Friends, Mindfulness

Pressing Need

Press for Help.

This is printed on the big red button in the surgeon’s room. If I do, will someone pick up my son? Get us to school and work in the morning? How about a hug, a hot meal, a belly laugh? God knows I could use all of the above. Right now  my right hand is numb and 1/4 of my index fingernail has just been sliced away. I don’t imagine I’ll be in very good shape by the time the Lidocaine wears off. Driving is going to be fun, what with the splint still on my left arm from an unplanned encounter with gravity during a recent roller skating session.

All of this from a little splinter picked up at the lake. Don’t I get extra points for playing in the dirt with the boys? Maybe someone will send a car around with a driver and a mini-bar in back. I am tempted to press. Alas, I am fizzing in a beaker of peroxide at the moment and the button is a bit out of reach.  Continue reading “Pressing Need”


Getting Lucky

The comment was not meant for my ears.
The young couple walked over a carpet of grass under a smiling May sky. The shared yes shined all cheeks including those of the two-year-old daughter brought by the bride into the union. It was a postcard moment. The problem is that moments never sit still.
The groom, a co-worker, pulled the twosome into his grip. From the early courtship, I worried for mother and daughter both. He had a repellant tendency towards conceit and control, and the thought of their having to build a life with the guy made me shudder. I had tried to befriend the girls but he inserted himself into our interactions every chance he got.  The mom was sweet but passive. Young, too. She believed her daughter needed a strong male role model. I wanted to beg her to run. How could she possibly have seen enough in the guy to want to stay? She claimed to love him. Ah, yes. Love. What do I know about the secrets that unfold when the door closes? And there they were, standing before the glittering lake together. Vows, rings, flowers, cheers.
One must wish for good.
As they walked away, legally bound now, I heard one of her male relatives lean over and say sotto voce to his neighbor, “Boy, she really got lucky with that one.”
The other fellow replied, “I don’t know how she managed it, but I hope she can hold onto him.”
A frost wrapped its grip around my veins.
This is how it is, I suppose: How we learn what is allowed for us, and how we come to know what we can expect from these messy lives. Hearing this whisper helped me understand more of the bride’s story. (With family like that, who needs enemies?) Yes, perhaps she had heard enough about her wasted chances that she believed she needed to be saved. And perhaps she had also been tromped on by stupid, arrogant men enough that she mistook dominance for devotion.
Also, though, didn’t that whisper shout a truth shared by too many of us? He is the prize, and it was just dumb luck that she picked the golden ticket. With all that baggage, she shouldn’t look too closely at the fine print.
Single moms have to take what we can get. If we hope to find companionship again in this life, we might as well accept that we are going to have to settle for less. Most men (even single dads) will take one look at the kiddos we bring into the relationship and will think twice.  The sooner we face that we are not the hot commodities we once were, the better off we’ll be.
Or something to that effect.
How much of this do we internalize, despite knowing better?
Lately, I have been struggling with the beginning of a budding something-or-other with a fine fella who has a couple of kids of his own. We have enjoyed a few friendly, casual quasi-dates and exchanged some thoughtful emails. Our conversation has deepened, and something like interest has begun to push up through the polite chit-chat.
Now, I pause.
In the midst of this growing interest, three things happened rat-tat-tat to throw me off my game. First, a weekend work event and last-minute childcare issues had me scrambling to find 11th-hour care for a super-early Saturday morning. Two days of stress, planning, and pleas to friends later, it was resolved. Right on the heels of that, a freak roller skating accident busted up my wrist and ankle. In a splint and in pain, I was out of driving commission for the better part of a week. Both my work and my son’s school commutes had to go through some major contortions during that time. Finally, as soon as I was driving again, a tire puncture left me flat as we were pulling out of the driveway on the way to school. Several more days of commuting kerfuffle ensued.
Needless to say, I was exhausted.
This new fellow, he heard about all of this going on. He continued to express his interest. To ask me when I wanted to get together. To send me friendly texts about his thoughts, his day, and even to inquire into my well-being.
Not once did he offer to help.
I am a tough mama. I can go it alone. I have friends and family, and hell, I got this shit down.  Nevertheless, as the two weeks went by and his chatty calls and emails cropped up, I felt a growing sense of disappointment. It is early enough in our friendship that I am unlikely to ask straight out for help. I didn’t feel like I should, as we haven’t built anything solid between us yet.
Of course, this isn’t the whole story. I also notice that part in me that wants to make sure he sees me as capable instead of needy. I want him to association me with fun! And Lightness! And not to create a link in his mind between me and having to work at something. Aren’t there a dozen other single moms lined up behind me that would rip my arms off for a chance to get at this guy? And wouldn’t it be stupid of me to destroy my chances on something as insignificant as a missing offer of help? I mean, can’t I live without that? Haven’t I learned to manage just fine anyway?
Isn’t he the prize? And shouldn’t I just be smart and not look too closely at the fine print?
So, instead of asking outright, I simply breathed through the confusion and decided to wait. I kept being friendly, kept responding with politeness, and waited to see what would happen. I sat in that open not-knowing, leaving the door wide open for him to decide what role he wants to play in my life.
The last time he called, he asked AGAIN about the flat tire. I told him it was not yet fixed, I was having to rely on my folks and friends, and I would be hauling my kid with me to the service station in the morning. He said, “Well, good luck. Let me know if you want to get together for a play date or something if your plans change.”
Like it did on that beautiful May afternoon, the frost wrapped its little fist around my veins.
A successful, attractive, sharp-as-a-tack fellow is expressing interest in me. He continues to reach out, ask me for drinks, and accompany me on walks. But in that moment on the phone, I realized something chilling. He has not once asked me on a date-date. He’ll say, “Hey, let me know when you’re free.” But he has not actually said, “Can I please take you out to dinner? There’s a performance I’d love to take you to see.” Something along those lines. If I honestly look at our exchanges over the past couple months, I’m a little embarrassed by how much I have made myself available to this guy. It has been me showing up with the token gift every time we get together. Me sending him suggestions when he has a project or is planning an event. Me making the arrangements for where we will meet. Me going over to his house for a glass of wine and a chat. I jumped from initial interest to courting him without him following a similar trajectory.
I was feeling happy and thankful that someone was interested, and doing whatever it took to keep it moving in the right direction. It didn’t occur to me to even acknowledge what I want, let alone ask for it. Isn’t it realistic to hope for him to put in the effort to keep me feeling good about us, too?
All of us carry the scars of our past relationships. The voices of the old lovers, fathers, friends and villains clang against our ribs, making it hard to discern the unique tattoo of our own hearts.  
Sometimes distant echoes freeze us inside the threshold of our own home base.
I’ve been told I overthink things, that I crave drama, that I am cold and distant, that I don’t know how to love and that I fall in love too easily. That I am selfish and that I give too freely. I have clung, I have dismissed. Every time, these choices seemed both right and wrong, taking me both further from the easy catch and closer to my true path.
And so I wonder: Is it time to stop trying to make myself wantable, and instead seek partnership that guides me towards my purpose? Am I finally going to respect myself enough to build a relationship that honors my best self?
I do know how to love, and I also know there are hundreds if not hundreds of thousands of ways it can unfold between two people. Whether this guy and I are a good fit for each other is more about how we handle the places where we grate than it is about easing into a postcard-perfect embrace.
It may be the case that we will move to the other side of this, talking with care and creativity the way we have in every conversation so far. Perhaps I will learn that he is not as generous with his time and support as I would like my fella to be, and then I will be faced with a choice between acceptance and moving on. Perhaps he will surprise me, and I will be the lucky one to be on the receiving end of his generous spirit. Who knows?
Whatever happens, I will not put my head down and just be happy for any old attention I get because it is all I can hope for on this side of divorce. Instead, I picture a full-to-spilling life, with friends and love and meaningful work. I invite in the crazy ups-and-downs with my headstrong kid, the long walks over distant mountains, learning and then forgetting the names of birds calling from branches. I welcome garlic popping in oil on the stove, a sugared ginger decadence cooling on the counter, the jars and books and paints and splattered messes. In all of this, I feel the presence of someone near who places his hand on my arm and says, “Here, let me get that.” In all of this, I also feel the warm throb of solitude calling forth words on a page and candlelight in an empty room.
In any event, I do not feel frost gripping my veins.
I know that all of us – the fella, the Me, our children, the bride and her baby girl and everyone else besides – are precious and miraculous beings. We have it in us to craft a life meant for storybooks. But we have to be our own heroes, and we have to believe against all the forces whispering cold wind across our hearts that we are more than the lucky ones. We are also the gifts. Each and every one of us is the prize.


