01-01-23 9:57 am PST Location: Central Valley, CA Home. Bed.
My bed has the detritus of the frenzied clean up leading up to our NYE nacho bar, game playing, football- watching extravaganza aka guests are coming.
Clothes, books, clean socks and underwear straight from the dryer. Flowing over to the chest at the end of the bed to the floor, a carpet of not taken//chosen clothes strewn about from the furious packing for the week long #vittiavilachristmasvacation in the Eastern Sierras.
Adding to this are the clothes I did take but did not wear. In this mix are water bottles, mismatched shoes (their counterparts in another pile, perhaps on the other side of the bed?). Brushes, Knick knacks that no one could find a home for–why not Mom’s room? No one waited for an answer. They threw-placed-piled this and that. Everywhere. Then there are my Xmas gifts, unwrapped, hastily bundled into leftover prime boxes as we prepared to leave for the trip. Of course, more books. The extra dog bed, an extendable fan/cobweb cleaner, and papers. Mail. Writing.
A tangle of charging cords meet my toes as I slide off the bed to survey the things that have collected in my bedroom after the power clean turned project clean that resulted in a filing cabinet being dumped in the very center of my office (down the hall) along with stacks of taxes going back 20 years piled next to the remains of the many old filing systems that have been attempted and forgotten over the years. All on my writing desk. Oh, good. More excuses for not writing.
People, I don’t have glitter and confetti and used champagne classes on this bright , blustery New Year morning. I’ve got piles of wondering–questions on happiness and where it originates and how can I contain it. There are few answers to be found in the shit flooding my office, my bedroom, my psyche.
On my bed: Ben-Kenobi, our 7 month old, 65 pound puppy. Patchy Topaz ( #3 in hierarchy of our 3 cats) who I’ve battled all night long to avoid her faster-than-lightening tongue in its quest to lick any exposed body part. My 18 year old daughter turned college know-it-all.
We’re here. Piled on top of one another as the clothes et. al. rise up like the silty waters flooding our Central Valley streets– threatening to overwhelm.
Well, me. Just me. I’m the threatened one. No one else cares.
It’s time to get up, again. The first early, early get up was to let Ben out and feed everyone. I started a pot of coffee and a pan of lentils.
I opened the front door to survey the aftermath and the New York Times lay on my mat. Some hardworking person delivered this to my door and I feel guilty. Did they wade in? I trembled as the cold assaulted my legs, bared by the oversized Steelers t-shirt that I am wearing.
Coffee is done, lentils simmering, I read the arts and book sections, sipping my coffee in the rarefied air of a clean living room. SmokeyMagic (#1 in hierarchy of 3) , our ex-feral cat, jumps up and perches next to me. Reminding me that her wet food with fish oil has not been dished up. I advise of the dry food that is available to be had in the garage.
I tell myself: I will write. Instead I am here, in the chaos of my room, fighting the over population of my bed and a head full of the many things to do on this second to last day of my vacation.
I do that every day and fail.
I resolve, each morning, not to flip off shitty drivers on the road. I fail.
I resolve to write morning pages at 5am. I fail.
No, I do not intend to make grandiose decisions about my intentions.
Rather, I will try to clean my room. Hang my work clothes hoping to avoid the hair that Ben sheds. (Why isn’t he bald?)
The waves crash up and onto the rocks, the sound of their roar a steady thrum that has become part of my heartbeat. When I write about something it is usually after the experience. I need time to fully digest a moment, an adventure, an event before I can fully realize it into words. I am not talking about journal writing that is something wholly separate. Journal writing is a conversation between God and I, where the rawness of who I am becomes my clarity.
No, today is different. I am writing while I am within this space and it feels right.
This adventure started because of a Top-Secret meeting. A whirl of planning and thinking about the roadblocks. The roadblocks felt big, the most worrisome the wait for my test to come back. It did and I was negative. Next were my fears. The one looming over me, its shadow casting doubt on my decisions, was the idea of driving somewhere far.
“WHEN DID THAT START?” I yelled at myself.
I am shocked that I have had to grapple with this considering that I have driven great distances before. Not to mention the times that I have moved to towns far from anything I was accustomed and the fact that I knew no one. This shouldn’t have been a roadblock considering all the other things that needed considering –Money, Kids, Day Job Projects, chores. Life doesn’t make way for dreams and adventures.
I saw an Instagram story where an author was making fun of people who post inspirational quotes and title them with” THIS” (I am guilty of this and it hit home!) to which he added, …and then they do nothing to change their life.
I pulled the trigger and went for it. I want to certify within myself that I am willing to do what needs to be done to achieve my dreams. In order to do this, I must sacrifice, take chances, be silly, be willing to change, meet roadblocks with perseverance and courage, and have faith that this is God’s plan for me.
I went into high gear trying to ignore the fear. One of the first leaps of faith is that I needed to pack light. This is big for me. I usually pack for every occasion, trying to plan for it all. I didn’t do that this time. I went with my gut and hoped for the best recognizing that packing everything, including the kitchen and bathroom cabinets wasn’t going to amour me against mishap. Shit happens.
Each time the anxiety about my decision to go made my chest grow tight I reminded myself that the bills are paid and no matter my weekly syringe full of Amazon (I AM AN AMAZON ADDICT and I am on board to fight this addiction) our needs are met and I have been responsible.
As I pushed enter on the reservation, I thought of all the times that I settled for less because I had to or because I was too scared to spend more. OR because I was afraid of being disappointed and every time, I ended up with something disappointing.
SO, this time, I went for it. SOLD: Room with a view, spa tub, and breakfast delivered COVID-19 fashion to my door.
I stayed up late making sure I remembered all the important things: boots, laptop, book, chargers, manuscript, and my Adventure Journal ( soothe.com makes the best journals ever and no, I am not sponsored and paid to say that…it is the truth).
I woke before Smokey, whose ears appeared at the end of the bed peaked with astonishment at the idea that I would be awake without her persistently purring and walking all over me.
I grabbed my down comforter, my pillows, and after the 6th trip up and down the stairs the car was loaded. I gave kisses and hugs, got in the car, and…
I sat behind the wheel, the lights of the dash giving mixed signals, looking through the windshield into the darkness. I had prayed right before hitting send on the reservation, Please God if this is not the right thing to do send me a message.
WAS THIS THE MESSAGE?
If it was, I was fucked. Too late to cancel the room, the meeting, everything.
This is just a roadblock; this is just a roadblock I repeated as I fiddled with the wires on the car battery and then attached the cables hoping it was that one wire that comes loose from the battery because of the bumpy back country roads. I had been on a lot of them this last week as I was out in the community doing my best to Car-Test our ESL students.
After 4 tries, several prayers, and 45 minutes behind schedule the ignition turned over and the car roared to life. I was on my way.
I met a wall of fog, impenetrable as far as the eye could see, which was about 2 feet…maybe. I drove slowly and stayed behind big trucks when I could. Thankful for their mass especially as the two-lane highway I was inching along made Head-On Collision headlines every other week.
Hope burned and brightened. I shied away from focusing on it directly. I didn’t want to jinx it into being swallowed by the dread. Rather, I let it blaze to cinders the doubts and dread, leaving a space for what was to come.
I had queued up my favorite podcast of late, #amwriting, and pressed play. Mile by mile, the landscape revealed itself. First the road, then the vehicle in front of me. The fields on either side made their appearance as the sun unfurled its gaze, making the fog translucent. By the time I reached the Wildlife Reserve just before Pacheco Pass, my faith had started to take root in the soil that had been rejuvenated by the burn-off.
I had stepped out and let go and now I was flying.
I had gotten a miraculous 9am check-in and I had a meeting set for 10:30am, so I was anxious to get into my room and unpacked. I wanted to experience the day and come back to a room fully ready to greet me.
My hands were steady on the steering wheel as I raced up the pass, down the other side, and through the country side. Fields lay splayed out ready for planting, ramshackle houses, roadside stands, old machinery passed in a blur.
The sea air sailed through the window long before the ocean came into view. The houses dotted along the dunes hinted but only their back yards could be seen, the secret views saved for their personal use.
Two lanes gave way to racing traffic along multiple lanes with exit after exit until my own curved me into the cypress and down unfamiliar roads too tight for my Tahoe. A tricky left turn brought me onto the property where I prayed that my SUV would clear the garage and I backed in…if there was a repeat performance of this morning, I wanted the ovation to be face forward for the tow truck. I prayed hard that I would be spared this humiliation.
My mask hid my smile as I know it hid hers though I am sure my excitement sparked from my eyes as I processed through check in.
I huffed and puffed my way up two sets of stairs and I took stock. Warm light flooded the room and a fountain tinkled a welcome. Faux cobblestones led to a fire place and a wall of sliding glass doors covered in sheer curtains. I stepped onto the deck and took a deep breath, slowly expelling it into the sultry sea mist.
