I have a problem with maintenance. I’m working on it. I told this to my therapist last week and she nodded sagely. She often nods sagely and I love that about her. She is proof that I’m working on my problem with maintenance. I guess ‘maintenance’ isn’t quite the right term. Or maybe it’s that not doing maintenance is the manifestation of my real fear which is a fear of *knowing*. If you don’t check under the hood, if you don’t get the test, if you don’t look too carefully, if you don’t ask the right question…then you don’t really have to know. At least for a while. Until it blows up in your face. Which it inevitably does. You know those moments you have before you learn something that shatters you? I think about those moments in my life. They were mundane. They wouldn’t have been memorable except for what came afterwards. In 1988, in my friend’s car after a night of playing Nintendo and swimming in her sister’s pool. Pulling up to my house and laughing our goodbyes before realizing there was an ambulance in my driveway. In 1999, a phone conversation with my beloved grandfather that ended with a promise to see me soon and an “I love you, stop worrying about me.” In 2000, watching my husband walk out the door with a basketball and an “Eat dinner without me, I’ll be home in a couple of hours.” Again in 2000, a fucking devastating year I still haven’t recovered from, at a Halloween party where a man I’d briefly dated was being friendly to me instead of the usual hostility he’d shown since I’d told him I didn’t want to date him, and I was stupidly relieved and happy to accept the drink he handed me. I didn’t think I’d ever be so blissfully ignorant again. My problems with maintenance were intensified after that. I couldn’t relax, I always felt unsafe and unmoored. If I heard a rattle in the car, I turned up the radio. If there was a problem in my apartment, I moved. I had eight addresses in four years. I became petrified of going to the doctor or dentist, because what if there was a problem I couldn’t handle? When all the worst things keep happening, how can you trust that the sky isn’t about to fall on you every time you leave the house? How can you risk hearing somebody tell you that things are even worse than you feared? What if you just can’t handle ANYTHING ELSE? Better to ignore any issues, because sometimes issues just go away! After four years of living by that sensible philosophy and leaving behind some very confused boyfriends, I met someone with whom I didn’t feel alone. That was new for me. I got married again and had my sons. Weirdly, that started to steady me. It doesn’t work that way for everyone, I know. Kids aren’t exactly a calming force, but somehow, they grounded me. I still wasn’t thrilled about maintenance, but I went to the doctor. I got my car fixed. It’s best have to have a working body and car with kids. It’s good to take your kids to the doctor, too. So I did. I sunk into it for a while. I don’t know if I ever got comfortable. And yet…it hit me like a goddamn truck when the blissful ignorance of my marriage was shattered in an artfully decorated hotel room in Manhattan with a view of big wet snowflakes in the air and ballet dancers practicing in the building across from us. I left the room an hour later to walk alone in that beautiful city in the falling snow, knowing that the life I had before was over forever and I would have to do something and tell someone and ask someone to help me, but all I could do was walk for a while and feel the snow and remember that I was still breathing and my heart was still beating. It’s important to know those things. Sometimes you don’t need to know anything else. So. That was almost three years ago. Maintenance has been difficult for me again in those years. I haven’t been to the dentist in forever, I ignore my doctor at all costs, I have a plumbing problem in my shower and a toilet that needs you to lift the lid in order to stop it from running. Also my car is ten years old and has a lot of hazard lights that are always illuminated on the dash. I ignored grindy brake sounds until I needed to get a complete new set of brakes. A ridiculously expensive consequence, yet it still didn’t cure me of the maintenance problem. But this year is the year. I told my therapist (and therapy is totally maintenance, so I’m not a total failure in this regard) and now I’m telling you. My 2018 resolution is to get check-ups and get things fixed. To ask the questions and find out what I need to know to solve the problems. To know that I am strong enough to handle the answers and resourceful enough to find the solutions. I’ve got this.
I decided to answer some end of the year questions again, because why the hell not? Two weeks early, but I’ve been done with 2017 for a while, although this month did bring at least one pleasant surprise, so maybe it wasn’t a total shit sandwich.
Anyway, they’re still the same questions form last year, tweaked from a list found on the All & Sundry blog many years ago, because they were some good questions. So here’s my 2017. Time to think about yours, if you’re into that sort of thing. What did you do this year and what did you learn? What do you hope next year will bring?
1. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before? I didn’t do too many new things this year, though I went on a long night time bike ride adventure with my friend and her hubby back in May. I’m not an experienced bike rider, so I found it kind of terrifying. I’m glad I did it. I’m not doing it again.
2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Last year’s were: I’m going to spend time with the people I adore. I’m going to spend time alone. I’m going to write and work on things I love. I’m going to keep running regularly and participate in some races. I’m going to try not to say yes to things I don’t want out of a warped sense of obligation. I’m going to say yes to things that sound like fun to me, even if they scare me a little. I’m going to ask questions and seek answers. I’m going to say what I need to say.I’m going to keep working on building myself and my boys back up.
I’m happy to say that I did all those things. I think I’ll keep those. Still a work in progress.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
No. Though I did follow April the Giraffe’s labor for a while.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
My aunt died in September. She was a lovely person and the last remaining member of my dad’s family. My siblings and I all went to our childhood hometown for her funeral and raised (and downed) a glass of Irish whiskey to her, as one must do to properly send off any good Irish woman.
5. What countries did you visit?
Just the USA again this year. I visited Florida, Massachusetts and New York, though. So at least I left Texas!
6. What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017?
Last year I said I wanted optimism and my faith in humanity restored in 2017 and neither of those things really happened. I’ve heard 2017 described as a “dumpster fire” by multiple people and I agree with that assessment. But there have been glimmers of hope. Come on 2018!
7. What dates from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory?
The year started off roughly, but the Women’s March on January 21 was uplifting and invigorating. November 5th felt like a particularly good day to me. I did the 10 mile Run for the Water in the morning, and felt strong the whole time, even though it was humid as hell. My sweet boys were at the finish line cheering for me and giving me happy hugs. Then I refueled with sausage, beer, chicken dancing and friends at Wurstfest. And I slept really well that night. I love good nights of sleep. So that day stands out as a good one. December 2nd was a pretty special day for me, too
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I was surprised by a really low and sad time that started in January and seemed to hang on for a way too long time. I think my biggest achievement this year was that I actually worked hard to get through it. My go-to for most of my life has been to hide from or run away from dark times. But I felt like I needed to face this one. It seemed like leftover grief from multiple things that I needed to work through. So I did. I wrote a lot of it down and went to therapy. I ran a lot, I spent time alone and time with my boys and my friends and I took a lot of walks. The fog started lifting in the summer and was a memory by October. That feels big to me. I feel stronger and better than I have in a long time.
