Seeing Trainwreck, Being Catfished, Pluto and Other Assorted Misadventures in Dating

I always forget to post my articles which are published on other media outlets on my blog. So here is one which was published a few weeks ago. If you don’t want to miss what I’m writing online, you can follow me on Facebook or Twitter. I always promote my published articles on those social media channels.

Below is the beginning paragraph and you’ll have to pop on over to Stackedd Magazine to finish reading. But if you want to comment, you’ll have to come back here because they don’t allow comments. Thanks for reading!

The day before I saw Trainwreck, the man I’d been dating for the last six weeks made an impromptu visit to my house at 4 pm on a Friday after enticing him with some sexy texting and vague promises. The day before that, we had gone on a romantic date where we ate flatbread and sampled delicious wines and walked through a hollowed out giant redwood cedar that had been struck by lightning. The purpose of the date was to discuss the future of our relationship. I desired monogamy, which he’d broken the week prior. He brushed my hair behind my ears and kissed me in that penetrating way on a bridge over slow-moving water. He told me how “amazing” I was and that letting me go would be a “mistake.” And then, we slipped into the woods for heavier petting on a stone bench. But before he left my house that Friday, after we both fulfilled vague promises, and after he looked me in the eyes for so long that I couldn’t help but look away, after we sipped champagne in my backyard and he quietly smiled at me while I watered my garden in a flowing, blue negligee, he said, “I’m not ready to stop dating other women.” Click here to continue reading.

 

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Oprah and Scars and Trust Issues

If you know me in person, you know that Oprah is my spirit animal. Since I was a teenager, growing up in a home where nothing was really talked about, Oprah came on television everyday and talked about everything.  All the things I so desperately wanted to have conversations about, there she was, talking. That dialogue with life changed me. It continues to change me.

I was madly in love with a man my sophomore year in college. I was 20, he was 23.  He was goofy and inordinately tall, 6’8″ next to my 5’5″. I used to climb the furniture to kiss him. He had already graduated from college and was a 5th grade elementary teacher. He took me, a little broken, a little dirty, he dusted me off, and he showed me some things. We were together for an impossibly short 9 months. The one Christmas we spent together he bought me red, plaid pajamas and an unauthorized biography of Oprah. It was 1999.

This man saw me. For a little while anyway, he really saw me. He inspired me to pursue a second major in communications, he convinced me to stand up and have confidence in what I knew to be true about myself. He showed me how deeply flawed even the really good people can be. He taught me that, and then he was gone. I knew he cared for me back then, and in a strange way, I know he still does although we don’t speak. And what all these years have taken away in memory, I remember something about him quite vividly. He had this long worm-like scar that ran down the center of his left knee. It was from surgery to fix what basketball had broken. It was smooth and wrinkled and felt like a silky soft, well, worm. As I ran my finger down it from time to time he’d tell me to stop. It felt weird because the tissue surrounding the scar was numb. He knew I was touching him, but could not necessarily feel me. I loved him so much it took me over a decade, and well into my marriage, before I could bear to part with those thread-bare pajamas.

Right this minute I am crushed by losing someone else I love. He too, has a huge scar. It’s on his right shoulder. While going through the law enforcement academy he was injured in a take-down drill. He had to have surgery to fix what it had broken. After surgery he contracted a major staph infection which ate away at the incision site and left a deep indentation of missing bone and tissue and a pretty big scar. He almost died. This painful tragedy manifested in scar-form was one of my favorite parts of his body. Laying in bed, always, my fingers would work their way toward that scar, sometimes unconsciously. He’d ask me why I did that. “I guess I just like scars.” I’d say. “It means you’ve lived.” He said that was funny – but what I think he meant was ironic – because he said he was self-conscious about that scar. But now it was one of his lover’s most favorite things. Our only Christmas together he bought me a collector’s book which was actually signed by Oprah. But that wasn’t all he gave me. He taught me something, too. In losing him I finally knew how to trust myself.

Because when we met I was very broken, filthy, battered from head to toe. I was in the midst of nasty divorce, and on my way to trial. Snaking your way out of a toxic relationship there are always landmines just in the periphery of where you know you need to go. A lot of my landmines looked like trust-issues. I didn’t just not trust him, I didn’t trust me. How could I ever be sure of any decision I ever made when I’d made so many MAJORLY horrible ones thus far? I played this dance with him for 6 months where I’d push him away, skeptical and crazed with fear, and he’d pull me back just before I jumped. This happened so many times, the pushing, pulling. After 6 months the fulcrum on our relationship tipped. I was the one pulling, and he was the one wanting to jump. Then he did. It all took 9 impossibly short months.

But I saw him. I did. And I think I still do, although, as he fades away his outline gets fuzzier. It’s hard to tell where he ends, and where I have reshaped him in the hazy hindsight of lost love. And now, my only wish is that I taught him something, too. Because I do not want to take more from this life than was so generously given to me in the way of incredible, loving people. I have met so many. I have loved so many even if I didn’t know how to show it, or name it, or trust it.

But I do now. Or at least I’m much closer than before. And even if I never see him again, I know that I am capable of trusting. Because he taught me that, and I will forever be grateful. I’m sure it will take me many years before I bring myself to put that collector’s book away, where it’s not always on my shelf, in my periphery, continuing to remind me to listen to that still, small voice, the one that urges me to keep talking about everything even when I’m afraid. To keep loving the scars more than the memory of the hurt that caused them.

