Anniversary season

Yesterday was my wedding anniversary. Twelve years. Twelve years since a sweltering Saturday afternoon when Lou and I proclaimed “I have, I will, I will” before a crowd of friends and family inside the church where I attended Friday Mass as a kindergartener at the parish school.

wedding

That church has a lovely, well-appointed parish hall with gigantic windows in which, at Christmas time, an enormous tree stands on display. That parish hall was under construction on my wedding day.

Weddings have individual anniversary dates. Separations and divorces seem to have anniversary seasons.

My wedding anniversary falls in the middle of my separation season.

The last weekend in June, it was one year since the things holding my marriage together began to fall apart. July, it was one year since an incident that normally would have been a fight but wasn’t because I no longer had the emotional investment to bother. Then a year since a big, blowup discussion. A year since confessions, admissions, and tears. Long solo drives. Packages containing books and articles, sent express mail from far-away family members hoping to help. Therapy sessions. Revelations. Resignations.

On August 3 last year, our eleventh wedding anniversary, Lou and I went out for what would be the last time. It was pleasant and friendly. We bumped into a friend of Lou’s he hadn’t seen in years–probably not since that friend was a guest at our wedding.

And the next morning, I think we both expected we’d be divorced before we got to our twelfth anniversary.

Later this month, it will have been a year since I moved out.

I spent my anniversary yesterday with my family  at a water park. The outing wasn’t planned intentionally to take place on that day; just a coincidence, if you believe in that sort of thing. Poppy and Ace and I spent five hours communing with my sisters, my nephews, and my dad on a lazy river, in kiddie pools, and on water slides. We didn’t leave until we were sticky with layers of sunscreen and chlorine, filled with nachos, and exhausted.

In fact, we could have left earlier. Poppy had gotten to the end of her good time and was acting crabby and complaining of a headache.

When I was a kid and it was time to leave places like water parks, we’d all protest, “But we’re having fun!” My dad would repeat this motto: “You should always leave while you’re still having a good time.”

That’s definitely not a metaphor for marriage. You’re supposed to stay until the bitter end–the more bitter, the better. You’re supposed to stay until all the fun has washed off and you find you’ve covered yourself in a protective film that’s sticky and stings your eyes. You’re supposed to stay until you have a belly full of junk that tastes great going in but is murder to get off your thighs later. You’re supposed to stay and float on the current of an artificial river, around and around in circles, on a solo inner tube.

This time last year, I was hopping off my tube. Wading against the current and towards the steps. Looking for my towel; shielding my eyes from the sun.

There was a kind of honeymoon period after my separation. I decorated my apartment. I bought dishes and bath towels and tools. I hung my TV. I met new people and learned to use my voice. Everything was new and exciting and fun.

The first time I drove around to look at Christmas decorations on my own, I realized I had an almost palpable feeling of satisfaction at doing something meandering and meaningless just because I wanted to. After I’d seen all the impressive mansions in one wealthy neighborhood, I could turn right to go home or turn left to explore the lights I saw twinkling just down the road. I had no one to go home to, and no one in the passenger seat who might be tiring of the same old sets of Santas and garlands remixed and repeated.

The honeymoon period was exhilarating with all its newness, but it’s worn off.

There are things I miss from my marriage. I won’t lie. I miss having hugs from my babies every night. And I miss having a friend to go home to who knows what’s up with me and wants to hear the updates.

The thing about twelve years is that no matter who I might end up with, if anyone, and no matter how happy and fulfilling I may find a relationship with that person, he won’t have those twelve years. Or nearly fifteen now, counting back to when we met. Those are Lou’s. Lou knew me when I still lived with my parents, when my siblings were all still children. When I was practically still a child. Lou knew my mother and my grandmother, both of whom are now dead. He knew me at the tail end of my uber-Catholic phase, in my college years, and during my time in grad school. He knew me when I used to dance, and when I used to knit, and when I used to paint by number.

No one else can know those things.