9. What was your biggest failure?
I didn’t follow through with making doctor and dental appointments for myself. I took my kids, but not me. I know I have to do better with this. It’s a dumb fear and I let myself get away with not addressing it. I’m going to make myself do it next year. Probably.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
A couple of stomach bugs, colds and weird rashes, but no big ones, luckily. Hence, nothing *forced* me to a doctor’s office.
11. What was the best thing you bought?
I bought a really cute coat, in raspberry pink, my favorite color. And I got it on Thred Up so it was a steal.
12. Where did most of your money go?
My kids’ summer child care, plus Target and HEB. Oh…and some pricey car repairs on my 10 year old minivan. Blah.
13. What did you get really excited about? I was really excited about going to Houston with Madame V to visit Shakira and go see the “Guys We F*cked” podcast women, live and in person. It did not disappoint! We had the best time. I was also very excited about my Thanksgiving plans, which consisted of the Turkey Trot and chance to catch up while trotting with two dear friends, and later (post nap and brunch) a movie and FULL TURKEY DINNER at the Alamo Drafthouse with two other awesome single mom friends who were also child-free for the holiday. Then karaoke. Best Thanksgiving ever!
14. What song will always remind you of 2017?
Tom Petty’s Don’t Come Around Here No More. I know it’s from 1985. But with Tom Petty’s death this year I revisited it and played it often. My youngest son now loves it too. It is part of our current family soundtrack. And it totally fits my feeling about 2017 and much of what happened in it. I mean, see question 17. “Whatever you’re looking for… HEY! Don’t come around here no more.” Oh yes.
15. Compared to this time last year, are you:
– happier or sadder? Happier
– thinner or fatter? About the same
– richer or poorer? Same
16. What do you wish you’d done more of? Getting good nights of sleep. I worried too much and stayed up into the wee hours doing it on way too many nights. I also didn’t leave Austin from late April to mid September, so I think I need to get myself out of town more next year.
17. What do you wish you’d done less of? Dating men who treated me like a consolation prize or an afterthought and were otherwise consistently underwhelming. Two in 2017, plus one unGoogleable who I’m pretty sure is a sociopath. No more, thank you.
18. How did you spend Christmas/Hanukkah/Major Holiday of your choice? I’m writing this prior to Christmas, but I have plans to spend the holidays with my kids and family in (hopefully) sunny Florida.
19. What were your favorite TV programs? I loved Glow so much. 80s music, costumes and hair, Marc Maron, Lady wrestlers….it was everything I ever wanted in a tv show. Thank you Netflix.
20. What were your favorite books you read this year? We read a lot of good ones in my real book club (as opposed to the fake one where we just drink and eat things) – The Goldfinch, The Sisters Brothers and A Gentleman in Moscow were my absolute favorites.
21. What was your favorite music you heard this year? Ah man, I have kids, so the radio in my van is always playing pop songs from former Disney child stars or Bruno Mars. And not gonna lie…I love them. So that said, my favorites this year were Selena Gomez and Kyga’s It Ain’t Me and Demi Lovato’s Sorry Not Sorry, ’cause payback is a bad bitch and baby I’m the baddest.
22. What were your favorite films you saw this year?
Ladybird was perfection. See it!
23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 46. Daaaaaaamn. It was a great day, despite that. I took the day off from work. Ran 10 miles, came home and got a special delivery of Bailey’s from Shakira. That girl knows me! Also got a couple other surprise deliveries of treats, both fun and delicious. Drank Irish coffee while watching multiple episodes of Love Boat on YouTube. Found an episode with Andy Warhol in it. That. Was. Nuts. Had pizza with my kids and some friends to round out the day. It was a very happy birthday.
24. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? Not having a man who freely admits to grabbing women by the pussy (and lest we forget, those are his actual recorded words) as president would have been nice. But I think the backlash helped inspire the woman’s march and later the outing of many lecherous shitbags who’ve been getting away with harassing and assaulting women for too long. And then there was #metoo. So maybe it’s been helpful in a weird way? It’s still deeply disheartening and unsatisfying. He’s the worst.
25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2017?
Librarian up to no good. Always and forever.
26. What kept you sane?
Who says I’m sane? (I’ll never answer this one differently, either)
27. Share a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017. Real change requires a lot of slogging through muck. There was a lot of muck for me and many others to go through in 2017. And a whole lot of slogging. Are ‘slogging’ and ‘muck’ actual things? Well, the muck felt oppressively real to me and the slogging seemed unbearably slow and difficult, often without much in the way of tangible results. I do feel better off in a lot of ways than I did last year at this time. And much stronger.
Boom, baby! Let’s bring on 2018!
It’s most of us, probably all of us, though I certainly don’t wish to speak for everyone. There is that point for many women, where we realize that the lines we’ve been handed about how anyone can be anything they want to be and have it ALL is complete and utter bullshit. Maybe the fact that we learn this so early and unequivocally is what keeps us from being as surprised and disgruntled as certain men seem to be when they don’t get their way or when something they thought they were entitled to doesn’t belong to them after all.
Women are conditioned to be nice and to give. Our time, our smiles, our attention – we learn that we’re expected to give all of this freely, to be nice, to be good, to put others’ needs and desires before our own. We learn that our bodies aren’t our own, not really. They can be touched and ogled and criticized and critiqued and legislated without our permission or consent. We learn that we need to be on guard, we need to laugh it all off convincingly, we need to deflect and protect feelings so that it doesn’t escalate. Sometimes we do this perfectly and can congratulate ourselves because we didn’t let ourselves “become a victim” and wow, that can feel good. Sometimes we fuck it all up and carry the blame and shame for something terrible we didn’t ask for and try to bury deep down so nobody will know. Or we talk about it with friends and partners and try to explain broken things that seem unexplainable and often it doesn’t seem worth it at all. And we hear in the news about so many instances of terrible things happening to women, but we also hear “what was she wearing?” and “why was she drinking?” and “what did she expect when she was out walking/running/being a person with a vagina all alone?” And we watch as our country elects a man who shows blatant and disgusting disrespect for women, even brags of assaulting them and then dismisses it as “locker room talk” or the things that all guys say, when women are not around – and we wonder if that can be true. And how do we keep moving through the world if it is? If we can’t trust the men in our lives not to laugh behind our backs and high five each other about assaulting us, how are we ever really safe? It’s disheartening, to say the least. We learn about Harvey Weinstein and read the endless awful stories and it seems a good thing that’s it’s all finally coming out, but all of those people who KNEW and did nothing, so that women had to whisper it to each other or find out about it the hard way? Well, that part is very hard to hear.
But maybe one day we decide to join all of the other brave people who are saying “me too” on Facebook and shucking shame that was never theirs to begin with and and opening up the discussion and pushing for the change that needs to happen. It’s just a little thing, but it’s a beginning. We are saying that sexual harassment and assaults happen all of the time to almost every woman you know, and many of the men as well. And it shouldn’t ever happen at all and we won’t be quiet anymore. We are saying that just because we are standing near you, existing alongside you, does not mean we are *for* you. Our bodies, our time, our attention, our smiles, our words? They are ours and ours alone. We belong to ourselves.