 

Lessons on Loneliness, Translations and Bedtime Stories

Because of shared custody, full-day Kindergarten, and a busy schedule, my daughter and I usually, truly connect during the week on the nights I get to put her to bed; which is approximately 53% of the time. That’s what happens in divorce, you only get a percentage of your child’s life.

I lay with her before she falls asleep, and her inner thoughts and worries come bubbling to the surface like secrets. She tells me as much as she is able to understand, and I translate the feelings she does not have the words to say. Two nights ago she cried big, heaving tears about a recent birthday party where two girls, whom she’s been friends with for about three years, wouldn’t “follow her.”

These three girls spend a lot of time together because I’m also friends with their moms, and we like spending time together, too. These two friends of mine are two big reasons I was able to survive this last year of divorce. They supported me, included me, made me feel like I was not alone in this city where the only family I knew stopped speaking to me the day I filed for divorce.

But lately, I haven’t felt so included. For a variety of reasons I feel a rift between me and these two friends. They are both married. They have two children who are the same ages, and all their kids are friends. They aren’t limited in their plans by shared custody and “weekends off” and the ability to pass the kids off to a husband for an impromptu shopping trip on a Saturday afternoon. When we get together their husbands idle off to the side with their beers and talk about husbandy things. I watch. I listen. I see the updates on Facebook when they go on “date nights” and I have no plus one anymore.

I’ve been feeling this distance and the accompanying loneliness and it hurts pretty bad. So when my daughter cried to me two nights ago about not being “followed,” I cried with her, because I knew she was trying to say she felt alone, and left out. Usually, I’m not at a loss for wise words of motherly advice translated into 5-year-old speak, but I was this night. I just layed there and said, “I know, baby. Me too. Feeling lonely and left out is miserable and it’s okay to cry. I’ll cry with you. Okay? Because I’m feeling pretty left out too.”

Then I remembered this book I bought a couple of weeks ago at a spiritual bookstore. It is a book for kids called, On My Way To A Happy Life by Deepak Chopra. I love this book. I gush over this book. Because I gush, they groan when I try to read it at night, but I read it anyway. And by the end, they are always rapt with attention. It’s one of my favorite things right now.

Deepak Chopra On My Way to a Happy Life

As we lay there crying I asked her if she remembered what the book said about getting the things we want in life? I reminded her that it said she needed to give away the things she wants. If she wants her friends to “follow” her, she’s got to follow them, first. If she wants to be heard and seen and included, she’s got to hear, see and include others. And the best way to do these things, is with a giving spirit, and a happy heart. It was truly advice for us both.

I think I might be a professional loner. I move away from people, I alienate them, I build walls and hide behind them every single day. I choose people who are cold and distant so that I don’t have to thaw my icy exterior. Truthfully, this blog is my alter ego. My everyday self only understands so much, and the voice in my head that writes here is my wiser self that translates what I do not have the words to say outloud.

I justify these things easily. Because life has not been kind to me in the ways of love and so I have grown a heart of thorns. I have been told (more than once) that I am not easy to love. And I’m not. So scared am I of the pain that seems to always follow the fall. So terrified of the vulernability and weakness I’ve laid on the table the moment it all goes to shit. It seems a thousand times easier to stay walled up in my self-imposed cage. This is the part of my disintigrated marriage that I own. I am not easy to love.

But I know I’m not impossible. I did try really hard in my marriage. But sadly, that was a lost cause for many reasons. And I am all the more frightened from it. But I can’t give up, right? I have to keep trying. Somehow, I have to find the wisdom to keep turning toward the light. I know this now. This blog helps.

But it’s too late to change what has already happened. It is too late to go back and impart this wisdom on my 23 year old self, my 27 year old self and my 36 year old self. But it’s not too late today. Today I will choose to do the scary things, like trying to give away pieces of me without being frightened how they might be treated. And I will do this by taking the pieces that others give me, and caring for them like they were my own. I will give away what I so desperately need. To be seen.

We always hear that our children mirror our emotions. My daughter and I crying together over our shared loneliness of these same friends in our lives has never illuminated this more clearly for me, and thus, it has never been more clear what I must do.

There are only two people on this planet I have never held back from loving. They have had all of me from the moment they were conceived, and I hope they always will. These two are my greatest translators in this crazy world about the meaning of love, and if for no one else, (actually, I can’t think of better people) I will try for them. I will do the scariest things just to show them what happens when you’re brave enough to expose your heart.

And so, even though everytime I open this page I’m scared, I will continue to open it. Even though I am terrified of loving another again, I will try. Even though my unwisest self pulls me into the shadows behind my walls and thorns, I will continue to step out into the sunlight. Because they need to know a world with that kind of warmth. And we will be each other’s translators of that kind of love.

His Hands

On our first date he sat across the booth from me at Outback Steak House and over a Blooming Onion he said, “I bet you’ve never dated a guy like me.”

I replied, “What do you mean?”

He held up his fingers, palms toward him, fluttered them and said, “A guy with dirty fingernails.”