And of course, it isn’t necessary for a husband to know those things. But it was comforting that my husband did.

On the other hand, I was practically still a child when I met Lou. At the very least, I was not the same person I am now, nor was he. And one way or another, as we grew and changed, we didn’t grow together.

And still, I don’t regret it. Any of it.

While the honeymoon of my separation may be over, the novelty faded, I find I still feel at home in my new life. Even as I grapple to find peace with certain elements of this life and the choices I make, I’m in the right place to wrestle with those issues.

It’s twelve years from my wedding and one year from my separation. It’s one day from yesterday and one day until tomorrow. Each day brings with it something new to learn. Each experience offers some opportunity to grow.

That is what I wanted, and that is what I want.

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Adventures in Online Datingland

I had an experience this week that could only be described as a classic reminder to trust my instincts. It started Thursday with a message I got on my preferred free dating site from someone I’ll call “Frank.”

okc

Hm.

One gets many messages on these online dating sites. By far the most common message is “hi” or some other, completely bland variant. The next most common is the explicit overture from a creeper. Most of these messages are easily ignored.

Frank’s message was a little different in that its enthusiasm seemed to target, like, my mind. The eager, urgent dudes usually don’t care about much that’s north of your boobs.

The urgency gave me pause, but I engaged in conversation a little. I figured if he thought I was “badass” and “nerdasaurus,” he must think we’d have things to talk about.

After a while, I figured out he’s a friend of a friend. My friend vouched for him that though she hadn’t seen him in years, he was nice, and he wouldn’t murder me.

So what the hell. I decided to meet him that afternoon. I wouldn’t normally meet someone within hours of first talking to them, but I wouldn’t have much chance to meet him before he left again, because this was to be a kid weekend. Besides, my friend’s vote of confidence filled in some of the gaps I’d normally fill with a couple of days of chatting. I like my friend; she likes this guy; why not?

We met, we talked for an hour and a half, and everything seemed kosher. We talked about food and children and the places we’ve lived and the jobs we’ve had–typical stuff. After we parted ways, we continued to text on Friday and Saturday, with more of the same sort of getting-to-know-you-style topics.

“What are you doing this weekend?”

“I went to a cheese farm!”

“I like cooking Mexican food.”

“Just watched the Lego Movie.”

I maybe should have known things were a little not-quite-right when this exchange happened Saturday afternoon:

into you

Hold your horses there, cowboy. For one thing, I have no idea how “into me” you are. If you’re asking me that, it’s probably a lot. But for another thing, how can you be all that into me when we barely know each other?

Being a southern American woman, conditioned not to want to hurt people’s feelings, I acknowledged that I don’t know him very well but that I’d like to know him better. And at this point, I did. I liked talking to him well enough, and we had plans to get together again Monday evening when I’d be sans children again.

Plus, let’s be real. It’s totally an ego boost to be called a badass and to be told someone’s into you. I mean, “badass” is the specific word I use when describing what I aspire to be right now!

A couple of hours after this exchange, though, things really went off the rails. Frank asked if he could see me Sunday, ahead of our Monday plans. I said I could possibly ask my sister to watch Poppy and Ace after church. They’d enjoy playing with their cousins, and maybe Frank and I could get lunch.

So I texted my sister, my sister said sure, and I tried to get a time frame lined up with Frank. But Frank’s texts had become difficult to understand, with lots of typos. I had to ask him for clarification several times.

And then… this.

1message

Huh? I thought we were talking about going to lunch. After CHURCH. While my sister watches my children.

2message

“Ugh no!!!! Definitely not!” Except, yes, and then we can talk after.

3 message

4 message

“Sorry I was a total perv just then. Blame my buddy! He’s a bad influence!”

Then the hurling away of the hot potato of personal responsibility got more intense.

bad influence 1bag influence 2

So he’s apologizing for running his mouth… and then suddenly it dawns on him. He can tell me he didn’t write any of it! His asshole friends wrote it all!