The horizon was a dusty blue and the surf was white against the rocks and shore. I just stood there trying to accept that this was my reality. I felt like I was dreaming and that I would wake up at any moment and find myself walking downstairs to do the dishes and load the washer.
I turned back into the room and suddenly I just wanted to lay down and sleep, stretching to the four corners of the king bed. The exhaustion from the week, work, people, and most of all—from being brave in combination with the serenity of this space made me want to curl up and fall asleep to the surf.
But bravery was still required.
Excitement rode just under the surface of my fatigue. It took 3 trips to unload the car. I changed my clothes and headed out to the meeting.
Here’s what I will ask of you. Wait, breathlessly. Pray hard that I will realize my dreams and that I will get my books published. Shall we leave the mystery in place for the moment? Let the mystery roil with promise and suspense and dreams come true.
Then next thing on my agenda was to go for a hike on a beach trail and my BFF who is staying in town had made us spectacular plans rife with trees and guided by my favorite dog. We met up and I kept ignoring the warning signs of pain, easy to do as it has such a big place in my life. But today it was my leg. It had been uncomfortable during the car ride and stiff when I got out of the car. I pushed the pain to the back of mind, used to the low ebb as part of my daily existence. But the throbbing slowly and steadily got stronger.
I don’t talk about this pain yet it is a part of my daily existence. Even my closest friends do not know how debilitating it is.
It started 22 years ago, two years after my oldest was born. The doctors tested me for rheumatoid arthritis and several other things. They put me on a steroid that I took for two weeks and weaned off of just as quickly because the side effects were scarier than the pain.
Joints swelling, sometimes chills, nerve pain. Over the years, it has gotten worse but in such a way that I just became accustomed to it and so I learned to deal with it like everything else. I learned to battle it with weightlifting, eating fresh fruit and vegetables, minimizing sugar and processed food, and lots of water. This really helped. But over the last couple of years with my job becoming prominent in my life, the time I could dedicate to my self-care diminished. Quick meals, missed exercise, and less water. Then the pandemic hit and there was no gym, no time, and the anxiety and fear really took its toll.
I won’t go any further on this. Just to say, I have missed out on a lot of my life because of this pain. I try to move through it as best as I can. Dealing with the nights and days when it is too bad to hide and then, I go to my bed and grit my teeth until it is gone.
How could this happen today? WHY? No amount of brain screaming is going to make this different nor will I be able to lie to her, for if I do, my friend will think there is something else afoot. Yet, I know with certainty that this is going to be one of the bad times and that I can’t go further.
I went to face her and told her the barest of facts. I stood there feeling a thousand pounds overweight, a thousand years old, a thousand times at fault for what was happening to my body.
I mumbled and tried to keep the weight from my leg, each minute needed to be off my feet. Each second knowing that I needed to get some pain reliever in me. That I needed to get warm.
Saying this truth out loud, however the bare minimum was so damn hard. This took so much more courage than you may realize. Here I was on an adventure. And I felt like I was opting out as I so often did when this happened to me. Inside me I pointed the finger at my inadequacy and that voice derided me. My body felt so burdensome and ugly.
I hobbled to my car after my insufficient apologies, barely able to get into the car seat. I mentally slapped myself once, twice tears welling. I wiped them roughly away, there was no time for a pity fest. With a heavy sigh, I started the car and drove back to my amazing room.
Moving took all that I had and as with all the other times, I smudged my way through time and distance, my resolve the only thing keeping me going. I was almost to the bed when I remembered the complimentary Kimono and the SPA TUB with JETS. One of the ways to get the pain to go away quicker is to take a really really hot bath. I know, weird. But, if it works, it works.
I turned on the water and thanked God that I had brought my vanity into the bathroom. I had packed lotions, face treatments, oils because I had wanted to bask in the luxury as if I was at a spa resort. I pulled out the bare minimum and grabbed the dark wash cloth labeled Make-Up. All the while my lips pulled, my jaw locked, my teeth gritting I lifted my leg into the steaming water.
Jets on, I whispered my prayers of thanks with each sigh. I stretched my leg out in the water letting the heat work into my core.
I got out and took stock, I was at an 11 down from a 20. Defiantly I pulled on the kimono, determined to keep the experience going. The big windows overlooked the bed and I just lay there for a long while continuing to breath in and out, hoping to expel this bad fortune. My eye lids dropped, my body relaxed into the bed, and I slept.
I woke and the pain felt like an 8 and I was famished. I would order dinner delivered to my door. YES> I> WOULD. I wouldn’t worry about the cost.
Spinach, a lovely Sole in lemon, and a chocolate cake. MmmmHmmm I would conjure my way back into the magic of my adventure.
I went out on the balcony to await my dinner. The glory as the sun slowly set, the colors changing the shore line’s clarity to an artist’s charcoal thumb stroke. The trees and buildings, silhouettes against the ocean’s slate of blues and greys, its surface as smooth and taut as fresh linen.
The decent into the horizon felt like a movie premier. The sky put on a show that made me weep. The burnished hues of an oil painting mixed with lavenders from Monet’s own box. The clouds moving like a sonata into the vastness of sky, melding with the azure until all was one. I sat there in my kimono thanking God for every single breath. Each minute a miracle leading to the next. This was magic but not mine. This was a power beyond mine, beyond comprehension and I felt the magnitude fill me with the light of healing and renewal.
A discreet knock, and abracadabra, there sat my dinner. I pulled out the Burrata, the Fish Special, and the cake.
“It is very good tonight. “, he had said over the phone.
“Yes, that. Please” was my quick reply.
Each mouthful felt like my first, a luscious experience of living. My tongue sparking as the capers melded with the lemon and the white fish cooked to perfection. Seasoned, exactly right. The spinach left to its glory was a perfect companion bite.
Oh, I scraped those boxes. The Burrata and the tapenade silky on the crusty, oiled bread.
A dreaminess came over me and satiation took a large bite out of the pain and the disappointment.
I pushed the cake aside, pretending I could wait. Nevertheless, I took it to the bedside table to wait while I lay reading. Yet, interspersed between paragraphs the siren song of the cake drifted its seduction song. I rolled over, propped my leg, and took the first glossy spoonful.
LOOK. I am no stranger to chocolate. In fact, I am super picky. So, I rarely order it from restaurants. But the man from the restaurant who took my order responded with such certitude
“Should I have the lemon tart or the chocolate cake?”
Without pause, “No, I like my chocolate cake”. His confidence was persuasive.
“Okay. Give it to me.” Without preamble, without question.
I have NEVER TASTED CAKE THAT GOOD. I mean this. Succulent mousse, some sort of subtle crunch, and a chocolate glaze. Most restaurants use such vile syrup that I always avoid so I wasn’t expecting much. Yet here I was swiping each bite and swirling it onto the cake, a tender swirl on my tongue. UUUUMMMHMMM.
Yes. That good.
I read after dinner, classical music blending with the sounds of the surf. My book, Snow by John Banville, a lovely surprise.
Banville unfurls his prose with a mundane beauty that belies its power unless you look closely. And you will feel compelled to look closer. It is a mystery set in the harsh winter of Ireland. Death, intrigue, secrets. A really good way to avoid thinking about pain.
I fell asleep reading. Is there any other way?
I awoke thinking I was late for work. I sat up and the present moment patted me on the shoulder, its okay. AND as with the way this thing I have works, the pain was gone. My body felt ravished but rested and I gingerly rose from them bed, each movement questioning. Is it really gone? Each step a blessing, the steadiness of my stance a gift.
I washed my face with warm water, my face a mask of the night’s travails, sweat gleaming from the exertion of finding peace.
I went out on the balcony after getting the coffee going. Excitement welling within me. Carmel Valley Roasters is one of my favorites when I visit and I had bought cream to prepare. I dragged my comforter out on the balcony, the dark alive with the sound of the waves rushing at the shore.
I heard the swiftness of seagull wings as their calls ebbed and flowed with the waves. They circled a tree as the dawn of a new day expanded, putting the stars to rest. Dawn unfurled her robe of lilac and denim blue. She stretched and opened her arms revealing the orange and yellow of the sun. I felt as if my mother’s hands were laid upon me. Her fingers combing through my hair, stroking my brow. She held me softly as the sun filled my eyes and my heart.
The sunrise cradled me for a long while and I lay in her embrace watching the seagulls go from shadow to clearly defined. Their feathers brisk against the pale blue sky. Wings outstretched, soaring over and under the newly birthed skyline. Alighting slowly, they would sit in the trees or the roof tops to watch and plan.
I let myself fill up with the wonder of this life. I will hold it close and try not to spill any as the demands of the day come about. I will drink in the pleasure slowly. A sip here, gulp there—when I can’t help myself.
I will try my best to seek the places that renew me and remind me that every time I rise, I breath, I walk, or I cry is a gift.
