Divorce, Letting Go, Love, Relationships

Lost & Found

diamond in sand

Six years ago, I lost a diamond. It was a tiny bit from the whole, just one of many fragments — a single round stone from my father’s mother’s wedding ring, chips from my maternal grandmother’s jewels, and a white gold base that had been my own simple engagement ring. A craftsman put all these together and carved it with fine floral scrollwork.

At a December birthday party for Bug’s preschool friend, I glanced down and noticed the hole in this wedding ring. It was one of several small diamonds, easily replaced. Even so, the loss agitated me. In that tilting moment, I felt stripped, even a little ashamed.  The chattering conversation with other parents swirled around me and I couldn’t find my place in it anymore.

Looking around was futile. The dizzying bounce-castle playland reeled with dozens of shrieking children, a mini train, a video arcade, and a vast carpet littered with cake crumbs and rock salt shaken from winter boots.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone. The hole felt like exposure, like it was baring some part of my story I wasn’t ready to face or share. I turned the band around to hide the cavity inside my fist.

When the ring came off six months later, it stayed off. By then, the holes in the marriage had multiplied beyond repair.

The ring lives now in my jewelry box. A little tarnished, it still bears the lovely tiny flowers. It still holds my Grandma Francis’ flawed stone. It still has the cavity where the lost chip used to be. For five years, I’ve been meaning to have the thing refashioned. With no unmarried cousins in line, why not turn the raw material into a necklace? A tiara? A bindi dot for nights on the town? This is what the brokenhearted do sometimes. They start their repairs from the outside in, turning burdensome symbols into pretty trinkets.

A wise idea, no doubt, yet here we are. Down in a dark tangle of discarded costume beads and widowed earrings, the ring is silent, holding what’s left of my grandmothers’ gems. It still contains that tiny reminder of something shaking loose, something escaping when I was looking the other way.

In grim or sentimental moments, I lift the ring from its shadowy velvet coffin. It is less fraught now, just metal, stone, and a little bit of history. The hole there no longer chills. In fact, I am oddly fond of that missing piece. That space is where the light shines through.

Back then, the story called for a way, and an opening appeared. This is how it goes with loss.

Now I claim the absence along with the substance.

I imagine the lost diamond out there, carried away in the tread of someone’s shoe, crushed into an icy Glens Falls sidewalk. It rises with the spring thaw and courses along rivulets, down, down, until it splashes into Lake George and sinks to the cold, jagged bottom. It returns to its beginnings. It becomes what it was all along: rock, debris, the stuff of earth churning back into itself.

Freed from the confines of its white gold setting, it expands, morphs, rearranges its atoms.

Eventually, in the full, unfurling expression of the shape it’s decided to take (for now), it returns.

When it does, I barely recognize it.

The messenger, the man, is already kin. I blink until I see in him the resemblance of the generous gift of my family’s love now multiplied. Their glinting progeny reaches for my wrist and draws me – the girl, the woman – into the next chapter. From their place in the wings, the ones who have passed from the story now urge us to carry on. Their part is over. They leave us here to do what we will with what they entrusted to us.

Last night, my grandmother’s diamond returned.

Changed, certainly.

And so much more lustrous than if it had never gone its own way.

 

 

Co-Parenting, community, Relationships

The Spoils of Civility

Ritter Skates

The transformation of the heart is a wondrous thing, no matter how you land there.

–Patti Smith, M Train

Tee’s face fell when I told him my Mister and I broke up. “That’s a bummer,” he said. “He’s a really good guy. What happened?”

I kept it vague. It would take a steadier hand than mine to fill in the fine detail of our shared briar patch. Attending to the perennial questions that twine their way through our story has worn me out. It’s all a little too bright and raw inside me at the moment, and anyway, it would be a mistake to cast my ex-husband in the role of confidant. He’s kind though, and he held the news gently. He told me he was sorry, and that both the boyfriend and his two kids were a positive influence on Bug. Tee seemed genuinely disappointed that our son would miss out on having that family in his life.

Continue reading “The Spoils of Civility”

Family, Poetry

Pistachio

He arrived with a pack
of yogurt in plastic tubes
and nuts rattling
in their shells. Our children
ran to the creek. I didn’t know
his middle name and he didn’t know
my sister’s first and neither
of us saw the way the earth sloped
to a gulley until we stumbled
on two lost soccer balls
caught in ropes of mud.

The stage was set
into the side of the hill.
He leaned against me. I called out
mirror. He called out washing machine.
The children’s arms banged
against weathered boards.
It seemed so easy
to find a game, to play
at family.

We broke
to breathe and fill
bellies. I love these the girl said.
Nut splitting free. Salt licking
foreheads and beading on lips. No one kissed
yet. We took turns holding a dixie cup
motionless in the water to catch minnows
flitting just out of reach. We all believed
it could work,
this falling together
like a shell hinging shut
again, like a seed
starting over.
 

Divorce, Poetry

Offering

This is the ritual. Like smoke
braiding then falling then
choking. We fumble
chopsticks
(at least one of us does)
unwinding ribbons of cabbage and shrimp.
We are so civil. So kind.

