Tag Archives: divorce

forthcoming

Hello,

I am on a ten-month sabbatical working on a book project. I always had a million jobs and a million babies, which have conveniently distracted me from doing that thing I always said I wanted to do–writing. I love teaching. But I teach writing, and I’ve never actually committed to doing it. In just these first three weeks, I have written and read more than I have in years. I don’t exactly know what I’m doing, but as a professor friend recently told me, “You can’t arrange the furniture when you don’t have any furniture.” My bluff has been called, and it’s a little scary. I don’t enjoy not having control over things, but I’m trying to let that go a little, and let this project emerge. Right now, it looks like a series of essays, about my mother and me, about what it means to be a mother, wife, parent, lover. I’m digging deep, y’all, and getting vulnerable, and hopefully writing something that isn’t just an exercise in narcissism. So each week, I’ve decided to publish just a paragraph of what I’m currently working on, to keep myself honest.

So here’s the first paragraph I’m posting. Thanks for reading. Thanks for sticking with me on this inconsistent blog.

From “Leaving”:

When I was four, my mother, Kathy, left my brother and sister and me out on on her front porch. Our clothes and toys were stuffed in garbage bags and slumped next to us. With the slam of a screen door, and the efficient click of a lock, we were suddenly not inside. No grown ups. A different kind of quiet. The sound of air, only, maybe bugs. This was not right. I began to cry. I jiggled the door knob. There was chipped paint, dust on the porch. A chain link fence surrounding a dried out front yard. Clusters of dead grass amid larger patches of dirt. I’ve never been the kind to quietly accept. I began to scream. Tears streamed hot down my face. I tried to look in the window, to fix this. Sally and David were there, of course, but only incidental, blurry within the fog of my rage. It’s the feeling I remember most, like an explosion inside of my skin, a feeling that has since become a close friend. Sally was a toddler, and David only a baby. I was too young to be responsible for them. I was probably scaring them. Even then, my emotions spilled everywhere, infecting everyone. Eventually, my father pulled up, tossed our garbage bags into the bed of his pick-up. This was the end of their divorce. Kathy wasn’t the kind to give up easily either, but the courts had commanded it. She was a bomb, detonated, everything in its radius collateral damage. I never saw that house again.

 

 

 

 

 

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the chance to try

I think I have maybe two friends on Facebook who think their religion should be legislated and were upset today, quiet and/or cryptic on social media. The rest was all rainbows, rainbows everywhere, and love and celebration, with one important exception.

My FB friend R said, “I find myself watching the live feed of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney’s funeral right now and let me say there is no more poignant reminder of the resiliency and fortitude–so quintessentially American–than the hall full of people celebrating a rich and important life so cruelly taken by evil. The celebration of marriage equality and the celebration of this great man are two sides of the same coin, bitter and sweet, I think–a call to action for all of us. I will strive to be more present in my own life and act to make my country one I am prouder and prouder to live in.”

Obama’s eulogy moved me:

http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/26/politics/obama-charleston-eulogy-pastor/

R’s post moved me.

Things are fucked up. They are so fucked up. I think and hope we can celebrate and mourn at the same time. It’s never just one or the other. It was a surprise for me this morning when things were not fucked up for a second, and I think that’s the outpour of delirious joy I saw and felt today about the Supreme Court decision. It was just, yes, finally, people aren’t being assholes to each other.

But, of course, people are still being assholes to each other. That’s why I swore off the comments section of basically anything. That’s why R is right and we have to keep working and try to make this place better. Because it seems like things don’t change and then they do, like they did today, and it makes you want to keep going.

Justice Kennedy said this, which you’ve probably already read:

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And I almost cried, but I’m missing something probably so I didn’t. And I almost thought marriage was a good thing again, for a second.

My friend J said, “Yes, yes Justice Kennedy, it’s such a beautif– wait no it’s still pretty fucking hard and complicated.”

That made me laugh.

I’m obviously not successful at marriage, or relationships, having just come fresh out of two failures. But I guess what I still like about the idea of marriage is that it’s a beautiful and optimistic thing to say I love you so hard I want to live with you FOREVER and even if for some people it doesn’t work out and even if some people are secretly sad and desperate, shouldn’t everyone have the chance to try?

That’s a rhetorical question. Yes, they should have the chance to try. And now they do.

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becoming a young man

The same year Ben found out about Santa not being real was the same year he found out that his parents would be separating. It will be one of those years of his life, I imagine, that he will run through the sieve of therapists and romantic partners and his own mind again and again to see what kind of insight catches. I was 10 when my mom died. It’s a year I return to often. A month after Benjamin turned 10, our divorce was finalized.