Dolly Parton came up on my playlist the other day, which shouldn’t have been a surprise, as I adore Dolly and many of her songs. But when I heard the sweet sounds of “It’s All Wrong But it’s Alright,” piping through the speakers of my vaguely colored minivan I instantly thought, “Yes, that is exactly where I am!” Unfortunately it was not because it’s one of Dolly’s sexier tunes, which it IS, to be sure. Maybe the sexiest one of the whole Dolly Parton oeuvre. Dolly’s had some hot booty calls y’all! She’s not made of wood. And maybe I’ve had a few fun times with guys I knew were oh-so wrong for me – but the song’s actual meaning is not what struck this particular chord. Those scenarios would probably be way more interesting to read about, but too bad, so sad, people! I’m not about to divulge those sort of scandalous details unless you buy me a few drinks…which is actually mostly how I’ve gotten into those very situations, so it would be totally fitting….but I digress.
“It’s all wrong, but it’s alright” pretty much sums me up at this point. It’s been a year since my divorce and there have been countless ups and downs. I still get the feeling that my life is not quite right. It’s not what I expected or hoped for. Being a twice divorced mother of three boys was not something I would have ever predicted or wanted for myself. When I was younger, I always pictured myself living a quiet and organized life. I thought I might have a couple of pug dogs, but likely no other people in my small apartment in Boston or maybe New York, where I could walk everywhere and go to museums and parks or read a lot in my calm and clean home. I was way off in all respects, except for the reading ’cause #booknerd4life, y’all! And yet, it seems to mostly work. Living in Texas was not something I’d dreamed of, but here I’ve been for over 20 years…longer than anywhere else. And I like it here, except in the dead of summer when I am sweaty and grouchy and must always be clutching a frozen margarita. I love my sweet boys and the craziness and fun that they add to my life. I love my house, even though it is messy and filled with nerf guns and fidget spinners and mismatched socks all over the damn place. But I never dreamed I’d be a divorced parent. It’s not what I wanted at all. It still feels hard to accept that this is how I’ll be raising my sons and not in a “family” as I’d expected. It’s not a totally bad thing, mind you. I was talking to another single mother friend and we agreed that being divorced is infinitely less lonely than living in a bad marriage. And it’s true, the last few years of my marriage were some of the saddest and loneliest ones of my life. But even worse than being lonely, I always felt “wrong.” I found myself trying so hard to be different and better, to not fuck things up all the time and to not be so sad. It only succeeded in making me feel like a shell of myself and more and more wrong. I’ve written about it before, how I felt like I had to walk on eggshells around everyone all the time and constantly edit myself so that I didn’t upset anyone or take up too much space. Nobody explicitly asked me to do this, but I just knew that I was “wrong” and I wanted so much to be better.
I haven’t written about details of the end of my marriage, though it is certainly an interesting story and made for some good gossip among those who enjoy that sort of thing. While small humiliations related to it occasionally arise for me, that’s not really the reason I don’t address it in detail. I don’t want to write about it because most of it is not about me at all. I am an afterthought in that story, collateral damage. For me that was the hardest part with which to come to terms. It still feels dehumanizing and terribly sad to me, that I meant so little in that equation. I had so many times where I didn’t feel truly seen or cared for in my marriage…and horrifyingly enough, I was right! While in the marriage, I assumed that this was my fault. I thought maybe I was too messed up to feel truly loved. I squashed myself down in the hopes that if I could just be a better wife and mother, it would make my family work. Of course none of it is or was that simple. In the end I learned that my marriage had almost nothing to do with me, it was about my husband trying to create the illusion of the life that he thought he had to live. He didn’t think of me as my own person and I validated that for him by slowly, but surely ceasing to be one. He is not a cruel person and I don’t believe he purposely set out to deceive me. He was doing what he thought he should do to make his life “right.” And our ending has meant that both of us have the chance to be our true selves and make our own lives. That has to be a good thing.
So as crazy as it sounds to me, I’m still at a place where I’m working at learning to be myself. It’s all wrong, but it’s alright. I know my life is good and my overwhelming feeling about it is that I’m really lucky. My luck is weird, but it’s strong! The greatest assets I have are the amazing people surrounding me and filling my life with support, joy, laughs and love. They are my foundation. This year I’ve slowly started feeling like me again. But I sometimes don’t recognize this person. I still apologize too much and often feel like I need to edit my thoughts and words. I still usually feel like I should be better in some undefinable way. I don’t feel “right” yet. Does anyone? Is that a feeling that most people carry with them all the time, a sureness? I’d like for it to happen for me. I’m still waiting for it.
Maybe it’s all the sunshine, laughs with friends and frozen boozy beverages that summer 2017 has bestowed upon me, but I’m feeling more optimistic these days. I was in a dark slump that surprised me with its timing and darkness for a few months, earlier this year and I wrote about it, talked to my friends about it, ran lots of miles in the hope I’d outrun it, then huddled up and watched Netflix with it for a while. Something seems to have shifted these days. My life situation hasn’t changed all that much but I’m starting to feel better. This may be delusional. I recently had a few weeks of a dating situation that turned out to be not very fun and kind of bizarre (Lesson: Never date the unGoogleable!!) but strangely, I still feel like I’m on the upswing. So I will just go with it, delusion or not. When I was younger, I used to pride myself in the fact that I was what I liked to call a “funmaker.” Inspired by my love of mentos, (not the fruity ones, all mint all the time, baby) the freshmaker. I had a genius for squeezing a good time out of very little money and few resources. I knew it was mostly about attitude and willingness to try something different, or to take a new route when things didn’t seem to be working on the path I was taking. Plus, I surrounded myself with other funmakers. It was funmaking at it’s best! I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life back then (hadn’t discovered my passion for the library sciences) but I knew for sure that I wanted it to be fun.