He was right. I hadn’t. I’d recently left an eight year marriage from a soft-handed man. My now ex-husband was hygenically conscious and washed his hands after every meal, every task; lotioning them up in the dry winters. My husband’s fingers, like mine, typed on a computer all day. They didn’t smooth wood or grout tile or carry stacks of lumber and crack from overuse like this man’s hands. This man’s hands were tools fastened to his wrists. They were like giant boulders on the end of steel rope; mangled, filthy, misshapen and torn to pieces. At this point in my journey, I wanted different hands.

On our second date he took his hands and he used them to help paint my bedroom. Never once afraid of getting them dirty, he wiped away the excess paint without thought or consideration. He ate fajitas that night on my back porch with Celedon colored cuticles.

Then one day, he took his hands and he built my toddler son’s “big boy” bed. He took large rails of oak from his own childhood bed and he fastened them to a frame. When he watched me look sentimentally at my son’s dismantled crib, he waited until I was gone, and then took a piece of it and used it for a headboard. Back then, in the beginning, I didn’t even know how to make him understand how much it meant to me.

Over 9 months, I’d get to know those hands pretty well. They held me so kindly while I sobbed in some of my worst moments of despair. One evening, when I was too weak and sad and scared to move from my bed, he took his hands and he brought me my shoes. He gently opened the tongues, undid the laces and he slipped them on my feet. Then he took both his hands and lifted me up, off that bed, and he made me live again. And again. And again.

Sometimes, as we lay together at night I would take his big, rough, more-knuckle-than-phalange fingers and I would run the pads of my thumb over his thumbnails. They were as flat as sanded pine. He’d laugh and say, “My thumbnails are permanently flattened from hitting them with a hammer so many times.” Oh I loved that about him. And I loved those thumbnails. They were my favorite part of those tough, gnarled, gentle hands.

With those hands he’s built homes, not just houses. With those hands he black-belted in more than one martial art but never talks about it. Those scratchy and knobby fingers held his newborn baby girl against his chest, and after watching YouTube videos, those stiff fingers braided her long, 10-year-old hair. Although he could so easily, he’d never use them to hurt her, or me, or anyone, really.

But he’s gone now.

A few times, toward the end, when I was finally seeing the beauty of his hands, he’d come home from working hours and hours on someone else’s house and he’d have cracks in the skin on his fingers that ached horribly. I’d inspect them, go to the medicine cabinet and retrieve anything I could find to make the pain go away. He smiled so sweetly when I covered his wounds with Sleeping Beauty band-aids. I’d ask him if it felt better and he said no, but it will tomorrow.

He left because he feels like his hands aren’t good enough for mine. He left because his hands are as empty as turned over buckets and he’s afraid of how that emptiness will hurt me. Nothing I say will convince him that his hands are enough.

And now, all I can think about are all the things his hands have done. And now I cry for different reasons. I cry when I remember that one morning when he took his right hand in my left, and his left around my waist, and slow danced in my kitchen to silence after I’d just spent several minutes raging over an angry email from my ex. Now, all I can think about is how those rough hands softened me time and time again.

His HandsAs things were looking like they were coming to an end, we spent one last weekend together at the beach. While there, we built a fort, like children, and sat under it and out of the rain. We cooked by a fire. A fire he built. We took shelter behind logs of driftwood, logs he moved into just the right spaces. When I saw his hands I asked him to hold them out, I wanted a picture.

He asked me why I wanted a picture of his hands. I wasn’t able to convey all the reasons why, but it was because I loved them, and appreciated them, and I knew I might never see them like that again. I needed that memory.

Those huge, hard-as-stone hands could build anything, fight for anyone who needed it, and yet… I know he would never use them to hurt me.

In the end, he was right, I’d never dated a man like him. But someday, I hope I might again.

To Kelly and Jackie: You Are the Lucky Ones

I have watched for years as a Facebook acquaintance grappled with the loss of her sister from cancer. First, it was news of bad tests. Then, it was the hope of remission. Then, more bad tests. Then, less hope. Then, it was only a matter of time. A couple of weeks ago her sister died. This weekend, she was buried.

Kelly is her name. She is vibrant and blonde and in her late 30s. Her sister who died is Jackie, a strong-looking brunette not much older. I do not know Kelly well, and I’m positive I never met Jackie, but I feel a great amount of love for their family. She has exposed so much of her pain on such a public forum full of people like me, acquaintances, that I admire her vulnerability.

She has written what amounts to love letters to her sister. Open, honest, BRAVE, heart-wrenching love letters accompanied by touching, ordinary pictures which could fill anyone’s photo albums. I have poured over those pictures. I have noticed the particular curves of their smiles. The familiar, not at all awkward touches between them, the laughter I can almost hear. Kelly and Jackie I don’t have those kinds of pictures of my sister in my photo albums. My sister and I are what you’d call “estranged.” I have not spoken to her in a few years, but that was no great loss as I never had a meaningful relationship with her in all my life. Like kerosene and flame, we never mixed well.

I am the younger one, like Kelly. But where Kelly and her sister grew up in love my sister and I grew up in something else. My sister dislikes my existence for whatever reason. My presence was nearly always met with rolled eyes, a disgusted face and harsh words. I can only assume that the kind of person I represent, sets her off. We are so diametrically different. Honestly, I’m not sure anymore what it is about me, but she never liked it. Any of it. And I am not faultless, I am a hard person to love. And after 37 years of fights, I am numb.