5 message

See, he wasn’t even AWAKE when that was happening!

Then the desperate backpedaling began…

desperate backpedaling

“My friends are mean! And anyway, you went cheese shopping! And you like indie movies! And other stuff we talked about when I was sober–I mean, before my friends got my phone!”

6 message7 message

Wait a second. Is he pissed off? What the fuck?

8 message

Ooh, he has a sad. I see.

Just to recap, here’s what happened:

  1. Frank and I make plans to meet for the next day.
  2. Frank gets shitfaced and reveals he’s really hoping to get some of this.
  3. I decide I don’t want to get roofied or raped.
  4. Frank tries to convince me he didn’t say any of the shit he said.
  5. I question this.
  6. Frank gets mad that I’m questioning this.
  7. Frank tries to appeal to my softer side by saying he has hurt feelers.

My friend and I discussed this. She asked, and I wondered very briefly, if it was possible someone really did get ahold of his phone and message me all that crap just to be an idiot. After all, who says that kind of stuff? Who just puts it out there like that?

Well. I can tell you who: lots of guys out there on the dating sites. Frank’s not the only one. There are tons of weirdos out there. These guys are real people, presumably with jobs, whom you might work alongside, or whom you might pass on the grocery store aisle. Real, live people who think it’s acceptable to say the most outlandish things to women online.

Like this guy:

naught

Or this guy:

can't

This guy (whose messages went on and on, but you get the idea from what I’ve left here):

beer

And my personal favorite from the files of aggressive perversity:

forward guy

They aren’t all like this. But those who are really stand out.

So, lesson learned: when someone seems too obviously, urgently eager, even if it’s just about my obviously brilliant brain… it’s probably not going to end well. Eager is eager, crazy is crazy, and apparently, eager is also crazy.

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The Whole Package

So I’ve been going to the fucking gym. I’m writing a whole blog about the experience. I went to the gym tonight. Working out makes me feel, when I let myself admit it, like a strong, badass bitch who can do anything without limitation or regret.

But I don’t feel like a badass bitch tonight. I feel weak and emotional. Vulnerable.

I had a very ill-advised conversation with the Fella tonight. You remember the Fella. He was the Relationship I Wasn’t Looking For, the first person ever to dump me (at the ripe old age of 33–wut?).

A lot of time has passed since The Dumping. A lot of events have transpired. I have, sincerely, gotten past that. 

And yet… for some reason, this week, my heart has gone back there. In a way whose intensity has built upon itself until I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

And probably ill-advisedly, I tried to ignore it. “It’ll pass,” I told myself. “It’s pointless to think about it.” I didn’t let myself Feel What I Feel.

I mean, seriously, that’s in the past. I’ve gone out with other dudes, one or two of whom I really liked a lot–and one or two of whom I definitely did not. The Fella wasn’t on my mind  then. He hasn’t been on my mind in a long time.

But this week, for some reason…

Maybe that’s natural. Maybe that happens to everyone. Maybe that’s part of relationships and relationships’ endings, when you get dumped–maybe even when you do the dumping.

Maybe it’s because my divorce isn’t done, or because things with Lou, particularly where they relate to Poppy and Ace, can be confusing. It’s terrain I haven’t travelled. It’s feelings I don’t know how to feel–and his feelings I don’t know how to handle, or even face head-on.

Maybe it’s that I know the Fella loved me. In all of that confusion, I know someone loved me.

But… now I know he doesn’t.

I totally went to that horrible place tonight. That place I’ve advised people against traversing. That place where you cry and sniffle and ask someone why they don’t feel they way you want them to feel, even when it should be enough just knowing they don’t. That place where you feel a way you don’t want to feel, but if you’re being honest, you have to feel it. You have to, because if you don’t, you won’t get past it. It will come back, in weeks or months, and it will hound you and needle you in tiny ways and get from you what it wants whether you let it or not. 