The sun is a slow river
of lava rolling over the windshield of a car
that growls at the curb. Heat seeps in
through the cracks around the door
and eats at the legs
of our narrow table.

How can he be
so quiet? So calm?
I want to cry
out for the server to close the curtains
and turn up the chill, to cry
for the sake of noise.
I strain to say
how good it is we survived
and he says Yes, this is what we do.
This is how it is.
So I press on
the scorched balls of my feet (to stanch
the boil or start it?)
but he does not
call for ice. He does not shudder
from the quiet. He’s never known
what it is to be a woman
burned.

We rate our happiness on a sliding scale.
I felt big things
always, never anything as tiny
as a skewered curl of shrimp
poised over sweet vinegar in a tea bowl.

This man will be a friend
of sorts even though he opens the door
for me on my way in and
in the slope thrusting up
before us.
He waits
for me to step through. I want to marry
myself. If such a thing could be done,
if by walking backward
across the face
of the clock, I could take the weight
of the girl who shares my name
again
and let her lean here on this older
version. The one across the table
is old too
but I would not be so warm
or pleased
or waiting at the door
with a white smile.
I would be the one
who grips the earth
and her
when she forgets how to keep her skin
around her bones
and carry her

over the threshold.
I would reach to loosen the cord
at the volcano’s neck
and take the first step
into its spilling open
mouth.
 

Divorce, Family, Poetry

The Price is Right

It’ll cost you
the title, your hero,
your favorite villain,
and at least half the notes
you’ve added to the score.
You’ll be charged the magic carpet
of your pride and its rareified view
from a distance that has shrunk
so mercifully the proportion
of your never diminishing guilt
along the contours
of your history.

Into this dowry will go your cardinal
north and the map you drew
with measurements meticulously
if mistakenly
taken. You’ll hand over the slide rule
along with the legend
of triumphant good and forfeit
the last word,
the last laugh, the last time
you’ll ever have to deal with that shit again.

Hidden fees will take your breath
away and the fine print
sting your eyes:
You can’t throw anyone
under the bus, gather an audience,
hand-pick seeds
to sow, spin bristles into yarns,
tally fault, count beans,
spit venom, or squirrel spite
into the pocket of your cheek
and chew its cud in righteous silence.

You will pay yourself empty
of the solid weight
of your myth
just to buy a ticket
to a lottery whose odds are against you
and whose prize is nothing
more than a single fleeting frame

of sun-warmed bleachers
in an early spring thaw
where you loll with your son
and the person who shared
the bed where he was made

watching a stuttering rainbow
of children cast balls from turf to net
and another family
maybe taking shape
and maybe changing the currency
that drops in your palm
one penny at a time.
 

Love, Relationships

Raise the Roof

Be in it. Don’t overthink it. Savor the moment. Ride the wave.
 
All make perfect sense. We build together the shape of what we are becoming, like a barn-raising for two. I stagger a little under the rightness of right now. It is no small thing to meander through streets and chores and frost and night with a person who sees what you don’t and is thrilled to taste what he hasn’t before.
 
Kira the Fabulous says in Traveling Light,

You realize that they are choosing to show up in your life every day and create a relationship with you. That, my amazing friends, is the most incredible gift we can give another person. That shit is beautiful.

Then the stagger becomes a stumble. Because I am a mom with a bright and crackling boy and a shiny new mortgage. I scale a heap of bills only to look down on a career that might have plateaued. In a far-off canyon, I hear echoes of a story itching to be written. I haul my strong and aging body forward through this unexpected civilization. I find myself in a neighborhood with family and friends and an HOA in the village square begging for a new Communications Coordinator.
 
How does love fit into all this?
 
I crack my teeth on the stone in the middle of Kira’s admonition. “. . . create a relationship with you.”
 
Create?
 
What is this structure we are building?
 
Because it’s good every day with my Mister. Even when it’s hard, it’s good. Yet I still don’t know if I’ve taken enough responsibility for my own life to really draft a vision of a future and commit myself to the path. I spent so many years floating through things and just “riding the wave” that when I washed up on dry land, I found I was far from any chosen shore.
 
I am caught between competing imperatives. How does welcoming the rightness of what is here relate to being mindful of goals? We fashion the future with each step we take, don’t we? While shedding attachment to ideals and playing with the soil and sand of this moment, we are also molding the home we will inhabit tomorrow.
 
So I have to ask: Would I like Bug and me to be part of a new family someday? Do I want us to welcome a greater intimacy with a wider circle of people?
 
I balk.
 
Maybe I am not ready to choose that. Maybe I want my son and me to cobble together our own modest dwelling, our mini-team of boy and mama and pooch. Or maybe I am working on some assumption that my Mister and I can love as two, independent from our children, and that what we are together gives us all that is necessary for an epic love story.
 
It’s frightening to ask these questions outright especially when I’m already in a loving, healthy relationship with a man who pours rum all over the already rich cake of our lives. Do I risk losing him by digging? By overthinking? Looking too directly into the glare must be foolish because when I do, I find I can hardly speak. The notions and narratives I carry about a post-divorce future with anyone all end in disaster.
 