Nin Again: Artifice, Winter

To imagine was far more terrible than reality, because it took place in a void, it was untestable. There were no hands with which to strike or defend oneself in that inner chamber of ghostly tortures.

He worries she will not like what she sees.

It is almost guaranteed that some of what lies beneath will not suit her. It is not his job to be fashioned to her taste. When he peels back the outer husk and lets her hands in, she knows she must proceed with care. It is an art, this learning to hold the whole of the soft meat with tenderness. Sometimes the urge to recoil is strong. Still, a light touch is required. This is how to seek the seed of whatever longs to unfurl from its slumber.

But in living the realization summoned energies, forces, courage, arms and legs to fight with so that war almost became a joy.

He wonders at the polite tone. Such diplomacy borders on clumsiness.

She wants to say, “We both have seen the carnage when people forgo caution and careen into us.” What she dares not say is that, more than once, she herself has piloted the collision. Who has not left the bodies of lovers in their wake? Can we bear to look at the children there, too? At the whole portions of ourselves littering the surface and sinking fast into that murky deep?

Recklessness masquerades as joy. Everything must be different now. Old people drive slowly not just because they cannot see but also because they see more clearly than ever before.

To fight a real sorrow, a real loss, a real insult, a real disillusion, a real treachery was infinitely less difficult than to spend a night without sleep struggling with ghosts.

He longs to surrender. She does not admit the same, except everyone must know. It is written across her taught shoulders, penned into the white grip of her jaw. She keeps the hunger at bay and wishes all of them would do the same. The dark is embattled enough when alone. Add in a lover’s resident monsters, and one breeds a menagerie of foul whispers, tooth and claw.

The imagination is far better at inventing tortures than life because the imagination is a demon within us and it knows where to strike, where it hurts. It knows the vulnerable spot, and life does not, our friends and lovers do not, because seldom do they have the imagination equal to the task.

He hints at her courage as if to tease the thread of it out of her. He cannot know yet it is just a knitting of pith across her jeweled words. It falls away from the fruit as soon as her skin is breached.

Quotations from Anais Nin’s Winter of Artifice, from the Anais Nin Reader, Swallow Press, Chicago: 1973.


