Today my mom would be 58.
Today my baby is 4 months old.
Today I am drinking coffee, cuddling Giles, having feelings. It’s not okay that she’s dead. It’s not okay that she isn’t here to be a grandmother to Giles (Meme, as she wanted to be called), and to help me paint and arrange my first house, to see Phoebe’s land and paint there, to make her art, dance in the kitchen, roast chiles, take walks, ride her bike, talk loud and fast, to “bricolage” her way through years and years. It’s not okay that she’s not getting older.
Giles just wailed for about an hour. Full on scream-crying and nothing I could do calmed him down. I looked him in the eyes as tears poured down his little face. I feel like wailing. I feel like scream-crying out of my broken heart.
From my mom’s blog, vimorpainter.wordpress.com (which you should check out if you miss her, because her words are there, her voice, some little piece of herself, and you can visit it anytime):
Sketch Yourself in Words, 2007
My name is Viola Rose Moriarty. It’s not the name I was born with—except the Viola part, that’s my grandmother’s name that died long before I came into this world. The rest of my name I chose myself after a brief, failed young marriage in college. I didn’t want my husband’s name, but I had no name to go back to since my father had been absent from my life since I was six years old and my mother had remarried with a new name. I didn’t know who to be so I chose my favorite literary character, Dean Moriarty from Kerouac’s On the Road. And in a small Denver courtroom, for the reasonable price of thirty-two dollars I started to become the person I am now.
I am bilingual, an artist, a retired educator, a parent, a lover, a friend, a palm reader, a lifelong learner and a wife. I have loved my adult life, seizing the majority of days with pure abandon, humor, moxie and chutzpah.
When I was diagnosed with cancer I began to work it into the mix: the surgeries, the appointments, the emotions—all with help from my therapist, family, friends and most of all, from my husband.
People usually see the upbeat and adventurous and creative side of me. It’s only Jon who knows the skid marks and scars underneath, the billion ways I’m afraid. That I’m an enigma.
So, I did pretty well through the first wave of cancer, drafting my comic book The Adventures of My Left Breast and making paper dolls with new hospital gown designs. I took photos of everything and I saw myself doing pretty well in those pictures.
Then I went to chemotherapy. First day: Treatment okay. I sketched through it. Second day: Jittery but okay. Days three, four and five I have descended into a staticky evil fog filled hell that I can never adequately describe. Like trying to pay attention through a vibrational band of intense, angry static. Everything hurts. Reading and listening are so hard—so, so hard. I’ve never felt anything like this and I don’t feel strong enough to cope with it. It’s day six now and I’m a little better, but still unable to go to drawing tonight. I’m still unable to focus enough to get my art supplies set up and begin a painting.
I’ve got to grab onto something that will break through here—a different way to work these days. Come on, help me out Max Ernst, David Park, Alice Neel, Mr. Rauchenburg—–anybody? I pray to the dead and to the live painters to help me….help me work.
I have raised my girls and they are spectacular—they’ll be home to help me with my haircutting soon. I want them to see me able to do this; I want to be a good role model. I want them to see me work when working feels impossible.
I don’t want my daughters to ever suspect the terror of being separated from one’s own self.
I don’t want my husband to see me defeated in this way, bumbling about like a babosa instead of the sexy, arrogant, often insane woman he loves (and slightly fears).
But this is where cancer—no, not cancer, but the treatment of cancer—-has me by the breasts and by the balls, so to speak. It’s taken over the airways and it’s screaming at fever pitch. Static and black chaos are filling the room around me, slurping into and over the rims of my eyeballs and nose and around my fingernails.
There’s no escape……and I have never, ever learned how to surrender.
Viola Moriarty, April 2007, After Chemo #1,
(From an assignment in the Moving through Breast Cancer class with Anastasia Nute)
Being a mom is so complex. I am so in love, and deep parts of myself that have been waiting are coming to the surface and blooming. Being a mom is something I’ve always wanted.
But there are moments, sometimes whole days, when I feel completely overwhelmed and like my whole existence is dedicated to this tiny human and there’s none left over for me.