Let me be clear from the start. I have zero creds to substantiate giving anyone good advice on how to fix their life. My life is fucked up. PERIOD.
With that said, I will you share with you the shitty, wonderful, crazy, hypocrisy that brings me to each Sunday. AND lord, the love hate relationship I have with Sunday probably deserves whole months of therapy dedicated to the subject. But as I can only meet with my therapist one hour every 5 weeks, I can’t afford to ruminate on why I have such a twisted relationship with Sunday. I have gathered the following.
I start out buying into its shitty seduction, its glossy thighs serenading me about the limitless pleasures that I will experience. Its tight abs glinting with the promise of clean floors, sparkling toilets, and folded laundry. Oh yes, this sphinx acts as if there will be homemade pastries and endless cups of coffee that won’t burn my stomach lining and increase my waist size yet one more inch this month. I am getting ahead of myself, though.
We should probably start with Monday.
I pushed STOP on my yoga alarm, PAUSE on my writing alarm, NO on my shower alarm, and stumbled out of bed only because I couldn’t reject Brush Your Teeth because I am deathly afraid of a Root Canal. I headed down stairs in a rush to get my coffee and right back up to my office. When I looked up it was Wednesday and I hadn’t gotten anything finished. I started a whole lot of things. I continued a ton of things but the only thing that was apparent was that my Priority List had become a Stephen King novel.
AND this was BEFORE the attempted coup on the Capitol of the United States that I missed because I was in a two hour zoom meeting. When I got out of the meeting all hell had broken loose and for me that’s a normal state of being so that didn’t much phase me as the phase I exist within is like the hands on the Doomsday Clock. Tick Tick Tock, when will everything explode?
According to the Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists as of January 23, 2020 it stated we were 100 seconds from Global Catastrophe. THAT WAS BEFORE THE PANDEMIC.
So, then. Back to Wednesday. There I was pretending that I was going to cross something off my work list with Breaking News and visuals of the TRAITORS on every news platform.
Forgive me but for a moment I was jealous. THEY WERE CROSSING SHIT OFF THEIR Fascist lists! Damn It.
Then the horror set in. They were storming our Capitol and people were getting hurt. (I warned you that I wasn’t the nicest of people. My first thought was of myself and the fact that their lists were getting completed and mine wasn’t).
I do not even remember what I made for dinner that night. Nor do I really remember the Remote Testing event that I hosted, Pandemic style, for our ESL Students the next day. I do remember their bravery in showing up for this event despite the terrible toll that Covid19 is taking in our Community.
Because, yes. Our county is bad. The numbers are high, we are in a lock down, and people here continue not to wear masks. They pack the stores and many restaurants are still serving in doors which is surreal because thousands of people are sick and many are dying. Our hospitals are besieged. Anger flames in my chest, its heat burning empathy and kindness to cinders.
Parallel to the coup, the craziness that is my job, and the pandemic is my life. My family, finishing my second book and revising the first, chores, meals, bills. Yeah. LIFE is superimposed on all of this in a way that feels like I am living in two dimensions at once. Not to mention the guilt. Because, despite all my whining I have a home and my bills are paid and my babies are safe.
HOW the hell do I find peace amid this? I asked a fellow writer on Instagram that very same thing. She had a lovely picture of a fire burning, her dog laying next to her, and laptop open with an impressive word count. I really yearned to find out her secret for how she managed this amazing tableau. My covetous heart was grinding and spitting.
By Friday, my frayed rope connecting me to my own humanity snapped and I dropped to Station 4,133, which is wedged precariously on the side of Mount TO-DO List. I have been attempting to scale this mountain my whole life, fervently hoping to plant my flag at Summit Happiness.
Yeah. Friday. My head hurt in a way in had never ached before and I was even more tired than I had been Thursday and I was so tired on Thursday that I slept through my Zoom Bible Study. I didn’t realize it until I woke Friday morning.
WORSE, I attended a funeral for a very young man on Friday and held the hand of his mother who couldn’t stop laying her head on his casket and crying out in anguish. He was shot by the police. The body cam shows an officer shooting an unarmed man with his hands up. HORRIFIC.
I can only tell you that I could barely carry all that I was feeling in my heart. I couldn’t watch TV or read or write. I got nothing done. I was mean to my kids on a day when I should have been holding them close thanking GOD for their every breath.
Nope. Not. ME. See why I told you I shouldn’t be giving anyone advice? I am really a mess. Saturday morning, I took the kids to the wildest part of our city, where you can barely hear the traffic and there are trees and foxes and so many birds. My aunt and cousin met up with us and we walked, socially distanced, and just talked about nothing and everything.
I spent the rest of the day under my down comforter, with SmokeyMagic, and reading Snow by John Banville. An excellent winter read about a murder and the complexity of humanity.
I overslept and poor Smokey was absolutely crazed by the time I heated her pate and got her door open. My hair knotted from sleep, un-brushed teeth, and from my perch on the Livingroom couch I told Sunday to take off her lingerie and put on her soft sweater and her warm slippers. I drank coffee and watched movies until my family staggered out of their dens.
Without fancy calendars or the perfect pen, I made a menu for the week based on the food I have in the house. Stuffed Bell Peppers, Orange Chicken, Grilled Cheese, and Carne Asada Burritos. Steel cut oats and Barley (Que groans from the kids) and salads for lunch. If you are looking for amazing plans with amazing healthy dishes, look elsewhere. And let me know what you find as I am always interested in ideas.
I take heart that everything is homemade, that I use as many organic ingredients that I can, that I minimize meat and maximize veg. More importantly, it tastes good and isn’t made in a factory.
In the same clothes that I slept in I chopped garlic, sliced grape tomatoes, and sauteed it in EVOO. A dash of some good balsamic, handful of spinach, a few shrimps. Then I swirled in vermicelli, parm, and a little bit of pasta water. I felt closest to myself there, in front of the stove.
When I look back over the last week, I see that I did the best I could. I exercised. I apologized to my kids for being an asshole.
I allowed myself to rest at Station 4,133. I stayed in my sleeping bag and read a good book with my trusty companion curled by my side. Well, not exactly by my side. But close. SmokeyMagic is very good at setting boundaries.
As I set out on Monday on my continued trek to reach Summit Happiness, I will try very hard not to be an asshole. That’s the best I got this week.
I dreamt of jump roping last night. Fitting, I suppose, for my last dream of the year. My sisters swung the ropes (Double Dutch not to be confused with regular Jump Rope. This is an important distinction as all Double Dutchers know) the ropes slashing through the air. “C’mon” they yelled their impatience signaled by speeding up the ropes.
I was on the cold slab of cement of my present-day garage with my speed rope. Just beyond the Cybex were the birch trees of long ago, the one place I have ever called home. Catkins littered the exercise mat their small bodies squishing between my toes as I jumped. My rope whisked past my ears and my breath stayed steady like I was 10 again. The Birch Trees started to fade and my sister’s calls melded with the purring of my cat. Then it was all gone.
I woke feeling happy. My thoughts raced through memories of two Square and playing Jax as I sucked on the end of a dandelion. A vivid picture of my skates- White, red wheels, pock marked from use, the laces hanging on by a thread. Nothing fancy but they were the best skates in the world. They withstood the ridges on the left side of the driveway and the collisions with my sisters. They rolled over shitty sidewalks and rough roads and kept going.
I started to cry for my skates but really about my lost childhood. This happens a lot. My subconscious is all about that loss. It is and has been at the heart of me since I was 5. Then my conscious, so tired of the whininess of my sub, put the kibosh on a cry because happiness is so much better than the grief.
Take it from a GRIEF QUEEN. It is addictive—such a sad state of affairs. This addiction is subtle and you don’t realize that you are an addict because it is couched within valuable and justifiable events. Which is the worst kind of problem. It allows you to revel. A sneaky subterfuge over the years but comforting and therefore goes unnoticed. If you have seen Leaving Las Vegas there is a part where he is puking his guts out in the literal sense. The early morning light shows the pale scrub of his face, his stark profile a wretch of bone. Yet, he walks into his kitchen and pours another drink and drinks is down. This has been me with the tragedy of my childhood. I have emptied my stomach, my bowels, my veins and this pain has poured out. Yet. Year after year, I have revisited it. Drank it whole, unvarnished—craving the pain.
I almost typed People Like Me…as if I have an edge over other people on grief. That’s the sway, the hitch, the draw that keeps me at the well. This belief that my grief is so much bigger and better and deeper than yours.
I can tote out at any moment my childhood, my twenties, my thirties. My GOD, my first relationship. AND don’t get me started about my marriage with its infinite pool of ragged, weeping wounds of deception and disappointment. I have been drunk on that for 20 years.
No. If I have learned anything this year, I learned that my grief was over.