Choices, Outdoors

Found and Lost

In the dream, I leave Bug in the hands of a busy child care center in the city and head out for an afternoon walk. The water is close. Just a few bold steps off the unmarked edge of a road carry me down to a quiet beginning.
A river snakes along sand and volcanic stone. As I stroll along it, the buildings disappear behind me. Soon, the path opens out onto breeze-rippled silence. The sun is bright enough to blind me and I have to pull my narrow-brimmed hat low over my eyes. I pause and take in the impossible pitch of the rimed stone jutting up from the surface of the confluence. Is it ocean or river, this aquatic jewelbox? Sapphire and emerald stand shoulder-to shoulder with opal, all of it turning in luxurious circles under the glittering sun.
The riverbank calls me closer. I shed my shoes. The water is clear enough that I can peer down into the caverns below the rough stone. White sand is a warm powder massaging my soles. No one is anywhere. I want so badly to slide into the aquamarine shallows but I am alone and it could be dangerous. I do not recall where I am. Is this country home to alligators? Piranhas? No one would hear me call if a hidden barnacle sliced my skin.
Just on the other side of the large stone, a pool spills into the cool silver below. The bottom disappears into deepening dark. It could fall all the way to the center of the earth. It is not a swimming hole per se, yet it is wide enough for my body even with my arms outstretched. The hunger to immerse is powerful enough to make me quiver but caution stills my descent. It is better to be safe, yes?  I only have a few hours before I must return for my son. I settle for submerging my feet up to my ankles. The cool brine makes me shiver. I bend and splash it over my calves and shoulders. The sun is so very warm.
Footfalls behind me rend the silence. It is Tee. He is jogging, waving hello. His pink skin is flushed and he has that goofy grin on his face he so often wears. Hello! Hello!
I ask him why he is not with Bug. He tells me he stopped into the child care center for a visit but he decided to go for a run. It is my night with our son anyway. He has all the time in the world. Nearby, up a low slope of grass, the balconies of apartments overlook this riverside trail. Tee strips down naked and I remind him that people live close here. He seems surprised to find he might be exposed. He dons the shorts again but ties his shirt around his waist and makes as if to join me on my stroll.
I’d really rather walk alone.
He shrugs as I go ahead. Instead of turning back, though, he picks up the jog again and passes me. He plods on just in my line of sight along the soft and sandy path. My path. The waving reeds and sea-grass are obscured by his sunburned back. He is going in the direction of what I had thought to be my solitary exploration. Now I know I must really remember Bug because Tee will be too far ahead and cannot be relied upon to take him home if I lose my sense of direction.
The wild path is no longer wild, not with my ex pounding along it before me. I don’t want to share this with his noisy presence. I turn off and wind through the neighborhood there. It is a place with rental apartments, playgrounds, a crumbling community pool. The swimming families squeal and chatter. Women with thick thighs and thinning swimsuits snap at their children. There are so many girls. They tease in a screeching playfulness that shimmers with latent violence. The yellowish-blue does not look inviting at all. I walk on past feeling crowded, heavy, a little desperate.
When I find my way back to the water, the river has grown to a surging froth. It runs below a road bridge built high on concrete girders. A footpath descends a sharp cut of rickety stairs down to the place where a culvert spills foaming debris out into the current. There is no place to cross. I cannot make my way on foot up to the pounding, traffic-dense bridge, and anyway, it seems to go the wrong way. I have somehow come out on the side opposite where I need to be.
I am so confused. My wild place, that aquamarine pool and the waving sedge, has all given way to boat launches and drawbridges. Roaring vehicles tow rivercraft. There is nowhere to walk. I carry a small inflatable raft. It is red. It is tucked under my arm. It is too big to carry but too flimsy to use for crossing. I stand near the edge of the road where it falls into this sea. I look across the choppy black. It is far too wide for me.
Somewhere over there is the city I just left, my son, and the home I don’t yet know is my own. The place I need to be is there. This awareness is a knife in the gut. I feel miserably unsatisfied. For as long as I’ve been gone, I never took that quiet stroll on which I set out. I never did find out what grew along the edge of the wet lip of the bay. I wish now I had simply let myself in to that dangerous, lonely deep.
Had I called upon the years of swimming in mountain lakes and relied on my own strong arms to keep my head above water,  I could have immersed the whole sheath of my being in that jeweled and quiet embrace. If only I had trusted the body of this wet earth and this mighty self to hold me, I could have whetted my appetite for solitude.
Now, I have to ask for help.
A man hauling cables barks commands at drivers. I am quivering, on the verge of tears, but I do my best simply to state my need.
Can you help me get across? How does this all work?
He is brusque. All business. He points me to a dinghy. Another man clips my raft onto the bigger vessel. I pay six dollars and board. He whirs the motor and speeds across the water. None splashes on me now. It is an opaque and impossible substance. I do not look down. My eyes trace the smooth line out to the west or east, if only I knew. The open horizon has room enough but no map. I have no compass to carry me to it.
The emptiness recedes. It is so very far never to go.
The captain, if he can be called this, deposits me on the asphalt launch opposite along with the other passengers. I scrounge my raft from among the anonymous craft and make back towards the road. The city thrums in the distance. I am late. I have miles to retrace. My son is waiting.