So, there you have it. Two people who have difficulties expressing love, or being loved, and who grew up competing for the love and attention of our parents are now real and virtual strangers. She has me blocked on Facebook.

My sister has always kept a journal. She has stacks and stacks of them and I used to read them when I was younger. I knew it was wrong, but I just wanted to know more about this stranger with whom I shared a bathroom and a bloodline, and so I read them secretly. About a year ago I was visiting my parent’s with my children. My son, only two at the time, pulled a cheap lock off a small box that was sitting in the hallway by her old bedroom; left over stuff from when she moved out. I opened the box and neatly arranged inside were rows and rows of her journals. I pulled one out and flipped to a random page.  “You know who is coming in town again. I can’t stand her. I will probably just leave and not come home until she leaves.” I shut the journal. I didn’t need to read more.

So I watch Kelly go through this unspeakable pain and it tugs at my deep wounds. While I know she’s hurting more than a status update can convey, I want her to know how lucky she is. Her sister is gone, but she had one for a while who loved her, and whom she loved madly, deeply, without refrain, and to me… she is the lucky one. She posted something today about how Monday morning everyone will go back to their “normal” lives but she won’t. She will still be feeling the sister-shaped void of Jackie.

Well Kelly, you’re not alone. No one gets to go back to normal. We all carry the pain of the loss of people we love, or should love, or never got a chance to love.

In the study of mind-body connection they say that emotional pain is sometimes trapped in your hips. You do “hip-openers” in yoga to release these things from your body. My sister is in my hips. So are parts of my mother and certainly my ex-husband. As much as I try to open them sometimes, they just won’t stretch in all the ways I’d like. No, there’s no going back to “normal.”

This past year, the first in many, my sister sent me a Christmas present. It was a lovely box of beautiful smelling things. She also sent me the first birthday card in years. It was only slightly sentimental, but I know it was as far as she could go. I have yet to thank her. I’ve kept her address next to my computer, but for some reason, I have not sent that note. Afraid, I guess – the loss in my life feels too great sometimes to open it up to more.

But today, I donate what I can to help Jackie’s family recover from the cost of caring for her all these years of her terminal illness. It’s the least I can do for the Brave Love Kelly has allowed me to witness so freely. And I will donate under the name of my sister. As a thank you. And in an effort to release the uncomfortable ache in my hips, and maybe, just maybe work my way into a new normal.

No Kelly, no one can go back. But we can go on. And maybe we can work our way a little more open if we try.

Jackie and family

If you’d like to donate to help Jackie’s husband and her two small children cover the costs of caring for Jackie, here is the link. http://www.gofundme.com/jackiesmith-malena

How to Love Someone Who Hates You

The latest venom my ex husband spat via email was, “I won’t be wasting another minute of my life trying to explain something to you.” This came after I asked simple and reasonable questions regarding the split of our financial lives. You see, he’s a financial advisor. This is his area of expertise, and, foolishly or faithfully, I let him have control over it since before we were even married. Money has always been high on the list of things he loves.

And so here I am at 37 and I haven’t done my own taxes for 12 years. I didn’t even know how much money we had, or where it was located, until I decided I needed to leave this marriage. I have always respected money, but it was never on the list of things I loved.

And now, after orders have been handed down by a judge proceeding a lengthy and costly trial, we are finally separating the last part of our entangled, paper lives. Logically, there are things I still need to know, details to sort out, and just like everything else up to this point, he refuses to be a catalyst for moving forward, still stuck in a need to punish, to hate, to impose revenge.

And yet, he’s the father of the two people I love most in this world, and he will be until the day I die. They love him, and so, I too must find a way not to hate him.

The only way I know how to do this is to remind myself of his humanity. Some days, when the venom flows and my daughter tells me that she no longer wants a kitten because daddy says I won’t take care of it, the effort it takes to remind myself of his humanity feels like slogging through quicksand. Even so, I take a deep breath and force myself to honor and respect this person who does not respect me, who, I have no doubt would smile upon learning I had a terminal illness and find joy in any misfortune which might befall me.

This is the most challenging thing I have ever had to do.  It stretches my capacity for compassion and then forces me to stretch further, deeper, down to the bottom of everything I have until some days, I am all but empty.

It requires a daily practice of remembering over and over and over that he is simply, a human being. He is fallible. He is blinded in so many ways – just like we all are from time to time – to what really matters in this life. And that is another thing I must practice daily; reminding myself over and over what really matters in this life.Picture saved with settings embedded.

And so I have come to realize that his hatred of me, is actually a blessing. I get to remember over and over what I love, what deserves my love, and the power that love contains. 

These children, they taught me what love is and what it is not. The love I feel for them, it humbles me, it reduces me to my elements. It feels like those pictures you see of galaxies far, far away; unimaginably expansive, mystically beautiful, mysteriously familiar. This love is elegantly simple, and intricately layered, and has no comprehensible outer edge. It contains all the elements of the universe.

