Tuesday, May 22, 2018

This Broken Road...

3 years ago, give or take a couple of weeks, my life imploded. It was scary and dark and frightening. All the words in the world that mean, something happened that I didn’t want to happen, and all I wanted ever was for life to just go back to what it had been before.

In truth, I know now that life could never have returned to what it was. No matter what course you ultimately choose to take, life is forever altered. It’s something that I honestly thought that I understood-after all, if you read this blog at all regularly you know that I call Nick leaving the third big terrible precisely because two other big (huge) terribles had preceded it. I know what it’s like to endure a huge hardship, something that could end a marriage, something that could haunt you for years to come, and choose to remain married and to forgive and forget and move along to the next phase of your life. My point is, I thought I was all knowing and wise because I had endured these two huge betrayals in the past, and I had swallowed hard and gone on with life. It’s what you do.

So, along comes betrayal number three, and everything crumbles. I didn’t want it to-obviously-but it did, it crumbled right to my feet and nothing that anyone could say or do could fix the fact that my marriage had ended. Hope, you see, had died. Hope had lied.

Three years later, life is of course gloriously different. If you had told me then-if you had taken that girl that I was in 2015 who was just barely functioning-if you had said, in three years, you will be going about life as if it’s always been this way, as if Nick is just sort of your goofy brother-I might have wanted to believe you, but I would have thought, three years? Why can’t we just fix things now? Give me some little shred of hope, just so that I can get up and function through the day. That’s not how it worked, though.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when hope showed back up, but I do know that it was long after I had learned to get through the day. My days were rote, muscle memory of how to exist in the world and breathe in and out. The one thing that I wish that I had understood, that I didn’t understand until much, much later is this-because I stayed in my house, because my outer life really did not change at all except that now I didn’t have a husband anymore, my experience of my divorce was completely different than Nick’s experience of the exact same thing.

Granted, no two people experience the same thing, right? But I hated myself for how sad the simplest, most routine bits of life made me. I found that I missed things about my old life that I never even thought about before. I rarely found myself crying over the big things, the thing that you would imagine you would remember-vacations and holidays and such. But I can remember of standing in Imlay’s, buying a pair of scrubs, and being overcome with sadness remembering that the last time I had done that, we had gone as a family and the girls had picked out silly shirts for me and Betsy had asked for a real stethoscope for Christmas. And I had this lovely meltdown in the middle of a store, buying scrubs that I wouldn’t need in just a few months time.

All of that is just to say, I never knew when I would fall to bits, I never knew what weird memory would rise to the surface and just undo me. Accepting that this was life now-memories of memories-I fought against it, and then gave into it, and basically wallowed for what surely seemed like much too long (but felt like just the only thing to do), and eventually life actually moved on.

Last night, the girls and I put the flags out at the cemetery, which is something that we have done as a family for years. (This is hard to put into words-I know, why do I struggle to do it? A good question for a different post.) In the past few years, this has made me feel a sadness, because it was something that we did together-it felt like someone was missing. Which makes sense, I think. But last night, I didn’t feel that at all. I still remember, of course, but the feeling that I am pretending at being this single mom, who doesn’t feel abandoned and left to do all of these “family” things alone-that feeling is gone. The girls and I are a family, as we are. No one is missing.

If I had known three years ago that we would get to a place of solace, I would have felt relief. But I also suppose that I would have felt three years a terribly long time. It really hasn’t been at all. In the grand scheme of life, these years, these years where all of life changed and turned me into this completely different person, they are just barely a moment in time. And before I realize it, my girls will be grown up and gone and life will shift again.

Life lately just has me remembering that panic, that sadness, that fear. I suppose that the return of June will always make me remember, in the same way that March reminds me of what it felt like to be the wife of a soldier deployed overseas. Heavens, that was years ago, and still the chill of the beginning of March brings it back to me.

All I know for certain is that life has changed all for the better, and I wouldn’t trade where I am for where I was. Letting go (truly letting go) of my old life led into this new life of complete and unabandoned joy. And it took years to do, but there the hope lies.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Days We Lay Dying...

My dear and most beloved Gidget and Moondoggie.

I am so profoundly sad to write this post.

