Thursday, January 10, 2013

Two Drifters, Off To See The World.

I'm in the process of building a pseudo-apartment in my parent's basement: a bedroom, living room area and "kitchenette" with microwave and mini-fridge. My own space, to be free of rent and parental regulation, to be as sovereign an entity as I can wish to be, under the circumstances.
In other words, a spot to play house while remaining wholly dependent on the upstairs bathroom.
As yet, only the bedroom area is done. After it's completion, we took a break: myself and Dan, who is my partner in the project inasmuch as he hopes to move in sometime in the next year and live here with me while we save all the money we can to eventually buy full-time rights to the bathroom. Now, the break is over, and it's time to clear the space where the living room will be. This is no small undertaking.

Before I can work on dismantling The Great Wall of Chattel, however, I have to clear the opposite corner, to where all of this clutter is moving until such time as my mother patiently sorts through it and decides what can go to charity, what to yard sales, what to the dump. Or until Armageddon. Whichever happens first.
Currently, the opposite corner is filled with my laundry, and mementos leftover from my brief stay there when I first moved back from San Diego. As such, there are a lot of reminders of Zack in that area: things he left behind when he came home for his birthday and stayed with me, because no one in his family knew we were breaking up. Wedding photos that I found upstairs and brought down to spend hours looking at, and crying. As I go through bins that hold a random assortment of things that, at the time, needed to be quickly picked up and stored out-of-the-way, a cleaning technique that is thoroughly Zack's, I find a sample of cologne that he and I got from Banana Republic during a time period where we were endeavoring to have him put more effort into his appearance and, well, smell, I guess. In a moment of sentimentality, I am compelled to take off the cap and to smear a few drops into the pulse points of my wrist. I wait to for it to dry and inhale it deeply, to see if the smell reminds me of him. Predictably, it doesn't.
This is depressing, because earlier in the evening, I discovered that I had accidentally put a shirt into the laundry pile that was never intended to be cleaned. Now pristine and hanging up, Zack's Beal's Lobster Pier shirt had recently arrived back in Maine after a three month stay in California, where he had it to wear for me so that it would smell like him when he returned it. This shirt keeps criss-crossing the continent so that it can either be with me, to remind me of him, or with him, to regain some of the scent that gives it it's powers of recollection. Back when I was sleeping on the other side of the cellar, I wore it a lot of nights.
Nowadays, it doesn't really feel appropriate to do that. In fact, the most depressing parts of my mother having washed it this time are equally that I won't see him again for an unclear amount of time to trade off the shirt, nor that it would be reasonable to keep doing so. In the last few nights, I've missed my husband, to the extent that, had I thought about it, I might have been compelled to wear the shirt. But in so many ways, he ceases to be my husband, now. In so many ways, someone else is filling that role. So when do I give up entirely on the shirt smelling like him?
There's a quandary here about divorce, about what it's supposed to be, and what it's not supposed to be, and why. I went a long time fearing that people would judge our relationship and our marriage, but one of the biggest challenges of this year has been people judging our divorce.
I had two friends who were married to each other. After spying on his internet habits and discovering multiple instances of infidelity, she simply left the divorce papers out on the table for him to find one morning after she'd left for work. She informed the world by changing her facebook status before he even found out about it, and he was surprised when I offered him my condolences. I had another pair of friends in which the wife grew to despise the husband so much that she secretly planned to leave well in advance of doing so, and was merely waiting for the tax return to come in so that she could take it, and, I think, buy a car. When the check came in, she left him while he was at work. He came home from work and had no idea what had happened. She would neither answer his calls nor speak to him in any capacity for months after that. I currently have two friends-- who have never met each other-- who both feel that their marriages are over, but neither of their spouses have been informed that they are just waiting to leave until the moment is right.
I'm still in contact with Zack nearly every day of my life. We text, we talk on the phone, we skype, we play video games together. At current, we're still sharing a bank account until I'm financially on my feet. We won't start the divorce papers until I have health insurance. Two days ago, I wrote his resume for him. Yesterday, I spent two hours editing one of his stories, a project that will probably take me months, just on this one.
I still love him. He still loves me. We acknowledge that there were times in the marriage, and things we do now, that hurt each other. But we don't talk shit about each other. We've been family for years; we remain family, still.
Somehow, we are the weird ones.

Back in April, when we had decided on a trial separation for the myriad reasons that led us there, we were taking a walk in Ocean Beach, one of my favorite areas of San Diego. We were walking through the little shops there, looking at knick knacks, and discussing the upcoming separation. I told him, "If we do get a divorce, I'd like to get matching tattoos."
"Why?" He asked.
"Because, I want to tell the world, I don't regret it. Everyone is going to think we were just young, we made a mistake. It wasn't a mistake and I wouldn't take it back for anything. I love you, and I'm glad I married you, no matter what."
"I'm glad I married you, too." He told me. So it was decided. 
It wasn't decided instantly what the tattoos would be, though. We toyed with matching symbols, each other's names, some kind of illustration. "Maybe something from our song," I thought. Our song, the one we danced to on our wedding day and sang to each other countless times since then, is Moon River.
"That's a good idea," He told me. "But what?"
I thought about it for a moment, and then started to cry. "What is it?" He asked me.
"I figured it out." I told him. "One of us gets 'Two drifters...', and the other gets ' to see the world."
Then he started to cry, too. So it was decided.

I haven't quite gotten around to designing the tattoos yet, but, as I've said, it'll be a while before we officially divorce, so I have time.
The thing is, I don't know how to do any of this. How to be divorced. I didn't know how to leave behind the one person I loved more than anyone in the whole world, the one person I spent my whole adult life trying to give to, trying to build a life with, and sometimes I still don't know how I did it. I don't know when it's not okay anymore to ask him to wear the shirt again for me, so it'll smell like him. I don't know if distance is best for both of us, for a while, or if we need to be there for each other now. I don't know.
But I know I want to wear it on my skin, like a badge of honor, like a scar from a beautiful battle that maybe I lost in the end. I don't want to be ashamed of the fact that I loved him so deeply and for so long, and I'm not.
When I was still living in San Diego, I told a friend of mine what Zack and I had decided about the tattoos. He was not a fan of the art in general, and tried to advise me against it. "You shouldn't do that, you know. That tattoo will last forever."
"That's okay." I told him. "The marriage was supposed to."

On with it.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

A Tale of Two Bears

So I was in Target, tonight. If you want to know the truth, I was there buying supplies for, well, my period. I tell you that because it's kind of relevant, if I want to make this all fit in together in a nice, neat way: I'm on my period, and it's more intense than usual, because USUALLY I am on birth control, and I am not know, nor have I been for the last several months.

I have not been on birth control for the last several months because, well, because I want to have a baby. That does not mean I am planning on getting pregnant now. What it means is that my body keeps insisting on it, and that makes it way harder than you'd think to take a pill that will prevent it. You wouldn't expect that to be the truth, but if you think about it, if you're going to get up, find a pill, take it out of the package, and then swallow it...well, all of those things require your body. Your body has to be in on it. If your body doesn't agree, then it's not getting done without some serious help.
So a few months ago, when this was in super high gear, my body was just out-and-out refusing to take a pill. Then there was a bit of a pregnancy scare, so I decided not to take the pill till that was over, which of course, was my last period. Then there were some logistical problems, so I decided to wait until after my next period to start again. And this is that. So...wish me luck that my body consents to start it up again, after this is done.
This is all to say: I was in Target.
I noticed this display that said if you bought three coke products, you get this free, stuffed polar bear. I like coke products, and my brother-in-law collects coke paraphernalia, and I had not finished my shopping for him yet. So I decided to buy the coke products and claim the polar bear.
This was difficult. I did not have a cart. I had only come in to buy supplies for my period. So now I'm holding a basket full of period supplies and trying to wrangle three coke products and a stuffed polar bear on top of that. Then, as I'm leaving, I walk by the pet supplies. I remember that I have to buy a present for the dog at the office where I freelance, because I plan on delivering my office Christmas presents soon. Then I realize, I should pick up a toy for my dog.
So now, I'm wrangling a basket full of supplies for my period, three coke products, a polar bear, and two dog toys.
I get home. It's late, I've been out all day. Everyone here-- my parents-- are already asleep. My dog is not.
When you come home with shopping bags, my dog wants to know what's for him. I start to give him his toy, and I realize it squeaks. I realize everyone is asleep. I give him a treat instead, but he still seems agitated, so I put him out.
Then I look at the polar bear. I like it a great deal: it's cuter than I thought it would be, and I feel slightly tempted to keep it. But I don't need it: as fate would have it, I already own a stuffed polar bear.
No, this isn't a thing. I'm not one of those adult women with a ton of stuffed toys. I just...I have this other polar bear. I got it at Kohl's one day with Zack, back in San Diego. I'd been having a bad day; it was going to be something of a bad night, too. I picked it up to comfort me, the polar bear, and I always associate it with that night.
So, this new polar bear? No room for it. I'm not starting some...stuffed polar bear collection.
I put away some other stuff. I bring the dog in. I get distracted, I go downstairs, I multitask. I'm preparing to put all my gifts for my sister and her husband in a package that's being sent down to them when I realize the polar bear is missing.
Long story short (too late), it turns out, the dog has taken it upon himself to claim the new polar bear as his own, having known that there was something in the bag intended for him that he never received. This shouldn't have surprised me. He did the same thing with the polar bear I brought home last year, at this time.
So I pick it up off the floor and assess the damage. Dog spit has matted the fur in a few places, but that can be cleaned off. The damn thing is still as cute as ever...but, no, the tail has been ripped quite obviously, and there's some kind of small, mysterious stain in the fur on it's butt. It's no longer in gift condition.
So now I have two stuffed polar bears.
The thing about the stain is, I don't know if the dog caused that. It's small, and subtle. The polar bear from last year had one, too. A pink spot above the eye. I noticed it, and thought at first to put the bear down. Then I thought "No one will buy this one if I don't, because it's stained." So I kept it-- I wanted it to have a good home, I wanted to keep it safe, and care for it. The cashier pointed out the stain and asked me if I'd like to exchange it, and I refused. 
I called that polar bear "Pink Eye."
I held clung to Pink Eye as we left the store. A year ago. I was upset, I had been all night, but I couldn't place why.
Clinging to this stuffed toy, a year ago, looking at it's adorable face, it hit me all at once as we left the store. I went over, and sat on a bench near the front of the store. Zack followed me. I was quiet for a minute.
Then, "I've decided I want to start trying to have a baby."