Ben did not take the Santa thing well. Here was a boy who did not believe in God but clung fiercely to all things magical, like Muppets and the Easter Bunny. I promised myself when he asked me if Santa was real, I would tell him the truth. One night, he asked. “Do you want the truth?” I responded. Yes, he told me. He looked sure. I looked straight into those sweet blue eyes and told him. And he shot betrayal back at me, howled from somewhere deep inside, ran down the hall and into his room, and slammed the door shut. He cried in ugly heaves, his face smeared with tears and snot, and Ryan and I sat next to him and tried to calm him. He reminded us about this dream he had in which Santa broke into his room and “rifled” (he said rifled) through his things and determined that he was good. In his dream, he had seen Santa’s boots at the end of his bed and looked up to see Santa staring down at him. This sounded pretty terrifying to me, but he was certain it was real and good. We had to assure him it had all been just a dream. We petted his hair and gently scratched his back and gave him all of the best lines about Christmas being in your heart etc. etc. but nothing made it better. The magic was gone. The Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny fell in quick succession. He gradually came to accept it, but I felt horrible for lying to him in the first place.

Then, later that year, we had to sit Ben down and tell him we were separating. It went much the same way. He made a terrible noise from somewhere deep within. It cracked my heart. He ran away from us and slammed his bedroom door again, but this time he locked it against us. You promised me, he said. You promised. He was right. I had promised. Years before, he had asked my why my dad and stepmom lived in separate houses, and I told him about divorce. I told him not to worry because it would never happen to us. I believed that then. That was back during the time when I believed that I could simply bend everything to my will and make it the way I wanted it, that I could give the kids a childhood completely free of some of the struggles I faced as a kid. But we were not doing well, and hadn’t been doing well for a long time. We sat together, all three of us on the bed, and Ryan and I petted and tried to soothe him again. We listened to all of his worries. We told him we would always be friends, would always love each other, just in a different way, and, most importantly, would always love him and his brother. It was the most painful thing I’ve ever done. I don’t know how much of it Ben believed. I can’t blame him.

Ben is growing up. In the past few months, he started asking about puberty. So I got out my trusty It’s Perfectly NormalHe knows all about male and female bodies, sex, the changes he will go through. Given his age, he still seems to see sex as primarily a way to make babies. He’s into science. That aspect isn’t yet upsetting. But the body thing, he isn’t happy about. He does not want acne and sweat or hair sprouting out everywhere. He told me he is going to make an invention to stop all of it. I try to make it sillier. I make up a song about puberty. I ask him to imagine what his dad would sound like with a young boy’s voice. He laughs and then his little forehead wrinkles again with worry. He thinks so much, all of the time, in all directions. I’m sure he tells me just a fraction of it. He does not want to grow up.

I remember when I was a little older than Ben, and I looked around, and everything seemed less magical. I had seen divorce and my mother had died and my family was weird and I didn’t have any friends at school. I went to Disneyland for a school field trip and found myself calculating ride line times and performing price comparisons with increased efficiency and reduced joy. I could see, plainly, how crowded and expensive it was. It seemed small and hot and not worth it. I didn’t enjoy it again until I got to take my own children there and see it again through them.

Ben is growing up and seeing that life can be difficult. Magical things are tarnished, or gone altogether. I hope he will forgive me for my role in helping him to realize that. I want to smooth everything in his life that is rough, but I can’t. I am just trying to love him through it, even the wounds that I inflict. I want him to avoid growing as cynical as I can be, but I don’t know how to stop it.

I, too, have grown up and seen that life can be difficult. I had a bunch of illusions about myself that have just imploded. But it’s not necessarily bad. Being more uncertain has opened me up, too. There is so much to still learn about and see in a new way. There are so many small things to marvel at, like that spot of moonlight I notice on the floor of my bedroom at 3 a.m. when I am awake, worrying.

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are you my mother?

It will be Mother’s Day again soon. I am not scheduled to have the boys on that day, but Ryan is being more than accommodating. We will feel our way through this holiday like we have done with the past several, and we will be a little stiff but kind to one another. I have no biological mother to buy flowers for and celebrate. I have no stepmother. And though the paperwork is still unfiled, I now have no mother-in-law. The latter was the closest I ever had to a mother.

In P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother?, a confused baby bird asks one animal after the next if it is his mother.

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He naively thinks a kitten, a hen, a dog, a cow, a car, a boat, and a plane are his mother. He bumps around from one to the next, growing more and more frantic. He finally winds up on top of a seemingly dangerous, harmful-to-the-environment bulldozer-type machine. He feels panicked and trapped. He pleads for his mother. Fortunately, at the most crucial moment, he is miraculously dropped back into his nest, and they are reunited.

I was 10 when my biological mother died, but only 4 when she left me. I was raised by a stepmother who could be cruel and irrational, who hit me often. Like the baby bird, I bumped around, seeking the nurturing I lacked. I felt fortunate when I met my future mother-in-law at 15, and I eventually became part of her family when I married her son. We are both tall and brunette, with broad smiles. In public, people often mistook her for my mother, and I loved that. She told me she loved me like a daughter, and I believed her.

But circumstances change. People say parents love unconditionally, but I’m not sure I believe in that sort of love. Or maybe it’s the blood that makes the difference. I have moved from one mother to the next, but they either die, or resent, or give up on me.

I get the feeling that it would be much easier for Ryan’s parents, especially his mother, if I could somehow be erased. I understand that this is painful for them, too. Like that photo of the McFly siblings in Back to the Future, maybe they wish I could just gently fade away and disappear.

