When Life Gets Out of Control

After some informal inquiries with many of my friends and acquaintances it would seem the consensus is… August suuuucked. In a time which is supposed to be of leisure and good weather – and in the past has meant birthdays and anniversaries and vacations for me –  for the first time in my life, I was barely hanging on.

I experienced a mass exodus of people from my life; some were tangential, some close friends, some romantic interests. But each week in August, just like the crashing waves against cliff sides came a fresh, powerful and unstoppable blow of loss. And each week, I sank deeper into the darkest of lonelinesses.

I remember sitting in the sunshine on my back deck – where I have sat in so many moments of pain and joy over the years – and being taken over by a shaking terror. This scared me most of all. I was so utterly confused (a state I do not function in well) and I was so utterly alone (another state I do not function in well) and I was asking, no begging, whomever or whatever listens in times like these… what have I done to deserve this pain?  Where did I go wrong? What is this life for anyway when I have no control over anything?!?

I have a tendency to blame myself when my life isn’t looking the way I think it should. And yes, it’s about control and believing that I am the captain of my ship. While this has its benefits in building the life you want and creating opportunity, it offers no solace when, as they say, shit happens.

Because that’s what August was mostly about… shit. just. happening. And I had little or no control over anything.

We can, however, control how we react – at least that is what I’m told –  and I’m a little ashamed to report that I did not react well a lot of the time. I was petulant, demanding, angry and blaming. I rattled off harsh texts, I wailed in agony and anger, I no longer wanted to care about anything or anyone. I shut myself off. Not my finest moments.

But at the end of the day, or the end of August, I slowly began to find my way back to myself. There were some days when I didn’t leave two rooms of my home. I read, I listened to music, I contemplated and meditated and sank so deep into my core just to get a foothold on one hour of my day. Other days, I went to yoga and made concerted efforts to focus on just one breath at a time. Because I have learned that when life feels like nothing but crashing waves over your head – one deep breath is the only thing to make you believe you’re not drowning. I did a lot of that… breathing and focusing.

If August had me hanging on for dear life, September has been me reconciling the losses and my actions. I realized a few important things about myself, others and this life.

Nothing in this world stays the same; not a rock, not a tree a continent or culture. It sounds a bit trite and obvious to say, but we fight against this idea on a daily basis. The comfy, cozy softness of tradition and continuity is like that warm fire waiting for you when it’s dark and cold and wet. We crave to be engulfed by the knowing and dependable glow of sunshine in August, of our lifelong friends, of the bonds of family and the relaxing familiarity and predictability of routines we know all too well. These are lovely and useful tools for setting the foundations of joy in our lives and helping us to understand what’s truly important.

But people can get really bent out of shape when you suggest a change in the status quo. Change is largely seen as an enemy, a forbearance of awful things to come, a harbinger of uncertainty and unknown entities.

And the comfort of well-worn dirt paths helps us forget that the crashing waves aren’t just there to lull us to sleep; they are powerful enough to reshape the solid ground on which we stand. And just under that surface are undertows at work. And just because we bury ourselves in the things which keep us dry and warm doesn’t mean these other parts of life don’t exist and won’t come to wreak havoc on us one day. Because nothing in this world stays the same, not a rock, not a tree a continent or culture. Not you, not me, not friendships and family. Time runs roughshod over all things both dark and lovely.

And when the waves overtake you, like they did me in August, so much of life becomes the simple act of hanging on, of coping and finding space to take one breath at a time as your head slips below the surface. And I know now that how we behave in these moments does not define us, but it can teach us if we take time to learn, if we refuse to bury our heads in the sand and we continue to assert ourselves as the captains of our ships.

We are simple humans attempting to reconcile a reality which is largely hidden from our understanding. Our simple minds have us clinging to the safety of land and simple ideas and illusions of permanence because the chaos of change is beyond our comprehension and largely, beyond our control. And that feeling can bring on a shaking terror.

But change doesn’t have to be bad. New ideas do not have to be rejected. Boundaries and relationships can be redrawn and it doesn’t spell doom. And judging ourselves too harshly for our humanity is an exercise in futility. It’s like judging a tree for losing its leaves.

It takes time and patience and stillness, but the reshaping of rock from the constant crashing of waves is a beautiful thing.

Reshaping of Rocks

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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 Shower on New Year’s Eve That Washed Away Everything

My oldest is 5 years old, so that means I haven’t celebrated New Year’s Eve in any significant way for six, pregnant, breastfeeding, infant, toddler, kid years. But this New Year’s Eve, I was lacking all of these things because the kids left for their father’s at 4pm not to return for another day. I started the evening with a long overdue shower.