All you need to know about his response is that it was underwhelming. I carried around the disappointment with me for a few hours, talked about it with a friend, and then, eventually, we unpacked everything. I told him that I'd been having trouble taking my birth control lately-- remember, this is a year ago, not three months ago. I told him that I felt like it was the right time. That I'd done everything I'd hoped to do before we started trying to conceive. That I was worried about how long it might take, and thought we should start trying sooner than later. That we'd been together long enough. I told him, my body feels ready now.
And he unpacked his reasons for his underwhelming response: that he was worried about the future. The future of his job, which was as yet-- and is as yet-- undecided. The future of where we would be living. The future, well, of us.
Our relationship had always been rocky. He wanted it not to be, before we started trying. It was a valid concern. Really, it was. But we'd been together 8 years already, by then. I guess I felt like, if we weren't committed by now, would we ever be? How much longer would I have to wait?

There are a lot of reasons I left. A lot of them have been outlined or referred to in other posts. A lot of you who will bother reading this know a lot more. But the thing is, the timing here can't be ignored. Zack and I were having troubles, sure. But I'd dealt with a lot of troubles for a lot of years. Nothing that was happening when I left would have been enough for me to leave...but for the fundamental difference in the way I was starting to feel about my life.
I wanted a baby.
I want a baby now, and I can't have one. But the wait is a lot shorter with the man I'm with now than it would have been with Zack, if Zack and I were to wait until the future felt certain. If Zack and I were going to wait until we both felt positive we were going to stay together forever.
The bullshit irony of it is, if I'd had a baby with Zack, I never would have left him. I would have fought tooth and nail to keep our family together, no matter what, and so would he. I think about it a lot: how different my life would have been if he'd just said, "yes."
I might be pregnant right now, if he had. I might even be holding a child. I'd be halfway across the world, and I'd be with him, and I'd be holding our baby.

I mourned that baby. That baby that never lived. When I realized, that baby-- the one that was his, the one that was ours-- would never be conceived, would never be born, I mourned. I use to lay in bed sometimes and talk to him about our future, then I'd hold the warm, imaginary body with with two hands tucked under her armpits, thumbs on her chest, and I'd bounce her a few times, and them I'd hand her to him. He'd balk a little, but soon enough, with a little chiding from me, he'd put his hands in that position, and he'd bounce our child.
Our child that never was. I can't even hold my hands in that position anymore.
I mourn that baby.

So I brought the new bear downstairs, and I looked up at Pink Eye. Now I have two bears, and no baby. I wondered, when, exactly, all of this happened. I thought to myself, it must have been almost exactly a year ago. So I looked it up, I looked up the conversation I had with my friend-- with Dan-- the night that it happened, that I told Zack I wanted a baby, and I got a bear.
A year and a day. December fourth last year, December fifth this year. A year and a day ago, I bought a bear. I bought another bear tonight. But tonight, my life is the polar opposite of what it was.
I lived in San Diego in an apartment with my husband, and my life was all about him, and my life was all about keeping us together. And I wanted a baby.
Now I live in Maine, in my parent's basement, and I spend most of my nights alone, with my boyfriend away at college. And I'm trying to make mt life more about me, than about him; than about either of them. And I'm alone, and sad, a lot of the time. And I want a baby.

It's hard waiting. It's hard, waiting to have a job that I might not ever get, and the money I might not ever earn. It's hard waiting for the young man, who wants to give me what I want, to get older, while I get older. It's hard believing it's gonna come true, this time.
Maybe sometimes, he has a hard time understanding why I can't wait. Maybe he doesn't understand what the fear is to me: that the child I feel, so real inside me when he holds me from behind and places his hand low on my belly, that that child that is real and clear to me in my mind will slip away, as suddenly and completely as the other child that I loved slipped away. That she will vanish, our little girl, consumed by uncaring circumstance and leaving nary a trace behind her. That there will be nothing for me to cling to as grieve for her, nothing to give my pain substance and a sense of reality. That there will be nothing to remember, nothing that ever was, except my love for everything she was supposed to be, again. That I will be left, forever a mourner, and never a mother.
I can't even hold my hands in that position, anymore.

On with it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

To Him

It wouldn't surprise you, baby, to know that I've been having trouble sleeping lately. Always did, always will. But it's as bad as it's ever been. Can't even blame it on your snoring, anymore.

I don't wear the necklace with our wedding ring on it anymore. I flew out to see you, the week before last, and I found out then something I didn't expect: I don't really want our life back. Not the way I used to. Being there, I remember how it felt, sometimes. You get so angry, so often, and I don't react to that well. My new life, well, that's not a part of it.

It was refreshing at first. To feel like I made all the right choices. To feel like I was starting to get past it all. To think, maybe, you and I are on our way to whatever you and I are going to be, when we're not married anymore. When it's part of our past. Maybe, I'm on my way to being someone who can be completely with the person I'm with, without reservation, without regret.

And most days, since then, it's been pretty much like that. I had a great time out there with you, but it didn't feel like home anymore, and I was glad to come home.


Except, I've barely heard your voice since then. I've barely made the effort to hear it. I've grown complacent in this new world of mine-- or not complacent, but when I break down from missing someone, it's not you, most of the time.

It is, tonight.

I was laying in bed, not thinking of you, not thinking of us. And then it hit me, all at once, that I wasn't. It hit me, all at once, how little time I've spent lately, remembering the life we've had, remember that you're our there somewhere, without me, and that that's by my choice, and that that would have seemed unspeakable to me, a year ago.

I imagine, sometimes, it hits you that you're alone now. You probably can avoid thinking of it way better than I can, when I am alone, which isn't as often as you are. But when it hits you, it probably hits you hard. I can't stand that. My whole adult life, all I ever knew how to do was to give myself to you so you'd feel less pain. It's all I want to do now, when I imagine you realizing how far away I am. When I imagine you realizing that I decided to leave.

I don't know how to describe the discomfort I feel when I write that-- "I decided to leave." How hard it is to keep that reality firm in my mind sometimes. The best way I can say it, really, is that it's sort of like graft versus host. I've had part of me removed-- part of me that was sick, that was starting to make the rest of me sick-- and replaced it with something new, something that can work. But sometimes, my whole body rejects it. Me, getting over you, making the choice to sleep apart from you? That's...that's not me. That's not how I remember myself.

It's so disorienting. To remember that I've made a decision that I can't go back on, and I'm not yours anymore. It makes me dizzy and lonely and homesick, because, honestly, it's the only thing I know how to be.

Most days, now, or for most hours of the day, I can want what's best for all of us: for you, for me, for him. I can want you to get the job that will make your life easier, even if it keeps you far away. I can want for me to love him forever, for him to give me children, for my life to stabilize and grow happier. Most days, now, most hours of the day, I can want you to find just enough help that you can get better, that you can be in a place where you can love someone again, and for that to last.