I made the Fella feel it. Or at least, I made him hear me say it. And that doesn’t make me feel very good. 

I mean, I want to be a badass bitch. I want to be able to express myself, but also accept and internalize the feelings and actions of others. I don’t want to define myself by how a man feels about me–or how anyone feels about me. I want to be apart from that.

I don’t think it’s totally possible to be apart from others’ opinions, though. Not until we reach Nirvana. It will always matter, even if only in some small way, what someone else thought. Maybe eventually it will matter much, much less. Maybe you can get to where the amount it matters is only a tiny drop in an ocean of self-acceptance. So tiny you don’t notice it. But can it ever just not matter–not at all? I don’t know. I don’t think so.

The thing about the Fella’s rejection, months ago, is that it was wholesale. It wasn’t me, he said. It was the whole package. It was too “real.” My convoluted life, with a husband still tied to my ring finger, with children under my wings, children who are real, with personalities and love of their own to give and to take. He loved me, he said, but it was too much.

On a philosophical level, I still believe that love never ends. But it feels hard, right now, to believe in gibberish like “love wins” and “love conquers all.” If the Fella really loved me, wouldn’t he love the whole package? Wouldn’t he be able to get past the hard parts? Does that mean he didn’t really love me? Does the fact that I loved him mean that “love” meant the same thing to him that it did to me?

Maybe yes, maybe no. In the end, it can’t matter. I am a whole package: myself, with my faith and my religious hangups. My taste in music and television and movies. My past, with its relative lack of relationships except one really long one that started early and ended confusingly and still will continue in perpetuity because it brought into the world two distinct individuals who mean more to me than anyone or anything else in the world. Two people who are distinct from each other and distinct from me, yet connected unbreakably to each other and to me and to someone who at some point will be my ex-husband. Two people who will form their own opinions of anyone to whom I introduce them, who are ready to accept and love right now but who might not be forever. Two people who teach me about love every day in ways that are sometimes blissful and sometimes agonizing, ways I can only feel and not describe, who trigger feelings so profound I can only feel them–blessedly, thankfully, with grace.

If those two people are the part of the package that makes it too hard to accept me–then good. That’s ok. It has to be ok. It has to be ok if they make the package too hard for anyone to accept, ever, for the rest of my life, forever and ever, Amen.

And when I think of it from the perspective of my divorce, it is ok. That’s the biggest thing I’ve had to come to terms with, that I must continue to come to terms with. If I leave my marriage, is it ok if that’s just it? 

Yes. It has to be. I have to be ok with who I am and what I bring to the table. And if the only one who ever joins me at that table is me, that has to be ok.

When things have been hard since I left Lou, I have heard a small voice ask, “do you regret it?” Do you regret leaving? Do you regret opening yourself up to this tragedy or that rejection? Do you regret putting yourself in the position where this unexpected and horrible thing can happen to you, or where that unpleasantness can stand up and smack you in the face and leave a permanent handprint?

The answer is always “no.” Sometimes emphatically, sometimes resignedly, but always no. I don’t regret it.

Because I know, somewhere inside of me that isn’t always accessible, that I’m worth something. Even imperfect and vulnerable. Even lazy and silly and emotional and inexperienced and open and wanting and loving and giving and selfish and needy–I’m worth something. 

It may only be to myself and to God–and that has to be ok. 

And it is.

And even on nights like tonight, when I come home from the gym still sweaty in smelly gym clothes, when in spite of my swagger I can’t access that badass bitchery I want to portray, I’m still worth something. It may be to somebody, someday. But even if it never is, that’s ok. It has to be. Even when I have to work hard to convince myself it’s ok, it’s still ok. Whether I believe it or not.

It’s better if I believe it. Of course. But I can remind myself that even when I don’t believe it, it’s true. This whole package is who I am. It’s ok. It’s great, even. It’s loveable. It’s gifted by grace.