This all seemed pretty easy to do when I was young, but man, it’s been harder as time has gone on. Life just bogs you down sometimes and fun gets pushed to the side. Everything else seems so much more important and urgent. It was particularly hard for me when my kids were little and attached to me all the time, like cute little barnacles that I would long to scrape off, but would then miss like crazy when I did. I was always exhausted and feeling like I was failing in some way. And I’d think, “This isn’t fun! I’m a funmaker, dammit. I need to fix it!” But I couldn’t figure out how. One day I was driving with the kids and I heard them yelling out numbers to each other. “Hey guys, what are you doing?” I asked. “Counting all the fun things,” my middle son replied. To my great delight, it turns out that my kids are funmakers! When we got home, we made a list (’cause I am also the listmaker) of people, places, things and special treats that we could do, see and/or have that would add to our fun. We made a bulletin board with our list and would choose things from it every day. Some things were small and easy, like playing a favorite song, eating a favorite food or watching a favorite tv show and some were more involved, like getting together with friends, making fancy cupcakes or going to a place we liked. The list made it easy to do something fun every day. I also started really celebrating every holiday that came up, especially crazy made-up ones. Elvis’ birthday, National Donut Day, Talk Like a Pirate Day, etc. I took – and still take – great glee in tricking them on April Fool’s Day every year. And I researched routes on road trips to make stops at any weird, fun and unusual places that would make things exciting. I wanted so much for them to have a fun childhood and it made sense to work at it. I still do. It’s been harder over the past couple of years, but I do my best to remember to make fun a priority with them, especially now that we have less time together. These years have been so hard on them, too, so it seems even more important to choose fun whenever possible. But though I prioritize their fun, I don’t know if I’ve remembered to be a funmaker for myself. Why is that so hard?
A few years ago I was talking with one of my oldest friends and we were both exhausted and grouchy and she said, “Remember when we were young and fun? What happened?!” We both cackled at that, but it stuck with me. I’d think, “I used to be fun! Everything used to seem like a great adventure and now I’m apathetic and weary.” When I was married, for some reason it was rare for me to remember that I could choose fun for myself and not just for the kids or my husband. I forgot that I didn’t always have to do what everyone else wanted, while quietly feeling trapped and sad. Or feeling nothing at all, but tired. That was how I moved through the world for the last years of my marriage. And it wasn’t worth it. It’s not like my not being happy made anybody else happy or saved the marriage. It doesn’t actually work like that. At one point, I had a sitter for Valentine’s Day and my husband suddenly had to go out of town, abruptly canceling our plans (I could write an article called ‘Signs Your Husband Doesn’t Love You’, but I won’t, because UGH. Least fun article ever!). At first I was really disappointed, but then I had a flash of inspiration and decided that I should keep the sitter and get myself out of the house to do something just for me. Unfortunately that’s where my inspiration ended. It had been a really long time since I’d been out at night by myself and I couldn’t think of anywhere to go. I went to the library (another article idea: ‘Signs You Are a Nerd’. Yup, that one’s a winner!) and it was practically empty, as it was 7:30 pm on the biggest date night of the year. I thought “Hey it’s Valentine’s Day! I should definitely get some sort of sexy romance novel!” So I perused the shelves of books with muscley Fabio-types and ladies with heaving bosoms on the covers. I selected a few and went to the guy at the counter and he was all, “Are you having a Happy Valentine’s Day?” and then he realized the awkwardness of his question and blushed while fumbling with my pile of trashy, dirty books. And I said, “Obviously!” and started laughing. And I don’t know if that made it more or less awkward, but we both laughed about it, so it seemed to be a win. Then I took my books to Sonic and got a banana milkshake and sat in my car reading them and enjoying some quiet for a while. This may sound like a very lame night to some, but I loved it. Frankly, it was one of my better Valentine’s Days, which probably tells you a lot about my love life, thus far. But hey, lemonade from life’s lemons, y’all!
And going with that theme, a silver lining in having to end a doomed marriage that you wanted so badly to work, is that you get the space to figure out what makes you, as an individual, happy. That seems a good thing to know. Maybe other people don’t lose that in their marriages and children, but I definitely did. I didn’t mean to leave myself behind, but ten years went by in a blur and I left that marriage feeling like I didn’t know how to be happy anymore. It’s taken me over two years to figure out what I like again. I’m still learning. At first I said yes to a lot of things that I didn’t actually find fun, because they were other people’s ideas of fun and I was used to not really thinking about what I wanted and what I liked. I had trouble figuring out what made me happy. Lately, I’ve been thinking more carefully about those things. And I’m getting better at it. It’s easier for me say no to things that don’t sound appealing, despite other people’s opinions on the matter. And when I’m in the moment I’ll think, “Do I like this? Do I want this? Is this fun for me or do I need to walk away?” Sometimes I walk away. And that is working for me. I made myself a list of places and activities that make me happy and I keep it on my phone. When I’m feeling lost I break it out and make myself do something on that list. Sometimes I try a few things. I’ll admit, some things on that list are pina coladas and wine. But there are many other things as well. It’s helping. Making fun a priority instead of a luxury was a good first step to overcoming my slump. Perhaps I’m on my way to being a funmaker again? We’ll see.
I frequently describe myself as a “nervous traveler” or just “not a great traveler” but I’ve started to rethink those ideas. It’s true that I feel somewhat incompetent when I travel by plane, mainly because for most of my life I would fly once every few years, maybe twice in a really big year. In my younger days, I was always too broke for anything but long car trips or the ‘hound. That’s what the cool broke people call the Greyhound bus, btw. Well that’s what I call it, anyway. And I hope to avoid it for the rest of my life. Speaking of buses, I once went on the Mexican version of the ‘hound and some of my fellow passengers were actual birds. That was an adventure. Would a bad traveler do that? Maybe I’ve had the potential to be a good traveler, but not the resources? Hmmm…
My second marriage was to a great traveler, so I had high hopes that we’d go a lot of places together and I’d become an expert at it. But we had lots of kids (three, but all boys and in less than four years, so it’s really like having fifteen) immediately, so my travel dreams were put on hold while I was tethered to the earth. We did take a LOT of road trips, which is really the way to go when you have young children. At least if your asshole kid is screaming in your personal minivan you don’t have to apologize to anyone when you put in ear plugs and ignore him for 7 hours. And nobody has to know that you are carrying around a large bottle for the children to pee in, that you actually refer to as “the pee bottle” because you’re just handing them any damn juice box they want so their little mouths will be quiet for a while, but you don’t want to have to stop at sketchy gas station bathrooms every 40 miles when you could just pull over for a pit stop and then empty child pee all over these great United States. I bet this ensured that search dogs could have easily located my family on any of our trips, had we needed to be rescued, so really it was a win-win. Plus, I always researched any weird and interesting places that might be along our route, so we’d get to see some crazy shit, like a giant King Kong statue, boat and train-shaped restaurants, the Precious Moments chapel, a big blue whale you could wander inside of, multiple Elvises (Elvi?) and South of the Border, where Pedro sez you need to stop, so you just do. I will always go out of my way to see something unusual. It’s one of my life’s guiding principles.