It is a the strongest thing I know and it is what I’ve come to understand as the most important thing in this life. And the truth is, just like the stars it has immense power.  It will give you strength to do the unimaginable. It will even make you to pray for your enemies. And so I do. And so I do.

The Hero’s Journey: You Will Survive

The Hero's JourneyI open this page a lot. I write some words. I erase them. I try again. I close the page.

When I first filed for divorce about a year ago I was still taking night classes at The University of Washington. It was my last semester of my two-year certificate program. I pulled my professor aside and told him what I was going through, and that I may not be able to complete the weekly assignments. He said something that stuck with me, “Don’t worry. The writing will come back. Just keep showing up and coming to class, the writing will come back in time.” 

It’s not that I have nothing to say. Actually, I have SO MUCH to say. I just can’t find the right words to say it right now. I have been disconnected from that part of me that knows how to express what’s deep, that part that can sort out the pieces of truth lying in weight on my heart, that thing that spins sadness into meaning.

Did you know that only 5% of divorces make it all the way to trial? So, chances are, if you’re getting a divorce, you’re going to “settle” before you see the inside of a courtroom. Both parties are going to put the hurt and anger aside, perhaps agree to disagree, and make plans for the next phase of life; hopefully putting the children’s needs first.

Not in my case. Nope. No such luck. And I have a lot to say about accepting your circumstances.

The last two months I’ve been through mediation, trial prep, and yes, a three-day trial. I’ve sat next to a judge for several hours and plead my case under oath and threat of perjury. I’ve spent thousands of dollars, and countless hours in preparation and hand-wringing. It has been other-wordly. It has taken a deep reserve of strength I did not know I possessed. And I have a lot to say about strength.

I never wanted to be in this position. In fact, I tried really, really hard not to get to this point. I tried to compromise. I tried to look the other direction as someone stole from me and my children. I tried to get along for the greater good. But each time I gave a mile, they wanted a hundred more. And part of the reason I filed for divorce was because I was determined NOT to be bullied into one more wrong decision. So, I ended up in court. And I have a lot to say about forgiveness.

The claims I’ve had to fight are nothing short of outrageous; from abuse, to mental-illness, to alcoholism, to neglect. Everything has been thrown against my wall to see what sticks. So far, none of it has… because none of it is true. This is what happens when you divorce a bully. It’s the same variety you see on the playground; angry, insecure, unable to process their emotions by any other means than abuse. And I have a lot to say about standing up for yourself.

But all of these things are precisely the reason why I can’t write. Each time I open this page, I start to write something meaningful, and a few paragraphs in, I drop into the overwhelming injustice and fear. My ability to see the bigger picture is clouded in fear. And I have a lot to say about fear.

But at the end of the day, it’s not about me. It’s not about every slight or allegation tossed my way. It’s about something bigger. It’s about the human condition. It’s about what it takes to overcome life’s seemingly insurmountable obstacles. And that is the lesson in all this mess. And I have a lot to say about that.

Because life isn’t about what happens to you. It’s about how you rise to the occasion. It’s about how much grace, how much faith, how much perseverance and the unfathomable strength of the human spirit to overcome what’s been laid upon its doorstep. Because we are no victims of this world. We are witnesses. And we need to stay aware, awake, and determined to stand inside the fire, be burned, and live to tell the story. And I have a lot to say about stories. 

I’ve grieved buckets over this loss in my life. I’ve grieved oceans for the loss in my children’s lives. I have disconnected from my tether to this world, and I have lived so that I can tell you what it feels like to come back from there. And the lessons are the ones you’ve seen a hundred times in what Joseph Campbell laid out as… THE HERO’S JOURNEY.

1. Every one of us will pass through a door. Many of us will be pushed, some of us will choose, but we will all pass through this door. The door is labeled, “The Path of No Return.”  It is a one-way trip. Once you step passed the threshold, there is no going back. The life you knew is gone and the one before you is unknown. Beyond the door is solid black. You cannot see an inch in front of your face. There is no sound, no smell, no way of knowing what lies beyond. This is your own, personal, hero’s journey. Don’t think for a moment it isn’t.

2. If you are not pushed through, the first thing you must do is choose to pass. But before you do, muster up as much faith as you can. It may not be a lot, but you’ll be surprised how little you need. Faith will be your only armor, your only ally. It will be the drop of water in a desert, and the crumb of food which will sustain you for days. Pack it in whatever you can find; a pocket, a purse, a knapsack on a stick. You will need nothing, BUT this going forward. Don’t worry about how much you have. Faith is like marshmallow, it expands the more you use it.

3. No matter what (and I can’t stress this enough) you must pass through this door. If you were pushed, this is not your choice, but accept it as though it were. It will be one of the hardest steps you take in your life, and if you only have to do it once, count yourself as one of the blessed. But you must pass. You can’t say no to this journey. The life behind you has already changed, and the only way to grow into yourself is to walk through this black hole and into the unknown. Walk slowly.

4. It’s okay to be afraid. If you’re not afraid, you’re not doing it right. Gather your loved ones. It is now that you will find out who these people are. Hint: Sometimes they’re not who you think. 

5. Then begins the gauntlet. It feels like one of those pitched black, rollercoaster tunnels at an amusement park that goes on for days; it’s chaotic, unsteady, frightening, nausiating. In fact, you will probably throw up a few times. You’ll feel like you’re falling forever and there will be no guarantee of safe landing. Just breathe. That’s your only job right now.