I’ve been in a bad place for a while, maybe two months in all. Divorce mediation was in October. Most of November was trial prep, and there was a TON of exhausting, tedious prep accompanied by ginormous checks that needed writing. My attorney wheeled all 7 of the 3 inch binders to court on a small dolly and I now join the millions of American’s in credit card debt. Then, there was a three-day trial in December. (Did I mention that only 5% of divorces make it to trial? because that’s a statistic that I’m sitting on the wrong side of). Then, I spent 6 days without my babies before Christmas and then celebrated (RE: cried, wallowed, white-knuckled through) my first Christmas as a divorcee. And finally, there will be one last day of trial in January because hell hath no fury like a financial expert who’s asked to part from money.

But it was New Year’s Eve. The night when we get to wash away all that dirty mess of the past and celebrate the possibilities that come with a shiny New Year. I love it. I’ve always loved New Years. I love that for ONCE I get to be okay with the idea of change. That it’s perfectly okay and encouraged! to party into the wee hours of the morning sipping champagne and acting like a fool all in the name of letting go and embracing the possibility of a brighter tomorrow.  At least for one, boozy night we can clink glasses and agree that change is good! even if we all go back to clinging to our pasts and the familiar routines the very next day. It’s liberating and I love it so.

So while I was taking this shower, I thought about these things. Then, I thought about the last time I celebrated New Year’s Eve in a significant way. It was 2008. We were in Costa Rica. We were supposed to attend a party on the rooftop of our small hotel but the utilities system of this Costa Rican beach town was taxed too heavy for the second night in a row, and because there was no electricity, there was no party. My husband and I sat on a darkened rooftop, alone, overlooking a darkened town and listened to the revelers in far off places. We watched the fireworks and all we had to eat was one apple. I thought about that trip. One of our many trips to tropical places. I thought about the night before New Year’s when we had dinner in town, and when the lights went out, we went to the beach and stood by strangers at a bon fire. Drunk, I ran into the ocean with a skirt on holding it up above the waves. I still swear a crab bit my toe in the dark. I thought about what a good time we had together.

Until that moment I hadn’t allowed myself to think about anything good we had. I’ve had so many feelings toward my ex in the past few years, and love was way far down on the list, but standing in this warm shower on New Year’s Eve I allowed myself to feel this emotion. Before I even knew what I’d done I looked up and I said out loud, “Holy shit. I used to love him,” as if this idea was the most foreign thought I’d ever come up with in my whole life. The very next moment I felt my entire body exhale. It was as if every cell let go of whatever it was holding onto and whooshed down the drain. It was visceral, and real and I’d never felt anything like it in my life.

I loved him. I loved him. I loved him. Under all this self-righteous anger and disappointment and white-hot fury of the past year, there was this deep ocean of sadness that came riding in on the tiny pieces of my broken heart. All this time I had not allowed myself to feel my own broken heart.

After my body released, I nearly fell over right there from that tidal wave of grief. It came at me from every direction, all at once. I put my hand against the wall to steady myself from the sudden piercing pain I felt of allowing myself to feel my broken heart. I cried for two days, and went unshowered for two days, afraid of the ghost which found me in there.

NYE Blog PostI didn’t go out on New Year’s. After that shower, I stayed in. I ate a peanut butter, banana and honey sandwich at midnight with a bottle of bubbly I found in the downstairs closet left over from the days when we were together. I watched Netflix. I let off a white Chinese lantern I’d saved from the Fourth of July. And I did it alone. It was painful, and beautiful, and cathartic and it made me ache all over. I had finally let the sadness in, and it cleansed and suffocated me all at the same time. Because I did love him.

What came as more of a shock, was after this moment, I started to believe not only that I could forgive him, but that I already had forgiven him. Along with the gut-twisting, rush of sadness, there came a deep vessel overflowing with forgiveness.

Forgiveness for him being a flawed, imperfect man, because that’s all he is — that’s all we all are. Forgiveness for all the wrong he’d done and all the apologies he never gave, and never would. Forgiveness for all the anger and accusations he tossed so lightly in my direction over the course of a year. Forgiveness for his lack of respect, for not loving me, or not being capable of vulnerability or handling mine with care. I even felt like I’d forgiven his parents for abandoning me in this city where I moved to be near them, where they were my only family for eight years. I felt I’d forgiven them for saying and writing horrible things about me to the professionals thinking they are defending their son without a thought toward what they were doing to their grandchildren’s mother. Forgiven all of them for not ever seeing me, really seeing me after all these years.

And the forgiveness train didn’t stop there. Because I acknowledged and forgave him for being a flawed and broken man, I forgave myself, too, for the very same thing. For all the times I couldn’t just let it go and forgive sooner. For all the times I had to make my point again and again and again. For all the times I shut down out of sheer exhaustion from feeling like was never heard. For not allowing them to see me, really see me after all these years.NYE Blog Post II

All of this happened because I allowed myself to let go of the anger and feel the sadness that comes when we hone in on the Painful Truth with a capital P and T. And the Painful Truth of this matter is…  I loved him, and he broke my heart, and it is the saddest story of my life.