So maybe I could be a good traveler, but I just haven’t flown often enough to totally get the hang of it. My air travel skills are still like those of a very old, very young, or slightly drunk person. I am unclear about what is happening, but I’m really excited! I can’t figure out how to check in my bag, and I ALWAYS have a bag to check, because I have not mastered the skill of paring things down when I might NEED a variety of shoes and multiple books. There are always new and unpleasant protocols to follow, just to get near the plane, like shoe removal and weird body scans and threats of pat downs and anal probing. It is all really confusing and makes me rumpled and disoriented and protective of my body parts. I’m getting better with it, though. This has been a big travel year for me, possibly the biggest ever. I’ve flown 4 times since July! I know, right? It’s huge! I stayed in hotels by myself twice and it was glorious. I have plans for even more travel in the upcoming months. Soon there may be a time when I can call myself a great traveler. And I will! The main thing I’ve realized is that in order to navigate travel one needs to READ THE SIGNS. There are many of them posted. They are telling you things that you need to know. This is good practice for life in general, not just for traveling. Read the signs!
I love being at the airport so much more than the actual flying part. It’s really fun to watch all of the people. So many interesting outfit choices. People are either super-fancy or they’re like, “Screw it! Why shower or wear anything clean when I’m going on a damn plane? I’ll just wear these pajama pants with the blown-out elastic waist. Yup, that’s my butt crack. No need to hold up the security line when you can see for yourself that I’m not hiding anything in there. You’re welcome everyone.” Hmmm…maybe those people are on to something.
I usually spend money that I would not ordinarily spend in airport stores, and not just at the Starbucks. Magazines are a given, because Us Weekly is never more compelling than when you read it on a plane. But I’ll even be tempted by souvenirs FROM MY OWN CITY. On my most recent trip, I had to convince myself that I didn’t need to bring a packet of “chili-fixin’s” from the Austin airport with me to New York. If I hadn’t been distracted, I would have totally picked up those fixin’s (oh my God, it is killing me to make something plural with an apostrophe, but I think that’s the way you are required to do it with something called “fixin’s”) on the way home. And I’ll just admit here that if I’ve ever given you a gift after I’ve taken a trip where I traveled by plane, there is an 85% chance I got it at the airport.
I am not at all a fan of the actual flying on the plane part. It’s always too cold and claustrophobic for me to really be comfortable. And despite my lack of frequent flying, I’ve had some weird and unfortunate flight experiences. Have you ever been screamed at by a hysterical flight attendant to put on your oxygen mask while you made an emergency landing because of an issue with cabin pressure? I have. The bags do not inflate, but the oxygen still flows, just like they said it would. How about being on a flight that is rerouted to a different place, because after four insanely turbulent attempts at landing in a dust storm in El Paso, the plane is running out of fuel and the pilot is will finally admit defeat, as your fellow passengers get teary, throw up and pray. I had that harrowing experience with Shakira and her husband last summer. Thank God I was with them, because they are never opposed to getting drunk and that was exactly what I needed to do, once we were on firm ground.
Usually if I’m flying alone, I take Dramamine, put on a fuzzy neck pillow and try to fall asleep and miss as much of the flight as possible. Do good travelers do this? Do they bring better distractions? Do have access to better drugs? Are these some of those adult secrets I never seem to know until it’s really late, like that people who have kids, but also have clean houses most likely *pay other people* to clean them. Or that more people than you’d suspect, who don’t have those “eleven” lines between their eyebrows, that you get from thinking “WTF?” too often get a little botox there? I didn’t know these things before and just thought I was failing at things like cleanliness and graceful aging. Perhaps it is the same with travel? Are there just a few more things I should learn and then I will be an amazing traveler? Let me know!
While watching April the giraffe give birth on Saturday morning, I had the almost irresistible urge to post, “So glad I had c-sections! I feel like I got away with something!” as my Facebook status. I admit, that even six years after my last c-section, I get the urge to say shitty things like this, probably because there were multiple people with internet medical degrees who had unsolicited opinions about me having c-sections due to my not knowing better and not watching Ricki Lake’s documentary carefully enough. Who cared if my uterus was riddled with tumors, possibly from a childhood of drinking tap water in a factory town? Obviously I was just caving in to what my doctor wanted, because I didn’t do enough googling. Anyway, I didn’t post it, because it was dumb and shitty and it’s been six years and who cares? But still, I am a little proud of my restraint.
Is it just me or does this happen to everyone? Many times a day something that I DEFINITELY SHOULD NOT SAY will pop into my head at the most inopportune times and I have to spend a great amount of energy stifling it until I am in no longer in danger of saying the unwise or offensive or hugely awkward statement. The problem is, when I think about saying the thing I should not say, it makes me laugh. There is a very bad part of me that thinks that saying the inappropriate thing would be totally hilarious. It’s like having a cartoon angel and devil on my shoulder saying “Shhhh…don’t say that!” and “Oh my God, say it right now, I’m dying!” So far I’m not bad at stifling. Unless there’s alcohol involved…
In job interviews when they ask the question about your biggest challenges or weaknesses at work? Every time, I want to say “Hire me and find out!” But I never have. Instead like everyone else, I’m a “perfectionist” who just loves to get everything so perfectly perfect that sometimes it’s hard when things can’t be as perfect as I prefer. I can almost say that without laughing. It’s my favorite interview lie next to “I’m a people person.” If the people are quiet and give me enough space and never bother me when I’m reading, then yes, I’m totally a “people person.”
At funerals, I always want to say that the deceased looks like the “picture of health” because at my dad’s funeral my sister and I overheard a senile great aunt saying it about him and it may have been the most darkly comic moment of my life. And to be fair, my dad would have thought it was really funny. Now my sister and I say “Picture of health!” any time someone dies (but quietly, because we aren’t total assholes). It would be comedy gold if she and I were to meet Steve Bannon, so that one of us could tell him he was looking well and was “the picture of health” and then we could both pee our pants while we tried not to laugh at him openly.
I say some inappropriate things with women, but it is much worse with men, particularly in “getting to know you” situations. My stifling mechanism doesn’t seem to work as well. Maybe because interactions of that kind are inherently awkward and comical and I usually try to smooth the edges with a cocktail or two. But I say some nutty stuff. It’s truly amazing that I tricked two suckers into marrying me. Don’t tell them I said that. I once briefly dated a long haired man who wore his tresses in a ponytail on our first date, but had it all long and loose and kept flicking it around like a sexy Jesus on the second date. It was very distracting, mainly because I was trying not to say the words “sexy Jesus” in his presence. I managed to hold that in, but later he brought up something about his long hair and I said “I usually find long hair on men really feminine…uh…but not yours…though it’s really pretty, er manly? It looks really healthy!” Things pretty much devolved from there and it was not a love connection.
Once a guy told me his son’s name and it sounded like some magical, made up Game of Thrones-style horror (I didn’t say that aloud. Yay, me!) and the thing that popped into my head was, “I could never love you.” Awful. I am an awful person. I stifled it, of course. But I couldn’t ever love him. That is a fact. Besides the GoT-named child, he had smoker’s breath and was a very close talker. Like a sexy Game of Thrones-style dragon? Eh, I just couldn’t make that work for me.