It’s me.

whole package 

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Say My Name, Say My Name

There’s a little box you can check at the end of the divorce petition: “wife requests to be known as her former name.” You check the box, fill in your “former” name, and just like that, as soon as your divorce is final, poof, your married name is no more.

Well, there’s the poof, and then there’s the endless calls you have to make, letters you have to write, and proof you have to provide to the DMV, the bank, your creditors, and everyone else under the sun who insists they know who you are.

The first time I saw that little box, I didn’t think I’d check it. Not only because of the hassle involved with altering my identity before various bureaucracies, but also because I’ve had this name for going on 12 years now. It’s the name on my MFA and my business cards, the name by which everyone who has known me as an adult, knows me. And most importantly, because it’s Poppy and Ace’s name.

But the more I’ve thought about the little box, the more I think I will check it.

When I got married, I didn’t have a second thought about whether I’d take Lou’s name; of course I would. That’s what you do, it was traditional, and I was nothing if not traditional! It was an outward and obvious symbol of the new unit we were forming, which would grow into our family. It was like a uniform or a habit; something to show the world who I was.

But even though I’ve had this name for almost 12 years, it’s never fully felt like my own name. Not really. I’ve signed it a million times, and I’ve never been happy with my signature. I’ve spoken it over and over again, and the syllables of my first name never flow into the syllables of my last name. That’s because it’s not my last name; it’s Lou’s. When my parents chose my first name, they meant it to go with the last name I would be born with. Those syllables blended nicely; when I changed my name, they no longer did.

For another thing, let’s be real. It’s kind of weird dating other dudes while I still have Lou’s name. The Fella once told me he likes to address people as “Ms” whoever. But he felt weird addressing me that way; he would basically be saying “Ms Lou’s Wife.” And who wants to date someone’s wife? (Or, to be completely semantically accurate, who wants to be reminded he’s dating someone who is technically still someone’s wife?)

Lou identifies strongly with his name, and not just his surname. I’ve noticed that people who have Lou’s first name (which is not, incidentally, Lou) like to name businesses after themselves. Lou is the same way and has had two official small businesses named after him, and countless ideas and projects he gave his name. And his last name is common enough that certain appliances share it, and he likes picking up antiques that bear his name.

But whenever I’ve seen Lou’s last name printed on a dusty record players or deadly-looking vintage fans, my thought has been, “Oh, it’s Lou’s name! I should show Lou!” Not, “Cool, there’s my name!”

Image

Watch your fingers.

And Lou ought to identify with his name. Your name is, in the most basic sense, your identity.

As an English major, and as a Sunday school attendee, I have learned very well the power and importance of naming. Literature and the Bible are filled with names that mean something. Some names’ meanings are solidified based on the person who first had that name, or from someone infamous who held the name–ain’t nobody with good sense naming their kid Adolf nowadays. Common surnames come from bygone occupations: Smith, Farmer, Carpenter, Weaver. Children are named for relatives or saints. Confirmands choose a saint’s name to represent the qualities they aspire to adopt along with the confirmation of their baptismal promises. Popes and nuns take on new names as they take on entirely new identities in religious life.

God gave Adam dominion over all the animals, so Adam named them all. And throughout the Bible, as people enter into covenants with God, they are given new names: Abram became Abraham, and his wife Sarai became Sarah. Jacob became Israel. Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter, meaning “rock,” and said, “upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). The entire papacy is based on this renaming and reidentity.

To name something is to own it, and names are powerful. This is why God cannot be named: none may have dominion over God.

It is why God identifies himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14 as “I AM WHO AM,” or “YHWH.” It’s a name but not a name; God is more powerful than any name.

It is why, according to traditional Jewish law, the Hebrew name of God may not be destroyed. Some Jews will not write or speak the name of the Creator, even in English, to avoid defacing it; you may see it written as “G-d.”