But some days, some hours of most days, I look around at my life, and I feel so confused. Why did I make this decision? Why did I give up on absolutely everything my life was made of? From the walls I was living between to the man I was sleeping next to. I went from one coast to the other in every way that a person can. And I spend so many hours alone now, and I spend so many hours awake.

I know that I can't go back. Because I had all the right reasons for going forward. Because I'm here, and I've started to try to build a life, and because I've told him I'll be his forever, and I can't break that promise twice. I know that I can't go back.

But I also can't keep going this way, where I forget, most days, most hours, to grieve in earnest for everything that we lost. Where I tell myself, I don't need to wear that necklace anymore, the one with our wedding ring on it. Where I tell myself, that ring has already been replaced, if only in spirit, for now.

I can't keep doing that. I have to remind myself that it's okay to look back on everything we had, because so much of it was beautiful. I have to remind myself, it's okay to miss you as deeply as I miss you right now-- it's okay that, right now, I'd give anything in the world to hear your voice, to hold you. I'd give anything in the world if you could be crying with me, like we did in the hotel that night, just before I left. I'd give anything in the world if you could be here to tell me, you loved what we had, too, just as much as I did, and you remember it, and you'll always remember it, and it's okay that it hurts this much.

I wish you would do that, sometimes. Feel the pain, for me, and be there with me, in it. I need to grieve this loss, the loss of our growing old together, the loss of children, the loss of our home and the happiness that we never quite caught up with.

Some days, you took such good care of me: the last day of my visit, I was sick, and you packed for me, and you were so good to me. No one ever made me feel so safe and at home as you, when you took care of me. It'll be a while before anyone ever does.

I wish you were here. I wish we could talk about how badly it hurts, together. You haven't died, and neither have I, but we grieve alone, like we're at each other's graves. It feels like that. Like I'm talking out loud, to a ghost. But you haven't died. You're out there somewhere, right now. Snoring.

I just want to be able to talk about the pain with you. I know that's hard for you-- to hear me out and not feel attacked, to feel my pain and resist the urge to numb yourself. But I wish we could do it, sometimes. Because I need to know that we both grieve.

It was beautiful, you know? Our life together. It was tumultuous and painful and gritty and frustrating, but it was beautiful, it was so beautiful. We stayed much longer than so many could have, under those circumstances. Because you opened me up to depths of love I'd never thought I would know how to feel. And that's something I benefit from, every day.

I don't regret it. I don't regret it at all. Just, tell me that you don't. Tell me that you never will. And hold me. And cry with me. I don't want to do it alone, anymore. I have so much grieving left to do.

And so little sleeping.

On with it.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Only Gift I Can Give This Year

My wedding ring is on my finger tonight, because it's 3am, the night of October 19th. Three hours ago, it was my ninth wedding anniversary.
I have no idea what I want to write here. I know only that, I need to start writing again. Maybe just snippets. Maybe just the tiniest glimpses inward. But if I'm going to get over the end of my marriage-- really face it, really process it, and come to some kind of peace over it, I have to begin to write again.
So, I don't really know what to say here. All I know is that my ring is on my finger, and has been for the last five or six hours. And that it's the longest this hand has escaped from it's painfully unadorned state since july, when Zack and I, hesitantly, took the rings off, more or less for good.
And I know that soon, I need to take it off again.
I guess I fear that if I don't do that, it will stick. I fear that no amount of rational accounting of all the reasons that Zack and I can't be together, no amount of concentration on the visceral memory of what it felt like, so many nights, to find ourselves trapped in some unsurmountable misery, unable to move from amount of any of that can really top the way I feel right now: Like I was a woman who was married to a man. Like I am a woman who still loves him, more than anyone in the world. Like that really should be all that matters.
But it isn't.
As I write this, I feel my body starting to reject the familiar catch of skin on metal. Not, I suspect, because of the knowledge that I'm willing myself to focus on that Zack and I can't work, that we hurt each other more than we help each other, that our lives will likely be better if we have the grace to disentangle them. Maybe that's part of it, as I start to calm down.
Moreover, it's that this ring represents a promise I made, and a promise I broke. But it's a reminder to me that I am a girl who tries to keep her promises, tries very, very hard. And there is someone else that I  now owe more to, perhaps, than I owe to my husband, estranged as he is. Someone else whom I've woken up next to, too many times in the last year to allow myself to wake up tomorrow morning with this ring still on my finger.
I spent most of the night resenting that someone else for being so clearly a part of the downfall of Zack and I. It was, after all, nine years to the day after that afternoon that Zack and I cemented what has now come undone. I suppose I had the right to entertain some anger and righteousness and frustrated sense of the gravitas of it all: I was married. I was married to a man I loved for the better part of a decade, and he came in, despite all of that, and now I'm here with him, and my husband is across the continent. He played a significant, undeniable role in ending a marriage. Who does he think he is?
It's not so wrong to have spent October 18th wondering that. But it's October 19th now, and he is the man who loves me. So the ring is coming off.

He, Daniel Bridgman, is the man who makes me happiest. He's the man who felt stinging pain when he imagined me settling for a marriage that left me so empty, so often. He's the man who weighed that against the guilt he felt in falling for a woman that belonged to a man he respected, and wrestled with the realities of both, and, in the end, he wasn't proud of wanting what he wanted. And he might have stepped aside, anyway, if Zack had moved differently.
But Zack...spent so many years of our marriage with the very deep regret that he couldn't seem to make me happy. So many years being afraid that it seemed he made me worse. And when confronted, as he was, with the reality that Dan could do things for me that he couldn't-- music, and christmas, and communication, and so many instances of deep, laughing joy-- he couldn't really fight it. 
His worst fear had come true: there was a man who could make me happy, and it wasn't him.

The truth is, I still love Zack more than I do Dan. I don't know how significant the difference is, and I don't know how long it will last. But despite all that Dan gave me, I would have chosen Zack in a heartbeat if not for the reality that I couldn't escape: that doing so would mean trivializing Zack's pain in knowing someone else might be better for me. That doing so would dishonor Zack's most important wish: That I be happy.
A lot of the time-- tonight especially-- I think, fuck happiness. Fuck some bullshit emotion that would undermine all the things in the world I learned to value more than it, in the years when it was such a scarce commodity: loyalty and family and strength and steadfastness. Being there for someone. Giving yourself to someone in this complete way; telling them, being with you is more important to me than all of the alternatives combined. You are my partner, and I am more invested in this partnership than I am in myself.
All of that? All of that, and the sacrifice that goes along with it, that means something. Fuck. Happiness.
But if love is about loyalty and sacrifice, if my love was about being more concerned with Zachary and I than I was with just me, than how could I not notice that "Zachary and I" was killing Zachary, and I? If love is about sacrificing what you want for what someone else wants, then how could I look beyond the fact that what Zack wanted more than anything was something that had to be left on the table if we were staying together: for me to be happy?
I would have stayed with him, in a moment, if he'd asked me to. But what he's been asking, all along, if I would just listen, was for me to put him out of the pain of not being able to make me happy.

It's hard, because part of me still believes that he could have made me that happy...or, no. But happy enough. Part of me still believes that if he could have gone to therapy, journaled, learned to be more communicative, identified the problems that were causing so many of the other problems...and that one day, we would have been happy enough. I still believe that.
But as many times as I asked him for that, he wouldn't say what I wanted-- that he was willing to try, that he was willing to do what it took, to get me back. I guess, more than anything, it's because he wasn't willing to let me trade the sure thing for the risky bet. I guess he was being unselfish. Or he selfishly knew that he couldn't live with the aftermath of having his fear proven right. I guess I couldn't have, either.

Zachary Smith, if you're out there, if you're reading this: I still love you more than anything. I think, I hope, that my love for Dan will tie my love for you one of these days, if it never really surpasses it. And I'll try, I'll try like hell, to let it.