Recently I met a man who was telling me all about how he has his pilot’s license and how he flies so many places and it is all so exciting and fun and I should come with him some time…and all I kept thinking was “I know how you’re gonna die. Fiery crash!” Is that not the most horrible thing, ever? What the fuck is wrong with me? Granted I was not feeling positively toward him, mainly because before he got on the piloting subject he seemed to be hitting on me by mansplaining three subjects I had no interest in, in the fifteen minutes we were talking. That has to be some kind of record. But oh my God, that was a terrible thing that I stifled! It’s not like I even know what I’m talking about. From the way he was going to town on his fried mushrooms and other pub food, he’s probably going to die of a heart attack like most Americans. I didn’t say that either, by the way. I just excused myself and hid in the bathroom.
I feel like as I get older I’m may just stop stifling as much and embrace the devil on my shoulder. I’ll be one of those old bitches who says something awful, then cackles into her whiskey. I’ll find a tribe of other asshole people and say, “If you don’t have something nice to say, sit by me!” and we’ll pass my flask around and say every inappropriate thing that pops into our heads. It will be entertaining, to say the least.
Look, I’m just going to say it: I think most cats are assholes. I hate to admit that I feel this way, as I tend to be open minded about most things. I’m not into newer country music, most sports, many theme parks, carrot cake or that guy who plays Sherlock, but I can definitely see why people like these things. I recognize that we all find different things appealing and that is good. It’s what makes the world interesting! And I am usually able to get along with just about anybody, even people who seem to have no sense of humor, other than the laughter that comes at other people’s expense. Do you know the type of person I’m talking about? Is it my imagination or are there more of them lately? They are not fun or funny, but they *think * they are. Ugh. I’ve had to deal with more than a few of those folks in my life and they are extremely tiring to endure for long periods and only barely manageable in small doses. I generally just nod and smile and make affirmative sounds near them, until I can get away. Much like I do with cats. Which was the subject I was on, before I digressed. I often digress. I have no illusions about my endurability to others, but thankfully I like my own company. But cats? They suck. There, I just threw that down. Boom!
I know that some people admire the “don’t give a fuck” attitude that cats seem to have, but not me. That attitude doesn’t make me want to win them over, it convinces me even more that they are assholes. It’s not that they aren’t cute assholes. They are adorable! I love pictures of cats, especially in clothing, but even uncostumed, they are pretty damn cute. I don’t love that they will walk on your counters and tables and not even give a shit that you don’t like it and think it’s probably unsanitary. I don’t love that they poop and pee in a box that you have to clean frequently so that your home doesn’t smell like an indoor zoo exhibit. But I could deal with those issues.
Here’s what I can’t deal with: I hate that cats ALWAYS approach me. Always. They meow at me and look irresistably sweet. They rub up against my leg as if to say, “I reeaaally like you. Pay attention to me. Give me pats.” And I always acquiesce even though I know how it’s going to end. I pat them for a while, they purr and seem oh-so happy, they snuggle up to me and relax. And then, out of nowhere, those cute little motherfuckers will bite me. Almost every time! If they don’t bite me at this point, it just means that this is a long con, where they are going to bite me six months or a year from now when I trust them more. Hmm….this is sounding scarily similar to my history with men. Given this, you would think that I’d be all, “Cats just seem right to me for some reason. I don’t know why, but I just love them so much.” But no. My heart belongs to doggies.
Dogs are just as cute as cats, but they are unabashed in their adoration. They will wag and jump and seem absolutely crazed to see you, even if you’ve just re-entered a room you walked out of five minutes ago. Dogs will go on a walk with you and make you slow down (while they sniff and pee on stuff, it’s true) so that you actually see all the pretty trees, flowers, yard art and other people in your neighborhood. But you won’t have to talk to them, because dogs try to protect you. My crazy ten pound Josie will get in front of me and bark and growl ferociously at anyone who dares approach me when we are out walking. While I doubt that she has saved my life in this way, she has almost certainly saved me from countless uninteresting conversations. Dogs will happily play fetch with you or wade in a creek, but they are also happy to sit next to you and watch a Netflix marathon. And dogs look even better than cats in clothes. If they love you, they will totally let you dress them and take photos to send your friends and post on instagram. Dogs are not sneaky at all about wanting your food. They are never subtle. All I’m saying is that dogs are sweeter, snugglier, more helpful, more loyal and just generally better than cats.
I know that people will disagree and may try to change my mind, but ironically, my personality is more like a cat’s than a dog’s and I will not care at all. Maybe this attitude is why so many cats approach me. They know I’m a kindred spirit. An asshole who deserves a good chomp every once in a while. They probably aren’t wrong.
I found my Happiness Dress on June 23, 2015 in a New York City thrift store for $10. It isn’t anything special, although the cut is “fit and flare” which is good for someone like me, whose body has been described as “compact, but with booty.” Something that pulls in at the waist and then flares out in a twirly skirt is particularly flattering on me. The print would be called “white leopard.” Is that an actual factual animal? A quick Google search tells me it is! A snow leopard is a wonderfully sleek and powerful looking creature who seems pretty damn fierce. Like a total bad ass. Maybe that’s why the dress stood out to me. I don’t usually go for animal prints, but I needed some fierceness and bad assery when I found it.
It is slightly nubbly with those little pills that form when you throw something in the washing machine when you were probably supposed to dry clean or hand wash it, but who has time for that shit? I have one of those clothing shaver things that takes most of the pilling off, but I don’t do it too carefully because you would only really notice it if you were standing very close and I seldom let anyone get that close.
I found the dress 90 days after I learned that my marriage was over and that it hadn’t ever really been a marriage, but more of a failed experiment. I’d been a blind participant in that experiment for ten years of my life. I never had all of the information I should have had until it was too late for me to do anything but watch it all fall apart around me. And I fell apart, too. I cried every day for 90 days, usually several times a day. Sometimes I didn’t even know I was crying, tears would just leak out and I’d think, “I should probably drink some water, because I’m going to get dehydrated.” I cried alone, I cried with my friends, I tried not to cry in front of my kids, because they deserved so much better than that. I cried while I finished my freelance job, I cried while I packed up the things I wanted to take with me and cast aside many of the relics of a pretend life that I would not have chosen, had I known better. Through it all, I understood that my soon to be ex-husband hadn’t done any of this with malice or specifically to hurt me. It was just that he had never really considered that I was my own person who deserved to have choices too. And the knowledge and choices should have come long before he realized that he could no longer pretend to be someone he wasn’t. Long before I spent years of my life thinking that I was all wrong, feeling like I deserved the blame that he pushed on me and living in a smog of secret resentment that I couldn’t understand. I hadn’t been happy in the marriage for years and now I knew why. But that knowledge didn’t give me much solace. Nobody wants to find that they are the collateral damage of someone else’s triumphant life story, even if you truly hope they will have a fulfilling life and get to become the person they were always meant to be. I doubt anyone actually enjoys being the selfless and endlessly sacrificing wind beneath someone else’s wings, even if Bette Midler will sing your praises. At least I don’t enjoy it. I need to fly on my own.
