I look out my kitchen window at the bleak gray landscape. Rain again. Coming down in sheets. My little girls, Clara and Ella, are outside with umbrellas, playing with the dog.
It’s been the rainiest spring I’ve ever endured. Just when I think we’re done with winter, and better weather is on the way, it storms again and clouds heavy with hail pound my crocuses flat.
I can’t even see the mountains—the view of the mountains that was part our decision to move our family of six here in the first place. Instead, the peaks are shrouded in mist, and without them, I feel lost. I don’t know which way is east. I don’t know where the sun will come up. I can’t even see my next-door neighbors’ homes. I don’t know them anyway yet, so it shouldn’t bother me, but it does. It’s as if our house is set adrift, an island floating alone.
A shiver creeps down my spine, but not from the weather. I feel eyes on my back from across the room, and when I turn, two figures stand behind me in the doorway.
“Hello,” I say, turning and acknowledging their presence. “Doubt and Insecurity, my dear, dear friends.”
“Yeah, “says Doubt. “It’s been a while. You didn’t leave us a forwarding address.” His face is shadowed by his hat, but his muddy shoes leave marks as he barges past me and parks his baggage on the floor.
“I moved,” I say.
“We noticed,” says Insecurity, slinking toward me. She is composed of narrow eyes and waist, tightened lips, and sharp angles. She moves to embrace me with her slim arms, as if we really were old friends, and turns her cheekbone to mine for a European air kiss.
I flinch away from her.
“Nice place,” says Doubt, pulling up a chair and making himself at home. “If you really can afford it. Plus the kids aren’t happy. Why’d you move in the first place?”
I do not want to entertain these visitors. But Doubt’s words hang in my brain. The kids aren’t happy. No, the kids aren’t happy. Will my 6th grader ever stop telling me that we’ve ruined her life by moving here? Will I hear my high-school-aged daughter cry in the shower again tonight? Will there ever be a day when they don’t ask me if we can move back home. But home is here now.
I shake my head to clear the thoughts away.
“I’ve been busy,” I say shortly, keeping an eye on my little girls outside. At least they are happy, I think, watching them twirl their umbrellas so hard they fall over. Ella grabs the dog’s collar to hoist herself up, laughing. The dog licks her face. I smile. This trio: my two little blondies and my dog have brought me brightness and joy, even on gray days. They are always up for an adventure. I should grab my camera to save this moment: the purple in the umbrellas matches the vivid drowned crocuses, which even if their current state, provide a bright contrast to the pearly clouds above. Everyone will need a bath after this.
“You mean you kept yourself busy,” says Insecurity. “You do that. If you stay too busy to think, you think that we can’t catch up with you.”
I’m surprised that she knows one of my coping strategies. I can’t stop myself from responding. “That’s not fair,” I say. “I am genuinely busy! Anxiously engaged in good causes!” And I am: teaching, writing, caring for toddlers, caring for teens. My life is full of good things. But she caught me. I haven’t wanted to ponder or dwell or think. “Thinking is a dangerous pastime, I know.”
Both guests laugh. “Ain’t that the truth,” says Doubt. He looks over at his companion, “Easily my favorite Disney Villain,” he says.
“Why are you here?” I say. “I didn’t invite you.” Did I? Like my older girls, I too have wished to move home this week: when I sat alone in Relief Society listening to all the other women chat, when I got lost on a walk in this new neighborhood, when I just wished for a friendly face.
Insecurity breaks the awkward silence with an apology: “We’re sorry we didn’t come earlier. All of us, I mean. Anxiety is parking the car. He should be here in a minute. But it takes him forever to park. Like I said, you didn’t leave us your address. We saw you a couple of times at church, but we couldn’t catch up with you. “
“I’ve moved on,” I say, willing myself to believe it. “But it’s a new ward,” I mutter, hoping they won’t hear me.
But they do, and they pounce.
Insecurity nods. “Yes, a new ward. I saw you in nursery where another woman stepped on you.”