But I'm doing it for you. I'm making that promise as I slide the ring, which I once wore to remind me of another promise, off of my finger: I'll try. Because I won't ever be really happy until I do. And that's what you want for me. And I want that, for you.
Call it an anniversary gift. Happy ninth, Angel.
On with it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The problem, as I see it, is conviction.  Or, rather, my utter lack of it.
What I have to do in the next few days is to overcome my intermittently intense fear of driving to drive, by myself, a total of 15 hours over the course of two days, through mostly unfamiliar country. But this isn't the heart of it, not really: this is to be directly preceded by saying goodbye to my husband, in a way that's somewhat more final than I often estimate myself to be able to endure. Tonight, and the next night, I'll lay beside him in a large bed in a cheap motel room, and then, with much less ceremony than the moment really warrants, we'll both leave wednesday morning: he, to work at his latest traveling assignment, and me, home, to New England. Where he doesn't live, anymore.
I cover my wet face with my hands and sob, then breathe in so heavily that it sucks my palms against my face, producing an odd noise, like the air being vacuumed from the room in a bad sci-fi movie. It's observations like this that keep you grounded, I guess-- and then a knock at the door. Zack, back from picking up his rental car.  I feel relatively certain I can’t keep going writing this with him in the room, and I feel strongly that I need to continue: I’ve been wondering, lately, if the lack of this kind of outlet, or, rather, my sudden, odd unwillingness to use this outlet, has contributed to the series of panic attacks I’ve associated with the growing tempest of my life lately. It’s not like things haven’t been rough before: any reader of this will gain all too much insight into the specifics of that, as well as all the evidence they would need to understand that my marriage, as it was, maybe never had a chance at all. But, until this time, no panic attacks. I probably should have been writing all along, despite my reservations.
To regain my privacy, I carry the laptop outside, to Zack’s confusion. There’s a new, white Hyundai Elantra in the parking lot-- his rental, I assume, and it’s parked next to the older, silver model that he and I just drove across country, that I will drive the rest of the way, alone.  I sit, and I continue.
Conviction. That’s what I was saying, before.

Somewhere, in the next thirty-six hours, I have to find the conviction to actually hold him for the last time for an inestimable spell, sob into his shoulders and dig my fingers into the back of his head, his hair, his neck. I have to let his tears fall into my skin as mine fall into his, let him feel the pain as I do, and fight every instinct I have to quell it: to tell him, as I have so many times before, that it’s all going to be all right, that no matter what, he has me.  
And somewhere, in the time directly following that, I have to let go.
We’ve been driving five days, getting cramps from sitting in the same position in the packed car, driving through deserts and july heat so searing that the air conditioner can’t touch it. Battling with GPS signals that get lost and wrong turns, and each other. Bad food, bad feelings, and no good prospects.  Soon enough, I will make the last leg of the journey alone, facing anxiety and fatigue and, eventually, the town he and I grew up in, met in, fell in love in-- the town that was home because he was there, and he won’t be.
Still, somehow, all of this is the easy part, in comparison. How will I ever survive that one, impossible moment where I have to let go?
Conviction, again, is the trouble.  Strength is what I need to get through this, and no one can say I don’t have that much.  No one would dare say that what he and I have been through hasn’t proven that we have strength, as individuals, and that our love has strength.  But what gave our love strength, through all the struggles that are too long to list, and entirely beside the point, really-- what gave our love strength, and what undermined it when it was gone, was conviction. The once unshakeable belief we had-- somewhere in our guts, somewhere deeper than the petty doubts-- that we were supposed to be together. 
Now that we’ve decided that we need to be apart-- and it was decided, to the degree that it has been, nearly a month ago now-- I could conquer any fear, regret, or sadness in my way, fire-forged as I am, if not for this incredible doubt.  There are moments of certainty-- many of them, in fact. Moments upon moments upon moments where something happens between us, and we’re both there-- marinating in that miserable silence of uselessness that we’ve come to know too well-- and I know, beyond a doubt, in that moment, that we can’t go on hurting each other like we have. That, lacking major change that almost certainly can’t be accomplished together, given our current circumstances, we only serve to make each other worse. We weaken each other, we do irreparable damage.
There are moments, so many moments, where I know that, in my heart.

The trouble of it is that I’d be lying if I told you there were no moments where I was sure of exactly the opposite: that I am not the type of girl to leave my husband, that I love him more deeply than could ever be thwarted by however many obstacles, that we should stay together.  These moments are fewer in number, but impossible to completely ignore. Conviction is about absolutes: it’s not about gathering marbles of belief on either side of an argument and weighing them against each other. Those marbles will scatter, mean nothing.

Far more common than the moments of certainty on either side is the more day-to-day reality: Zack and I are fine most of the time. Not sublime, very often, but fine. Fine at the grocery store, talking about whether or not our lettuce has gone bad. Fine, sitting down to eat as we watch something on Netflix. Happy when we wake up in the morning and, perhaps, two of the most compatible people in the world when we go to the Zoo, or Sea World, or a movie we both really like.  Most of the time, there’s this overwhelming feeling of “what’s really so wrong here, that we can’t get through it?”

But the answer, when it comes, is never subtle.
There’s this joke Louis CK makes about how divorce is never a bad thing, because people with happy marriages don’t get divorced. It’s amusing the way he delivers it, but it belies a bitter truth. Some marriages are hybrids: four parts happy to one part interminably miserable, with little in between.  The fact of the matter is that you can get to a point where you can’t continue to live with that last fifth. Even if the other four were everything the foundation of family-- of forever-- is supposed to be.
Conviction. Try feeling absolute about ending a marriage where you still love the other person, every bit as much as you did the day you married them.
In lieu of it, we’ve done this all in pieces.  A pre-trial-separation separation, which started several months ago: me in Maine, him in his various work locations. Explained to those who enquire with an incomplete truth: I really can’t stand to be in San Diego alone while he’s constantly traveling.  When he came to New England for a visit, it became clear we had to take the next step: a real separation, likely to lead to divorce. We took off our rings, and talked logistics. Then we flew back to San Diego, together. I said goodbye to the city and gathered my things over the course of a few weeks, readying myself to make a cross-country drive not entirely unlike the one that we made in September of last year, except reversed, and deeply, deeply sad.
Before I could manage that, though, I had to put my wedding ring on a necklace, where I’ve worn it for the past six days.  I play with it idly, in week moments, and cling to it desperately in weaker ones.
There’s another part to this story that I struggle to put into words; the part that has been, perhaps, the driving force behind why I haven’t written about any of this, publicly, until now.  You know, in some form or another, the when, the where, the who and the what-- Tomorrow, in a cheap motel room in Norfolk, Virginia, Zack and I will release, at some point, from a semi-final embrace.  But of course, you want to know more than I’ve alluded to, as to the why.
Well, if you have to know, it’s a million reasons, like I said.  Incompatibility, circumstance, and raw pain.  It would be a great disservice to the truth to say it could have happened under different circumstances: if my marriage hadn’t been as sick, and brutalized, and brutal as it was, then I wouldn’t have been able to fall in love with someone else.

Because that’s the power of conviction.
There’s this whole defense I want to mount, this whole explanation that screams in my mind.  But I find that it’s not really true to this piece of writing, it’s not really all that relevant. Whatever the facts are, I did fall in love with someone else, I am in love with two men. One of the men, I am married to, and the other...
For those who are reading who might be compelled to be utterly offended by all of this, let me simply state that, in all of this, there was no deception, no infidelity-- as it’s classically understood-- and no betrayal.

Except for the betrayal I feel of the promise I made, one day, nearly nine years ago: to stand by him always, to be a better person because of him, to make him a better one, because of me. The betrayal I feel, when I imagine myself getting round with the child of another man while he loses his faith in the dream of having children of his own. The betrayal I feel-- against the man that I love more than perhaps anyone else in the world-- when I can’t give myself to him as a consolation in all of his greatest pains, at the moment when his pain is greatest.

The betrayal that I feel when I think of the end to that sentence, from before, which I couldn’t bear to write: not without explaining how sick it makes me feel to think it. One of the men, I am married to, and the other can make me happy.
It sickens me how readily I know I believe that. The ultimate betrayal: to believe that one man can make me happy, and it is not him. And I do believe I can be happy-- I have conviction.
That is, if I can ever get over having let go of it, the first time.

On with it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

It's so important
To make someone happy.
Make just one
Someone happy.
~Jimmy Durante, Make Someone Happy


Fleeting, mysterious, unpredictable happiness.  This concept that we all chase, that we all suspect everyone has in spades over us.  Something we shun as moody teenagers and then pine after as life-trodden adults.  Wistful, powerful, energizing, amazing happiness.

And, when you think of it, really the source of most of the misery in the world.

I mean, okay.  Not happiness itself.  But the pursuit of happiness-- coming into this mindset that X will make us happy, or Y will make us happy.  That we will be happy when we finally fix this problem, have this ability, own this thing.  That we will be happy if we can just have one cup coffee, one cigarette, one piece of cake...or six.  That we will be happy when we finally graduate high school, finally have the degree, finally have the job.  Happy when five o'clock rolls around.

That car will make me happy.  That locale.  That weight.

If you think about how much emphasis Americans put on finding happiness, and how little of us actually, genuinely find it on the paths we're on, well, the forefathers really screwed the pooch on this one.

No disrespect, of course, to the visiter in England who found my site today searching for the phrase "I miss human decency" on Google-- that search term seems to indicate that maybe, they're not so happy across the pond, either.  I suppose we put ideas in their head when we sent them that damn Declaration.