Because the grief that I saw on the faces of those ravaged by the loss of their loved ones, well…It was hard to dwell within mine anymore. Not to say that the things that happened to me aren’t valid and that there will be moments when the pain will come. But, like this morning, I choose happiness.
The people who saw their loved ones shot and killed senselessly. The mother’s who worked hours and hours and hours taking care of someone else’s child unable to see their own. Scared to see their own. Every. Single. Essential. Worker.
I have saved my tears for them.
This year had me whirling in every direction. Jumping at the slightest sound and headline. One of my resolutions for poor 2021, which really has a lot of expectations on its already beleaguered shoulders: NEVER EVER CLICK ON ANOTHER BREAKING NEWS link. EVER.
Do I need to remind you about the Never Say Die piece of shit that continues to squat in the White House? He broke in, showered and shit—in that order and you know how that goes. He has continued to eat other people’s food, steal their money, use their Health Care, rifle through their intimates, and take over their remote controls. He doesn’t pay for the house or the utilities and certainly doesn’t mow the lawn—but calls it his now. Yeah. You get where I am going, so I’ll move on because there are far too many word counts dedicated to that piece of shit.
Okay, I am back. See what I mean about the jumping. A whirling dervish.
This year, as I sheltered in place, I scrolled and saw people show casing their projects. People were productive. The cleaned, they minimized, they baked bread, and they read books. I was so jealous of all those drawers getting cleaned out.
I could barely muster getting out of bed on my weekends. There were days that I didn’t step outside the house but I clicked on each and every nature foray like a glutton. The RV’s alongside rivers and steaming coffee under the canopy of the Redwoods. My guilt and covetousness strangled me.
There I was in yesterday’s panties draining Netflix, Hulu, Prime, and even Apple. (Ted Lasso, though…LOVED THIS SO MUCH!)
I did read books because, well that’s my auto pilot. BUT it took me many months to be able to read without checking for news every other minute. Shanyn got her groove back in October when hope seemed within the grasp of the American People (-74million, can’t forget those assholes) I read books in devouring batches interspersed by working 10-hour days and worrying about everything.
Terror filled me every day.
Last January I had known about the pandemic for months but at that time it was some mysterious pneumonia or flu that was spoken of in twitter whispers by accounts that couldn’t be verified. I was gun shy after all the Russian Bots that helped hack mofo into the White House. But, if you are like me, I follow and read things that don’t agree with my personal viewpoint simply because I AM NOT ALWAYS right and I like to be proven wrong.
Because, it is healthy to challenge your viewpoints, your belief systems, your conclusions. If they don’t hold up under scrutiny, I find the loophole and fix it.
I wake up everyday trying to better than yesterday or at least I used to. 2020 had me waking up every day just hoping to get through the day without someone I know dying.
I live in a county that is predominantly conservative and this Bay Area Girl has never felt at home here. EVER.
I went from open windows all the time to AC and hiding from the sun. Leading up to the 2016 election life became unbearable so by the time the reign of terror really started I was already on my way to becoming batshit crazy.
So, 2020…well there was a silver lining. It was that I was the normal one.
In March my family was already wearing masks and I will admit. GLOVES. Everywhere. I was ridiculed at my health club for going in and freezing my account for 6 months. People laughed at me at the store and made fun of me at work. Subtly, of course.
Here’s the thing. Due to my history, I am used to being different. To not fitting in. So, it never stopped me from cleaning my groceries while the neighbors scoffed. But it had been a very long time since I was terrified.
Terrified was for those late nights many years ago when I had no where to go at 2am. When I slept in parks and cars and hoped to find a shower somewhere. A terror so deep that one day I sat in a park on one beautiful summer day and planned out a bank robbery. Gun. Costumes. Seriously. I did that.
I DID NOT ROB THE BANK.
I didn’t like the odds.
I didn’t trust my partner
My grandma used to take me to this bank when I was little and I felt bad.
I will tell that story another time. MAYBE.
When I look back over the year all I see are the walls of my home office. All I can smell is bleach and alcohol.
I feel like I can’t breathe when I look back over 2020.
I hear people talking about 2021 as if there is some miracle that is going to happen at midnight and suddenly everyone will be able to pay their bills, go back to work, and hug each other again.
I shudder. In normal years it always takes me until at least March to understand the lessons of the previous year. That’s usually when I assign a word to my year and try to live with it. Last years was Balance and Magic. (I am still trying to unpack the ramifications of these words in my life,)
I do know I found gratitude. In great big gulps that made me feel like I was drowning in my own guilt.
As I worked 10 hours days others were losing their jobs. As I caught up on my bills and shopped prodigiously on Amazon, others prayed to pay their utility bills and hoped God would hear their prayers about the rent that was coming due.
Not only did I have a job, my job is a nonprofit that helps people. Yeah. I know. I am a fucking spoiled bitch.
Mixed in with these blessings was that my marriage ended in shards of glass, more ugly words than I thought was possible (especially after 20 years of them), and then of course me taking him back.
Let’s take inventory:
Good job. Amazing boss. Dedicated colleagues.
Kids who did awesome at virtual learning
Worst marriage ever
I will talk about my babies. My oldest got COVID-19. BAD. But she is okay now except for the aftereffects. I worry for her future health but I am so glad that she is here and that I get to hug her, which I do as often as I can.
My other two ended their school year and started their new one online. They were left alone most of the week while I went to work. This resulted in them getting the first B’s of their lives. AND you will be disappointed to know that I was disappointed in this. My kids are GATE and Honors kids. I had and still do in many ways, get my feeling of accomplishment from their astounding intelligence. They make me look good at report card time. GOOD MOM is what Gold Honor Rolls says.
I am not ashamed to say this because there will always be a part of me that is super proud of my kids smarts. Their drive to do well. It fights off this 8th grade drop- out’s inner demons.
They struggled and are still struggling with this format which means those that have a harder time with school must be flailing. I am so scared for those kids and think of them every day. All those children, their parents feeling powerless and scared too.
There were a lot of changes in my kids lives and my anxiety has me losing sleep trying to figure out a way to be in two places at once so I can right the ship.
Going into 2021 I have ZERO RESOLUTIONS.
What I do have is good equipment for the journey…
A greater appreciation for frozen foods from Trader Joe’s
A Realistic view of myself
The satisfaction that I was right about wearing fucking masks before it became a mandate.
A satiation of staying home and not doing anything that has resulted in a fervor for a life lived.
I refuse to put parameters around my growth and my journey for 2021. I refuse to expect or ask of 2021 anything miraculous. Because, we don’t need miraculous so much as we need hard work, science, and integrity. Instead of placing impossible demands on 2021, we should be placing demands on ourselves.
As I tell my children.
Ask yourself the hard questions and answer honestly.
THAT IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN ANY RESOLUTION.
As I consider the upcoming year and how that reflects on America…it looks more and more like the Garage Clean up that looms every couple of years at my house.
Some of you know what I am talking about. The one that starts in the garage but ends up involving scouring the house for crap that is then piled for all to see in front of your house, on the curb waiting for pick up. (There are of course those hours , maybe days, in which you despise every person in your household and most of all yourself for the mess you’ve made.)
At the end though, there I stand with hair frizzed out of my pony tail, dirt smeared on my face, and my back aching like I am 80. There is pizza or juicy hamburgers and delicious drinks of iced elderberry tea. There is that book you’ve been looking for and that lamp you didn’t know you had. There are hugs and high-fives. There is camaraderie and a sense of unity.
The culmination is a restructuring, a remaking, a re-do of your space.
“Can I schedule a time to wonder?” I wondered this morning as I finally sat down to write.
I had a hard time falling asleep last night.
I was excited about getting 5 WHOLE DAYS OFF.
In my head I can see time stretching before me. No deadlines or emails. The garage was cleaned last weekend. The laundry is almost caught up. Just the thought of me doing me got my heart racing.
I lay in bed trying to sleep but it was NOT HAPPENING. I wanted so badly to wake bright eyed and ready to have an amazing and unfettered and creatively wondrous day. Instead of sleeping I watched datelines until my eyelids drooped heavy and the last thing, I remember hearing was about some ex-hockey player getting life for killing his wife.
As a result of my bad decisions in the face of my insomnia I woke sluggish. My eyes opened reluctantly at the time they do every morning which is somewhere between 4:30 and 5. Smokey Magic started walking all over me, her purring getting louder and louder the longer I stayed under the covers.
The smell of coffee walked me downstairs and the anticipation of drinking a hot cup of coffee without the drums of work in the distance, woke me.
I turned on the Christmas tree lights their seductive wink masking the chaos. As I heated Smokey’s breakfast. Yes. You read that correctly. I pop her wet food into the micro for 7 seconds so it is like eating a fresh kill, or so I imagine. She rubbed all over my legs in anticipation. Smokey contentedly ate her “fresh killed” chicken and I stalked down my favorite mug and created the perfect concoction of raw sugar and cream mixed until the coffee was a dark caramel.
