He Stole My Mother’s Day

I’m tired. I’m tired of being sad-mad. This ad appeared on my Facebook page today, and after seeing it, I assumed this exact same posture.

You deserve to be happy

Yes, my first post-divorce breakup has been hard. But if that wasn’t enough of an emotional burden this week, my vindictive ex-husband pulled a doozy. He stole my Mother’s Day.

Even though it is my court-appointed right to have the children on Mother’s day, last year, it fell over his weekend and I opted out. I had my 2 and 5-year-old 75% of the time back then, and I was fielding weekly emails from the ex calling me things like, “a wasteland of a human being.” So yeah, I went away for the weekend and opted out of the holiday all together. I don’t live near my own mother, so there was no family with which to celebrate.

This year, Mother’s Day fell on his weekend again, so he began asking me on the Wednesday before Mother’s Day if I was going to take the kids. I honestly hadn’t decided. Again, my family lives 1400 miles away and I had no plans to celebrate. I figured their paternal grandmother might enjoy being with them on Mother’s Day. And I’d taken the kids out-of-town the weekend before for a pre-mother’s day celebration all our own. Which was glorious. So when he asked me, I didn’t answer, because I didn’t know. Then another rude email came the next day asking me again. And I decided to respond the same way he responds to my requests for information. I said something really snarky which didn’t answer his question at all. A taste of his own medicine. Poor form, I know.

Then he responded by saying he wasn’t going to allow me to have the children, and then added a jab about them spending it with his girlfriend, “the other mother in their lives.”

That night I asked my almost 6-year-old  what she wanted to do for Mother’s Day. I regret this. I should never have asked her opinion, but I wanted input as to if she even cared about this Hallmark holiday at the age of almost six. I said she could stay with daddy and probably spend it with grandma, or come with me. I told her that I wouldn’t be upset either way and I just wanted her to have fun. She said she wanted to stay with me. So I said okay. When I dropped her off at school on Friday morning, I told her I’d see her on Mother’s Day.

Saturday morning at 8am I emailed him and told him I would pick the kids up at 3pm the next day. He responded saying, “you don’t dictate my day.” And that he wasn’t going to allow them to come with me because “you didn’t respond  when I asked.”

I said he had no right to take it away, that is was a court order, and just tell me where they would be, and I’ll pick them up. He did not respond. Not only did he not respond, but he didn’t even let them call me on Mother’s Day. Honestly, I didn’t ask to talk to them. I didn’t want to be crushed more than I already was when he would refuse to respond like he has done so many other times I’ve asked to talk to the children. I heard later that they spent the day doing “whatever Diana wanted since she’s a mother.” They went to the beach. Had dinner at her house. No big plans.

I had to make a decision about what to say to my daughter. I thought long and hard about it. I decided that I needed our daughter to know that I wanted to be with her on Mother’s Day. That I promised her, and my word is solid.

I told her this, and the questions began. Eventually, the questions led to a realization that her father lied to her. In that moment, I was crushed. I felt her pain. My heart broke right along with hers. She loves him, as she should, and to realize that you can’t trust one of your parents whom you love, is a horrible, horrible feeling. And I didn’t want that to ever happen. But I needed her to know that she could trust ME. And if I say I’m going to be somewhere and I’m not there, then it isn’t because I didn’t try.

I’ve consulted counselors. I’ve read any number of articles on how to co-parent with an abusive ex. There are some helpful guides out there, but there is no concrete guide for every situation. However, the prognosis for the children is nearly always the same. Children suffer when their parents continue to fight. Children suffer when they are put in the middle.

I don’t want my children to be in the middle. I have tried so hard to protect them from being in the middle.

Since having that talk with my daughter, we’ve had many other talks about how this was not her fault, that she can’t fix it and it’s not her job. I’ve told her over and over that her daddy loves her even if he doesn’t like me, that she should never EVER feel like she has to choose who to love. She should love both of us, because we both love her. But she also deserves to know the truth. And yes, the truth is a slippery slope in situations like these. Who’s truth does she need to know? Mine, or his?

I have never said a bad word to my children about their father. I have not called him a single name, or said anything other than, “your daddy loves you very much.” And even when I told her the truth about Mother’s Day, I simply said, your daddy did something that wasn’t right. He shouldn’t have done that. And my almost 6-year-old apologized for her father’s behavior. It was all I could do to not break down into a puddle on the floor.