After three months of this brand of agony, I had to get away for a while. Luckily, I had a week and a half in June where I could. First to Massachusetts, the state of my birth, where I stayed with family and old friends. I still cried every day, but I started having longer moments in between where I didn’t feel like crying anymore. It was beautiful there and being with the people who knew me when I was young, before this marriage and my children, seemed to help. A night in New Hampshire around a fire pit, laughing with old friends did wonders for my spirit, as did a night of karaoke, scorpion bowls and an Elvis impersonator in a Chinese restaurant. I could feel myself coming back. I did cry behind sunglasses at the train station in Fitchburg, where a fellow named Sippy sat next to me after I gave him two bucks. He said, “Are you this sad over a man? No man is worth your tears.” I said I was sad about everything. He told me I was a strong, beautiful woman and that I was going to be ok. “But learn from Sippy and don’t get into any bad shit. That’ll fuck you up forever. You just gotta keep going and keep it together.” Good advice, Sippy. Thanks.
I went to New York to stay with my friend T and we planned a day of fun. We wandered the city, had a delicious lunch with another dear friend, spent hours at the Met and then popped into a random thrift store, where I found the dress on a sale rack. I put it on and looked in the mirror and even though it was a little nubbly, it didn’t look half bad. And I noticed something else. My eyes were less puffy. I realized I had not cried at all that day. It was the first time in 90 days that I hadn’t shed a tear. I might have even been happy. It had been so long, far longer than the 90 days I’d been crying, and I’d forgotten what happiness felt like. I bought the dress. Later T reminded me that my happiness wasn’t new or fleeting. It had always been in me and I was learning to find it again.
I thought about that day a lot when I had other days where I felt like it was entirely possible that nothing could ever be good again. I’d remember June 23rd and I’d know that I had been happy for a whole day. Moments of happiness were really possible and I could have them again. This reminder pulled me through some very dark times. This too shall pass. Everything does.
I’d almost forgotten about my Happiness Dress. The March days have been warm and I was recently looking in my closet for something to wear to work, when I spotted it. I think I need it right now. The latest slump I’ve been in is taking an embarrassingly long time to lift. I keep moving forward a little and stumbling back. I’m still doing the things I know to do when you’re in a slump: I’m running regularly, trying to eat healthily and get good sleep – although I’m writing this late at night/early in the morning in a bout of insomnia. But I’m making my insomnia productive instead of watching The Office on Netflix. I’m hugging my boys, I’m walking my dog, I’m seeing my friends, I’m working. I’m not into any bad shit. I keep on going and I’m keeping it together. But damn, I’m tired and low and there seems like a lot to dig through to get to my happiness. I think it’s still there, though. I think so. I will wear my Happiness Dress to remind me that I have all I need. It may seem silly that a dress can remind you of things you should probably already know, but that’s what I’m working with these days, so I’ll take it. Besides, I will look like a fierce and bad ass snow leopard and that feels pretty good.
I met my first husband in line for the bathroom at a St. Patrick’s Day themed frat party twenty five years ago this month. With such an auspicious beginning, who would have guessed that it wouldn’t last? I nearly didn’t meet him at all, as I was about to leave the party because some drunk frat boy had just smacked me on the butt. I realized my cup was empty when I went to throw my green beer on him. I ended up shaking my cup at him and yelling, “Not nice!” while he laughed and shrugged like, “Whoops, my bad!” It was time to go. I didn’t want to ride the subway with a bladder full of green beer, so I got in the long bathroom line and the guy in front of me turned around, smiled and said hi. I was going to smile vacantly and look through him, but I noticed that he looked kind of like Lloyd Dobler from the movie Say Anything, which is a stupid reason to fall for someone, but I was 20 and it was a good time to fall. I opened my mouth and something super sexy came out, “I really have to pee, so don’t stink up the bathroom or use up all the toilet paper.” I was such a sweet talking devil. How could he resist? He laughed and was waiting for me when I came out, so we sat on a couch and started talking. I found out that he was not one of the frat boys, but was home on spring break from his college, which was four hours away. Frankly, this made him even more attractive to me, as I tended to be far more enthusiastic about romances that seemed like they would be excitingly short-lived. It soon became clear to the fratties that Lloyd (not his real name, but let’s just go with it) was not one of them, and they not-so subtly asked him to leave. He and I, along with my sweet roommate, who had been waiting while I chatted up Mr. Say Anything, got into a cab headed back to our dorm. My roommate went to bed and Lloyd asked me if I wanted to get coffee. I always say yes to coffee. It was a magical night, lightly snowing and cold with a big bright moon giving off a glow that gave the trees and sidewalks a sparkly luminescence. I am not made of stone. How was I not going to fall in love with him? We walked to Harvard Square together and sat at the counter of The Tasty and had coffee and talked more. Elton John’s Rocket Man came on the radio and he said his dad used to call him the Rocket Man and made him a t-shirt with the nickname emblazoned on it that he wore all the time when he was a little boy. After our coffee we went into the Store 24 and bought gummy worms and other candy that you can eat at 2 AM when you are 20, yet still avoid heartburn and belly fat. I saw a card that had a picture of a chubby guy sitting at a diner counter and inside it said, “missing you” and I told him he should buy it and send it to me and he bought it. Then we walked back to my dorm and sat in the lounge watching MTV and eating gummy worms and milk duds, and we talked on and on all night. When it was light out, we wrote our phone numbers on the back of a jello box (I seriously had eaten jello for dinner that night. How was I even alive with that kind of diet?) and then I walked him out. At the door he leaned in and kissed me and I remember it being this monumental thing, where I thought, “Whoa….something big is happening.” Maybe it was lack of sleep and too much sugar, but that was the first kiss I’d ever had where I saw fireworks.
We spent nearly every day and night of the next week together and then he had to go back to school. I was sad that he was leaving, but it didn’t seem sensible to try a long distance relationship. The morning he left, we said that maybe we’d get together next time he was in town and kissed goodbye. I was a little relieved that it was over, because the week with him had been way more intense than anything I’d ever experienced romance-wise and I felt like I needed to catch my breath. I was watching tv with my friends that night, when the phone rang and it was Lloyd, drinking at a bar near his school. He said, “I was wrong, I think we should give a long distance thing a try. I don’t want to wait and see.” I was surprised, but thrilled. I threw caution to the wind and said yes.