Steam swirled around as I bent over to unlatch Smokey’s door and I sipped perfection as I took the stairs back to my snow-white comforter.
One of my favorite things to do is to watch a movie very early in the morning, before anyone else is up, sipping coffee, snuggled into my blankets.
I started to unwind despite the guilt and unease and I let myself get enfolded into Midnight Sky on Netflix. I just finished the book and have been eagerly awaiting its premier. It did not disappoint. I found myself crying with so many questions running through my head…
What kind of American am I? Was one of the questions that popped into my head as I watched the credits roll. What kind of woman? Are Humans essentially good? What will happen to us? Can we save the planet? Just as I was getting up to write what I was thinking the sound of the kids calling out to one another from their beds wafted down the hallway.
Outside my window it was still densely gray but here and there the outline of a branch peeked around the fraying edges of a fog still reluctant to make way for sunrise.
With a sigh, I reversed course and headed back downstairs to prep the Prime Rib for tomorrow. Just a little bit longer, I promised myself.
Prime Rib scored and salted and dry aging in the fridge I headed back upstairs. You’d think with all this stair climbing I would be as lithe as a gazelle. I wish.
The kids were still in bed ,half asleep. I knew I had to hurry if I wanted to have some private time for prayer and writing. But just as soon as I was done praying, the kids were up, and it was time for breakfast. Resentment kept time with my heartbeat.
I wanted to fight the resentment off and keep the calm that had filled me after praying so I grabbed Mary Oliver’s Devotions. I let the kids choose and they chose While I Am Standing Here and I read it out loud as the they ate. The words rose and fell in a steady motion matching the gentle sway of her thoughts. Mary takes ordinary actions and turns them into a melody.
That poem asks what prayer is and invites you to answer—privately. She conjures images of stillness and I could see it resonate with the kids.
After reading I realized that my pleasure at sharing poetry over breakfast was partially derived from my idea of what it looked like to others. The picture I had created was for some invisible audience that would approve. GOOD MOM. I could hear them say.
I sat there with this other audience observing the dining table disarray. It was missing its special Christmas cloth as one of the kids had spilled milk all over it the night before. Two chairs do not match the other two chairs. Pencils, tape, scissors, wrapping paper share space with the butter dish and jar of jam. The tally of what was wrong with me and this moment rolled through my thoughts like a ticker tape at the bottom of a newscast.
Maybe there won’t be presents next year….
You won’t get all your projects done for your job and your boss will be disappointed…
The kids are fucked up and it’s your fault…
The house is crumbling around your ears…
I wish I could make a magic potion that I could drink and then presto…I would be free.
I pulled myself together thinking of the peace of my meditation before my prayers. Of the sounds of birds chirping as they fluttered through the tree. The sparkle of dew on the plant I had watered. The dried orchid blossom inside the hand carved wooden box on my writing desk. The soft feel of the polished stones of my rosary. The silence as I plugged into the universe and felt its vibrancy and light.
I mopped up the yolk of my eggs and savored the last bite of my bacon and with my mouth half full suggested that the kids open one of their presents.
They smiled and joked as they unwrapped their gift from Smokey. Smokey is bad at gift wrapping, I explained to the audience.
And then the ticker tape started back up. So much to clean…I haven’t written yet…I am wasting my free time…my room is dirty
I marched myself to my office and pushed myself into my writing chair. Sit down. Shut up. Just write.
There is never going to be a day that everything is done at the office. There will always be cobwebs on the Haunted Nativity that was set up 11 years ago and hasn’t been dusted since. Someone will most likely spill milk on the special Christmas Table Cloth again. There is always going to be chaos and a long list of chores.
The wonders in my life can be found in the choices I make with the time I am given.
Showing up is not an easy thing to do. I proved that by flaking out on myself for years.
And, NO, that isn’t HIS fault.
It is MINE.
I’ve been taking a long hard look at what showing up means. After listening and reading and scrolling I saw that showing up means a lot of different things, to a lot of different people. I knew I needed to figure this out for myself. How could I know that I had failed, if I didn’t know what I was failing at?
For me, showing up means showing up for yourself, your kids, your community…there’s a lot more to it than facials and bubble baths.
I forgive myself for not showing up for me for years. I did the best I could, at the time. Was it my personal best? Nope. But it was the best I had. All those times that I RSVP-ed: NO to my life suck, but I can’t get a do-over.
Shanyn, I am sorry you let yourself down and fucked off some really important things.
I forgive you.
The alternative is a lifetime of recrimination. Oh, wait. I’ve already done that for half my life.
I forgive myself for that, too.
Here’s the thing, Showing Up is also about asking the hard questions and answering honestly.
It means taking responsibility for my actions, my choices, and my lack of action despite how bad my life has been.
When I woke this morning, I felt too tired to get out of bed, so I lay there, and ignored the vibration that calls me to meet the sun as it rises. My eyes were heavy and somewhere in me I knew the day was going to be too hard to hold. I considered letting it hold itself. But, my orange planner had WRITING: BOOK 2, written just above my accountability homework.
Showing Up means not letting yourself off the hook when you have important things to do.
I got up and fed Smokey Magic, who had stayed out all night, and was doing the rub of shame on the screen door. I let her in and asked her if she had a good time, because really– #yolo .
I took it slow and I left myself alone. I didn’t chide me for not wanting to go have coffee outside in my chair, facing the sun.
I boiled the water and ground the beans. Because, showing up for myself means making the best damn cup of coffee that I can. Every day, but most especially on the weekends.
I felt a heaviness in my chest and my heart beat a warning. Part of my unease, I confided to the orchids, is that Monday is my 18th anniversary.
Showing up means facing the hard shit. The kids are with their Dad and I am ripe for a cry fest. A 48-hour layover in MY BED and that would be OKAY, if that was one of the honest answers to the hard question. Unfortunately, if I did that it would be a cop out. Showing up sucks.
I had already let myself off the hook yesterday by laying on my bed, crying, and eating two too many pieces of chocolate cake. Instead of yoga and writing. Though, the bills written in bright orange in my planner, demanded that I wipe the ganache from the corners of my mouth and face my fears.
I had reluctantly gotten my files and my budget and turned on my laptop. No matter how many times I run the numbers, I just don’t have enough. It has been truly daunting taking over all the bills and the overhead, all by myself. It means that I am budgeted down to the last 26 cents in my wallet.
July tried its personal best to kick my ass. A broken washing machine, glass in the garbage disposal, new rotors and brakes…FUCK ME. There were several days I wanted to crawl into bed like I used to and just stay there. Curtains drawn against the mail box and the overwhelming demands of the world.
I didn’t. I got up every day and went to work.
The stress feels like a weighted blanket that I can’t take off. I stopped myself and took a breath every time I wanted to yell at the kids and asked, where is this coming from? Okay. That’s a lie. There were several times I just yelled. Then, I took a breath and asked myself the hard question: Am I taking my stress out on them? The answer was obvious as most truth is and so, I apologized for my assholeness. Then I asked them not to be assholes. Because both things can be true at the same time.
Two days of letting myself off the hook would mean that I am also not working toward my dream of finishing my second book and doing the work on selling the first one. I thought about the question I have written above my desk, copied from a friend—Where will you be in 10 years?
I drank my coffee and acknowledged my sadness. Then I went on my bike ride and didn’t go the extra mile that I had planned. I promised myself that I would do that tomorrow. And I will. Because I am gaining trust by following through.
When I got home my phone rang and when I answered it was my father. I have spoken to him twice in 18 years, counting this morning.
My father, who I have been estranged from for most of my life, is dying of cancer. About a year ago my estranged half siblings called to tell me the horrible news, along with the rules and regulations regarding how they wanted to control my talking and seeing my Dad. They are a great example of letting your kids be assholes and then they grow up and become adult assholes. They tried to co-opt my Dad’s diagnosis into their drama and drag me right along with them.
I explained to them calmly and clearly. NO. I won’t go pay homage to my father knowing he regrets nothing and no I won’t come over there so you all can take your unhappy lives and fear and anger out on me.
I took a week and let myself grieve for the fact that my father would not be calling someday to say he was sorry, that he loved me, and the he would love to see me. No, my father wanted my attention and my body so he could reassure himself that he wasn’t the asshole who fucked up his kids lives on a grand scale.
Showing up for myself meant that I gave myself permission not to go see my Dad and to opt out of dealing with his kids. It also meant ignoring their bullshit regulations and calling my Dad, anyway. I listened to him that day, as he went through all that he was going through, without saying one mean thing. After he was done telling me the horror of his experience, I wished him well and got off the phone.
I cried for two days and then went on with my already fucked up life.