One of the many things I've noticed that you're supposed to have-- and want-- a lot of, but rather consistently seems to make one less happy the more they have of it, is knowledge.  Knowledge-- and it's bitchy girlfriend, intelligence-- are supposed to be these incredible tools.  But, working with a theory that being happy is more important than being successful-- and I'm not asserting it is, at the moment-- one could make a very reasonable argument that it's in fact, a hinderance.

At this point, I had hoped to link to an article explaining some scientific study that smart people are less happy in their daily lives; I was surprised when I couldn't find it.  I was able to find multiple studies suggesting that intelligence does not correlate in a positive way with happiness-- except, perhaps, when living in a very poor nation where intelligence may give you the means to fulfill your very basic needs-- but I can't imagine who exactly thought it would?  Who, precisely, theorized that smarter people are happier and set out to do a rigorous survey or some kind of double-blind study proving themselves right?  My guess is it's those not-so-smart researchers.  The ones that got into science and psychology because they couldn't get into med school, and now they spend their time needlessly envious of the brains around them, thinking they'd be in nirvana if they just had that bad skin and those focused, bespectacled eyes.

I say this, of course, because I've never me a truly smart person who suspected, for a moment, that their intelligence made them happier.  Then again, I've also never met a smart person who would have been willing to trade their intelligence for happiness.  There's a weird paradox in that.

But intelligence is just the bitchy girlfriend-- knowledge, I think, is the real criminal here.  Intelligence is just a means to knowledge, after all, not often the other way around.  Knowledge is what really makes you miserable, too:  knowledge that, at any given moment, as you are drinking some divine, ornately-made choco-latte-grande-chino, there are starving children all over the world, and their helpless parents who could have fed them for a month on the three bucks you just spent on decadent caffeine.  Knowledge that eating a banana or having a bottled, in an attempt to eat right and feel good about it, really equate to terrorism in South America or the dangerous privatization of water sources.  Knowledge that there's acid in the rain, toxins in every food you eat, and that there's no such thing as the Tooth Fairy.

But, perhaps the knowledge that interferes the most with my own personal happiness is all the knowledge I've gotten in the past few years on the subject of personal happiness.

I just watched this TED talk, featuring Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling Upon Happiness.  He presents the information in this super-uplifting way, making the point that your choices, circumstances, and getting or not getting what you want don't effect your happiness nearly as much as you'd expect, making the point early on that, on average, one year after their life-changing events, lottery winners and those who lost the use of their legs are equally content.  He talks about your mind's ability to synthesize happiness, enabling a person to level out from life's disappointments, whether minor or major, with surprising ease.  The message is very mellow-- hey everyone, relax.  It's all gonna be okay.  Whatever happens, your mind has the ability to make you just as happy as you ever were.

One problem with the upbeat message:  he doesn't go into the fact that, despite your mind's ability to manifest your own personal amount of happiness whether you logically should have it or not, your own personal amount, well, it might be significantly lower than most people's.

I've talked about this before-- the concept of the Hedonic Treadmill, the current reigning pop-psychology theory that indicates that, despite changes in your life for the better or for the worse, you are destined to return to your baseline.

Which more or less validates a belief I've always had-- there are happy people, and there are unhappy people.  And there's really not a lot the have-nots can do to catch up with those damned haves, in this case.  So wouldn't it be lovely if they would just leave us alone already?

It's a little bit of a digression, but there's nothing more frustrating than a happy person who tries to force some platitude on you to get you out of your slump-- all the worse when that platitude is something along the lines of "Be grateful! There are people who have it worse than you!"

Two points for you, gratitude-platitude-punks: One, my glass-half-empty status is mostly genetic, not dependent on my circumstances, no matter how comfortably first-world those circumstances are.  And TWO, I know all about those people who are miserable and suffering.  THINKING ABOUT THEM is a big part of why I'm guilt-stricken, neurotic, angry and sad most of the time.  So why don't you go have Poland Spring water and a banana, and stick them both up your socially unconscious, blind, arrogant ass, Smiley McLifeIsGreat?

Okay.  Digression over.

Anyway.  There's some hope, I guess.  From what I can tell, the newest studies indicate that as much as 40% of one's happiness might be due to intentional activities-- IE, you can get, to an extent, happier.  You'll still be anchored by the 50% that is genetics and the 10% which is uncontrollable circumstances.  But 40%, well...if it's true, it's a little more hopeful than I was lead to believe.

I should point out that I have no idea how they got these numbers, by the way.  What is 40% of one's happiness?  Is it measured in time?  40% of the time they spend feeling happy?  Or is it measured in the amount of happiness in one's...emotional set at any given time?  If you, overall, are made up of ten parts happiness, ten parts regret, fifteen parts anger and five parts forty percent of your happiness really just ten percent of you, overall?

It's a confusing number to say the least.

The other thing is-- and I am far from being an expert at this time-- I've never read anything that said you couldn't effect how often you veer from your "baseline" of happiness, though I suspect that if I were better at understanding graphs, I'd find that it can't be more all that often, as that would necessarily shift your baseline, unless you counter it with equal periods of sadness, or, I suppose, the occasional hour of absolute searing heartbreak.

So, I want to know more about this.  I've made a lot of changes in my life-- I moved to San Diego recently, got on ADHD meds, got bangs-- and I'm finding mostly improvements with respect to these changes.  San Diego is beautiful and full of things to do, places to explore.  ADHD meds make me more productive and focused, and I'm having an easier time learning things I've always wanted to learn and being the person that I've always wanted to be.  The person that I thought I would be the happiest as.

But I'm not really happier, I don't think.  Aside from the fact that the medication, for some reason, never fails to give me a very mean, very upsetting irritable hour in the late-afternoon every day, the more pertinent reality is that doing these things I always wanted to do-- spending more time drawing and painting, learning the ukelele, and watching videos on to hone my design skills-- well, they're not what happiness is made of.

So I'm thinking of getting a book, despite my disdain for the happiness-intel, though I'm having trouble deciding between the many available on the subject.  Daniel Gilbert's aforementioned Stumbling Upon Happiness?  Happier, by Harvard Professor Tal Ben-Sharar?  Or perhaps the How of Happiness, by Sonja Lyubomirsky, whose book's average Amazon review, at 4.5 stars, seems to kick the other two poseurs, with four stars each, right in their happy-sacks.

Then again, when it comes to books on happiness, it seems prudent to stray from my normal loyalty to Amazon ratings.  I want science, not uplifting nonsense that makes people feel like they have more control than they really do.

Hmmm, and there again is the problem-- as Dan Gilbert points out in his TED talk, synthetic happiness is of just as high a quality as the "natural" stuff, though people are stubbornly skeptical of it. If reading that book made people happy-- if reading that book can make me happy-- than why would I care if it's fact or fiction?  Why should I care what the controls of her experiments were?  This isn't a cancer treatment, this is happiness.

Also, David Rakoff, author of Half Empty, would probably like me to point out at this point that, contrary to popular belief, a positive outlook does not improve one's likelihood of surviving a terminal illness, according to studies he quotes in his book.  That's one that I think I will buy, actually.  In the name of fairness and balance-- plus I love his voice, and I'm getting my choices in audiobook format.

It's 2:45 AM, yet again.  I have acupuncture tomorrow at noon, and it will take me at least an hour of tossing and turning to sleep, probably more.  So far, I have no real evidence that these community acupuncture sessions I've been attending several times a week are helping me feel happier, or, more to the point, helping to cure any of the problems that I, perhaps short-sightedly, blame my unhappiness on.  But what I do have very compelling evidence of is that staying up too late the night before one does make me very unhappy when it's time to get out of bed in the morning.  Thus far, despite the fact that better sleep is supposed to be a side effect of the treatments, I haven't been able to get my schedule back to any degree of normality, despite several attempts with varying strategies.

Last night, I stayed up making a drawing for Zack-- or, that's what it turned into.  At first was a sketch to busy my hands as I watched reruns of "How I Met Your Mother" on Netflix-- if you want happiness in my book, it's eating and watching TV on the couch, but that knowledge-monster I mentioned before understands the causal link between that action and a pant size that, well, isn't happiness in my book.  So I was drawing, and right around the time the sketch began to remind me Cthulhu with an eyepatch, I decided to make it into a little present for Zack.  I finished up the transformation of Cthulhu into a full-blown Cthulhu-Pirate, and then carefully scripted a note on a treasure map in the corner:

Cthulhu Pirate wants you to have a marrrvelous morning!
Then I went outside and taped it to the steering wheel of his car, before climbing into bed with him around 3:30.  A few hours later, he woke up, groggy and overtired, got dressed, packed a lunch, and left for work in the pre-sunrise dimness of a january morning.

He loved the drawing.