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The problem is, I am everywhere. I am in all of the family photos from the past two decades. I am at birthday parties for my nieces. Their grandchildren have my DNA. Worse, I am in their memories. I won’t fade away because I exist.

I am no baby bird. I am an adult now, and nothing will drop me into the comfort of a mother’s arms. I only wish I could kill that instinct in me that still longs for that kind of connection. Fortunately, this feeling lives in a tiny corner inside of me, and on most days I don’t notice it. I try to give my boys the unconditional love and connection no mother ever gave me. I am lucky to have plenty of people who love and support me, even if I will never have a mother. I have figured out how to fly, and most of the time I fly just fine on my own.

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Appetite

My body knew before I did. I woke every morning, for weeks, my stomach roiling and angry. I forced myself out of bed and tied my running shoes on and threw my body out into the freezing morning for my training. I ran 6 miles, 8, 10, 15, 18, on nothing to eat, only water and gels I forced down for the longer runs. I came home and stretched and took a shower and waited to be hungry. I just wasn’t. I’d make a smoothie and drink it down. I’d have a piece of toast. Or I’d just have nothing at all. I have posted before about how much I love eating, all types of food, how I would think about food when I’d first wake up, or on my commute to work, or mid-yoga class, when my mind was not supposed to be on anything at all. This was not me.

After we decided it was over, it got worse. My belts became bigger. I bought a size smaller, and then a size smaller. The pants I once spilled out of hung loosely. My sister, who hadn’t seen me in a while, told me my ass is gone, my prized bodily possession, but that I refuse to believe. It’s there still, and it is good. I did lose 20 pounds in about a month, however, and I now weigh less than what I lied about on my driver’s license. I am not an unhealthy weight, but the drastic nature of all of it is unhealthy. I know that. I had some baby carrots and a beer for dinner the other night. My dad, who has been through four divorces, told me that he lived on beer, coffee, and cigarettes for about a year when he divorced my mother. I’ve been sticking to beer and coffee, but cigarettes don’t sound half bad, either.

I wanted to make a life for my kids that was different than my life growing up. I have tried to be smart and practical and make all of the best decisions. It didn’t matter. I still somehow fucked everything up. My body knows. This probably sounds strange and irresponsible, but in some ways I can understand a little bit about eating disorders. There’s something a little intriguing and exhilarating about not caring about food anymore. I like to be in control, and I am not anymore, so I have been cleaning the house daily and not eating.

This whole experience has been like an episode of Out of This World, that terrible 80s show, when the teenaged protagonist, secretly an alien, would touch her fingers together and freeze the world around her so she could reassess the predicament in which she found herself.

out-of-this-world-tv-show-maureen-flannigan

In the weeks immediately following my moving out, I feel like an outsider, removed from the world in which I once lived, and the one that everyone else still seems to be a part of.  It has given me a sad and bizarre but almost comforting sense of clarity.

In that song “Crazy,” Gnarls Barkley sings,

                          I remember when I lost my mind

                          There was something so pleasant about that place.

                          Even your emotions had an echo

                          In so much space.

I know exactly what he means.

In the past week or so, my appetite has returned. I think about food again, all of the time, and I am always hungry. Before school let out, several students gave me baked goods for Christmas, and I eyed them in their square, holiday-themed plastic containers and thought, I will never eat all of this. But then I did. I ate orange scones, ginger cookies, lemon muffins, and brownies. I ate it all.

I’m still drinking too much beer, and I don’t sleep very well, or enough. But my appetite is back. My body knows. Things will be better.

Photo credit: http://www.fourthgradenothing.com/2012/01/out-of-this-world-tv-series.html

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this is real

I used to not know what it meant to laugh and cry at the same time. I mean, exactly the same time, not one bleeding into the other. Several weeks ago, Ryan and I sat in our car, at the top of our city, in the dark. We had been talking and crying for hours. We’d seen the sun set in the side mirrors, and watched the light fade quickly after, and now we couldn’t see anything clearly, just the faint outlines of our faces. We joked about how pathetic we were. I told him I wanted Oprah, and Yoda, and Dr. Phil, and the Dalai Lama to all emerge from the bushes and tell us what to do, and even Dr. Oz so he could tell us what to eat (“and show us a penis,” Ryan added) and maybe this is not that funny, but it struck me as impossibly funny in that moment and I started laughing and crying at the same time, my chest heaving, my face wet. The sound was insane. Ryan asked me if I was okay, and I was not. Neither of us are. I feel like someone has hollowed me out with a giant pumpkin scraper, like someone died, like I am dying. A couple of nights later, he recorded a series of voice mail greetings. The boys were in bed. It was late. We’d been crying, again, for hours. He lay on the floor, I lay on the couch. Strewn all around us were shoes, backpacks, video games, socks, comic books, wrappers, essays I need to grade, unfolded laundry. “My life is unraveling…leave a message!” “Everything is slipping away…leave a message!” We are devastated. There is nothing funny about it, but we laugh out of desperation, I guess.

He is my best friend. We made two beautiful, amazing little boys, whom we both love so much. He saved my life so many years ago. He is a good person. I am, I hope, a good person.

Our marriage is over. Our marriage is over. This is real.

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We Will Begin Again

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