every day when I lived in Leimert Park, which very much felt like home, but I won’t hold my breath, because now we live in a “really nice” neighborhood where Uber drivers won’t pick up my man because he’s Black.

But you know what? None of this feels urgent. I know what home doesn’t feel like. Now let me try going the other direction. I know I am home when:

I say to him, “let’s have that talk where we tell each other everything we hide from everyone else”, and he says “okay”. And I go first and he hugs me and says, “me too” and that night I fall asleep with my hand on his back.  And that night my dreams aren’t nightmares.

And I know I am home:

When I decide to write something besides a list of what I haven’t done yet.  

When I admit I’m wrong.

When I say I’m sorry and I mean it in that hot place behind my heart.

When I decide it’s not a crisis just because something isn’t going as planned.

When I do less and end up doing more as a result.

When I go outside to feel the rhythm of the day before I check my phone.

When I decide to stop making my past my present.

When I ask my body how I feel, not my mind.

When I don’t take it personally.

When I decide my unfinished work does not define me.

When I forgive.

When I do what I say and I say I’m going to do much less.

When I hug my friends.

When I listen.

When I meditate.

When I stop.

When I walk with my dog.

When I sing to my tummy and rub it clockwise like the motion of the sun.

When I ask for help.

When I believe I have something to say, even if I’m privileged and both my parents love me and I’m white.

When I sing even if I’m not ready to.

When I encourage others to use their voices in the service of spirit and justice.

When I allow myself to rest.

When I know in my bones that as long as I live, these long ass to-do lists will never go away – there will always be more to do, but I refuse to wait for things to be better in the future then they are right now.

When I trust myself.

When I take my time.

When I let go of a project, relationship or opinion even if I’ve invested years of energy into trying to make it true.

When we get all cute and ready to go out but we decide to stay in cuz we are the party.

Whenever I hear music. Ever. Any kind. Always.

When I touch down in Houston because I was born there and my body knows it even if my mind wants to hate it.

And I think – maybe that’s it? Maybe home is memory?

So when I call my grandma who lives in a memory care facility in Houston even though she doesn’t know who I am and she says, “hey baby,” and I say, “hey grandma how are you and she says over and over, “everything’s gonna be alright, everything’s gonna be alright”, and I say “I know grandma”.  And I tell her I’m pregnant and she says, “oh that’s great honey,” but she has to go because the train is coming and she needs to pack to go see her mama. And I say “ok I’ll meet you at the train station” even though I won’t and her mother left us a long, long time ago.

And last year when I flew to visit her to take her out of memory care for the day to go to the place our family ranch on the gulf of Mexico was before the hurricane took it all away, her short hair is done up all pretty and she’s been waiting with her purse on her lap for 2 hours even though I’m not late, and she’s excited even though she can’t remember where we’re going.

And I take her arm and we step out of the AC and into that humid Houston marsh heat that feels like we’re moving in slow motion through microwaved syrup, when she yells, “God damn freedom is hot!” and I fall in love with her all over again.

And she wants to sit in the back seat and I say, “of course grandma, whatever you want.”  As we drive south for two hours towards the gulf she says with a smile, “wow it’s a really big sky,” and I say, “yes it is, grandma.”

And you know what? When we got to the ranch site, now all brambled wrangled mangled trees and branches and weeds, she wasn’t emotional like I wanted her to be. Like I was. I wanted to share in this sadness with her. That would make us closer right? But she wasn’t sad. That would have required a memory of loss. She was doing this for me. She tried to remember. For me. And isn’t that love? She pretended, just to please me. Is this not love? And I realized suddenly that she has happier now than she has ever been. The ultimate Buddhist, always in the moment…

And it’s at this same moment, standing in the still heat, mosquitoes swarming, trying to make her see what used to be here, that I know I am a writer because she is. That I love music because she does. That I love drama because she does. That I love food because she loves to cook.

Before the hurricane. Before memory care, she ran her own used bookstore in Port Arthur, Texas, where people “don’t read” – and it wasn’t all romance novels.  She sang along to Patsy Cline on the record player and talked to her little poodles with little diamond collars like they were people.  She read books on the toilet – she called it the commode, and I remember trying to peek in to see her but I never could.  She wrote novels on a typewriter and edited them by hand as she smoked cigarettes in front of the news.  She painted landscape of pastures, cattle, horses, low hanging trees, dogs and fences she was surrounded by every day in her home in Sabine Pass, Texas, a town still full of FEMA trailers since the hurricane hit and drowned and blew away all the animals, fence, barn, photos, paintings, writings and books right along with it.

She may not have finished high school, but she knew she was the party. And today she doesn’t know I love music and writing. She doesn’t know I live for the drama. She doesn’t know I talk to my dog like I do. She doesn’t know that a hug from her is still being home…she doesn’t know I’m pregnant.

But you know what? She knows who I am when I hug her.  She knows I care about her, she knows I love her.  She knows she is safe with me.  She can feel it.

So that’s what it is, of course. Our bodies.  My first home is my body. And my daughter’s first home is my body.

Yet I still don’t know if I would tell grandma this truth — that when I found out my baby was a girl I doubled over with painful tears that surprised me.  I felt horrible that I was crying, but I just couldn’t stop. Waves of grief I couldn’t understand passed through me like an unexpected storm and I stopped breathing.  Suddenly all the things that happened to me as a girl, as a woman, that I wasn’t protected from, that I couldn’t protect myself from, that no one protected me from, came flooding in.

I was convinced, of course, absolutely certain it was a baby boy inside me – but that would have been too easy.  I understand now that she has chosen me, and she has already created opportunities for me to heal, grow and become who my spirit is meant to be.  And she is her own spirit, coming to do her own work on this planet in this lifetime.  We are already dancing together — she kicks when she likes the song, and when I’m calm she moves, when I move she’s calm. This process of becoming a mother felt so distant a year ago when my entire life was defined by not having a child.  But now it seems inevitable, straight up meant to be.  A chance to connect with all women, with myself, with my mother, with my grandma, with all my ancestors. To create a home for the first time in the truest sense of the word.

There’s this yoga move where you spread your legs wide apart and bend over forward to touch the earth. This is her favorite pose, apparently, because it creates the most space for her to get comfortable.

And yes. This is my job now.  This is urgent.  This is true.  And it needs to be done, not said: to create space for her to be her true self, to hold this space, to protect this space, with fierce, ferocious love.  And the fact that my body does this naturally, that I am built to do this work, leaves me with no words, with no need to say anything, because when it’s really really really true, nothing needs to be said.

And then I picture my grandma in the back seat looking up and out at that big sky, and I picture myself a year from now, looking at my baby girl in the back seat through the rear view mirror as I drive, and I imagine her saying, “Mama, it’s a really big sky.”  And I am home.



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