Today, he called to tell me that he is much worse. His voice was older than I remembered and when he called himself my Dad, another piece of my heart tore off. He was matter of fact, running through his cancer experience. Each day that he lives is a miracle and he is thankful to Jesus for that. He has help and people are caring for him. It is, what it is, he repeated so many times that I realized he was trying to convince himself, not me.
I waited for him to finish and then I told him what I have never said. Speaking of Jesus, I began. At the end of what I told him, which I will not share here, I told him that I forgave him and that I loved him and that I am so sorry that he is going through this. My voice shook as I have not told my father that I love him in at least 30 years.
That is when the heaviness on my chest lifted. Tears slid down my face as he responded to my words and we got off the phone promising to talk soon.
I showed up for my Dad. That was hard.
As I sat there, the silence of my house surrounding me, I realized that I needed to face another hard thing. Something that I have not wanted to really bring out and look at in the light. That is, how the relationship with my Dad has affected my relationship with my husband. This is especially difficult because Monday is coming, a looming reminder of the destruction of my hopes and dreams.
Showing up for myself means examining my marriage for the ways that I let it down. The ways I let Him down. It also means that I am working toward forgiving myself for letting him and our marriage down. For letting myself down.
It means that I must sit in this pain, accept it, and then move through it until I get to the other side– no matter what that looks like.
And I am fucking scared to take my marriage out and examine it honestly. I am sure to see things that I know I could have done better. I am sure to be shamed by things that I have said. It is so much easier to make him the villain. After all, he is such a fabulous villain.
But, many years ago, when I was in a yearlong women’s shelter for abused women, they asked me some question when I first got there. They told me not to answer them but to think about it, and answer myself.
Why did you love him? Why did you choose him? Why did you choose to stay? This was by no means an excuse for what that past man did to me. Nor is this an excuse for the things that my husband has said and done to me.
What it is, is asking the hard questions and answering honestly. This is about healing and forgiving. This is about taking account of my own heart and becoming connected with my soul.
I choose to believe that this portion of my path needs to be lived. It is the lesson I am learning. I spent so much time living for someday. I want to live today.
Even if it means that today is about crying.
For my Dad.
For my marriage.
It also means that I will let myself have two pieces of my most excellent Chocolate Ganache Cake, while I lay indolently on my lonely bed, and watch Swedish noir.
I woke this morning and watered the garden. I nurtured the trees. I walked around the house caring for the plants in every room. Even your old room, where plants never used to grow. There is one there now. It sits bravely in the corner where you hid out for years. I have changed this room. I have brightened it, opened it up to all. I have painted bookshelves and created a semi-circle of inclusion, arraying the furniture around the family portrait taken on that long-ago day. The very same day that our son was born.
I sat in my chair, directly across from where your chair used to be. But now, instead of facing a dark corner, I am looking at the picture that was taken by a photo journalist on Easter morning.
Somehow, I had managed to get both the girls into their Easter dresses, white gloves, and hats at 5:30am. I had put on the prettiest dress I owned and a hat, despite the ache of our son’s weight bearing down on me.
I wanted us to be something we were not. The gloves, the hats, you wearing slacks at 6am. Was that one of the signs that you loved me? The slacks at 6am? Instead of kissing me was that what you did instead?
The photographer froze my image mid contraction. I am looking down, breathing through it, and our oldest has placed her hand on my stomach, on her brother. You are holding our youngest daughter; both of your faces are obscured. Only the blackened bottoms of her sandals show. And your hands, holding her firmly.
I have always loved your hands. Strong and capable and secure. The wedding ring that you have not worn for a long, long time shines from the tight grip you have on our daughter.
Our faces are obscured. Our sadness is hidden from view by hats and gloves and your wedding ring.
The picture had been posted on the front page of the newspaper the next day. We had no idea that we had been photographed. It was the next day that the nurses came in laughing, the front page of that section opened to our family. We looked at it over the head of our newborn and we smiled at the nurses. I remember wanting so badly for that picture to be a symbol that things would be better. That we would be, what I wanted us to be, and not what we had become.
Later, that night, as the hospital slept, I picked up the paper and as it always goes, I saw clearly in the dark. I could see that the edges of the photo contained the fantasy and that outside those borders, lay the reality that I couldn’t understand. So, pushed it aside, and held our newborn, brushing my lips over his beautiful head, breathing in the scent of hope.
I got up and I watered the first plant to survive in your old room. I moved onto the others in the next room. The orchids and the vines in the front window. The ferns and the rubber plants, their vibrancy filling me with their energy. Lastly, in the corner, tall and slender, her stalk too thin to keep her upright, is the first plant you ever bought me and I think the last.
I remember your small smile when I told you that her name was Stacy and feeling your eyes on me as I placed her on top of the TV cabinet you bought for me. That little apartment, the one I could barely afford as a single mom, looked so real to me with my first ever brand-new piece of furniture, and Stacy sitting proudly on top.
Now she sits on the floor, too tall for the top of anything. Stacy reaches for the sky though she is root bound. She is 19 years old. She bends and folds when it gets windy and I am afraid that when I do find the courage to replant her, that she will not come out of the pot, her soil so hardened. She has become used to making do with what she has. Will she die if I try to change that? Even, if what I am offering her is better and healthier and new?
This morning I wanted to go upstairs and lie in bed with you. Snuggle up to your back and whisper boo on that small mole on your back that looks like a ghost. I wanted to draw silent letters on your back like I used to, my breath a whisper on your neck, my breasts pushed against your broad back. I’d whisper, guess. Your deep voice would rumble out the right answer every time.
I miss you.
I love you.
Why wasn’t I enough?
I can’t do that, though. And I couldn’t have done that even when you were here because you slept in your chair or on the couch in your room downstairs. The space around you growing smaller each day until finally it held just a table, a TV, your remote, and you. The wall around you let no sunlight in. Or questions. Or concerns. The TV lights flickered on your face of stone. You sat, just under the portrait, turned away, your back to what we were. What we had.
I want my family back. The hope and the promise that is contained in that portrait from so long ago. I want to feel as if things will get better. That your bitter words and their definitions of me will change and that you will come, your strong hands knocking at the door that you once had a key to…and that I would open that door to a face full of remorse and longing for me. For our family. For us.
I want that so bad that my days scroll through the hours, my tasks, my conversations are all a montage and the song playing as my life rolls by makes me yearn for you.
But, the you I want, is not the you, that you are.
You tell me that you gave me your all and I ache so bad that I feel as if I will split open like rotted fruit and ooze out all my wasted flesh.
I want to howl. If your all was the words that you have left me, the silences, the curl of disgust on your lips when your hand or hip accidentally brushed mine. If your all, was the wall that you built around your corner in the family room, just under the portrait–if that was your all, then I built a whole life based on a dream destination and now I am left with a mirage.
Wanting your love, hoping for your love, begging for your love with each packed lunch and hot dinner. I thought, that someday would come. So, I ignored so much of our every day.
I lay on the couch that you used as a bed and your smell is gone. I am trying to find the signs, the gestures, the lights at the horizon to find my way. But I am drowning in a sea of sorrow and regret.
I want to wake up with you next to me. The promise of the day like shafts of sunlight on my face and I want to roll over and write on your back…
My heart doesn’t know how to let go of my hopes and dreams and goals for our future. My heart doesn’t know how to stop loving you. It never understood how to do that no matter how cruel you were. Instead, my heart stopped loving me, so it could conserve all its energy to continue loving and hoping and withstanding you.
My heart has made-do for so long that I am not sure it can survive this replanting.
I want to talk about the women who have “long been in my corner”. Women who have always been a phone call or one hug away. These women gave me the strength to continue to the next breath.
One of them reached out to me this morning and shared how hurt she was that I made it sound like I didn’t have anyone in my corner. I felt awful. I had typed out this post prior to hearing from her because I wanted to address the very complicated subject of what NO ONE and NOTHING feels like when you are in the kind of relationship I was in and why, despite the wonderful women in my life, it doesn’t lessen that feeling.
Feeling alone is all about perspective. And Monday was a day in which I felt there was no way forward, no way out, and that I was powerless against a fate that I had been told would be mine for a long time.
Last week, I started to miss HIM and I felt deeply ashamed. This was not something I would share with my friends. This feeling of panic, that I had gone too far, and that his threats about what was going to happen once I wasn’t in control anymore rang ominous bells and made my stomach ache.
He had been calm for a few days, HIS voice even and amiable, and we had a few conversations that felt real. As if he was contemplating the things that had gone wrong as was taking responsibility. These have always been bread crumbs for me and I have always followed onto the same old path, where sooner than later, the same landmarks led me back to the very same cage. The cage that I would voluntarily walk into and turn the lock myself. I felt this pull as strongly as the tides adhere to the moon and the Earth gravitates around the Sun.