Change, Happy Days, Love

Happy 100 Days: 4

It takes me six days to work my way up to looking at the gift. On the DVD, he has hand-written “Merry Christmas,” and “Love.” I know it is photos. I can’t bring myself to take it to Texas, so it is waiting for me under the tree when I return.
“Have you watched it yet?” He asks.
We are not supposed to be talking. After dozens of half-hearted attempts, we said a final goodbye before Christmas. Still, it is never easy to walk away when there no one has inflicted harm. The reasons are real yet vague. On even days, we understand it cannot work. On odd days, we are each the solace and the best friend.
“So, have you?”
“No, I have not found time.” Which is not true. I have willfully forgotten the presence of the gift under the tree. Even when I sit right there in the living room, I cannot see it.
Against our better judgment, he comes to the house. He carries a sack of take-out kabobs and an uncertain smile. He sets the table and I fill the water glasses. We eat buttery rice and talk all the way around topics we have agreed to ban from this intercut. Instead, we make a show of getting re-acquainted. It feels like a first date (or the first after a long drought).
We make a show of discussing everything non-us. We chat. It is very civilized. This is how we break the chokehold of unanswerable questions. This is how learn the true scope of the narrative.
This is how we write it.
After we finish dinner, he helps me make the hummus and marble cake for tomorrow’s party. He forgoes the electric beater and asks for a whisk. The butter and sugar whip to a froth and he adds the eggs one by one. Vanilla. Sour milk. In the top of a double boiler, chocolate melts. I let him taste from the spatula. We both lick the spoons.
I make two small cupcakes so we can have something sweet for ourselves.
Then, he takes me to the living room and turns the lights low. The Christmas tree is still bright. “Enough stalling. We’re watching this tonight,” he says.
“Okay.” I plop down on the couch. He gets the DVD player up and running. And then, there it is. “This is our past,” the screen tells me. The Grateful Dead kicks in and the familiar pitch of Jerry’s voice sings the opening strains of “Scarlet Begonias.”
As I was walking ’round Grosvenor square. . .
Then the photos roll. I recognize the first few and then I see some I do not remember him taking. Our first walks. That first morning he dropped me at work. The first time I met his family when we went to sing karaoke on his cousin’s birthday at a bar west of town. Him there, goofing and laughing. Me there, flirting and singing.
I knew right away she was not like other girls.
Me, making an acorn mosaic on a rock in Shenandoah. Us, raising our glasses with our friends at a winery. Bug as Harry Potter at Halloween when he was still so little, his hair dyed brown and those big glasses sliding down his nose. Drinks at the bar of that awful, crowded Thai restaurant where the meal took two hours to arrive and we were so hungry, we ate the soggy maraschino cherries out of our mai tais for sustenance. Bug playing legos on the blanket Giovanni hammered into the ground for him at our campground. Family parties, guitars, line dancing. My birthday balloons. His birthday hike. Me balanced on the side of a fountain. Him balanced on the top of a mountain. Us standing in the blustery night, bright-cheeked before the National Christmas Tree.
I had one of those flashes I’d been there before, been there before.
The music changes. The photos spool on.
We are a couple. I understand this now. He is more than some in-between fling. This is not “dating after divorce.” He is real, as he has been telling me for over a year. We are something substantial. Whether we leave it or keep at it, we are far more than just an idea. We are two people with a shared history. The pictures capture so much of it. Some are melancholy. Some of the images precede or coincide with white-hot arguments we both recall. Much of our past, though, is just plain old happy.
As for the rest? I don’t know. The DVD ends with a video he captured one night when we were in his house eating cookies he had just made. We are talking sweet, melty cookie talk to the camera. I am chattering on without realizing he is taking video. Near the end when I realize it is being recorded, I burst out laughing.
The image fades to this: “Our future is unwritten. . .”
We have nearly a year and a half behind us now. We have said goodbye, yet here he is, holding my hand on the living room couch in the glow of the tree.
He says, “I have never fought this hard for a woman before.”
I say, “I hope I’m worth it.”
He chuckles. “Yeah. Me, too.”
He leaves for the night but we do not say goodbye. We are not disposable. Something different than what I intended has happened here.
I have no idea who this Us is. We are just meeting now for the first time.
Once in a while you get shown the light
In the strangest of places if you look at it right.



If a Tree Falls

We climb to the top. He hangs on my arm and wraps his hands around my thigh. “Mommy, I’m tired.” He drags at me, trying to make me stop. He has no idea. Gravity has no effect on me. I am stronger than he can imagine. His fifty pounds are a ball of cotton, a cheesecloth sail. I can carry him to the top. Down the crevasse. Hoist him back up. I can lift him into the branches of an oak. I stand below him and know he will not fall because I will not fall.
I will not fall.
The hands under me are not visible. Are they any less present? Are they any less real? I have skidded and tumbled but still, my body is not broken. I rise every day. The smile comes, even it is forced. Music whispers at my throat. The legs walk on.
A good job, a good living. All there is? No, I still believe. Maybe that makes me a romantic idealist foolish idiot. Maybe small minded and smaller hearted. Maybe unable to accept the world as it is. Maybe? Maybe not believing in this one approach to things. Maybe ready to welcome the self that is becoming and not just the self that has already become.
It could have been beautiful, but then it was not. I left one when he was as ugly as I am now. When he could not get up and out of himself. When he got stuck. This is karma. It shows no mercy. It is a pitching machine. It hurls its force at a guilty spirit. It is deaf to the pleas. It is blind to the body, curled in a ball.
Get out of the cage. Just get up and out. It only hurts if you stay inside.
What is this jail? I built it. I put myself in it. The key might be right here in my pocket, but all I find is an ID card, a mobile phone, lint. I find the inside of the pocket. But there, a tiny thread, a small tear in the making, the skin of my thigh there, warm. Alive.
Who will come if I wait here? A chariot? A winged horse? Icarus, maybe? I would dare him to fly even closer to the sun just to feel its heat.
Up, away. Through the rent fabric, I feel my own leg. I feel the possibility of rising by my own volition.
This is what’s begun. The end. We unravel. We fray. The edges were never bound. It was all just us pressing the hems into one another, holding it up. The thread was not real. It was spit and prayer and no sudden moves. As soon as the twist was 180 degrees, the whole garment split and fell away. We were as naked as the emperor.
I could have gathered up what was left. I could have brought it to our naked breast, covered the soft place there before the broken branches had their chance to pierce
Our poor torn heart
There were three there, inside that one body. Three bruised and busted creatures in need of a gauze, a soft wrapping and an untouched room with a curtain at the window to soften the glare.
It was not in my hands. I did not reach for anything but my own rope. I let the others slip down under, grabbed only the hair of my son.
I am single again. It is sweet nudity. It is defenselessness. He is not coming to get me again. This is not his job, and I must grow up enough to know this is the way it is.
Grow up. Bear down. Bare truth.
What is the thing you still believe even though you know it is false?
You have all the time in the world. You will get there someday. Being beautiful will make you happy. Having things will bring you peace. You can live a halfway life and still be whole. You can have it all. You deserve better. You deserve worse. You are a piece of garbage. Someone will write to you even if you do not write first. Doing more will get you more. People will change. Your criticism protects you. Love is unconditional. The number in your bank account is based on hard work. You can trust your neighbor. You’ll have another chance. You’re out of chances. People forget the words you say. People remember the words you say.
In which myth will I place my faith today?
You can live through your children. You can live without music. You can live alone. You can live without making something of yourself. The way will appear if you keep walking. The voice will guide you if you shut up and listen.
Which myth?
Swallow it down. Choke it back. Squeeze the muscle and contract. The only way to the woman I am becoming is to punch through to her, rip the torn place wider, shape her, make her, smooth her into being, breathe in life life life. Oil her. Wet her. Paint her with a paste of pollen and creekwater, gather the milkweed fluff and tuck it between her thighs. Draw down the branches of the hemlock tree. Weave moss and bough to shape the organs that beat her blood into breath.
Whatever is haunting me, I have to perform this exorcism alone. It is not the job of any man to boil down the sap of me into something sweet. He cannot discern the obscenities of the ghosts. He only hears their echo called back through my own flailing limbs.
A wise woman once told me, do not adore your man. She meant to be cautious of idols. We deify our lovers. We pray to them to shoulder the burden and quiet the demons, to absolve us of our sins. This is too much to ask of anyone. When I left the man I married, I merged into the first one I found waiting. He promised he would come for me. They all say this: I am here. You are not alone. But it is impossible. No one can get as close as would be required to inhabit the place where the dark chill lives. To unfurl the buds. To bring the spring. They would have to press themselves entirely into the skin I call my own. They would have to squeeze me out and become the skeleton of me. This is what the one adoring dreams of. Obliteration. Complete.
Now, here, I release the myth of disappearance. The only story I can live is this one. It is not for me to make this into anything other than what it is. The paycheck comes. The child is fed. He climbs, he runs. The work waits on Monday morning for me to arrive, for me to claim it as mine. This is mine. This is the only narrative, and here sits the only protagonist, inside the arc. I never thought of myself as anything other than an independent woman, but I have lived for 20 years as one who cannot get through a day without fantasies of rescue. This is the cage.
Giovanni will, alas, not be the last man I love. But he will be the last I dream of saving me. No one is coming. I save myself.
Maybe there is nothing to learn from this. Maybe it is the same lesson after all, returning like the first leaves. Falling is a choice. So is growing. So is stepping out from behind bars. So is opening to the sun.