Gidget Catherine and Moondoggie Heathcliff came into my life on December 24, 2003. They were brother and sister and never spent one day apart from each other in their 14 years on this earth. They loved each other, and us, hard. They wanted nothing more than a lap to lay in. They were my Gidge and my brave soldier.

When they were little, they tore up everything in my house-anything that was within their reach, including my kitchen floor. They remain the most anxious dogs I’ve ever known-they are scared of closets and the toaster and Moondoggie is even afraid of stairs.

They loved running and barking and protecting my house from delivery people. They loved Betsy and Felicity once they figured out who these tiny creatures were that we brought into the house. They were intrigued by Anakin.

The past three years they have been cared for by my parents, beginning when I went to work full time but in the past few months, my parents have cared for them day and night. I carry an incredible weight of guilt over that but I do know that there is no one more loving than my parents, no one better to take care of my dogs and spoil them rotten and make their last years on this earth full of love and treats and kindness.

I love them to the moon and back and will miss them every day. In my lifetime I have loved my dogs fiercely, and I dearly miss Caleb, Mandie, Mollie, and Zoe. I dream about Zoe every so often (I was the one with Zoe while she died) and I truly believe with all of my heart that Gidget and Moondoggie will join them.

Carry on, brave soldier, and take care of your sister.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Someday These Will Be The Good Old Days...

Six months ago, I wrote a blog post that I titled “Defying Gravity” in which I said that I was feeling happy-and that I didn’t quite know what to do about that. I loved that I was feeling happy-there had been such a long stretch of time where I could feel content but just not quite happy.

Writing that blog post scared me. I was terrified that the minute I claimed that profound joy as my own, it would all dissipate. Such had been my experience before, when I would imagine myself beginning to see the end only to be overcome by a wave of grief more intense than the last.

Instead, six months later, I am delighted and a tiny bit scared to say that I am still quite blissfully happy. There are days, of course, that aren’t quite as wonderful as others, but most of my days anymore are completely sated with a degree of joy that I just didn’t think was possible for me anymore. I thought that I was too jaded, too skeptical, too full of doubt and questions about where life was going compared to where life had been.

I have lived with my twin issues of depression and anxiety, with a nice bit of co-dependency thrown in, for nearly all my life. My depression first settled into my soul at 14 and I have cycled through ups and downs with it ever since. I can’t recall a time when I didn’t live with anxiety, though there surely must have been a young age where I wasn’t consumed by worry. I honestly cannot imagine life without them.

My divorce, though, going through my divorce was like living with depression and anxiety on steroids. Looking back, I wish that I had had the sense to be more patient with myself. I knew where I wanted to be-I wanted to be in a place where all that mattered was that I had my girls, my family, my friends-I knew to my bones that I was blessed beyond measure but I just couldn’t feel that anymore. I felt numb to the world, I felt such sadness that I had never experienced to that level before-and I just couldn’t see an end to it.

But now, today, nearly 3 whole years since that third big terrible that ripped life apart, I wake up every morning so incredibly grateful that I had this experience, this time of such complete sorrow and loss. It's a strange thing to be grateful for, but I feel like such a stronger person, a happier person, a person capable in spite of such obvious deficits.

So, so many blog posts to get to what of course has been true all along. This was always my story, this was always my fractured fairytale.

So, dear old world, I am so lucky to be alive in you, to paraphrase my favorite literary heroine. I never would have dreamed that I would look back on these past three years with anything but sadness. But such is life. Joy slips in even when you aren't expecting it. Even in the midst of crazy, sad, out of your mind grief. The joy is there.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Shatter Your Illusion (Lessons from Becky with the Good Hair...)

So…I’m going to write a blog about, of all things, my hair.

I know. This seems sort of crazy.

Number one, because I really only know how to make wavy, frizzy hair straight. That’s it. That’s all I can do. I can make a rudimentary braid and put it in a ponytail. Nothing in the least little bit special.

And number two, because that seems way out on a limb away from my normal blog posts.

I mean, really, I doubt too terrible many people care. BUT. I have had more than one person inquire about how I manage to get my frizzy hair to calm the heck down, and a couple of people have told me that they think it would make an interesting blog post. And so, I oblige.