And even though much of what he’s done is not okay, and never will be okay… I’m going to be okay. The past is gone, today is a brand new shiny day, and even if it’s not great… it’s still going to be okay.

((Raises martini glass)) To possibilities. If only for a little while, I will embrace change like an old, kind lover; letting go of the past, appreciating what I have right in front of me, and looking forward to a bright, bright tomorrow. Cheers.

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.  

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.  

Home, Love, Freedom and Driving Down Back Roads

That road. The one that winds and dips and turns through the trees and comes to a weird, Y-shaped intersection. The one we used to drive down after school in our hand-me-down cars listening to The Cranberries with the windows down. I love that road.

And then there’s this other road. The one I walked along side every day on my way home from elementary school picking dandelions through the cracks and making them into jewelry when I was still young enough to think dandelions were flowers and stepping on cracks was the cause of bad luck.

But oh man, this road. The one with a memory every mile. I played t-ball where that Sonic is; I practiced driving my friend’s stick shift in that lot; I went to school there and there and sang in that church, and in college, I waited tables at that restaurant. And over there, well that’s where I sat up all night with a boy for the first time.

I made my mother check me out of school the day I turned 16 to get my license. I could not, would not wait one. more. day. When we got to the DMV on my 16th birthday it was closed. I threw a gigantic toddleresque tantrum and I made my mom drive to another DMV that was open or I refused to go back to school. (Thanks Mom, and FYI daughter, I will not be doing that for you. Harsh, I know.) But I remember my desperation that day. It felt like my chest was caving in sitting outside those locked doors. I wanted, no NEEDED that piece of paper or I thought I might explode. That paper meant I could go and do and be on my own. That paper was my ticket to freedom and freedom was my drug of choice back then. At 36, I’m as addicted as ever.

That same yearning for freedom is why I left my hometown and all those familiar roads 12 years ago. I wanted out so bad it ached in my bones. It was that same desperation; feeling confined by all those stupid, easy roads and their territorial views of the wide open plains dotted with water towers. I outgrew those roads in my 20s and hurt for new ones – bigger ones. Freeways. Express ways. Roads with new views — mountains and oceans and tall, tall things. That’s what I wanted and so I grabbed my ticket and went to find them. But that ticket came at a very steep price. Over the years I shed huge chunks of me out there alongside those highways and byways. Some good stuff, some bad, maybe all of it was necessary. Who knows, right?

And now here I am visiting my hometown again, newly divorced, two kids, approaching 40 on a speed train with a ticket to nowhere…  and I’m driving these old roads again. These roads – like permanent time capsules hold years of memories and emotions that take me back with every turn to that wild-eyed girl with the big dreams and the naïve belief that everything would always work out just fiiiine. And also that lost girl aching for freedom and running away from home to find it.

A good friend of mine has a good man. A real good man. He’s more than 10 years her junior but an old soul. He’s now the father of their new baby girl; a baby she never expected at 37, but now can’t imagine life without—because that’s how it works, right – life happens the way it’s going to happen and then it’s impossible to imagine it any other way. They’ll probably get married someday and it will be the real, long-lasting thing. Well his dad died last week. His wife of 35 years said to him before passing, “we didn’t have enough time together.”  I can’t stop thinking about that. What is that kind of love?

home love freedomI took a moment the other day to drive down a two-lane back road out in the wide open country behind my parent’s house. The wind whipped my hair and I turned the radio way up. I thought about time, and decisions, what “home” really means and another thing I’ve never known… that long-lasting love.  It occurred to me that perhaps the reason I’ve never known it, or felt truly at “home” is because neither ever held a candle to my passion for freedom. I’ve always had to choose between the three.

What I’m coming to understand is that I need all of it. Freedom, home, love… I need it all or I know, I’ll get lost… again.

I’m not a selfish person. I’m a mother of two small children and I learned the deeper meaning of sacrifice the day my first child was conceived. I know what it means to give up everything for someone else, but there’s a difference between giving of yourself for the betterment of the whole, and giving up ON yourself all together. The former I do daily, the latter I will never do.

A week ago, before I came back to my hometown I drove down another back road near my current “home” in the Pacific Northwest. The wind whipped my hair and the radio was way up. There were mountains and an ocean and tall, tall things. Beautiful couldn’t accurately describe that day. I leaned back in my seat with my sunglasses on and my hand out the window riding the wind. I can’t remember a moment in recent times when I felt so free AND at home. It was very close to heaven on earth.

And so now these two back roads, one flat and dotted with water towers, the other winding through mountains and next to oceans are taking me backward and forward at the same time, helping me figure out this new woman who’s now in the driver’s seat of her life. The one that wants it all… or nothing.

But I guess this is how life is, right? It happens the way it’s going to happen, and then it’s impossible to imagine it any other way. And maybe all that shedding and getting lost… it’s all necessary. And maybe, just maybe things will still work out just fiiiine.