When I was in high school I wrote an essay titled Fire and Ice. It was about how I planned to live at emotional extremes – to be “really alive” all my life. I suppose it was decently well written for a 17 year old. I have always been a competent writer (although not the best of editors). I’m positive the theme and its expression were overwrought in the way only a teen age girl can manage. I remember my teacher being considerate in her commentary. She praised an elegant turn of phrase and corrected the spelling issues (which still plague me – thank God for spell checker). She also gently advised that while it might seem that only those extremes of emotion were “really living” there was a lot of life to be experienced in the spaces between them.
I appreciate her advice a lot more now, at 40 something, than I did then. It took too many years, in retrospect, to come to that appreciation. In fact, I wallowed in my extremes for most of my twenties. I finally got tired of it. No big critical event. No dramatic turning point. It just wore me out. I’ve spent a bunch of years between then and now carefully pruning drama out of my life. I found through experience that quieter feelings like contentment or serenity, while more delicate and subtle in flavor, are just as exquisite when you take the time to savor them.
Which makes it more than a bit ironic where my life has led in the last three years. Love and Terror. Joy and Despair. My son brings me to extremes of feeling constantly and almost always together, like they are forged into an inseparable alloy. These composite emotions … I find it so hard to explain them. It seems like there should be some completely new and unique language to describe them. How can the regular and every day words I have always used encompasses things so immense and alien? Even less pedestrian words like fervent, passionate, ardent are not strong enough to describe the intensity with which I feel. Bizarre, foreign, singular - they don’t begin capture the strangeness of the pairings.
I feel like these emotional hybrids have cut me off from the rest of humanity a lot of the time. I can’t relate to the experience of simple undiluted emotions any more nor explain myself to others. Someone tells me how happy they are about their baby taking its first steps and I marvel that while they are rejoicing over the accomplishment they are not also nearly crippled with fear for all that those steps might lead to. It’s like Little Man was not the only one affected at the cellular level by his prenatal alcohol exposure. The alcohol that killed his developing brain cells has seeped into me through the bond of love – mutating my emotions and leaving me forever changed. I would not undo that change – even if it were possible. I exult in my love for Little Man just as he is even as I mourn for who he should have been. The closest I’ve ever come to explaining how I feel is that lame Facebook relationship status “It’s complicated.”