6. Then you will fail. Miserably. And it will hurt. A lot. But know that this is part of the journey, and wrong turns in the dark are a part of the deal. Keep moving.

7. You may drink a fifth of vodka, smoke a pack of cigarettes, go on a bender in Vegas or yell at your mother… ask for forgiveness as soon as possible. Most importantly, forgive yourself. You will need to do this a lot. You should try to get used to it. (Ask me how I know.)

8. Test your faith. Submerge it in water for three days, hold it up to flames, put it in the dryer on high heat. All it will do is get stronger but you won’t know this until you test it. This is a good thing, a hard thing, but a good thing.

9. Then keep moving. Keep trying. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS TRYING. Again. And again. And again. 

10. You’ll make progress. It will feel like moving a mountain with a teaspoon. But keep moving. Keep breathing. Keep trying.

11. Then one day, probably when you least expect it, there will be  pin-prick of light in the blackness. This light is the “other” side. It will always come no matter how much you think it won’t. It’s called hope.

12. Right about now you will feel accustomed to the dark, but you’re not, don’t let the dark fool you. You were never meant to live there, you’ve just forgotten about the light. It’s okay, that’s what the faith was for, pull a little from your pocket and forgive yourself for doubting. Keep moving.

13. When you see the light expand from a tiny dot, into a ray of sunshine, now is the time pause, look behind you, take stock of all the stumbles. Then turn around and face the light again. Pull out a little faith for sustenance on the last stretch. Keep moving.

14. There will be no ticker-tape parade or crape paper finish line to burst through. You will not win a medal for surviving. Stepping into the light is more like a gradual stroll. One day, you’ll turn around, and that darkness will seem a hundred miles away. Now is the time to stop moving. Stand still. Empty your pockets and marvel at all the things found in the darkness – self-worth, perseverance, real relationships, insurmountable faith – turn these things over in your hands like precious gems. Hold them close. Know that they are yours and no one can ever take them away. Be proud. Be humbled. Say thank you.

15. Now you’re ready to tell anyone who will listen about your story. Tell them it was painful and scary and you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. Then tell them you lived. And they will too.

That is the message I keep trying to tell. That is the message I will probably tell for the rest of my life. Stay tuned. These precious gems have so much to say.

My Forgotten Lover – New York City

Her triage of artfully arranged photos – a sepia-toned antique truck, a fox in a suit, a black and white close up of a sheaf of wheat –they mock me from the wall of her adorable Brooklyn apartment. Those pictures, along with her library of literary hardcovers and her collection of vintage vinyls propped up against an old turntable—they bludgeon me with the same silent message – take a good look, this is the road you did not take. On a recent business trip, as I walked with my old, high school friend and her friends down the quaint back streets of her Brooklyn neighborhood, she passionately pointed out interesting details of the houses, the restaurants, the architecture and history. Her and her friends laughed as they told stories about the places they’d been together, the good times they had in this bar or that pub. They knew the best places to eat, the unique cocktail to order, the salad to die for. It was hard to push down my jealousy.

Fifteen years ago, in my early 20s I wanted to move to New York sight unseen. I was drawn to the city like a misfit to the circus. At the end of my senior year of college in 2000, still living in my Midwest hometown, I told my then-boyfriend I was applying for an internship at CBS in New York after graduation. We had the same major and he thought applying was a good idea too. He got it. I didn’t. Asshole. But I went to New York that year anyway for work, and afterward, I was equal parts swooning with desire and shaking in my pumps, painfully, literally because New York has the hardest streets in the known universe and you will walk for miles. I knew nothing about these things.

New York was exactly what I’d expected and so much more. I fell widly in love. Each time I visited I’d walk for blocks and imagine which part of the city I’d live in. I’d look in the windows of apartments and thumb through For Rent flyers. I’d eaves drop on conversations on the subway and scan job sites for postings. But I never allowed myself to seriously consider taking that leap; a naive 23-year-old, I was much too scared to fall. Loving New York City was like having a crush on a hot guy who’s out of your league. The longing can be excruciating. Eventually, I picked apart and highlighted the negatives – too expensive, too crowded, too impersonal, too dangerous – convincing myself that NYC wasn’t really what I wanted after all just to spare myself the agony of ultimate rejection. I reasoned that I had a foolish girl’s heartache and I should wise up and be more practical. Moving to New York was a dumb idea.

Like that too hot guy, I forgot about New York. In the decade since I’d last stepped foot in the city, I’ve gotten married, sued a company, lost a career, had two babies, two homes, lived in two other cities, built a second career, became a writer, and now, trying to start over after leaving an abusive marriage. My friend from high school has lived in New York City since the year I decided to give up on living in New York City. In the last 15 years, she built a successful career, a network of interesting friends, has a passport stamped on every page, and is truly happy. She goes to bed every night snuggled up to my old crush. Listening to her stories about her 15 years in the city it was clear that NYC had become her lover too, and they were very intimate, and I was very jealous.

