After the excitement of a house-full-of-life Thanksgiving, my winter spiraling starts. The reality of the long, cold nights, even longer when you work them, and the mounting dread of a prolonged, not-by-choice, no-kid period before Christmas (oh, the vagaries of the family court judges) conspire to send me sliding down, around, and down further. The empty house during my non-custody days, as I sit holed up in the only bedroom that I heat when we are not all home, echoes with nothing. And in that dark, shivering spot, it begins again: the easy tears, the sense of defeat, the ache in the chest, the feeling that I just can’t do this divorced lifestyle, really can’t, the harsh judgment of myself for not being grateful enough for what I have.
The feeling of relief when, driving, I see a warning sign for high winds on the bridge ahead, and I realize that my car is small and light and might just get blown off, twisting down into unending darkness of water below. The tears again, when I’m not expecting them. The loss of hope that we can do anything to save this planet for our kids. The sense of warm comfort that comes with contemplating not being alive, letting the world just spin and heat up without me on it. This is my winter spiral, and I so don’t want to have to get back on those white pills that I spent six months getting off of this year. Damn it.
I cross the bridge without incident, and get home safely. For now. And I go through the motions of adulthood: work, the hardware store, the post office, the grocery store, the bank, trudging through the to-do list. Next up: evening holiday school event, and the start of my kid-custody half of the week. I make sure supper is ready and warm for when we get home, and head over to the school.
The room is dark and quiet as I take my seat, alone. My ex has delivered my daughter to her teacher and the boys will arrive later with the sitter for their own turns (hard for boys to stay quiet for too long). More parents filter in through the opaque doorway, babies squawk to lighten the somber mood, siblings whisper in their seats as we wait in darkness for the kindergarteners. My ex ducks in, takes a seat a few rows back. I relax in my chair and breathe gratitude that her new partner isn’t here too.
The teacher leads them in, singing. Such sweet voices, timid in the darkness. They take their places on a bench facing the center of the room, where a team of parents has created a spiral pathway out of greenery and logs cut so they stand on end at various heights within easy reach of a kindergartener. The teacher tells a story of children and friendship and the power of love, and then the pianist starts to play, and my healing begins.
One by one, the children are given an apple with a beeswax taper in it, and each walks the spiral to the center where she lights her candle from the large pillar in the center. As she walks back outward, she chooses a stump on which to place her apple with its light. Over and over we sing a child to the center and then back out. The pathway emerges from shadow into soft light.
In the candleglow, I have lost sight of the self who could not find her heart, her will to live. I feel only gratitude that despite the logistical complications of children and sitter and maintaining a reverent mood, I will now sit through two more consecutive spirals to watch my sons’ classes, as I have for the past five years. In order to reach the light, you have to walk through the darkness. How fortunate are my children that year after year, as they grow taller and taller, they enact this ritual. How I hope they remember this somewhere deep inside, so when they face their own black winter spiral, they recall that there is a light somewhere.
Preparing for the second spiral, I am sitting in the dark with my arm across the shoulders of my little boy, suddenly a pre-teen granddaddy longlegs, skinny limbs bending every which way out of his folding chair. We watch his brother’s class walk the spiral one by one, and when they are done, the room full of small lights, he whispers to me: “It’s hardly dark anymore.”
I send the two younger ones home with the sitter and return to the dark room alone to watch my spidery son and his long-legged classmates light their own candles. And he is right. My shadow-lurking heart is watching, and letting the light in, and it is hardly dark anymore.