I look down, where a sharp and angry bruise, just the size of a stiletto heel, is visible on top of my foot. I close my eyes and recall the scene from the previous Sunday: my own high heels lay by my church bag against the wall. I’d ditched them when I saw that the ratio of toddlers to teachers was just too high. So I decided stay and play ponies with the little girls around me. One of the adults had whispered “thank you” to me before the tide of toddlers swept her to a different corner of the room. When she began setting up for snacks, she didn’t see me, and I didn’t see her until it was too late.
“She was moving a table and trying to avoid toddlers,” I say, “I was sitting on the floor. It was an accident!” At least that’s what I told myself that night.
“Hmm,” says Insecurity, as if she doesn’t believe me. “She probably forgot you were there. That’s an easy thing to do.”
Doubt stands up. “Got anything to eat? I’m starving.” He walks across my kitchen and opens my pantry door.
I feel frozen. But I must not feed doubt. I know this. Why can’t I move? Speak? Do anything? Their very presence in my house makes me question myself.
I have to get Doubt and Insecurity out of here before Anxiety shows up. “But why now? Why are you here now?” I ask. My voice wavers as I speak, and I work to get control of it. I’m really asking myself, not them.
Mentally, I recount my week. I was fine yesterday, and the day before. I’ve been working hard to stay positive. I’ve been stopping any negative thoughts from dwelling until today.
“Can’t we drop by to share a rainy afternoon together? Like we used to?” Doubt asks, sticking his head out of the pantry. “Hey, you’ve got Girls Scout Cookies! Want one?” he says offering them to Insecurity, who waves them away. She looks pointedly at me. “Swimsuit season is coming.”
I follow her glance and look down at my body, thinking guiltily of my late-night therapy sessions with Ben & Jerry, who unlike these visitors, do give me some comfort. The thought of warmth and spring and summer has been a lifeline of hope for me, but after Insecurity’s comment, the idea of wearing anything but a hoodie makes me want to hibernate forever.
I fight to turn down the volume on their critique, and focus on something else. I close my eyes and try to imagine my uninvited guests away. Focus on now, I tell myself. Why was I okay yesterday but not today? What did I do yesterday? Besides the usual of driving kids to school, teaching, making breakfast, cleaning, grading . . .
Yesterday was planting flowers in the front yard with my two youngest. We also planted Clara’s fairy garden with microscopic seeds.
It was gray yesterday too, but in the afternoon the sun broke through the clouds, and we went outside. We raked the dead leaves of last autumn away to make room for a springtime all our own. Clara pushed the little red wheelbarrow full of pansies, and Ella pointed out weeds to me: “Pull bad weeds, Momma!” she’d say. We cleared the ground of yesterday’s clutter and put down new tiny roots here, in a garden that has only been ours for a matter of months. The sight of those little purple flower faces gave me hope. Pansies are tough. They can withstand freezing temperatures. Pansies, all jokes aside, are not pansies. Maybe if those pansies could stand being transplanted, we could too.
It takes faith, I realize, to plant a garden. Thanks to birds, weather, and wind, there is no guarantee that each seed will make it. But we plant anyway. It reminds me of last night’s scripture study: Alma 32. Seeds. If you can do no more than desire to believe . . .
The door slams. Is it Anxiety? My body tenses, and I crack an eyelid.
But it’s not.
It’s Clara, my four-year-old. She’s wet through and through.
“Mommy, I brought you something,” she says, holding up a half-drowned dandelion. “It’s for you. It’s the color of sunshine.”
I accept the flower, and examine it. Like the crocus, it’s been pounded flat. But it is indeed the color of sunshine. Warmth. Growth. A glimmer of light. A bright spot in this gray day.
I focus on it. I focus on her, and the image of tiny blonde girls twirling bright umbrellas while a giant black dog wags her tail. I focus on a whispered “thank you” in the nursery. I focus on mountains that will rematerialize when the sun comes out, orienting me and giving me direction. I focus on tiny pansy roots that will soak up this rain, using it to nourish them in new soil.
I pull her into my arms and envelope her in a hug, not worried that I’ll be wet too.
She looks at me with wide eyes. “Who were you talking to?” she asks.
She and I are alone in the kitchen. There are no foot prints, no baggage. My uninvited guests have gone, for now. And I am grateful.
“No one,” I say.