Like everything in this world of mine, my hair revolves around my divorce. Pre-divorce, my method of dealing with my hair was basically to wash it and brush it and be sad that it didn’t look like I envisioned in my mind. An excellent question at this juncture would be-why on earth would you assume, having lived with wavy, frizzy hair since the age of 14, that suddenly said hair would simply straighten itself and turn into the style that you like? There’s no really simple answer to that other than-I didn’t know how to deal with my hair. I didn’t know a lot of things pre-divorce. I didn’t know how to deal with talking to people I didn’t know, I didn’t know how to plot out a budget and stick to it, and I didn’t know how to tame this wild mass of hair that God saw fit to put on my head.

Then I lived through my life falling all apart. My life fell to such bits that I basically had to start from the beginning and figure out who I was again. That, in all honesty, is how much to the bone I defined myself as Nick Johnson’s wife. And if I wasn’t Nick Johnson’s wife anymore, then who was I? It seems crazy, but really, so does nearly everything about my life in the past three years.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure that putting myself back together again started with my hair because it was something that I truly struggled with, something that I desperately wanted to control but felt at a loss as to what to do. My whole life might have been shattered at my feet, and everything felt beyond my control-and so I grabbed onto this hair and insisted that it bend to my will.

So, the nitty-gritty of how exactly I do this. My hair is naturally very thick and it has a wave to it. Not exactly a curl, though my hair will easily hold a curl if I want it to. The issue, of course, being that I wanted it to lay straight.

I accomplish this mostly through my flat iron. I have 2 that I use consistently. One flat iron is an Ion Keratin Smoothing Flat Iron. This iron is skinny, but it gets hot (it can go up to 450, I use it at 400). Basically, once my hair is totally dry after I wash it (I wash my hair twice a week, on Sunday and Wednesday), I use this flat iron in very small sections all around my head. The smaller the sections, the easier it is to get it to all lay flat. It takes about 15 minutes.

My other flat iron is a Remington. It is much wider and easier to use. I use it always the day after I wash my hair, to get my hair to behave itself, and then in the mornings just after I comb my hair if I think that it needs it-obviously, frizzy hair is more of a problem the more humid it is.

The only other real secrets keeping my hair straight lie in my shampoo and conditioner (I use Brazilian Keratin Therapy shampoo and conditioner) and my blow-dry spray (which is called WOW-this is a miraculous product that I would chose to take to a deserted island). I use a wide toothed comb to keep my hair from breaking. And that’s that.

The whole entire thing-from washing my hair to drying and straightening it-takes one hour tops. And much of that is just that it takes a while to dry my hair because it’s so thick.

Like I said, I’m not exactly a beauty blogger, nor do I especially know what I’m doing. I have learned things mostly by asking people whose hair I like what products they use, and by having a hair stylist that I adore.

Prior to my divorce, I defined myself as a girl who didn’t care about hair or makeup or clothes. But deep down, I really did care about those things-I just didn’t know how to go about figuring any of it out. I think that falling apart in front of truly every person I have ever met made me realize that not one single person thought I had it together. So we shattered that illusion, and it opened me up to realizing that I could, if I wanted to, just become this completely new person.

Silly as it sounds, that began with a hair straightener.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Of Surrender and Certainty...

“Were you happy?”

I hear that, said in Claire Danes’ voice, every day inside my head.

(It’s in her voice because she was Angela Chase, and she said it, choking back a cry, in one of the final episodes of My So-Called Life, when Rayanne and Angela’s friendship has all but ended and they are in a production of Our Town and it’s layered with meaning, and like all things about me, I carry that choke in her voice with me for no real reason other than it struck a chord with me when I was sixteen years old.)

There are so many parts of this new life that I truly love- falling all apart and piecing yourself back together is a fascinating process, and it makes you approach life from a different angle. From a kinder angle-kinder to other people, yes, but kinder to myself. I don’t know what I’m doing-the world can see that-and it frees me a bit of any expectation that people might think I do.


Untangling yourself from someone is hard and messy and frankly, unfair. There are days that you just long for that person that you used to be, that person who didn’t question every little thing, who trusted easily and openly, that person who knew where on earth life was going.

There are many parts of being a single mom that are hard-I’m the only person to make all the decisions, to budget the money, to say no to things that I really, really want to say yes to.

I hate that my mom misses the old me. I hate that I can’t bring that girl back, if only for her sake, once in a while. But I can’t. It’s like something snapped inside of me. I know that it seems ridiculous-it’s a divorce, not war or death or anything-but I genuinely believe that it is a trauma that fissured my life. There is the before and there is the after.