I don't do things like this often enough for him.  It's a bit surprising, because, for money, the simplest route to happiness is gifts.  Not for me.  For other people.  I love giving gifts, I love putting a lot of thought and effort into something that makes it clear to them, once again, how much I love them.  An elaborate birthday package, a random amazon shipment, something they've mentioned they want but never gotten around to getting.  I tried to learn Hallelujah on the uke for Sam's birthday-- and I basically did, but the idea was to record it in a video and post it on his wall, but my equipment was shoddy at best, and I was still another six weeks from being able to get all the way through without a mistake-- or at least, I hope it's only six weeks.

I bought a giant box of blow pops for Elorza one year, and the box set of MTV's The State another-- both were unexpected and thrilled him.  I had Zack bring Holly, at work, a cup of ice coffee on a day when neither of us could leave-- I had asked her what she thought would make her day better, and that was what she listed.  I set up a Happy-Birthday-Bill Hotline, and twitter bombed all his favorite celebrities to get him to call it: Felicia Day was the only taker.  I knew she'd come through.

I used to have...more people in my life that motivated me to do over-the-top things, people I wanted to spoil.  Still, it's time to refocus those efforts, though maybe more economically than I have in the past.  See what I can do to brighten a day here and there, and hope that's enough brightness to get through a week.  Between that, and whatever goddamn book I decide to buy, maybe I can get somewhere that's...40% more worth being than here.

And if that doesn't work, there's always Jimmy Durante.  Come on.  Just TRY to be depressed when you listen to this guy.

And you will be happy, too.

On with it.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Tonight, you stooped to my level.
I'm your mangy little whore.
And you're trying to find your underwear,
And your socks, and then the door.

You're trying to find a reason
Why you have to leave.
I know it's 'cause you think you're Adam.
You think I'm Eve.

I don't know the relevance of this song, right now.  It came on as I was listening to iTunes on shuffle, while I was reading old entries of this thing, while I was trying to think of all the messages of my life I've communicated on this thing, think about them in the context of how they came out, think about them in the context of trying to see the truth through the blur that is my language; my eloquence,when I have it. My bias, when I can't escape it.

Are those last few sentences even true?  Or did they just sound good?  What was I doing, why I was reading?  Why am I writing now?

There was this time in session with Mr. L, the counselor at Lisbon High School at the time, where we had both been upset by something we were arguing about-- he was a tough love kinda therapist, some of the time.  When he needed to be.  And he was angry at me, I think, because I was irrationally angry at myself.  All at once, he pushed me-- Why do you hate yourself so much?

I don't remember how my response, exactly.  But it was a denial, I don't hate myself.

He protested.  Yes, you do.

No, I love myself.  Can it be that I said that?  God, that doesn't sound like me, and maybe it wasn't-- it's unclear now.  But I'm clear on the message, if not the exact wording, of what I said next: that I act the way I do because I want other people to love me.

Gosh, I wish I had a journal entry from a time that was closer to that day than now is-- I'm almost sure I wrote one, at some point in the innumerable hours between now and then.  I want to know that I got it right, that I understand.  My memory, very honestly, is not what it used to be-- hanging out with younger men and their total recall has led me to understand that.  Anyway, what I know-- whatever it was I said exactly-- was that he leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms, and made some kind of noise of sudden understanding.  It validated what I felt already-- that something in what I said was ultimately true, true and deep in a way we hadn't gotten to before.

Goddamn, but I wish I had that exact conversation right now.  How often do we have such revelations in our lifetimes?

The sentiment was more protective than insecure-- that there was a part of me who had developed to shelter this weaker part of me from the hatred and pain I encountered in my youth.


I made the decision, just now, to search for some keywords that might bring up an old post in which this conversation was mentioned.  I didn't find one; perhaps, I would have, but the first post I found was long, and I read it, wondering if the memory would effect me the way it used to; if all these years later, that day described in the writing, those events could possibly have any ounce of the same power over me: aren't I an adult now?  Haven't I worked out so many of my problems?

If I am to judge by the lines of thin, red paint running down my face, the sullied tissues at my side, and this uncomfortable lump in my throat, I'd say "no."

But if I wanted a clear understanding of where that protective part of me came from, if I needed an example of the things I faced in my youth that forced part of me to race towards adulthood and protect my weaker, younger inner self...if I wanted to know why it is that I write, why it is that I go back and read, then it's a better post than most to start with.

That was a link, in case you missed it.  And if you didn't read it or didn't click because it was long, because you're just skimming, because you're more interested in the now than the then-- well, how often is the now just a strained reverberation of the then?  Still, for your sake, the short version: it's the story of the mostly terrible day when I heard my father say "I love you."  It's the story of the fact that that was the only day for years and years before, and, if you're curious, for years and years since.

He said it that day, and I changed a lot that day; but no, he hasn't said it again, and I haven't said it to him.  Because how often is the now just a strained reverberation of the then?

I can say it, now, to so many people, and I do.  I can tell Dan, Sam, Jeff, Elorza.  I can post to facebook that "I miss the guys at Borders and send my love to all", I can tell people with whom I feel just the seeds of love that I know it's growing into it.  I can write about love I feel for people who have left my life, wondering if they'll read it-- Casey-- or knowing they will because I can check the visitor stats from this website-- Emily.  I can tell my nephews, I can tell my dead grandmother while standing at her grave.  Occasionally, I can summon the courage to tell my mother and sister.  I can tell Chad, who-- though unmentioned in that post-- was the next person I saw after all of that happened, which was undoubtedly instrumental in readying me for the vastness of what I would feel for him, readying me to feel love for someone utterly unlike my father.  And Chad's rejection, in term, readying me to fall for someone who was a halfway point between them, perhaps;  Chad's decency and gentleness, coupled, almost impossibly, with my father's erupting temper.

I tell Zack I love him every day.  I make him tell me, ask him.  I somehow believe that if he says it enough, that will give it more force; train him, almost.  Make it true, because he says it's true.


The day all of that happened, and however many days later, when I wrote the post describing it, and for years after that...I hadn't learned yet, none of us had learned yet of my father's developing diabetes.  Of the chemical imbalances in his system that were developing to make his rages all the more raging, to make him all the more thoughtless and impetuous and hurtful.  To do to me....all that it did to me.  To do to my family all that it did to my family; all those years, building, getting worse, undiagnosed.

And now, diagnosed, there are problems.  My father has developed more medical problems, some a great deal more mysterious than diabetes, and it effects how he can be treated, and it effects how much of his nature-- is it is nature?-- how much of his temper and anger can be controlled.

Sometimes, when it's particularly bad, it gets easy to tell how much it's wearing on my mother.  The way you can never really just discount something a drunk person says to you-- because isn't it really more likely that it was stewing in their mind the whole time and they just had the sense not to say it than that they didn't mean it at all?-- it's hard for her to ignore, time and time again, his unrefined, animal self.

There's a post I wrote not too long ago, in contrast, about losing faith in love-- there's a link there, of course, but don't feel like you have to read it.  The topic isn't explored as deeply as I would like for it it to be, just the fear that I was losing it, and a comparison to the way I lost faith in religion, the way I couldn't get it back no matter how I tried.

To answer your question, if you had it-- I guess I don't really know how I faired in that more recent crisis of faith.  Do I believe in love now?  Or do I believe that it is a cheap, chemical trick?

I don't know, for sure, but it become all the clearer to me why I ran into the question at all-- for the past six years or so, I have taken to mending my wounds at the hands of my father.  Taken to forgiving him for the things that I can, and, at the very least, intending to forgive him for the things that I can't.  There are things I've found out about my father that I suspect no one else knows-- things that I believe fill him with a deep, consuming shame that shape his reactions and overreactions.  Things that, I believe, might make him have a crisis of love-faith: would anyone love him if they knew?

I do love him; I can say that here, easily enough at the least.  But I can't tell him.

I can't tell him that I love him despite all the tormenting shame and the crimes that caused it, can't tell him that I forgive him for who he is, or try.  Hell, I can't even tell him I love him without confessing to that damned knowledge, and, if you didn't read it between the lines back there, I know that there's a chance that he's probably dying.

So if I can't summon the bravery to lift just some small amount of weight from his shoulders, to help cut through the suspected lifelong doubt that he was worthy of being known, worthy of being loved despite...well, if I can't grow up enough to do that, then how can I really maintain my anger at what he did to me in my youth?

I mean, I could, I guess.  But it seems easier for me to declare it "sqauresies", and pretend that somehow resolves something.

But this was a tirade from my semi-original point-- I have taken to attempting to forgive him, to understand that, and the diabetes has become a tool of mine.  It's impossible to know how much of his anger, how much of his screaming and shoving and cold distance was caused by the fluctuating of chemicals and hormones, was caused by a undiagnosed and misunderstood disease; my tendency is therefore to give him the benefit of the doubt.