Because she should NEVER have to apologize for someone else’s poor behavior. Never.

I’m so tired, guys. I’m so tired of being sad-mad. Facebook is right, I deserve to be happy.

The Disappointing Lingerie Delivery

So there’s this bag. It arrived, stuffed in my mailbox. Hm. I’m not expecting a package. 

Disappointing lingerie

Upon removing it from my mailbox I glimpsed at the sender.

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All I needed was a glimpse, and I knew I was opening that fucker. Matter of fact, it was the first thing I did right after setting my son up with his iPad.

I tried moderately hard NOT to look at who it was addressed to. That way, if I opened it, and it wasn’t for me, I could legitimately feign ignorance and upon returning it, could honestly claim that I thought it was mine. I carefully bypassed looking at the addressee by turning the bag away while opening it. But then, in my strain from ripping the thick, rubbery package, I got a glimpse of an address that was veerry close to mine, but maybe… not mine? I blurred my eyes and kept ripping.

I did the same thing a week ago after I SWORE I sent the last pleading, begging (ultimately unresponded to) text message to my first, emotion-based, post-divorce breakup. You see, in the previous 9 months, I hadn’t memorized his entire phone number. I called him up only by his first name in my contacts. I just barely knew the first 6 numbers. So I knew that if I could delete his number without ACTUALLY seeing the last 4 digits, then all temptation would be removed to further send my dignity into a downward spiral by continuing to text a dead horse.

My fingers dialed up the contact. I trembled a little. I knew that if I caught one half of a peak at those last 4 digits, they would be seared into my frontal cortex like a branding iron on a Japanese Wagyu beef’s ass, and I would immediately, irrevocably send my self-control on a one way cruise to the Antarctic. It was 1st world life or death, people.

I paused. Took a breath. Called up the contact. Quickly found the menu for delete. And… done. But not before I packed my parka because that evil little gnome inside my head, the one with his thumbs inside the straps of his overalls and one cocked eyebrow, that fucker MADE me look at that number. Can a girl catch a break? Sweet African American Baby Jesus. 

Then, like the insane, emotionally unstable, crazy woman I had morphed into over the last few weeks, I immediately started saying random numbers in my head trying to trick myself into NOT knowing what I already, CLEARLY, knew. Six! Nine! Four-Six, Four-SIX! NO! DAMN IT it’s four-eight. It was an exercise more futile than a toddler’s red-faced fit over the last broken cookie.

But I was strong, for a little while before I texted him again and went skeet shooting with my pride. Don’t judge. Pull!

So anyway, this bag came. And it said lingerie. And my curious, impulsive, devoid of self-control self, ripped it open to find a sad, poignant metaphor on my life.

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You’re kidding me right now, right? No split-crotch lacy thong? No dangly tassel pleather-studded bra? No polyester banana-hammock with elephant ears?

A hoodie? Really, life? That’s whatcha got?

And not even a nice hoodie – a cheap, ugly, scratchy man-hoodie. Or maaaybe teenage-boy-hoodie that matches his private school uniform requirements. Fuck.

So now I sit here, with this possible man (probably private-school-boy’s) hoodie and I have to give it back… to someone. After I already opened it. With LINGERIE beaming off it in neon. Which might actually be a federal offense.

So my next thought is: A. Do I drive the street over and hand-deliver this disappointment? Or do I simply wait the 1, 2, 3, 4 weeks before I casually catch the mailman outside my driveway and saunter over with a, “Oh, hey. This was delivered by mistake and I accidentally opened it.” Because I did, you know, accidentally.

And suddenly, I feel the real possibility that I created a problem where there wasn’t one. Shit. Another metaphor.

Oh, no. I do not regret opening that bag. I’m 99.9% certain I’d do it every.single.time a package showed up on my doorstep with the words LINGERIE emblazoned on it in hi-def. You could set your watch to that fact.

And really, if I’m honest, the problem I created… to me… is sorta funny. And stupid. And ironic. And inspired. And I wrote this. And I can’t pretend that I care what the mailman or the neighbor really thinks, anyway. I’ve fought too many wars to give a shit about that kerfluffle. And so I should just stop procrastinating. And creating unnecessary problems. And playing little mind games. And do what I know I need to do. And write this fucking book.