Catch and Release

Everything? Did you really do everything?
Finally, the question works its way through the labyrinth of my choices and avoidance, and returns to its true home.
Did I really do everything?
Giovanni is a good man. He brings home a small table to put in the corner of his room for me to write in quiet solitude. He concocts his own rub for the chicken and then works it into the perfect cubes. When I arrive, he is setting red bell peppers and summer squash in neat rows on a platter. “I’m about to light the coals. Go write.” I do. When I emerge, I fill the water glasses and pour the wine. We eat and laugh and argue and make our plans.
He is a good man for me.
Still. The timing is wrong, I am not ready, we are ill-suited for each other in a hundred ways, and we fight like we have money riding on the outcome. I tell him the marriage left too much smog and debris. I cannot see him through it. I only see reflections of Tee and of all the confused choices I made.
My fear of repeating the same mistakes drives me to insomnia. I leave. I come back. Again. Again.
Giovanni listens, and consoles. I round on him for making choices too much like Tee’s. He stands up to me. He challenges my assumptions and asks me not to have conversations in my head with ghosts. His good heart may be bottomless but his patience is not. Neither is mine.
I cannot face choosing, so I make the non-choice. I leave. I come back, and for the first time, he blocks my advance. “Not so fast.”
Not choosing, it turns out, is a choice after all. Now, the possibility that I have closed the door on what may be a sweet love wakes me up. It is the one sharp breeze that clears the air. I see Giovanni exactly as he is: strong and flawed and stunningly beautiful. And loving me and welcoming Bug. And hurt. And maybe done with me.
Did I really do everything?
A few weeks back, with his firm but loving touch, said, “You’ve got to let go.”
“Let go of what?” I asked.

“You know what,” he said. “And I can’t be the one to tell you.”
I cast about for what. Which fear? Which pattern? I know he is right. It is the edge I grip, the one I believe keeps me safe. If I hold on here, keep my arms and feet inside the bars, I will know exactly what needs to be done. Nothing can hurt.
The marriage clouds my vision. Tee blows in and blocks the light. Not Tee himself, exactly, not the real man with whom I am trying to work out kindergarten arrangements and holiday arrangements for 2013. Not my co-parent. The Tee I drag back into the frame is a phantom man with whom I am still grappling. The fights we had in the early weeks and months of dating haunt me, as I see now how the other choice was there, the other door, and I did not walk through it then. I had deep doubts, but I kept crossing the divide and choosing to believe. It only worked until it didn’t. The questions about what I missed, or where I missed a chance to choose differently, plague me.
Tee and I chose each other, and we did our best, and it did not work between us. It was not because of any one quality or one chain of events. Nothing about our unraveling is so easy to identify. Exploring those reasons is another story, though. It is for another day (or, rather, for all the days, quietly). The fact is that Tee and I are not well suited. We have moved without rancor into a new kind of relationship. We raise a son together, but we are not companions and partners.
I need to let go. Let go of Tee the history, Tee the boyfriend on the other end of those doubts, Tee the husband. Let go of the marriage. Release it to the story of before.
I have not done everything. I have not created a way to visualize or live that letting go. It is time to do so. It is time to do this, not to welcome Giovanni, but to welcome myself. Somehow, I have to take an action that will allow me to walk out into the fresh air and see the terrain around as it really is.
Today is the day. On this beautiful day in June, with a single cardinal on a branch outside my window, singing without restraint to the blue suburban sky, I begin.
I find the little toy Tee gave me on one of our early dates. It is a plastic figure of Grover in a cape and crash helmet. Somehow, this token became a symbol of our affection, and we passed it between us, letting Super Grover carry silly messages back and forth. It ended up with me all these years later, even though it had been a childhood toy of Tee’s. I wrap it in a letter thanking Tee for all he has done for me. Then I pack the words and the figure in a hand-carved box that Tee gave me. It was one of the many beautiful boxes he brought me from his travels. I love being surrounded by these small pieces of our shared story, but having them cluttered around me keeps Tee too close. Bug’s father is near enough, just by virtue of being Bug’s father. It is time to hand back these pieces. To release my grip, and let him do what he will with them.
And then to let the quiet, clear nothing fill my hands.
Perhaps Giovanni will fit into that space, perhaps he will not. Whatever happens next is uncertain. My hands are open. My eyes are beginning to be so.