For many years I called no one because there was no one to call. For many more years I would call no one because I didn’t want anyone to know. But then, about 6 years ago, I allowed myself to become close to a woman who, despite all my attempts to avoid an honest relationship, was insistent that we should be friends. She wooed me with her smile, her willingness to use the F word as a noun and a verb all in the same sentence, and I started to trust her. Enough that I knew I could call her when things got really bad. She was always there when I called. She responded with humor and undying love. Her willingness to listen and then give me sage advice. She didn’t use empty platitudes and always kept it real. She was confident enough to tell me what I didn’t want to hear and she gave the kind advice that takes guts to share. Because it was real and honest.
Not that I took it. I would let her strength and brashness soothe me and then I would get off the phone, emboldened for a little while and then the fear would seep back in and I would do whatever it took to get things back to our really fucked up kind of normal.
Then I wouldn’t call her for a while. I didn’t want her to know that I wasn’t as brave or strong or smart as she was and most certainly couldn’t live up to what she thought I could be. I could never lie to her so my silence did the work for me.
Soon, I met another close friend of hers and that close friend became a close friend of mine. We shared a very memorable time in Pittsburgh and that cemented the friendship. It also gave birth to our Bad Ass Bitches Text Thread, The BABTT Line for short. A funny and salty text thread that has endured to this day.
I used it to get away from what was happening to me but often I didn’t share the full reality. A text here, a text there and they would say wonderful things that I can’t disclose here—irreverent, every single word.
So, I bet you’re wondering why on earth I am so lonely and sad. With these powerful women in my corner how could I possibly need to reach out to strangers?
I wish I could give you a simple answer but nothing about living through what I have lived through is simple. Just as missing the person that treated me so bad is crazy. It is also possible to feel regularly that I didn’t deserve these women. That what they said, in their strong and thoughtful way, wasn’t true about me and I didn’t have the heart to break it to them. How they would despise my weakest moments. How they would cringe if they knew how I begged, borrowed, and stole to keep HIM. Their anger if they found out just how much of myself, I sacrificed to try to make HIM happy.
No one knew about the early mornings when I was sobbed on the kitchen floor, avocado from the spinach wraps smeared on my hands, my back against my worn-out cupboards, as I tried to process the crushing things HE would say right before he left for work. The sound of his car would wake the kids and I’d get up, wash my hands, and finish their healthy lunches. I’d slip into the groove, my smile in place as I drove them to school, counting the minutes under my breath. One more mile. One more drop- off. Then I could shut all the curtains and get back in bed. I would lay there hiding and crying all day. Until it was time to get up, brush my hair, and paint on the fake smile. I would pick up the kids and help with homework, the routine smoothing the edges until it was easy to believe that all I needed was to get a little bit more “thick skinned”. Learn to keep my mouth shut. Then everything would be okay.
Making things even worse was my belief that I would never measure up to their success and contentment. Because, let me tell you, the women that I chose to confide in are really fucking awesome. I lack in a lot of areas but my taste in friends in not one of them. The few that I let into my inner circle are strong and smart. Which made it all the harder to really be open with them. Because, I knew that I wasn’t, and that his predictions would come true and I would disappoint them and that if they only knew what HE knew, they wouldn’t like me.
But, their influence. Their persistence seeped in passed all the bullshit and I started to make some serious headway. I started to believe that maybe I could make some plans. I kept a lot of secrets but with each passing year, I kept less from them. When I started a new career path, they were the first people I called. When I needed advice, I went to the BABTT Line. Slowly but surely their love hacked into HIS program and there were glitches. Promotions. Awards. Diplomas.
I don’t want to forget to mention the fact that there is another wise woman in my life. She has been through so much in her own life. She watched from afar. She saw him pack his garbage bags in his car when he would leave and saw him when he would unpack them when he would come back and not once did, she condemn me. She just said I love you. That’s it. AND she can always be depended upon for a cup of mayo or a surprise plate of cookies. She is simply the best. Really.
There are other women in my life who have never been given the chance to be there for me because I have a hard time trusting people. Though, they are no less amazing. Like I said before, I always choose woman I can look up to so my life is surrounded by some real kick ass, ball busters.
I was not alone on that Friday morning when I stood in the bathroom, the shards of glass from the mirror HE smashed, reflecting a million of me. I watched ME tell HIM to go but really it was all the women who stood by me that gave power to my words. It was their unwavering belief in me, all their answered phone calls, thoughtful guidance, and the fact that they lived their lives with such courage that gave me mine.
After he left, I confided in another friend. It took so much courage to tell her what had been happening to me. After that she texted me every single morning asking if I was okay and if there was anything she could do to help me that day. Each time I told her that being my friend was the most wonderful gift of all.
It is hard to break habits. It is even harder to see things for what they are because it is so much easier to see them for what you want them to be. I believed that I was alone because my reality didn’t look like what I thought it was supposed to look like. I had dreamed of someday for so long, that I had stopped seeing today.
The day I wrote on Jennifer Garner’s post about my desolation and then got that response was the epiphany I needed but not the one I was expecting.
You see, when Jennifer Garner gave her advice and all those women shared their heartbreaking stories. Their success stories. I suddenly realized that many women had experienced what I had.
I also realized that the reason I felt like I had no one and nothing is because I was looking at my life through HIS eyes. I was looking at the way he had defined me.
What I realized is that though my friends aren’t my family, that though I do not have parents or a place to run to where I feel safe– have something far greater than that.
I have powerful women in my corner.
How sad is that it took me so long to realize this?
As soon as I finished my thank you to all the wonderful people who reached out to me, I knew what I needed to do next.
Thank you BABTT for being my ride or die bitches.
Thank you, Sister Friend.
Thank you, Writer Friend.
Thank you to all the friends who smiled when they saw my tears and I didn’t explain. Thank you to all the friends that continued to be my friend no matter all the last-minute canceled plans.
Thank you for always being there for me even when I wasn’t there for you. Most especially, when I wasn’t there for myself.
Thank you, Jennifer Garner. AGAIN. For helping me to see what was right in front of my face.
Unfortunately, I didn’t post this as soon as I should have because I had one more thing to do…
I went to each of my children’s rooms. I stroked their hair and smoothed their sweaty foreheads as I whispered my Thank You in their ears.
The thing is, that when you live a very long time with someone that you have given your power and trust and love to and they use that power and love and trust to diminish you—well you strop trusting in everything and everyone becomes a stranger.
It begins slowly. I remember the first time I realized that I had changed. It was many, many years ago and I was talking to someone at the coffee shop I used to love.
Serrano’s was this magical space that I went where I wasn’t HIS wife. I was just Shanyn and whatever anybody thought of me was based on what I presented and how I acted. Most of the time, I went there and just sat, sometimes writing, but most of the time I would watch and listen to people. They all seemed so confident and happy and everyone look so well put together. Most everyone. And by well put together I mean they all wore clothes that represented who they were and who they wanted to be and this made them look good.
It was here that I would steal away for a few moments here, a few moments there. Sometimes, I would bring the kids because I wanted them to feel this vibe. It was the closest I could get to raising them in a diverse environment because this is THE VALLEY and things here are locked down. It is conservative at its core and I never did feel really at home here. But, in seeking places that would allow me to feel a little bit of solace I found Serrano’s with its crazy art on the walls, its excellent coffee, and its multicultural vibe. It was here that I felt closest to my roots and that was as I was going to get.
It was also here that I realized the person I thought I was, the person that I thought existed when I got married had either disappeared or she was missing in the deepest sense of the word.
I would talk to people and I had made quite a few friends. My definition of friends at that time and for a long time was probably not theirs or yours. Friends were people that I presented a carefully drawn picture and it was rare that I let anyone past that façade. When the mirage wavered because the reality was too much too bear that day because the trauma was too hard to hold. I would seek anyway possible to regain stasis by going to a place or a person to find the image that I had crafted and carefully try to don it. Sometimes it worked, a lot of times it didn’t, so more and more I just didn’t go anywhere and I stopped reaching out.
Anyway, one day on a regular day I was talking to someone and amid saying whatever thing I was saying, I stopped talking. Right in the middle of my sentence. I then stuttered out an apology begging their forgiveness for overtalking, taking up too much space, just basically apologizing for being alive.
In my head I was writhing. I had made the unforgivable mistake of thinking someone thought what I had to say was interesting or important. I was off kilter. They had been looking at my face, into my eyes, and I wasn’t used to that kind of interest in me.
You see. I was used to someone never looking at me when I spoke. I was used to someone cutting me off or just ignoring me, the wall of silence impenetrable, my voice bouncing off and coming back to me unheard, unwanted. I am not sure how long it had been happening to me at that point but long enough that it had changed me.
I left a bewildered person in my wake, practically running for the safety of my car. Feeling each extra pound, my careful outfit now a clown costume.
It was that day that I realized deep inside me I had come to believe that everyone, everywhere forever was a stranger because I was a stranger to myself.