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.

Why I Stopped Asking “Why Me?”

Sometimes, I get really bogged down in the why-me’s.

Why did MY marriage fail? statistically speaking, it shouldn’t have happened. We dated 3 years before getting engaged. I didn’t get married until I was 27. I waited to have my first child at 31. We were college educated – had successful careers. All these things statistically point to marriages which have a low probability of divorce. We should have beaten the odds. But we didn’t. We didn’t. We didn’t. I didn’t.

They say the divorce rate hovers around 50%. Well not in my socio-economic world. I have ONE divorced acquaintance and we became acquaintances BECAUSE we’re divorced. It’s a lonely world this upper-middle class divorce thing.

Okay, so my marriage failed. Shit happens. Fine. But then I start in with the why-me’s of having an angry, vindictive ex. I hear stories about ex-husbands who would do ANYTHING to make sure their kids were well cared for either by them, or their mothers. They willfully help with fixing cars, extra-curricular activities, they talk civilly and kindly to their ex-wives, they attend birthday parties and holidays because they understand that he kids come first. Why does my ex not even look at me? Why will he do anything in his power to hurt me? Why did he take me to court and make me spend my savings just to get a basic level of support?

Yes. Why me?

That leads to a lot of self-blame. Because being a victim is not in my DNA.

What fatal flaw did I make? What road sign did I take a left at, when I should have turned right? What is wrong with me?

Truth is, there’s a lot wrong with me. There’s a lot wrong with all of us because we’re human beings and we make a million mistakes a day. There isn’t some pill you can take to stop being human. You can’t medicate or even meditate the condition away. Believe me, I’ve tried.

You can read the rest here on Scary Mommy.

 

 

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

A Sorta Movie Review of “Home”: May Be Spoilers

Today was a bad day. The last few days I’ve been having an email battle with my ex over (what else?) money. It’s ALWAYS about money. My ex makes more money than 99% of Americans and he will dicker with me over $90 for our daughter’s gymnastics. It’s exhausting, and honestly, makes me so angry I can’t think, or should I say, I can’t NOT think. And so with all this thinking, I had a pretty bad day.

I got behind on work while I fixated on the issue of money this morning. As if the email battle wasn’t enough, I talked to mortgage lenders about my impending home refinance. So far, my mortgage will be going UP at least $200 a month. Then, I read articles about cutting the food budget. After that, I came thisclose to dismissing my attorney because I just CANNOT pay one more ginormous bill. Then, because I hate myself, I emailed my accountant to get an update on my taxes which promises a hefty bill in one week due to being self-employed. By the end of this, I wanted to run away. Very literally just put on my running shoes and keep going… forever. (If my ex is reading this he’s doing it with a smile in his face.)

Even though my work went unfinished, I still had to pick up my preschooler by 1pm. He always bring a smile to my face. However, in light of the unfinished work, he played on his iPad until I got a handle on my work. Then, I managed to collect all the used batteries and CFL light bulbs from my house and take them to a hazardous waste collection at Home Depot. I HAD to. I knew it was probably going to be the most productive thing I’d do all day.

Then, I picked up my Kindergartener from the bus. Another smile in my life. And when we got home all she wanted to do was play Minecraft on her iPad, and I had no energy to fight her, so I didn’t. And I got to finish more work.

Then, I made dinner. I say I “made” dinner, but what I really did was will myself to assemble food onto a plate and not cry into it. After that, I needed a change of scenery, but I didn’t want to spend any money, so I talked the kids into seeing a movie with me at a junky theater where I still had a gift card. And when your dates are 3 feet tall or shorter, your options are limited. We saw Disney’s new Pixar movie, “Home.”

Chances are, with a Pixar kid-flick you’re going to get some sort of deep, uplifting message wrapped up in a cute, funny narrative. It was just what I needed and “Home” did not disappoint.

Home3Basically, adorably squishy aliens called “Boov” invade Earth and evacuate all the humans to Humanville which resides in Australia. One, feisty little girl named “Tip” was left behind in New York City while her single mother was taken in the original round-up. At the same time, there is a misfit Boov named “O” who is running from all the other Boovs because he’s done yet another “bad” thing. He accidentally sent a party Evite “reply all” to the whole universe, which in 48 hours will reach their enemy, the Gorg, and alert them to their new planetarian home, which the Gorg will promptly destroy. Calamity ensues.