People underestimate the value of giving people the benefit of the doubt-- you should do it more often.  You don't know that the car that just cut you off isn't racing to the hospital to get help for a passenger or to see a loved one in their final moments before they die.  You don't know that the cashier who short-changed you isn't grappling a lifelong battle with number dyslexia.  You don't know that the person who scratched your car in the parking lot before driving off had any idea that they did it all-- perhaps they were being distracted by the news that their spouse has been diagnosed with cancer.

So why bother being mad?

Ironically enough, I probably developed this deeply-held belief in the practice of calm and forgiving because of my father's temper; because hearing him rail about things that seemed so unimportant made me angry, and made me want to be better than that.

But there is a downfall to this theory of benefit of the doubt, for me at least, and it's one I'm only finding out about tonight, as I write this-- and I was wondering why I felt compelled.

All of this pain in my life, in my family's life.  All of these destructive fights, all of scars on the psyche of myself, my sister, my mother, my young nephew who was overhearing them during truly pivotal times of his development-- I'm trying to forgive father, to blame the diabetes where possible.  So years and years of pain and suffering and family devastation becomes the fault of...sugar?

My teenaged life was a hell, my adult life is a strained reverberation of that hell, my father suffers, my family suffers, and we're all angry and twisted and trying to make it right; the happiness of my childhood was destroyed by sucrose.

And the more stock I put in that, the more stock I put into all sorts of chemical things.  It's easy to notice now when Zack gets too hungry, because he gets grumpily dissatisfied with, seemingly, all of life.  Struggled with it for years in the beginning of our marriage, trying to figure out what was what-- now I just feed him and that makes it go away.  So, good.  A win for that theory.  That theory, strengthened.

But if men are susceptible to chemical change, then women, with our ever-changing hormones, so different from men in that aspect-- well, how many of our actions are just the fault of ebbing and rising estrogen, progesterone, testosterone.  Not exactly like we're immune to that hunger-anger, either, since we're on self-mandated diets, like, half the time.

And so, now, with a little help from my own estrogen, there are really no women in my life, in an important way.  I have a deep distrust for them, and a deep anger that they seem to think themselves so above the base realities of their bodies.

And I, so eager to be different by professing my weakness, both separate myself that way, and group myself back in, distrusting myself all the more.  I don't have the self-respect that I should, because I know all too well that many, if not most, of the things I feel are just chemical reactions to what I've eaten, what I've taken, where my cycle is.

So, why, exactly, in this world where my father and husband have been bested by a little molecule of energy, in this world where the women I once revered are just time bombs of hormones and repression, in this world where everyone is just the sum of their physical, chemical parts-- why wouldn't I believe all the less in love?

I survived my love for my father and the hurt that went with it, ultimately, by making love less of....I'd like to write "what it is."  I can't do that.


So again, did I make it through my crisis of love-faith?  I don't know.  I try not to think about it as often as before, I know that.

I think I've come to stand on the shaky ground that there are two emergent realities-- the one that contains, perhaps, some objective, quantifiable truth.  The chemistry of love, the non-existence of right and wrong, the absence or presence of souls, of god, of energy.

And then there's a reality made up of what we experience every day.  A reality made up of what we feel, not why we feel it.  A reality in which anger is just anger, hurt is just hurt, and-- hopefully more powerful than those, if I am to survive this parallel reality-- love is just love.

You can believe in that first reality, you can talk about it and write about it and help it humble you and ground you and make you more practical and less judgmental and more forgiving, when it fits.  But you have to live in that second reality, I guess.

It kind of reminds me something Casey-- who I loved, who I love, who I do not really speak to now-- told me once, about how some important Saint-- perhaps Augustine-- believed simultaneously in free will, and the omnipresent control of God.  I'll have to look into that.  Maybe I could get love and faith back in one fall swoop.  I keep writing it together anyway; love-faith.  I like what it represents, and I like the way it sounds: like something you'd read on a Dr. Bronner's soap label.

And now we're back to theology, and maybe somehow, I can work in that song from the beginning, Adam and Eve by Ani DiFranco.  Not a song about love-faith, so much, as a song about lust-religion.  Or, put another way that's not so different, about regret and shame.

There's a part in that post-- the first one, the important one, though I'll forgive you if you didn't read it-- where my father is trying to explain why he's been so absent all those years: "He told me that most of the time he had only stayed away from me because he thought that was what I had wanted, because he was afraid of messing me up....He kept rambling, almost senselessly, saying over and over again that he of course he loved me, that he wasn't perfect, that I shouldn't allow him to mess me up."

There it is: my father, saying that he didn't want to damage me, saying he'd been trying his best.  And here I am, all these years later, never having told him back.

Do I honor him?  Am I doing the best I can?  Which reality am I really living in, here?  Have I become stuck in the reverberations?  Or have I, with my love, with my words, with all that I strive to be-- have I ridden those waves to a higher place?

Just do me a favor.
It's the least that you can do.
Just don't treat me like I am
Something that happened to you.

And I am,
I am,
I am truly sorry about all this.

On with it.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

I listened to the Middle School episode of This American Life last night, while working on a painting of a horse-- my resolution for the first part of the New Year is to improve my ability to paint and draw horses and birds, though birds have thus far gone neglected, no surprise. It's hard to beat that pre-pubecsent, Freudian equine fixation out of a girl. Freud, however, and the entire equine population would be sadly disappointed, I imagine. I'm not making the strides with my new medium that I had hoped-- painting has never come exactly natural to me.

The episode-- number 449, available to be listened to here-- was about Middle School. They began the show talking about the neuro-development of early puberty, the middle school years, and how learning in this time period has a unique effect on your life. Linda Perlstein, the author of Not Much, Just Chillin', who researched this developmental stage while writing a book that closely followed the lives of five middle schoolers, had this to say about it:

"This is the time of biggest growth for a human being, aside from infancy...During the middle school years what happens in your early stages of puberty is this vast overproduction of brain cells and connections-- far more than you actually need...So if you think about what you learned, at the early stages of puberty-- I don't know what that was for you. For me, it was tap dancing and french. I know french much better than any language I learned after that, and not because I had a better teacher, I was learning it at the right time. I can still do tap-dances, though I won't, that I learned when I was twelve or thirteen...It's embossed on your existence."
Interesting. This got me thinking about what, precisely, was the most important thing for me in middle school. Certainly, it was the time when writing became more than just a passing thought for me, which can probably be at least partially attributed to my seventh-grade English teacher. But what else was on my mind?

If you knew me back then, you knew the answer. The blond, blue-eyed boy that I met in sixth grade and continued to crush on at least until sophomore year, arguably until graduation. Maybe until today, in some way or another. I've made a point of staying in contact with him all these years, even though our lifestyles don't overlap now, and our social circles were vastly different even then.

Still, he was always nice to me...okay, not always. But how different could I have been today if I had spent the ridiculous amount of time I spent thinking about him back then thinking about somebody with the sadistic whims of the average popular middle school kid?

So I wrote him a note, explaining the episode, and continuing with this:

So I thought back to what I was learning in middle school-- I guess, when I think of it, it was the time when writing started to become really important to me, and it has stayed really important to me. Academically, that's what stands out.

But they made another point in the program: that, perhaps unfortunately, due to these changes and all the hormonal and social chances happening to kids at this age, there's so much drama going on in a middle schooler's life that it's probably the age when they're least likely to learn anything in school-- anything in a textbook, anyway.

There's so much drama and social stuff in a kid's life at that time that many experts think that traditional schooling for kids that age is a waste of time-- nevertheless, being with other kids at that age helps to shape the adult they will become.

So I start to think of what my social life was like in middle school, what my day-to-day interactions were, who I hung out with, who I was thinking about-- and that's where you come in.
I fell for you in sixth grade. You were not, at all, the first popular boy that I'd been crushing on with undeniable hopelessness- there were a parade of them at Marion T. Morse.

But I met you under different circumstances-- Marion T. Morse and Lisbon Elementary had merged for the first time. You were aware of my stature, but didn't really have any preconceived distaste for me. Like most of the boys from Lisbon Elementary, you were just nicer, overall.

And something in that made you different. Something in that made me braver. Perhaps it was sitting in that first four-group desk in Ms. D's class with Jenn and Dan F., the four of us interacting with no real outside pressure or influence. In Mr. M's class, I passed you notes. After school, I'd call you sometimes. When I was brave enough to try to talk to you, you'd talk to me for a while. You didn't seem to see any reason that you shouldn't.

It wasn't like I had a shot, and I wasn't exactly declaring my love. But I knew, you knew, and it was just...okay.