Sometimes I cry a lot.
Sometimes Giles smiles and my whole being melts.
Sometimes I want to ask for help and I don’t know how. Or I want so badly to figure it out for myself, do it my own way, that I just don’t want anyone’s help.
I try to take a few minutes each day to do something that makes me feel like myself. And I try to let other people help me. It’s good for Giles and me to have breaks from each other, for him to be with other people and for me to be by myself. I’ve always needed alone time and being a mom doesn’t make that go away.
I’m still navigating this. How to be a mom and be a wife and be me and be an artist and do all the things. We’ll figure it out. As a family. I think I’m doing pretty okay so far.
Trying to love the body that made my baby and pushed him out. In some moments succeeding. In others feeling strange and not myself, so so far away from myself. Last summer I finally found a bathing suit I really liked and this summer it doesn’t fit. I also found the best jeans last year (a constant struggle for one with long, wide hips) and now they are useless to me. oh how i finally felt in those jeans. I am cutting up and trying to fix clothes so they will fit this body now. I am cutting in fits of hormones and making mistakes.
My body grew a human being and push him out and I love him more than anything on this whole planet.
My body is everything right now. It is food for the baby, comfort for the baby, a body to lie on, a body to be held by. My body is a kind of machine. A marvel of nature. Resilient. Healing. Consumed by hormones. did i mention hormones?
But where am I in this body? What is my relationship to it now that I cannot do things like crunches or leg lifts or anything involving lower abdominals? not that i was like huge into leg lifts but like, i could do them, you know? Now that I cannot fit into my clothes. Now that my once proud belly is a totally different belly that I don’t know how I feel about showing off to the world. I want to. I want to, I want to wear my crop tops and be a shining light for all the postpartum women’s bodies that are squishy and zebra-lined with stretch marks and breasts that are not the same breasts we once had breasts we can barely hold up the weight of in un-sexy nursing bras! seriously though can someone design better nursing bras, better nursing and postpartum clothes, better so many things.
My body does not feel like mine. Sometimes it feels more mine than ever after doing such a strong and crazy hard and scary and beautiful thing as giving birth. That was MY pain. MY story. MY blood and shit and pee and sweat and muscles and pushing. But also this body belongs to the new human being that I am responsible for keeping alive. My body is two bodies. The one that is me feels like a shadow.
Reflecting on the past decade of my life, as I prepare to turn 31 in a month and a half, and I felt the need to put photos of myself from each year next to each other. In some ways I think my face looks the same, and in other ways it looks totally different. Internally, I changed a lot during these years and it’s interesting to see how that affected me externally.
I’m not exactly sure why I need to do this. But it feels necessary somehow. Who was I then? Who am I now? What changed from 27 to 28, when I lost my mom and also fell in love with Greg? Why is this first adult decade so important? As I go from “young woman” to “regular adult/mom” there’s this desire to look back and remember who I have been so far and how I got here.
Me, ages twenty to thirty:
self portrait in watercolor, January 2016
My face doesn’t look that different, even though my body is 6 months pregnant and looks (and FEELS) quite different. Sometimes my face looks really tired. Sometimes my skin is blotchy, or pale, or has tiny bumps on it, and my hair is weird because I’m in the process of growing it out (again). Some days I feel so beautiful, more beautiful than I’ve ever felt. Greg tells me often that I am a gorgeous pregnant woman. But some days I feel huge and nothing fits right and my boobs hurt and my back hurts…it’s a new body every day, constantly changing.
I want to talk to my mom about all this body stuff. We used to talk about these things a lot: relating about how clothes make us feel, society’s insistence on bras and underwear, the way our bodies change as we get older and why, how we can redefine beauty at every age and even during cancer. I want to know what clothes she wore during pregnancy, how she felt, was she frustrated, how did her body change? I want her to go bra shopping with me. I want her to help me find shoes that are comfortable but also cute on my slightly swollen pregnant feet.
Today I feel good because I’m wearing my cute new overalls and a bra that actually fits (more on the maternity bra shopping experience later), and my hair is just the right amount of messy.