The Boovs are hopelessly clueless to human nature. By invading the planet, they think they’re doing humans a favor. The Boov do not have friends or families. They look out for only themselves. They do not engage in laughter or dancing or “fun,” and they can’t understand why humans do. Their most redeeming quality, so they believe, is that they are masters at running away and averting danger. Today, I was a Boov.

Tip and O cross paths and Tip convinces O to help her find her mom. This is when the journey and trials begins. At first they are not friends, O is selfish, and just wants to avoid being “eliminated,” while Tip is angry at the Boov for taking her mom. But trial after trial, trust is built between them. Tip teaches O how to be brave and how not to be selfish. Then, there is one poignant montage where they tell each other their fears. Both of them are the same: loneliness. Perhaps loneliness is an organic, not just human affliction? Anywho, just after this montage it shows O lovingly taking care of Tip while she sleeps because now he understands — now, he has a real friend.

Damn. Isn’t that just how this world works? It isn’t until you are brave enough to be vulnerable that you earn real friends? I have not been brave Home2lately. I’ve been pushing people away. Some days, it feels easier to be alone rather than love one more person who can hurt you.

So, Tip eventually finds her mom in a series of scenes which are set to emotional music and the tears flowed down my face like rain as my 3 year old twirled my hair in his fingers on my lap. God, I have never known the meaning or power of love until I had kids. Mother-Love brings me to my emotional knees every time… even in animated Pixar.

Well, O is eventually redeemed and proved the hero when he discovers what their enemy, the Gorg really want from the Boov. It turns out that the Boov’s fearful leader, Captain Smek, ran cowardly away from a meeting with the last remaining Gorg many years ago.  In running away, he inadvertently stole the next generation of Gorg which resided in a nondescript rock; a rock which Captain Smek festooned to a talisman and called it the shusher because he hit Boovs over the head with it and said “shush.”

As it turns out, all along the Gorg never wanted to destroy the Boov, they just wanted a rock that contained the next generation of Gorg. In other words, the Gorg’s entire family.

When O explains this to Tip, he repeats a phrase he said to her in the beginning when he was trying to understand her emotions. He couldn’t understand why she was so angry even though she cried like she was sad. He coined the phrase, sad-mad. And as it turns out, the Gorg was just sad-mad, too.

Sad-mad. That’s me. That’s who I’ve been my whole life. I’m a nondescript rock on the outside, bubbling with life you can’t see on the inside. Instead of opening myself up and showing the world all my great stuff, I harden walls and get mad. I push people away, sometimes hitting them over the head saying “shush” until I’m this lonely, lonely thing. If you read this blog, you might disagree with me considering the amount of vulnerability I display here. But this is the only place I do it. To a computer screen. To (mostly) faceless people. If you meet me in in real life and mention my writing I will immediately and expertly change the subject. This public, digital forum is strangely too personal for real life.

The sad-mad

Anyway, being called out by a Pixar movie put me in a state. I was not sad-mad, I was just sad. I came home and put my kids to bed. I lay with my son first. My thoughts went elsewhere, to scary things, and I struggled to bring them back to his eyelashes. How they blinked slowly. How they half-way opened, then shut, then opened again. I began to cry. I put my head close to his and whispered, “I love you.” He wrapped his arm around my head and said, “me too.” Then one of my tears dropped into his ear and he said, “gross mom!” and put a blanket over his ear to protect it. I laughed because it was funny and ironic.

Then, I lay with my daughter and we talked about sad-mad. She asked me if I’ve ever been sad-mad. Usually, I gloss over the truth about her dad and me because I want to protect her, but inspired by the message of being vulnerable I said yes, I have. She asked me when, and I told her the truth. I was sad-mad over the fact that daddy and I couldn’t stay together. Suddenly, her body tightened and she put her hand to her face. I could tell she was touching her eye. My daughter is stoic. She rarely cries. I felt her face, it was dry. She said, “I’m not crying, Mom. My eyes just watered a little bit.”