“Were you happy?”

Yes, I was so happy in the before. I honestly thought that I had it all. I didn’t think that life could get any better than it was.

But the truth is, life is so much better in the after. It’s hard to remember sometimes, at the end of a long day, trying to make ends meet, just aiming to keep us all alive and fed for one more day. Sometimes it seems incredible to me, that once I had a human in my life who I did such monotonous things with- washing dishes, doing laundry-and I never once thought it unusual or special.

So, yes, life isn’t all roses in the after. I have to remind myself that where I am going is worth the sacrifice of where I had been. (The Israelites begged Moses to go back to Egypt. They would rather be slaves to what they knew than to keep going toward the Promised Land. Those Israelites keep me going on the days I want to give up. It is just human nature to want what we know. It is the brave thing to keep going, not knowing what lies ahead, stumbling and falling and getting hurt, blindsided even, but to keep going.)

Who knows? Maybe Brian Krakow has been here all along, and I was just too taken with Jordan Catalano to notice.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Manipulation, Faith, Creation (Possibly)...

I had the brilliant idea this week that I should do a Throw Back Thursday on the blog, only instead of it being a picture, I should dig up one of my stories from my creative writing class in college and put it on the blog.

In college, writing was my entire life. Everything was copy. Reading through those stories brings back memories, both cherished and embarrassing, of a girl still on the cusp of life.

It’s a bit overwhelming.

But I did find one thing-which, oddly, is a poem-that isn’t too terribly embarrassing to share. You will quickly see why I am not a poet. But this one, which I wrote as a tribute to what it means to me to call myself a “writer”-I don’t know, I like it. It’s nothing, really, but a girl trying to write a poem who isn’t a poet. But here you go:

Manipulation, Faith, Creation

It begins with a word,
One word, one idea,
More are then added
To give it weight.

I take these words
And mesh them together,
I bundle them up
Into a jumble.

Then I begin to roll them,
I roll them flat,
I strip them of their meaning,
Until I can see them clearly.

(this is manipulation)

I press the words,
My words now,
Onto my mold
Until they stick.

They don’t all fit, you know.
Some will have to be-
On my altar to Plath and Wordsworth.

(this is faith)

And so I begin to cut,
It’s almost blinding,
Physically, I ache
And wonder how my idols do it.

There, there-
The mess is on the floor now.
And the rest remain stuck,
As they should be.

Now they are burnt,
They are singed into my memory
As though it matters

(this is creation)

Monday, March 19, 2018

Out of My Misery...

Again, I am wishing that I were a poet.

I read a poem this weekend that spoke directly to my soul and said all of the things that I’m about to clumsily attempt to say in far too many words.

I can’t quote the poem, only because it goes to places that I don’t talk about on the blog. I have some boundaries when it comes to what I say here (which probably seems humorous if you know me, because I often don’t have any boundaries around what I say, usually too loudly, in person).

What I am comfortable sharing here, what I have stated before so it’s none too shocking, is that there was a great deal of anger and tension directed at me in the final two years of my marriage. Not every day, but looking back, more often than not. Anger and rage became normal. It got all mixed up with what had always been love. And it turned life upside down before I ever realized what was happening.

My heart and my head began to think of hurt as an extension of caring, as crazy as that sounds. Anger masked itself as desire.

Unlearning this is harder than it sounds. I equated anger with passion and hurt with want. I stand at a distance now from that girl and understand how unhealthy that was. How profoundly untrue it was. The fury was born from frustration, the anger from unhappiness, and the hurt from a complete lack of knowing what to do about this place that we had fallen to.

But it’s still all mixed up inside of me.

When I am offered a hand, a shoulder, soft corners-I don’t quite know how to react. I yearn for sharp edges to know where the heck the boundaries are. How far to push before you push back.

It’s complicated.

Why exactly do I live this out on the blog? I listened to a podcast this past weekend in which the guest, a poet, said that when you write something down you can stand back and look at it and see it from different angles. I agree.

When I write something down, something that pains me to write, to admit to, something that honestly makes me want to crawl under the table and hide-it frees me of it. I have written it down, and now all the world knows for as long as they care to remember. I cannot explain it any more than that.

My words are my freedom and my sacrifice, all at the same time.