Over the two days with her I’d been transported into some modern-day version of It’s a Wonderful Life where I was being smacked in the face with the alternative version of a life I did not choose; a life I could have lived if only I hadn’t been so fucking afraid of my goddamn shadow. If only I hadn’t been a bundle of insecurity and a needy little thing trying hard not to fall in love with a lover who had the power to shatter me into a million pieces. Maybe I too would be living in an ecclectically decorated Brooklyn apartment, and “leaf peeping” while antiquing in Connecticut on the weekends, and taking bi-annual trips to China on business?  Maybe I wouldn’t be going through a nasty divorce or be a single mom? Maybe I wouldn’t have learned the hard way that a broken heart isn’t the worst thing, but a heart you don’t follow is.

New York is Everyone's LoverAs we walked down the streets of Brooklyn after having a fabulous dinner and drinks with her friends, I told her about all the ways I loved her life. She put her arm in my arm. We were tipsy and wobbly from the cocktails. She admitted that she loved her life too. She also admitted that there was something missing. Then, her and her friend told me how difficult and daunting it was for people to meet one another in a city like New York. How impossible and improbably it can feel to find a single, similar fish, in a deep, deep sea with 13 million aquatic varieties. I hadn’t realized it, but I’d spent the entire night with three, attractive, intelligent, late-30’s women who had all been forever single. As it turns out, New York is everyone’s lover, and the prospect of having another, well, sometimes isn’t as enticing.

As I walked through the city alone the next day I thought about these lives; hers, mine, and the one I didn’t choose. I was on a break from the conference I was attending, and I wanted to walk. When I came to an intersection, I simply chose the direction that gave me the ‘go’ signal. I did this for an hour while thinking about life and the paths we take and why. I can’t say there was closure, or zero regret, or a feeling of acceptance or relief. I only realized that you take the path you’re brave enough to follow at the time. Maybe it’s as simple as the one that’s giving you a ‘go’ signal. And if you can find joy along the way, you’re doing alright. If you can look back and say I did the best I could, and if you can look forward and say I’ll try my best tomorrow, then that’s all that matters regardless of zip code, relationship status, or how many artfully arranged photos you have on your walls. Because I don’t think it’s about the walls, or their location, but about the people you invite inside them and the love that remains when everything else is gone.

Take the path you're brave enough to take

But I still really liked the one of the fox in a suit.  

Like a Feather: My Life’s Lesson Right Now

The last “big” purchase I made on our joint credit card, before we went our separate ways, was a black, thigh-length, down-filled, winter coat. Although it was January, it was already on sale, and I bought it from fancy-schmancy Nordstrom for $150.

I needed a new coat. The one I had been wearing for a couple of years was from Costco. It was white and had gotten dingy. One of the pockets was ripped and every time I put my hand inside, I felt the inner-lining. The zipper was starting to go too.

I splurged on my new coat and I loved it. It was light-weight, but warm, and could even smoosh up into a small ball inside a built-in pouch for travelling… or clubbing, whichever.

All through the rest of last winter, in some of my darkest  moments of separating from my husband, this black coat was my cloak; my warm, full-coverage hiding place with deep pockets and a high collar. But there was one tiny issue. Every now and again, while driving or sitting in writing class and staring off into the ether, a tiny feather would float past my face.

Sometime in February, my 2-year-old son crawled on top of the counter and knocked off a glass ornament which shattered into a million pieces.  This ornament was filled with soft, speckled, brown feathers. It was symbolic to me. Every time I saw it, it reminded me of a phrase –– a saying which encapsulates how I want to live in this world: “Like a feather on the breath of God.”

Like a feather on the breath of God, Hildegard Bingen

So all throughout the cold, dark winter I kept seeing feathers float past me at random moments for one of these two reasons. And wouldn’t you know, as soon as summer came, and the coat was packed, the doors flung open, my daughter started a “feather collection” from ones she’d find in the yard or on walks. Now, whenever she finds a feather she puts it in a yellow bucket for safe keeping. My son finds feathers too. He holds them up to his big sister and says, “Brookie, I found another feather for your collection.”

This morning, as I sat on my front porch and drank my coffee, I talked with my children about love. I don’t remember how the conversation began, but I remember telling my daughter how very loved she was by everyone — me, her daddy, her grandparents, her brother.  And she asked, “And God?” And I said, yes, especially God. He loves you most of all. Then she turns to me, in her infinite 5-year-old wisdom, and says, “Why isn’t God a she?”

Touche, darling, touche.

So I said, “OF COURSE God’s a SHE!”  I told her God is a he and a she, but if she wanted to call God “she,” then I would too. Done. Henceforth in our house God shall now be a “she.”

Just then my son looks above my head and yells… “Look Mommy, it’s a feather coming down!” And sure enough, right behind me, there it came floating — as light as could be.

My daughter jumped up the steps behind me and caught it in mid-air. “A bird must have just flown by and dropped it!” So excited to have seen a feather falling from the sky.

So I said, “Yes, and she was beautiful, and must love us so much she wanted us to have one of her feathers.”

I was thinking that feather was from God. And that it was a sign, like all the other feathers over the past seven months. And suddenly that moment became one of those moments. Moments when you stop, and pay close attention to everything around you, take in every detail, memorize every sense, and then lock it away in your memory bank to unfurl on cold, winter days.