My heart shattered into a million pieces right then and there. She hides her tears but I KNOW, because I’m her mother, that our volatile divorce weighs heavy on her little 5 year old heart. Then I told her that it’s okay to cry. That I cry about it sometimes, and it’s okay. I told her I wished she cried more just to let it all out. She asked me why I was crying, because by this time, I was holding back sobs, something I never do in front of them – my sadness is an unfair burden. I told her it was for the same reasons her eyes watered. And that it was okay. I was okay. She was okay. And everyone was going to be okay. We talked about a few other things about her daddy and me, and she seemed relieved. Then she said, “Okay, what now?” as if she was ready to move on to the next subject which might delay her bedtime. And I laughed because how funny and ironic.

She’s right. Okay, what now?

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.

On Choosing to Live with Ghosts

Today has been about pictures and ghosts because my house is haunted.

My Kindergartener has one of those “About Me” posters due in school in a month. Normally, I am a professional procrastinator with a black belt in inventing distractions. Something like this wouldn’t get my attention until the evening before it’s due. But I can’t afford that luxury anymore. It’s one of the many luxuries I gave up when I left my husband. In my new reality, I know that I have two more weekends with my daughter until it’s due, and that means, I have to gather supplies (poster board), find pictures (spend an hour looking through files on my compter), order said pictures (through Costco) and afix these to her poster while coaxing her into writing sentences about them… in Spanish. It’s going to take a little forethought and planning. This also means I have to look through pictures of her father. Happy pictures of before. Oh look, there we are on the beach! On vacation! In the backyard! What a great day that was! Remember!?!?!

Although it was a little torturous, I wouldn’t dare leave him out of her poster about her. 

I selected one. While I was at it, I decided I might as well fill that multi-picture frame collage that used to house our wedding photos. It’s been sitting empty on my wall, like a hallow reminder of this past year. So I selected a whole stack of great pictures of me and the kids from the past year. The beach! Vacation! The backyard! What a great day that was! Remember?!?! And then a few more, for a few more empty frames.

After procuring these pictures at Costco… on a Saturday… with two kids in tow… because clearly I hate myself and put very little value on my sanity… I came home and started taking the frames apart, replacing older pictures with new. I have this habit of leaving old pictures in the frames behind newer ones. I’d done a pretty thorough sweep of “our” pictures many, many months ago, but in this process, I found a picture of us. We were smiling, a beach in the background. A ghost.

This house is full of them. It’s haunted from the concrete slab up into the rafters, which is probably why he doesn’t want it. Call me crazy (you wouldn’t be the first) but I do. Yes, I want to live with these sad, haunting apparitions, and let me tell you, they linger E.V.E.R.Y.W.H.E.R.E. They’re scattered about in the corners of closets disguised as dusty, ancient, random man-detritus; a belt, a lone shoe, a tie clip. They are in some trees he planted still thriving in the yard. On the top shelf in the garage, behind the coolers.

Along with these sad, melancholy ghosts are also these increbibly bright spaces. The space in the living room where my daughter took her first steps often pulses with the softest light. The spot in the driveway where my son learned to ride his bike is forever in sunshine even in the dead of winter. The electric magesty of the other tree where we hang our peanut butter bird feeders and homemade bird houses leaves me breathless. And there’s this warm glow that comes from the front doors of the neighbors who are friends and the friends who are neighbors. But my favorite bright space is the flattened and stained carpet where my children run their paths through the only house they’ve ever known, the house where they were born. These paths have this beautiful, lusterous sheen, which might actually be apple juice, but it’s still so, so lovely when the sun hits it just right.

Sometimes I envy his new digs; the top floor, spacious, two-bedroom, corner condo with a view of the pool.  I don’t actually know what it looks like inside, because he won’t allow me in the building, but I’m fairly certain there are no ghosts living there. He is the type of person who doesn’t look back and has no desire to do so. I assume it’s because of the sadness that arises when you do. And for this, I also feel sorry for him.

Because I choose to live with ghosts, because I survive with them, too.

Because life is a messy mix of the joy and the pain. There can’t be one, without the other. There is no definition of light that does not include the dark. And somewhere deep in my knowing I’ve learned that there is no gratitude without ungratefulness, no love without loss, no future without the past. Most important, I know that I could never know where I’m headed without remembering where I’ve been. And where I’ve been, is right here the whole time.

So I learn to live, and maybe even love, or at the very least appreciate, these ghosts.

And plus, there’s this thing about ghosts and pictures… over time, the light… it fades them.