It is why in the final act of the Crucible, John Proctor, though broken and finally willing to confess falsely to witchcraft to save his neck, ultimately cannot sign the faulty confession. When pressed to explain why, Proctor, “with a cry of his whole soul,” shouts, “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! […] How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”

It is why the most badass line in all of television history comes from the mouth of Walter White in the Breaking Bad episode titled for the line: “Say My Name.” Walt, known as Heisenburg, has just reversed the course of a negotiation with a bunch of drug dealers, subduing them with the threat of his mere identity. “You know. You all know exactly who I am. Say my name.”

Before I was married, I didn’t have a particularly strong opinion about my original name. It’s a cool name, with cool initials. I really liked the signature I started using in college. But I have come to identify with my maiden name more as I have come to realize how I do not identify with Lou’s name. My original name is cool! It does have cool initials! And besides that, my family of origin is cool. I’m proud to be named among them. I’m proud when my original surname is adjectiveized to describe certain qualities of my children. That’s the me in them. This name I have now, Lou’s name, just isn’t who I am.

I’m not prepared to argue that taking on your husband’s name is somehow antifeminist or shows that he owns you. It certainly may have meant that at various times in history, and it may mean that to some individuals today. Still, because names are powerful, I can see why taking your husband’s name is a valid choice. I mean, yeah, becoming someone’s wife is a change in identity. But expressing that by changing your name should be a choice, not an expectation.

My married name is not who I am. However, I am still the person who earned my MFA. I am still the person who holds my current job. I am still the mother of Poppy and Ace. Going back to my original name won’t change those things. Having a different name from my children will not change by one fraction the love and devotion I have for them.

And looking to the future, if I ever remarry, I don’t think I will take my new husband’s name, either. Not because I don’t think my commitment to any future husband won’t be meaningful and transformative–it would have to be, or it wouldn’t be worth getting married again. No, I think I would like to forever keep my original name because it is who I am. It is my label, the shorthand for my identity.

Gradually losing focus on my identity over the years was part of what made my marriage fall apart. And there were moments last summer, when I found myself doing things and acting in ways I’m not proud of, that I asked, “Who am I?” I asked myself, and I asked close friends and acquaintances. I asked my therapist. Who am I? It’s a sick, unmoored feeling not being sure who you are.

Since separating, I have learned you can’t ask anyone else who you are. Others may be more than willing to tell you, but unless you figure it out for yourself, you will never truly know your own identity. And I’ve made a lot of discoveries about my identity since last summer. I’ve come a long way, and I know I can go much farther. And reassuming my own name, the most basic symbol of my identity, is an outward and obvious sign of that. Of knowing who I am and not letting anyone shape me into someone else. Now and in the future.

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The Feast of the Resurrection

It’s a little lonely around Casa de Episcoplic tonight. The kids are with Lou. I have laundry and tidying I could be doing, but… I don’t feel like it.

A dear friend once told me I’m a Social Sim. It’s an apt comparison; I’m energized when I interact with people. On days and nights when I don’t have my kids, I feel weird when hours pass and I don’t use my voice.

I miss Poppy and Ace. Those buggers. I’ll admit it was somewhat novel at first, having time away from them, to myself. Who doesn’t appreciate that sometimes? But the novelty has worn off, especially as Lou has had the kids a little more lately. 

I really got to flex my mommy muscles over the last couple of weeks, though. Ace was sent home sick from day care the Wednesday before Easter, and I got to pluck him up off the playground where he was sitting in the sand, cold and whimpering with discomfort. I comforted him, cuddled him, took him to the doctor, and held him while he slept on my shoulder as we waited for his prescription to be filled (which inexplicably took forever–this is amoxicillin, people, not polyjuice potion). I brought him home with me and fussed over him while he lay on the couch and watched cartoons.

Holy Saturday, it was Poppy’s turn to be sick. Poor little lamb; I had just recently told a friend I couldn’t remember the last time either of my kids had puked, and though I knocked on wood, Poppy paid the price for my exclamation. Several times she paid it! Throughout the afternoon and into the night. She slept on one end of the couch, then had to be moved to the other end of the couch so the first end could be wiped up. Then she had to be moved to the overstuffed chair and ottoman, though this time I wisely covered the chair with a blanket. Then the blanket had to be replaced.