These are some of the phantom ideas twining around my throat: Stepfamilies are fraught with trouble and conflict. Second marriages are more likely to end in divorce. Kids of divorce have more emotional and behavioral troubles. Children in blended families are pulled in too many directions for stability.
 
If my Mister and I are both showing up to “create a relationship,” we are inevitably weaving our families together. Two of us, three kids, four homes. Are we just blindly laying the foundation for a world of trouble?
 
It’s not that I don’t want to build a new, big, healthy family again someday. It’s that I don’t want to rush forward and erect some kind of particle-board-and-asbestos relationship that will fall down around Bug and me and anyone else who shares this journey with us.
 
To gain a bit of perspective, I dug around. Dipping into a few resources (some of this is covered nicely in a Psychology Today article, Lessons from Stepfamilies), here is what I found:
 
1. Yes, kids from divorce generally do have slightly higher rates of depression and behavioral problems than kids whose parents stay together. The key words here are “generally” and “slightly.” When you get down to specifics, you find the toughest issues occur in the first few years after divorce. This is when financial resources are strained, parents’ attention is distracted, schedules are disrupted by shuttling between homes, and conflict between parents is high. When those issues settle down (and if they are managed well in the early years), children of divorce fare as well as others.
 
2. Yes, second marriages do have a higher chance of failing. Again, however, the majority of second divorces occur during the early innings. Divorce is more likely when a couple tries to cook up Instant Family by blending everyone together too soon and forcing unexamined romantic ideals onto the new configuration. If folks in second marriages set up good systems for handling the communication and conflict unique to blended families, they often have stronger family relationships than first marriages. This may be the simple outgrowth of the reflection and adaptation that are necessarily woven into the fabric of their relationships.
 
3. As in point 1, children in stepfamilies have a measurably harder time than others. However, it is becoming apparent that a few (unfortunately common) conditions set the stage for trouble. Depression and other emotional and behaviorial issues occur in children of stepfamilies when:

  • Conflict between the biological parents is high and persistent.
  • The new couple is focused too much on each other. Parents do not put enough attention on communicating with their kids and creating systems for helping everyone thrive in the new family setup.
  • Step-parents stray too far into their partners’ domain by taking on discipline and other sacrosanct aspects of the parenting relationship.
  • Discord between various exes and spouses pulls children’s loyalty in too many directions.

Now, I breathe.
 
Three years have loped on by since my son’s dad and I separated. It’s been two years since our divorce. This long stretch is just a blink. I am still upended — not daily, but maybe bi-weekly? — by the challenges up there in point #1.
 
My financial situation is shaky which both stresses me out and limits Bug’s opportunities. Also, with the marriage behind me, I fling myself all too eagerly into the consuming swirl of new romance. I let it carry my attention off. Towards. . .? Or away from. . .? Maybe a little of both? My son, health, and work sometimes shudder and bend as waves from a booming intimate relationship reverberate past.  And finally, while I have a blessedly cooperative relationship with Bug’s father, we have a tendency to wing past each other when tricky conversations are called for. This leaves us with holes in plans and schedules that can lead to overcharged interactions.
 
Yes, I have some work to do.
 
While I long to raise this barn with my Mister, we are only just now assembling our materials. Many of the choices rest in my hands alone. Yes, I do want a someday-family. It would be lovely to build that with this man who strikes my brightest chord. Nevertheless, laying the strong foundation for such a future paradoxically requires me to square my shoulders and widen my gaze. Beyond the silvery dance as we twine ourselves around each other, I have to nourish my bond with my ex-husband. Frame out a more stable career for sound financial footing. Keep Bug’s development at the dead center of my gaze. Seed my beds with lush friendships, juicy activites, and expansive commitments.
 
It’s strange to consider that the success of my most intimate relationship might mean attending to it less.
 
Forgive me if I need a minute or seven to wrap my mind around this.
 
I can hear his pulse just there on the other side of the door. I can taste on the air his eagerness to bite into the meat of this moment and feel for the stone with me. Yet somehow I have to temper my appetite. I have to trust that he will remain, as I will, within reach. Being good to him and to us means also staying true to a future self and to a someday-family because this is who we are now. It is probably who any of us has always been even though we didn’t know it. We are far more than two.
 
For tonight, I choose to feel us as sanctuary and polestar even as we stand outside, hammers in hand, affixing walls to the beams that may someday shelter all of us.
 

Change, Co-Parenting

No Fixed Address

In the parking lot of the state college campus where Tee was staffing an exhibition table, Bug nursed. We sat in the back seat with the door open to a spring afternoon. Tee came around the corner to meet us, concern folding in a face usually at full sail. He moved to block us and pushed the door partway closed.

“What are you doing?” I asked. In my lap, Bug raised his eyebrows up and back to get in on the action. He didn’t lose his grip. Besides the perfunctory drape in an airplane or shopping mall, modesty had rarely factored into Bug’s mealtimes.

Tee shrugged and shuffled. “Everyone can see. We don’t know people here.”

Continue reading “No Fixed Address”