Everything about love was so new to me. I’d had a couple of boyfriends before, but it had never been like this. It all seemed like magic. He wrote me letters from school and would draw me funny cartoons and write silly poems. He took a train and a bus, traveling a ridiculous amount of hours just to come see me every couple of weeks. We were crazy about each other and never seemed to run out of things to talk about. We came up with silly ideas and stories and laughed like maniacs. We made each other mix-tapes. Plus, we were both young and adorable and having the type of sex that people with endless energy from a diet of 80% sugar, who are limber and need very little sleep have. Lots and varied. Ah youth. I found a way to stay in Boston for the summer while he was home from school (four part-time jobs) and we spent all of our non-work time together. We loved taking long ambling walks through Boston. Sometimes we’d ride the subway to a stop we’d never been to, then get out and walk around for hours. The first time he asked me to marry him, we were on a late night walk, just four months after we met. Our summer together was ending in a matter of weeks and we were both starting to get anxious. “We should get married!” he said and I just laughed. But he stopped and spun me around so he was looking in my eyes and said, “I’m totally serious. Let’s get married.” “But we can’t! We’re too young!” I said. I adored him more than I’d ever adored anyone in my life, but I had no interest in being a wife. I still had two more years of college. He said we could do it and still finish school. Maybe we could just secretly get married, and we wouldn’t even have to tell anyone? That idea actually appealed to me. I like secrets and I am prone to doing ridiculous things on a whim. We didn’t do it, though. Before he left to go back to school he bought me a gold ring with a little heart-shaped amethyst stone in the center. “Will you wear it on your left hand?” he asked. “I want everyone to know you are mine.” He was always saying crazy shit like that and I just ate it up.
We should have done it. We should have made that spectacular mistake early. Gotten it out of the way and been divorced before we could do any major damage to each other. Instead we had a long distance relationship while we were in college, then moved to Texas together so that he could go to graduate school. He asked me to marry him again when we’d been together six years. This time it wasn’t romantic. We’d been growing apart and fighting more and more. And then he had a health scare, something minor that seemed major, and when we got back from the doctor he said, “Maybe we should get married?” And I said, “Sure, why not?” And we tried to plan a wedding, but neither of us was really interested, so we flew to Vegas and got hitched in the Chapel of Love. Maybe it was an attempt to get back to the days when we were younger and frivolous and did wild things together. Eloping in Vegas is some wildly crazy fun. Sadly, I’d say it was the last time we ever had crazy fun together. Things quickly went to shit after that. The jealousy and possessiveness I’d mistaken for passionate love in him was starting to smother me. He seemed to disapprove of everyone in my life: friends, family, anyone that took my focus off of him. I somehow thought that marriage would make this better, that he would feel more secure and loosen up a bit, but it seemed to make it worse. Two months after we married, we had a huge fight where he was angry at me for talking on the phone with my sister when he wanted me to watch tv with him. He yelled at me and punched a wall, and I grabbed our car keys and took off. I drove around aimlessly thinking, “I’ve made a huge mistake and I am going to need to get out of this marriage.” But I stuck it out for two more years. I always loved him and I kept hoping that the stress of both of us being in graduate school was our biggest problem. We still seemed really compatible, as long as I didn’t spend too much time away from him. And working full-time while going to grad school didn’t give me much opportunity for a social life, so things just went along for a while. He was at the point in his academic career where he was teaching his own classes, while working on his dissertation. He seemed restless and unhappy. He began telling me salacious stories about a colleague who was having an affair with a student and I was fascinated and repelled. Somewhere in the back of my mind it began to dawn on me that he knew way too many details about this affair. One day I came home from class and he smelled like a fruity shampoo that we didn’t have. He left to go play basketball that evening and without thinking, I logged into his email. I’m not sure what drove me to do it. I’d never done anything like that before, but it was easy because his password was my name. I found a chain of his emails with a college friend of his, whom he was supposed to be meeting in New Orleans that weekend. It was all about keeping a secret from me. It said, “Don’t worry, I’ll tell her I’m with you if she calls.” And it ended with “Fuck your brains out this weekend!” So then I knew.
I’m not saying I was perfect. I know I can be petty and mean. Conveniently, I can only remember two instances of my egregiously bad behavior towards him. One was in college when we’d had a fight and I hung up on him, then got all dressed up and went to a party. I met a guy and ended up making out with him in a bathroom stall, standing on a toilet. I thought it was hot at the time and now I can’t believe I didn’t get flesh eating bacteria. The other thing is shitty, but not nearly as gross. Once he was sitting on our bed, shirtless and I went over and poked him in the belly and made that “hee-hee” sound like he was the Pillsbury Dough Boy. This seems way meaner to me now that my stomach will never be flat again, due to having three babies. These days, I’d cut somebody who poked me and made the Doughboy sound. Then I would cry. But at the time I laughed maniacally at him while he stared at me in horror.
Also, that amethyst heart ring he bought me? I lost it. He had another one made for me a few years later and I lost that one too. I was appallingly careless back then. But it may have been symbolic. That ring and that relationship sometimes made me feel smothered and I would take it off for a while to breathe and be myself again. I think I knew it wouldn’t last, but I still hoped it would. Maybe he felt the same way.
When I found out he was cheating, I was devastated and furious. I kicked him out of our apartment and proceeded to cut all of the crotches out of his pants and underwear, then folded them up in a box for him to take with him. Surprise, asshole! I threw out all of the love letters he’d written me in college, including the “missing you” card from the night we met. I gave him back my wedding ring and told him it didn’t mean anything to me and I never wanted to see it again. I held on to being angry, because when I wasn’t angry I felt more lost and desolate than I ever had in my life. I divorced him, even though I still loved him, because I thought that he’d end up ruining me if I let him stay. I don’t think it was the wrong decision, but it was one of the hardest things I ever did.
I wish I hadn’t thrown out all of our love letters. I wish I hadn’t let my second husband convince me to throw out the three wedding pictures that I had from my time with Lloyd. I wish I hadn’t lost the heart rings. I have no physical evidence left of that relationship and sometimes it feels like it never really happened. I’m writing it down now, while I still have the memory to do so. It’s already flawed and missing pieces, but I can still remember that feeling of first real love, long before things got so sad and ugly between us. It was a pure and beautiful thing.
He and I aren’t in touch today. I once ran into him at the gym a few years after we split and we had a nice conversation. I haven’t seen him since then, 12 or 13 years ago. I’m not really interested in knowing him now and I don’t want him to know me. But I am glad that he was my first real love and also that he was my first real heartbreak. The love we shared opened me up to so many good things. When you’re in love, I think you learn to be generous, kind and vulnerable in ways that you never have before. Maybe that’s why we keep doing it, taking the leap even though it can turn on you. It makes all good things even better. But the heartbreak from that relationship taught me that I was strong, brave and resilient and that I was capable of picking myself up and moving forward on my own. It has been immensely helpful to know that in my life. I am grateful for all of it.