Chemical Reaction

The festival’s fireworks are beating at the sky. Down in the dining room, the dog paces and pants. I know now that the report is the second and larger explosion of the two. The shooter lit the slow fuse before sending the case skyward. At just the right moment, the flame ignites the calcium, the sodium, the copper. All this knowledge does not propel me out to watch. I have decided that to know is better than to feel, and so I remain, curled in the safe cocoon of my bedroom.
One slight click to the left, and we are there on the curb in the parking lot, letting light shower down on us through trees purpled with night. Between blasts, I hear the fat tears always at swelling at the edge of his throat when he sings “Sweet Savannah.” His voice slides over the lip of the distance to fill my hungry ears.
I still remember exactly what you said
That you had demons that you couldn’t put to bed.

On nights like these, some women buy shoes. Others call up girlfriends for pink drinks in a loud bar. Some fill the tank and hit the open road. I do none of these things, at least not at first. I dig out the last of the blank books and fill page after page with nothing but him. He gives way eventually and I find my way through the rubble to myself.
I made promises I could not keep. I wonder if everyone does this, or just those of us burdened with the belief in more. “I’ve done everything I can,” he said.
This claim intrigued me. “Everything? Did you really do everything?”
Oh, my impetuous tongue! I am so often accused of callousness, one would think I could remember the importance of timing. Not everyone pauses to marvel at each fragment of insight. Even those who do have no appreciation for inquisitiveness when they are standing with a lit fuse in their hands.
On nights like these, some will find another one in whom to stash the remains. Here, take the bones. I do not do this, either. Instead, I unfurl the turquoise sweater that had been left in his drawer since winter. His scent blooms from it, an explosion of molecules I cannot quite place except between the folds of his sheets and skin. A chemist could identify them, but only as long as the unique microorganisms last, which, as we all know, is not very long. I hang the sweater back in its native habitat. No one would guess anything here has been gone. Time and homeostasis are the secret of oblivion. All extremes return to a steady, predictable state. Soon, I will smell only my own sweat and dander unadulterated by the leavings of any man.
“Did you really do everything?”
We were well past the play of the idea. He contracted and pawed the earth , refusing to defend even as he did exactly that. He folded and re-folded the corner of the comforter as he stood next to the bed, breathing like a bull.
Lithium makes red. Strontium makes an even brighter red.
Like so many times before, we were the north and the south, two nations divided by a common tongue. My question was one of philosophy, not history. Have any of us really tried everything? Have we, in our tumultuous affair, made ice cream from scratch? Built a weather-vane? Learned pick-up lines in Russian? As best as I can recall, we did not read Rumi aloud every night for a month. We neither carried bowls of fire out to the forest at dusk nor fell down on our knees before the wide open sky to beg for a sign about how to proceed.
We worked hard as workers are known to do. We walked at a dogged pace around a known perimeter, time and again, and then anguished at the absence of mango trees and open sea. My own imagination grew weary of scoping the narrow sphere around us for signs of wolves. I forgot how to lift my gaze. So, it seems, did he.
On nights like these, some shred the old letters. Some march back into the world, shoulders squared and jaws tight. Some set themselves to re-writing the to-do lists that love’s windstorm left in disarray. I do none of these things. They are just more noise, as deafening as the blasts still clanging against the sky. Always, the dead weight of the silence that follows presses on the chest. Always, the only guidance that matters is found in the nothing.
After the grand finale that I refuse to witness, I close my eyes. The older self with loose gray hair and a hard-earned smile takes my own young body into my arms. She does this without effort. After all, she knows I survive this. She knows it won’t be long before I rearrange my constituent parts to bloom in full-spectrum color when the slow fuse finally makes its way down into the rare elements that comprise me.
I set the book aside and go find the dog. We step outside. It is quiet now except for the echo of him.
Sweet Savannah, you shine so bright
May the evening be your favorite night.

I let his voice out to rise and then splinter against the high branches of the white pine.
I walk with slow steps and follow the loop that brings me back home, every time. In bed, the silence is a tungsten shard against my throat. No reason to fight. I get up again and feel in the closet for thick knit. The bag I found under his kitchen counter when I was carrying my things away is still crumpled on the floor. I fold the sweater into it then stash the bundle in the furthest corner. Maybe there I will forget about it until one of those nights like these, when I most need to remember.

The Shooter Jennings website:
“Sweet Savannah” on You Tube:


Long Division

In Giovanni’s house, the first one appeared in the bathroom. The hair ties and citrus lotion live there. Then, two small ones sprouted up in the dresser. In those, my extra socks, a pair of pajamas, and a few earplugs took up residence. Just recently, I discovered a fourth. This is a deep one. The jeans fit, along with the aquamarine sweater.
No key yet. We are both still dancing a little on the outer edge of certainty. He says it is simple. “I want to give you a place you can feel at home.” And I do. The small fire crackles. The wide-leafed plants stretch to the ceiling. A single white towel is folded on a rack next to the tub; like the drawers, this one is mine. Whatever I need, he provides. In this liminal space, I have a home. His arms are never closed against me. It is good I still have to knock. I get to hear him invite me in, again, again.
From my perch on his brown sofa, I can see the bare trees outside. I do not look for long, not the way he does, the binoculars resting on the top of the headboard for him to watch the hawk he has yet to name. I only glance in a fleeting way. Get my bearings. Open my journal. Commence.
Writing is the only thing for me on these too-brief nights. He tells me to come anyway. “Write over here, baby. Whatever you want to do.” And so I take him at face value, which is new. A few minutes s of small talk, perhaps a quick bite. Then I just write. What he does, I do not know. It is his business. He tidies, I suppose, considering how well spaced the candles on the mantle, how gleaming the sink. Does he organize his work? His thoughts? Pay bills? Curiosity teases, but I am practicing trust. Vigilance is just control in sheep’s clothing. I turn back to my page.
On other nights after the journal is put to bed, it is all different. We talk, out at the bar or on a walk, and he unfurls like a bear from its winter sleep. I see and smell the whole expanse of his layered pelt, and I want to dig my own claws into its depths.
Balance is key. Too much of that, and I start to pick at the nits. Yank at the ticks. Knee him toward the river to find next season’s dinner.
I think it is better that we circle back to turning away from each other.
I am here in his home which he gently offers as mine, but it is not mine. He can putter, you see. Put his laundry in the dryer and empty the dishwasher. Meanwhile, back at my other home, the dog paces, itching for her walk. The iron is cold. The wrinkles set.
After a time with him, whether curled into our own edges of the cave or stretching out in the sun together, I start to fidget. I start to worry. Something is waiting. The sink at my folks’ house fills while the refrigerator empties. The fruit in the bowl shrivels and draws flies. I have to go home, freshen, replenish. Touch my books. Dig through my own drawers.
I have been writing for an hour. I am beginning to get edgy on the sofa. I set my jaw against Giovanni’s attentions, even while he brings the ginger tea.
My phone rings.  Tee’s name pops up.
“Yes baby.”
“I need you to wake up at four in the morning and drive to Daddy’s house and bring my blue doggie jammies.”
“I do, huh?” This is unexpected. “Is it jammie day at school?”
“No. My blue doggie jammies are at your house.”
In the background, Tee’s voice, filling in the gaps. “The shirt is here and the pants are over there. We had a little bit of. . .” He is calm. I hear the smile. “Of being upset.”
I get up and walk through Giovanni’s apartment, stretching my spine. “Listen, baby, I know exactly where your blue doggie jammie pants are.” They are at my house, not here, but Bug does not need to know this. “I can bring them to you tomorrow.”
“At 4:00 in the morning, okay?”
I laugh. “I will bring them at 8:00 in the morning before I go to work.”
“Okay, 5:00 then.”
“I’ll see you in the morning. Good night. I love you.”
The phone is already dead.
It is simple. The longing slices to the marrow, as clean and pure as the surgeon’s knife. I want to crawl into my little boy’s bed, with his daddy there or not, I don’t even care, crawl in and just be one one one family again. I would give anything for the unfettered faith, for the stupid oblivion of a shared name. This here, pinging between Giovanni’s apartment and my parents’ house, is uncomfortable. It chafes.
Karma is a beautiful woman without mercy. This in-between existence is my choice. It is abundance, and it is voluntary, and I have safe harbors and generous care on all sides. It is, as anyone looking in might point out, a gift to be so well loved. Yet, straddling two homes is slippery. The mind grasps and loses this here and that there. Where are my people? Where are my underwear? Every return to one place or the other requires checking gauges and adjusting mirrors.
Bug lives with this every day. We try to leave the big decisions far out of his reach, up in the ether where the grownup worries reside. No, he does not have one place of his own. But we do not force him to remember his various belongings. We keep double snow pants and winter boots, double swimsuits and raincoats. He can relax. We take care of managing his things and making sure someone is always there to pick him up school. Our job is to help him put something in his backpack starting with the letter T, which we all know is the letter of the week.
But all of this is only so much. It is only a fraction of the everything. Bug still asks, constantly, “Whose house am I staying at tonight? Who am I with this weekend?” He came into my room one recent Saturday morning to find me getting dressed. I explained that I was heading to some workshop or other, he became very still and asked with such a furrow in his brow, “But who will take care of me?”
I tried to keep my own voice casual. As if taking care of him comes as naturally as breath (which it does). “I’m taking you to meet your daddy because you guys are going to that basketball game.” I gave him a smile as I brushed out my wet hair. That was that.
The rub is that sometimes the jammies are split for no reason. Even to a five-year-old mind, the truth must flash like a sun dog from time to time, searing the eyes. His things belong in the one and only place they are not: together. Bug is right to be mad about this fragmenting of his parts. It is his right to be stung by the injustice of it, and to be sad, and to tell us so, and to ask us to help set it right. Sure, children lose their stuff, even in model families. But I get it. I get that sometimes, under all the okay-ness and the abundance, my kid’s legs quake a little from straddling two shifting worlds. Mine do, too.
“When you and daddy are not divorced anymore, we should get a new kitty.”
“Baby, that is never going to happen. Daddy and Mommy will always live in two different houses. And you have kitties in both your houses already!”
“Yeah, but when you are not divorced anymore. . .”
Around and around. He wants a different truth, yet truth does not submit to his will. I cannot solve this puzzle for him. I have said it here a dozen times, and still, the sting does not wear off the every-time-the-first-time realization of this frustrating fact. I cannot give him one home.
But I’ll be damned if I cannot give him his blue doggie jammies. It is an inadequate play at righting the universe, but it is the one I can manage. So, I leave Giovanni’s earlier than I had planned and return to my other place. This way, I am sure to pick up the jammie pants and put them in my backpack, and I will not forget to give my son this one meager reassurance about a whole and completely loved boy in a fractured world.
In the morning, Tee and I speak in his foyer. We are cursory but kind, moving with intention against whatever hurt we may be feeling. “What time is tomorrow’s pick-up?” and “Will you meet us at the metro?” and “What are your thoughts about that Tai Kwon Do place?”
Yes, yes, and pretty okay, I guess.
We build the bridge between us, one slat at a time. We sink the pilings, hang the wires, check the blueprints again and again. We calibrate our exchanges to hold the weight of what we are attempting. Bug steps out between us, crossing safely over the abyss. He does not have to think about what lies below, and can run easily over that expanse. My prayer to a capricious god is that my boy barely feels the sway, and that no matter how suspended he is (as all of us are) above some unknown chasm, he only ever has the sense of a solid foundation, unshakable, beneath his feet.



Walking Away

The absence of complaints has their husbands believing that things have improved; they’re out of the dog house.
– Michele Weiner-Davis, “The Walk-away Wife Syndrome”


It has taken two years of thrift store shopping and beans and rice, but Hal and Wendy finally save enough nickels for ten days at all-inclusive resort in Cozumel. As soon as they arrive, they order margaritas and dance holes in their shoes. They stumble back to the room and sink into the soft belly of the bed. They are drifting off, blissed out and hoping to wake up early enough to catch the snorkeling cruise.
Drip Drip Drip.
Wendy: “What’s that?”

Hal: “What?”