I found myself awake at nearly midnight, Googling for signs of dehydration and wondering if I should call Lou for a Pedialyte run. But first, I called a 24-hour nurse’s line and jotted down notes for things to look for that might indicate a visit to the ER was in order, namely a dry, sticky mouth.

“So… I should stick my finger in her mouth?” I asked the nurse, who confirmed I should do exactly that, as soon as I got off the phone with her. So I dutifully stuck my finger in Poppy’s mouth, which thankfully was slick with saliva, meaning she was not in imminent danger of drying completely out. 

Finally, with Poppy resting peacefully, a pan strategically placed near her chin, and the Easter bunny having been seriously delayed in his visit, I went to bed.

This year, Easter Sunday fell on my birthday. Earlier Saturday evening, before the Googling and the nurse’s line, I set about baking a crazy, tie-dye cake. I knew Poppy must be feeling pretty sick because she didn’t even care to help me and Ace mix the batter into different colors (if, you know, the barfing didn’t clue me in that she wasn’t well). But the cake broke catastrophically into pieces when I dumped it onto the cooling rack.

Image

Sad trombone.

Ugh, all that work: dividing and mixing and dying–and directing Ace to stir the dye in and not eat the raw cake batter by the spoonful. The cake was too broken to even attempt to assemble it back into a cake-looking thing. It was more like a garbage-bound-looking thing.

But it was Holy Saturday night by this time. The next day was Easter, and even if I had two well kids, would the stores even be open for me to buy ingredients for another cake?

So I made the best of it. I tore the larger cake pieces into smaller chunks and lined a baking dish with them. Then I melted the canned frosting I’d planned to use and drizzled it over the craggy cake surface, then decorated it with food dye marker scribbles.

Image

Ta da!

And with that, the cake was saved. Made new. As if having my 34th birthday fall on the Fest of the Resurrection weren’t a metaphor that wrote itself, the very birthday cake felt it necessary to drive home the themes of renewal and rebirth.

Last year, I wrote that turning 33 felt significant. David Wilcox sings, “if you don’t die in glory at the age of Christ, then your story is just getting old.” And I considered that parenting is its own kind of glory, bizarre though it may be in moments when you find yourself fully clothed, in a bathtub, wielding scissors at your 2-year-old’s hair.

Thirty-three was quite a year, with plenty of glory in that style known especially to parents. But much more than glory, this year has been filled with grace. Grace, because it was also marked by fear, anguish, doubt, judgment, and unknowing. Grace because none of those things has won, though all may rightfully have claimed a part of me.

Grace, because ending my marriage does not at all feel like glory. On nights like tonight, when my two biggest blessings are miles away from me, when I have a couple of baskets of unfolded clothes on the bed and have felt my vocal cords vibrate only when I coughed–grace, not glory. Grace in knowing that all will be well, that my babies will be back in my arms soon, that no matter how far they are from me, my love will reach them. That my love multiplied by eleventy billion can’t match God’s love for them. And for me–by grace. For you, too.

On Easter Sunday morning, Poppy and Ace arose to investigate their Easter baskets. Poppy was feeling cautiously better, and around mid morning allowed herself to nibble a little toast and take a few tentative sips of water. Lou came over, and the kids had a low-key Easter egg hunt outside the apartment. And I watched a video or two of Easter hymns posted by friends on the ole Facebook, to make up for having to miss church.

We didn’t celebrate the Resurrection, nor my birthday, the way I planned: with Poppy in a smocked dress and ruffled socks, Ace with a bow tie, and crab legs for dinner. But the renewal theme this year was illustrated in a way I won’t soon forget. Spring is here, and things are growing. And growing can hurt, but growing means living. Anything that does not grow, dies.

By grace, we will keep on living, keep on growing, and–by grace–keep on loving.