Many people consider me outgoing. I can talk to anyone and I will always reach out to help anyone in need. Always. It is easy to think that I am extrovert. I’m not. I often wonder if I was once, long ago when I was known to myself but I can’t remember that person anymore.
When I posted on Jennifer Garner’s cute picture montage that spur of the moment reveal of my inner raw, I wasn’t thinking. I wasn’t calculating or measuring my words. It was simply an impulse. It was another really day. I was dealing with the fact that my kids and I had been exposed to someone with Covid and that I had some worrying symptoms. I was also dealing with HIM. I am not going to say his name. I am just going to refer to him as HIM.
After 18 years of marriage I had told him to leave. The hardest thing I had ever done. I don’t even remember my exact words. I just remember that I had said them out loud and that I meant every single syllable.
To be clear he had left me about 286,132 times. OF course, that number is fictitious but I want to give the sense of just how many times he had put his stuff in garbage bags and walked out the door, vowing to never come back. Never to see the kids. To disappear. That I would suffer and that I would finally find out someday, that I was in fact a piece of shit, and that my kids would understand that, and know that and would finally have the courage to tell me that.
Yeah. All that and more. Always. It was a pattern I did not see. I didn’t understand why he left only that he wanted to get away from me and that it was all my fault and that if only I could be quieter or thinner or smarter, he wouldn’t leave.
I would always beg him to come back. Every. SINGLE. Time. For many reasons that people will never understand. In fact, I think I will continue the rest of my life counting sorting through those reasons and try to figure out why they had so much more value than my life or my kids lives. I will spend the rest of my life trying to forgive myself for those reasons.
He taught me that just because he didn’t drink at the bar every night, he was a good guy. That even though he stopped sleeping in the same bed with me when my son was born (he had actually started doing this way before but it became concrete right after the birth of my last child who is now 13.) he taught me that I was not wanted. He taught me that fight meant me talking back or disagreeing. That having a different point of view or just being silent or having a too civil tone or standing up for myself or acting like I knew more than he did was a fight. Period.
If I had a problem and went to him with said problem, I was bothering him. If I persisted in continuing the conversation about the problem, I was instigating a fight. If, while continuing to “badger” him he thought of something as an answer and that answer wasn’t immediately THE answer then what he said and did after that was my own fault. Because you see, he would say later, and to this day…what he says and does when he is mad doesn’t count.
When HE says, “you are a bulldog, you look like a bull dog.” Or “No wonder your ex beat you up”. When he lowered his tone to a calm and calculating cadence, “Your own father and family don’t want you.” And followed up with his favorite, “I will never love you. Ever. “and then went back to watching tv…none of that really counted.
I began to understand what he wanted me to understand and I began to believe what he wanted me to believe. I was all alone. Everyone thought these things about me and I just wasn’t important enough or I was too argumentative for them to tell me. Everything was strange and the whole world was filled with strangers.
So, the other day when I wrote that little bit of my soul on Jennifer Garner’s sweet picture I did so as I received one ugly text after another from HIM. Even though he is gone, he finds a way to reach into me and remind me of all that he has taught me. It is in every word, it is the subtext, it is the world. His tone and a few simple words to anyone else is nothing. But I have been trained to detect what he means and why he means it.
And there I was on Instagram trying to forget that my world had ended and that I really have nothing and he has everything. Jennifer’s post was bright and pretty and fun. I recalled her marriage and its break up. Blazed across papers and the internet for all to read and misunderstand and yet here was this amazing woman. Posting cute photo of her quarantine pictures and I thought of all the wonderful things she was doing. Acting, her business, her donations, and her positive presence online. BUT most important to me was that she had survived and she was thriving.
She loves herself and her family and her life. (Now, I know things aren’t perfect and that she poops and farts and has bad days like all the rest of us)
Here’s the thing. I suddenly realized that I was never going to reach this point. There was no beauty or happily ever after. For me.
That right now, all I could see was endings. All I could envision is me old and ugly in some horrible tiny apartment that smelled of old cabbage, distrust marking my face with wrinkles and big warts with hairs sticking out. Daily feeding and bathing 100 cats. And birds. And dogs. Maybe geese and even a mountain lion. (recently the news had flashed headlines about some poor mountain lion lost here in Modesto and that they couldn’t find it. I knew that if he showed up at my door, I would take him in and take care of him. Because I am the finder of lost things.) I could picture me sitting in an old ratty chair, faded, and scratched from the animals. I’d be wearing some old bathrobe under which I would be huge panties whose elastic had given out.
That was when I revealed this rawness never even thinking about what anyone would think because I didn’t really think anyone would care.
Much later, I remembered that post and I went online to delete it…cringing at how stupid I must have sounded had anyone, and I hoped to God no one had, seen it.
Imagine my surprise when I opened Instagram and I saw that hundreds of people had reached out to me. Sharing their stories, their faith, their love, and their kindness.
I was stunned.
I cried for a long time.
People who don’t know me, who don’t owe me anything took the time to reach out and care for a total stranger.
As I scrolled, reading each thoughtful sometimes heartbreaking share I wept some more. And just like something in a movie something shifted drastically inside of me and I realized that I wasn’t alone.
I felt the start of something. For the first time the world wasn’t quite as bleak and scary as I had thought. That maybe HE wasn’t the right one, the wise one, the calm one, the strong one. That maybe he didn’t harness the power to my world.
I read every single one. I read the private messages and the notes on my own Instagram page. Each dispatch reached me right there on my battle field.
When I saw Jennifer Garner’s note to me, I was floored. To take a moment and share her kindness and well wishes and message of hope –. I was and continue to be GRATEFUL.
I looked down the infinite list of people who had taken the time to share their stories and who had only wanted to comfort me and I wondered how on earth I would thank each person.
Here it is. THANK YOU> THANK YOU>THANK YOU>
From the bottom of my heart, from the depths of my soul.
I wish I could tell you that now everything is all better. It is NOT. The fatigue and sadness I felt yesterday is only rivaled by todays.
The difference, though, is that I know that I am not alone. I never will be again. There are millions of people who have experienced what I am experiencing. It has allowed me to take one deep cleansing breath and realize that my direction is not hopeless.
It is entirely possible that I will be bathing 1000 cats and gingerly learning to feed a mountain lion in my tiny little apartment with its threadbare carpet. But, dear God, I hope not. I do NOT want to be caught wearing big ugly panties.
It is also possible that I will have a wonderful cottage in the mountains by a sparkling river where I will talk to river otters and have fish friends. Where the view will be of the redwoods as I feed and care for the lost things that I find.
I do know that I have myself back, for better or for worse. That I am going to slowly find out who this woman is and I am going to be as nice to myself as you all were to me in those comments.
I am going to lay down and rest. I am going to accept weakest moments and mistakes and I am going to try to forgive to forgive myself.
Thank you, Friends of Jennifer Garner.
Thank you, Jennifer Garner.
Thank you, new and wonderful friends for taking a moment from your day and reaching out to me.
Your words made a difference.
Your actions changed a moment in my life that will last me a lifetime.
I believe the theory that the flutter of butterfly wings can create a gale force wind on another continent.
Just as I believe each loving post that was shared came together as one voice and that voice had the power to reach me in the dark cave that I had been living in for a very long time.
I now work in a place where silence has settled into the
bedrock, seeped into the wood, and seamed solace like gossamer nestling into
the distance between exhale and inhale. The quiet is its own kind of beauty,
painted time that has been stilled. And
this, I am sure… is exactly where Grace resides.
As I sit here, waiting to finish the forms and filings of a
new hire, I study my new land. The smell soothes me, reminding me of every
Church I have ever loved.
It seems to me that this room should be called The Great
Room. Like the grand rooms of a lost era, the cavernous space a voluptuous call
A trio of couches create a pocket conversation corner in no way intruding on the secret rendezvous between the two chairs in front of the old stone fireplace. I am seated an echo away, at a dining room table—a bird’s eye view of the door, that is one open moment away from this new section of my path.
A conversation is taking place there, without break, an easy indication that I may be here awhile. I straighten the paperwork I have completed and paper clipped with my driver’s license and social security card. Smooth the table cloth, its mauve flowers melding with the ivory and sage of the room. I am starting to feel nervous and wonder if this is the right way to go. It will be more work and more time in addition to my other job. But it will be more money, too. My heart beats a little faster, the doubt creeps into my decisiveness, challenging the paperclip and the newly inked schedule in my planner.
Then I glance up, noticing the picture hanging above the table, for the first time. A path leading to a snow fed lake is lit by golden light, its rays lapping at the rocks and the forest, that hug its winding journey. A message —telling me that the diligent inking and paper clipping was confidence and surety, not avarice.
God has pushed away the darkness and shown me that I am
where I am supposed to be. The church bells start to ring, the reverberation slowing
I crack my new read and wait for the door to open.