Wendy: “That drip? I can’t sleep with that.”
Grumbling, Hal rises and fumbles with the shower. He comes back to bed.
Hal: “I tightened it.”
Wendy: “Thank you.”
Drip Drip Drip
Wendy: “I really can’t sleep with that.” She gets up and shuts the bathroom door.
Hal conks out. The dripping goes on, fracturing Wendy’s night. On the snorkeling boat the next morning, she is grumpy and dark-eyed. Back on land, the pair finds a pharmacy. Earplugs. Just in case. Wendy elbows Hal into talking to the front desk. A maintenance guy shows up, speaking in rapid Spanish and noodling with the fixtures above and the pipes below.
That night: Drip Drip Drip.
Hal sleeps. Wendy tenses. The earplugs are useless. She gets up. She stuffs a towel on the shower floor to muffle the noise. It works until she is ju-u-ust about under, then:
Drip Drip Drip
The next morning, knowing she has not slept, Hal slips down and gathers fresh mango and Wendy’s favorite omelet, carrying them up on a tray. She picks at the food then hints hard that maybe another room would be better. He sighs and heads off to go talk to the front desk. He comes back and shrugs.

Hal: “No rooms. Booked all the way through next month. Sorry, babe.”
Hal gets dressed to head out on the jungle excursion. He finds Wendy stretched by the pool with a paperback. “Aren’t you coming? You love things like this.”
Wendy: “Too tired. I’m just going to chill.”
She drags herself to the front desk while Hal is gone. The hotel will not reimburse them if they want to re-book at another establishment. The part for the shower is somewhere else. The receptionists are sweet and entirely evasive. They offer free drink tickets for four cocktails as compensation. That night, Wendy is not interested in the marimba show. They go to bed early. Hal falls asleep.
Drip Drip Drip.
The fourth day, Wendy is by the pool with her paperback again.
Hal: “How’s the book?”


Hal: “You’re really into it.”

Wendy: “Yep. It’s good.”

Hal: “I paid for a 90-minute massage at the spa for you. They have openings at 11 and 3 today.”

Wendy: “Cool. Thanks. But I’m really fine just reading.”

Hal: “You’re not going to go? All you need to do is make the appointment.”

Wendy: “I might. I don’t know. Thanks. Have fun on the water.”
Hal rarely sees his whirling dervish of a wife relax. That’s good enough for him. He heads off for a swim.
Sometime in the wee hours of that night, Hal wakes up when he hears shuffling and banging in the room. Wendy, in the dim light, fully dressed, and with a face like a fist. Not aimed at him, but still.
Hal: “What’s going on?”

Wendy: “I’m leaving.”

Hal: “What? Where are you going?”

“The cab is waiting. I’m going back to the airport and I’m going home.”

Hal: “What the hell? You’re leaving? Over what?”

Wendy: “You know exactly what. I can’t stay here one more minute. This trip was the biggest mistake we ever made.”

She grabs her bag and is gone.


A post on DivorcedAndAngry last week led me back around to the Weiner-Davis article. The theory goes like this: When Husband and Wife* are giving attention and feeling supported with some degree of balance, the relationship thrives. Eventually, though, faucets leak and trouble comes knocking. If the partners put their heads together to resolve the issues, the relationship still thrives. When communication fails to bring about resolution, the result is division and decay.
Husband pads the rough edges with gifts or compliments. He thinks he has done his best. Wife needles and nags, barely acknowledging his misguided offerings. Because trying to coddle a shrew neither appeals nor satisfies, he withdraws. She battens down the hatches and begins planning her escape. Whether her retreat is emotional (“Screw him. I can take care of myself”) or practical (squirreling money, meeting with a lawyer), the upshot is the same: she has already turned her back on the marriage at a time when the marriage most needs her attention. Meanwhile, Husband has not heard Wife moaning about the leaky faucet for a while, so he figures the problem has gone away. All is well in his world. Until the night she drops the bomb.

Wendy: “I’m leaving.”

Hal: “What? Where are you going?”

Wendy: “I’ve signed a lease on a place across town.”

Hal: “What the hell? You’re leaving? Over what?”

“You know exactly what. We’ve talked about it a thousand times, and nothing has changed. I can’t stay with you another minute. This marriage was the biggest mistake of my life.”


It is chilling to see Tee’s and my story reflected with such perfect clarity in some social worker’s theory. I assumed for years Tee knew what I needed but was simply unwilling to make the changes. The tired saw about old dogs haunted me. “You can’t make a man change, and trying is a losing game.” My choice, it seemed, was to endure the leaks or jump ship. Tee tells me now, in slack-jawed wonder, that he had no idea there was a problem. He thought everything was fine.
If someone had suggested to me that I was Wendy, I wonder if I would I have worked harder to attend to the marriage. It’s impossible to know. So many years of walking away emotionally wore a deep chasm into the terrain of our marriage. I may not have had the courage or energy to try to bridge it, even if someone had forced a mirror in front of me.
I do know this, however. I hear the drip drip drip in my relationship with the fine and attentive Don Giovanni.  I can even pinpoint the precise weakness in the seal that joins us. I am not interested in repeating design errors. Setting my jaw and building my resentments have never worked, and they will not work now. Talking with honest frankness about the fractures terrifies me, but what choice do I have? Like Tee, Giovanni may do nothing. Or, he may do all the lovely things that come naturally to him to make me smile, while still not attending to the leak. As some of his predecessors have done, he may even decide I am a judgmental bitch and a bottomless pit of need, and do the walking himself.
I have heard it all before, endured it all before. I tell you this: none of it compares to the agony of living with the drip drip drip.
It is worth considering that a successful adjustment and even creative resolution might result from caring conversation. I am damned sure that nothing good will come of eggshells and avoidance.
So, perhaps this: Whatever man chooses to place his bets on me is going to hear about that leak. He does not need to be a plumber because I am pretty handy with tools myself, but he had better believe there won’t be any sleeping on the job. We’ll be up and at it together, or we won’t be a We at all.

* Please forgive my assumptions about gender and orientation. While the pattern is most understood in the context of heterosexual marriage, other configurations do not confer immunity. Indeed, any partner in any partnership can play these roles all too well.