All the rest of my life, my relationships have had a lot of similarities-- I've never felt the need to hide what I feel from people, to play some coy games or keep things to myself. When I'm attracted to someone, I tell them that-- whether or not they're in my league, whether or not they're available to me. When I love someone, I tell them that, too-- and it's okay when they don't say it back.

Interestingly enough, having the confidence to tell someone that's out of my league that I find them hot-- at least, guys-- has changed what my league would have been. Guys like a confident woman, they seem to respond to someone who doesn't play cagey games.

So, I learned how to interact with people that I was drawn to from you-- because you were kind, and (most of the time) didn't make me feel awful about myself, now, as an adult, I'm fearless and straightforward. And I like that about myself.

So I guess I just wanted to say thank you-- whoever you are now, whatever you took out of middle school and beyond, you were a great kid. And you helped to make me a better woman.

The other thing that struck me about this episode is how much it seems to explain about other people in my life-- specifically, in this case, Zack. (My husband, for newcomers)

Zack was home-schooled in middle school-- though not in elementary school or high school. I'd never thought too much about it before now, but what they said in the episode makes a lot of sense. In a time where most people are learning, in the company of other, awkward kids, to deal with their emotions and hormones and figuring out precisely how to interact, figuring out exactly what it is that's going to make them into themselves, Zack spent most of his time, in those years, burning through a day's worth of schoolwork in an hour or so, then spending the rest of the time playing video games in his room.

Today, Zack is very, very good at video games. But he still struggles with expressing himself, with his emotions, and, especially, with making friends and lasting connections with other people.

It's always been hard to discern why-- Zack is eminently likable. No one who spends any time with him ever has anything bad to say-- unless they've been privy to one of his rather loud outbursts while playing a video game, should he start to lose, or suspect he might. But overall, when he does talk, he's boyant, charming, and irreverent in a way that people can't resist-- and when he doesn't talk, they seem somehow intrigued by his charismatic silence.

Still, making friends is difficult for him, and keeping friends has proven almost impossible. Notably, he seems less anxious when surrounded with people who are younger than him, which may have been a result of the fact that his mother ran a day care all throughout the years he was home-schooled, putting him in frequent contact with younger kids.

Sadly, this loneliness seems to have become the defining sorrow of his life, and my closeness to so many people only serves to highlight it, bitterly.

I want to discuss it with him, but I'm frankly not sure I should. I've always put a lot of stock into these neuro-development things, and other biological facts that contribute to who we are and what we can do-- the kinds of things that the masses, I think, like to casually ignore, not willing to be defined by the science of our bodies. I wish I was like that-- I'm all too aware that I'm past the point where it is easy for me to learn new things, that, if I had studied French a few years earlier than I started, I'd be fluent now, because it's when my mind was ready for it. If I had learned to paint back then, would these horses today be realized with full, vibrant beauty? All too often, that knowledge is what discourages me from trying harder-- can I ever be what I might have been? Can I hope to compete with the people of tomorrow, whose parents and teachers will understand these important truths far better than I ever did?

And, Zack, too often pessimistic-- maybe he'll find the information interesting and satisfying: a reason he struggles the way he does, something concrete and scientific and not at all his fault, something to motivate him to work harder towards what he wants to be. Or, more likely, he could take it as just one more point against him, a scientific bottom line proving that he missed the popularity train.

I suppose all I can do is keep working on my shoddy French, keep painting my disappointing horses, and hope to set a good example, that maybe, just maybe, it's worth it to keep trying. Maybe I can paint him a picture that will be worth looking at.

On with it.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

It was pages of a notebook with scribbled red writing.

If I had to track it back to where it all really began to go wrong, I guess, upon inspection, I'd have to say it was there.

Tucked into a drawer, I believe, in a green desk in my room.  The largest, if I'm not mistaken, on the bottom.  I'd written it weeks before, maybe in a study hall at school, and she'd seen it.  She'd seen my quick, harsh reaction to her glancing at it, she'd heard me forbid her to read it.  I may as well have told her it was the holy grail.

I don't think she ever intended to find it-- I could be wrong, I suppose, but I believe it was an honest mistake.  And who could have controlled their curiosity once it was in their hands?

So she read it.  Alone, in my room, while I was gone.

There's this thing I understand about myself now, and must have understood even then.  These tiny seeds of doubt get stuck in my mind, and they grow and they grow until I commit them to words.  Then, often, they dissipate.  It's a tendency that has lead me to have to confess some thoughts that I wish I never had to share-- and doing so, I regret, has done some damage to those who have had to hear them, sometimes.

But these doubts, I knew I could never share with her.

I knew it wasn't worth it.  I knew they were the children of confusion and fear and societal pressures, I knew they were more about how I thought I should feel, than how I felt.  Most of all, I knew they weren't important enough to be spoken, and I knew that she was too important to hurt.

"When I was young, I knew everything..."

So I wrote them down.  In that damn, red ink, that made them so vulgarly conspicuous, so easy to see at first, so easy to remember when she saw them again-- red, like a target.  Red, like the burning, destructive flames that they were.

People I've related the story to have told me that she was the one who should be sorry, that she invaded my privacy, and that I had every right to express myself.  At the time, I thought they were so short-sighted.  The reality is that I hate written hateful, hurtful things on paper, and was careless about it, and she suffered for it.  She suffered more for it than I ever would, more than I could ever predict she would. I apologized then, I tried to explain.  But there's only so much damage you can really undo.  What a betrayal-- to cut into the beautifying glow of early love with ugly words, to make someone doubt every time you tell them how you feel.

Privacy? What a trivial idea, in the grand scheme of things.

Then again, I'm suffering along with her now.  So maybe I add the privacy thing along in the list of things that I try not to be me mad at her for.

It was the beginning of the end in the short term-- when it ended, she made me feel like I was the one being rejected, because I never knew just how completely I had made her feel rejected in the first place.  At that age, I couldn't comprehend what I had started.  When she lied and told me that everything that had happened didn't mean that much, I believed her.

I believed her, and after a harsh, broken-hearted time, I started going on with my life.  And she, who ended our relationship with a lie, never had the opportunity to believe anything clear.  All she knew was the red ink of my doubts versus the blank ink of a hundred notes passed between us that told her I felt just the opposite.

I guess she spent the next however many years loving me.  I don't recall that I knew, clearly, back then that that's what was happening.  I don't believe I ever understood, and even now, it's hard to fully grasp the damage someone takes being rejected by someone who doesn't know they're rejecting.  The attraction never really dissipated, and things happened.  Maybe we were both fighting to be validated by the other-- both of us had been hurt.

I don't know.  We were kids.  We were stupid.  Both our hands were stained with that damned, red ink.

"We tried to wash our hands of all of this..."

About a million things happened between then and the day I had to write my final note to her-- a lot of them contributed.  But, rereading the last of our correspondences now, I can see the red letters between the lines-- she wrote of things that happened in our past that she never really got over, things that we would have to work on when we were done with this break that we were on for reasons that were supposed to have been unrelated.

The truth is, nothing is really unrelated.  It's a domino effect.  For a brief time, one summer, I gave her some of the confidence that she'd lacked all her life; then, all at once, I took it away and more.  You don't just, get over that.

"Now I'm guilt-stricken, sobbing, with my head on the floor."

So now it's, I don't know how many years later....twelve, thirteen.  The girl I was closer to than any other in my life, for most of the life that I remember, is gone.  Because of a series of mistakes we made before we could begin to understand what the hell we were doing.

There were a lot of factors.  There were things that she did that angered me, anger me now.  They aren't worth talking about, not now, not with this beautiful song playing in the background and me feeling this melancholy longing.

It came down to a decision on my part.  I don't know what to say about what I why I made it-- that I was hurting more deeply than I could make her understand, that I was trapped in a fight where I wasn't allowed to throw a punch, that all of my instincts were telling me to do things that could only make everything worse.

What I can say about the decision is this: I lost one of the best friends I ever had.  I miss her...not quite every day, because, by sheer force of will, there are days that I avoid thinking about it.  I love her, I always will.  I often wake up from dreams about us finally being friends again, when I do sleep-- and I have doubts, enormous doubts, that keep me up a lot of nights.  Doubts-- we all know what damage they can do.

I have doubts about my decision, and they get stuck in my mind, and they grow until I commit them to words.  Having done that now, what I can say about my decision is this:  If I had to do it again, I would make the same decision.

It was the only one that was right at the time.  It was the only thing I could do, given the circumstances-- the adult thing to do.  The thing that caused the least amount of damage for both of us.  Because I caused enough of it already, all those years ago.

"For the life of me, I cannot believe we'd ever die for these sins.  We were merely freshmen."

On with it.

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