And so I looked at my babies, really looked at them. I studied them like I would a fine painting in the Louvre. Their lightened, summer hair falling everywhere; the way my daughter constantly sweeps her’s out of her face with her right hand; their smooth, soft, tanned cheek bones; a new, tiny freckle on my daughter’s nose and all 20 of those tiny dirt-filled fingernails. Those smiles, oh, those little teeth hurt me so deep. It all made me want to cry. And so I did. And I told my sweet little girl that I was so happy I was going to cry. Then she put her hands over my eyes and said in the most cheerful voice something I said to her on a rough night a few days back when she was feeling sad, “Let those eyes cry. Let the tears come, Mama. You’ll feel better when you do.” She is a special one, this girl.

I’m going through the toughest trial of my life thus far, and yet, I am being reminded all the time that it won’t last forever. The pain will rise and flow and fall and rise again on a burst of unseen air, and then it will disappear into the atmosphere again. It will move through time and space as unpredictable as the wind, and yet, if I can stay soft and light, I will not fall, and I will not break.

This is not at all what I want to do most of the time. What I want to do is go all Mama Bear, claws out, teeth bared. What I want to do is yell at God for how utterly ridiculous and unfair this life can be, and ask how HOW! could anyone behave this way?!?

But God knows all this already, and she is telling me what I must do in spite of what I want to do. She whispers to me softly, like breath, that this too shall pass. She’s telling me that the sooner I learn to trust and let go, to float and fall and rise again… the better off we’ll all be.

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This Single Mothers Mother’s Day

She learned about Mother’s Day at her preschool. Every year the teachers spend days making special projects for us Mommies. They splatter paint canvases on “Jackson Pollack Day” which they wrap in hand painted dish towels and tie with a bow. The kids fill out ad lib style questionnaires about their mommies and paint pictures of flowers.  Then we have a special “tea” where the kids sing songs and serve us punch and cake. With all this preparation my daughter began talking about Mother’s Day two weeks in advance.

I’m going through a contentious divorce. I filed in January and it was my decision. Since then, I can count on half a hand how many times I’ve had a civil conversation with my ex. At this point, he won’t even allow me to approach his car to help strap my children in their car seats. My 2-year-old son has started mimicking his father’s angry tone and yells, “Mommy get away from Daddy’s car” whenever he pulls into the drive. It breaks my heart more than my ex ever could.

Last week, when my ex came to pick up the children, the first thing my daughter asked him was if he would take her to the store to buy me a Mother’s Day present. I cringed. I knew he wouldn’t. I knew her request would fall on deaf– no, angry, vengeful, cold-hearted ears.

I would have had someone else take her to buy a present but there is no one. I live 1200 miles away from all my family and most of my friends. I moved to this city to be near my ex’s family; a family that also refuses to speak to me because they choose to believe the only side of the story they know. I suppose believing anything else is too painful.

First, I tried like heck to convince my daughter that I didn’t need a store-bought gift, but when that girl gets an idea, there is no derailing it. (I wonder where she gets that from?) Then I sent my ex an email about my daughter’s request because he refuses to speak to me in person. I pleaded with him to please help her buy a gift. I told him I would reimburse him for whatever it costs –just please help her buy one. I told him we shouldn’t set the precedent that honoring our parents is an unworthy cause. But most importantly, I didn’t want my daughter to show up on Mother’s Day empty-handed. That’s a horrible feeling, to stand in front of someone you love without a thing to offer.

But she did. Because hell would have to freeze over TWICE before my ex would even look in my general direction with a feeling other than contempt and malice for “gravely ruining his life.”

I knew being a single mother would be full of moments like these. Moments when your hands are tied, your back’s against the wall, and all you can do is hope that it is enough to just open your arms and say, “honey, I love you, YOU are all the gift I’ll ever need.” Moments when your heart would shatter into a million pieces for things you cannot fix. Maybe that’s ALL of motherhood though.

For better, and often worse, I’m a relentless self-improver. Every failure, every trial, every obstacle put in my way is an opportunity for personal growth; a way to find deeper meaning; learn something new about me or the world I live in. I have become ruthless at removing negativity from my space — be it someone else’s or my own.

But what happens when you’re out of options? What happens when the only path forward is not littered with lessons in self-improvement, but appears to be only one of endurance? To put your head down and simply endure.

I have only one answer to these unfixable problems and unendurable endurances. It is the answer that calls out to me each time I fall down the rabbit hole of self-improvement. It is the answer that whispers much too softly when I’ve run out of questions to ask. It is the only thing worth a damn to me anymore.

And it is love.

Love what is happening to me as though I’d chosen it for myself. Love the shit out of whatever pile of shit I’m standing in, and trust that it’s happening for a greater reason than I can know right now. Love thy neighbor, thy enemy, and everything in between. And love myself enough to collapse into the embrace that says, “honey, I love you, YOU are all the gift I’ll ever need.” Because someone believes that about me too. And it’s so true.

So come Father’s Day, I will help my children buy a present for their dad; a man who “hates” me. I will buy him a gift so that my children won’t have to show up at his door empty-handed. I’ll even tie it with a bow and zero malice. And I won’t even ask to be reimbursed because there are many things in this world more valueable than money. mother's day

And this is one of them.