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Love Never Ends

My deep philosophizations of late have been about love.
 
The familiar passage from I Corinthians on love, popular at weddings (including my own), tells us,
 

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

 
But human love is never perfect. Who among us who loves can say his or her love has always reflected these principles flawlessly? I certainly can’t. Fortunately, the passage from Corinthians is not a litmus test. Our failure to exemplify perfect love for our children, friends, family members, spouses, or lovers doesn’t mean we don’t love them. Of course we do. Love, no matter how young or small or immature, is a spark or a glow we all can recognize, and we should allow ourselves to recognize it. But fierce or tenuous, our love is always imperfect. Because we are imperfect.
 
But loving–feeling love, tasting love, embracing love–means growing in love. The more you love, the better you get at it, and the closer you get to becoming capable of loving perfectly.
 
It can take work. It can require effort. Sometimes I easily lose my patience with Poppy and Ace–just toss it right out the window. “How many times do I have to ask you to put on your shoes?” Sometimes I must make an effort–a Herculean one–to remain patient with them. And other times, patience comes naturally. If I reflect on my patience during those (sometimes rare) natural moments, I realize it flows, simply, from love.
 
Comparatively speaking, though, loving my own children is easy. I am programmed by nature and evolution to “endure all things” for their sake. Loving other people–those who were not knit together in my womb, pushed out of my vagina, and nourished at my breast–doesn’t always come so easily.
 
Poppy has been asking some tough questions, and the one that seems to recur the most is why I don’t love Lou anymore. And this is hard to reconcile in my own, 33-year-old mind; harder still to explain to a six-year-old. But Poppy has a big heart and knows and feels great love. And because Poppy understands love, she knows intuitively–without having studied Corinthians–that love never ends.  Her soul can feel the dissonance of her parents’ division, of their love having broken down. It doesn’t make sense in her innocent, complete experience of love that love could change or even die.
 
“Love never ends.” This part seems like a lie. It seems like a lie when you remember loving someone enough to make the crazy “forever” promises people make to each other in front of God and everyone, and then you find yourself unable or unwilling to keep those promises well before you expect you would be parted by death. Breaking them because the love that seamed your soul to his has unraveled somehow, leaving you two parts and no longer a whole.
 
It seems like a lie when you loved someone, or maybe you still do–someone who you believed loved you in return–and that person is just out there, walking around in the world. Living life without you. Maybe not loving you back.
 
Or maybe the lie is that love ever existed to begin with. Maybe that’s easier to swallow. Maybe it’s easier to imagine that your beloved was a liar, or at the very least mistaken. Or maybe it is easier to say, “I thought I loved him, but…” How can we imagine loving, and then not? Being loved… and then not? Better to believe the love was a lie than to believe love could cease.
 
But what I have been chewing on lately, and what I think is true, is that “love never ends” is not a lie. And neither is love. If you think you love someone, you do. Your heart recognizes love; your soul recognizes its creator. We give love and encounter love imperfectly, but we know it when it’s there.
 
And it doesn’t end.
 
Yes, Poppy, I loved Lou. I loved him in cold and in rain. I loved him in the summer, on the boat, at the Shack. I loved him in New Orleans. I loved him in music and dancing, adventures and laughter, projects and parties.
 
I loved him imperfectly. With impatience, arrogance, and resentment.
 
And now? Now I love him still, Poppy, but now I love him in your smile, your goofiness, your inquisitiveness. Now I love him in your mind, which works out puzzles and gets frustrated when the solution is just beyond your reach. I love him in your face. Your chin, which I saw once in a picture of his mother as a child. Your hair, as platinum as in his baby pictures. I love him in your brother and his fascination with cars and airplanes. Your brother’s impish grin, his sensitive skin, his sweet tooth.
 
I love him in my past, in the days that shaped my adulthood, in the years I don’t regret. 
 
I love him in your future.
 
And it doesn’t end. No matter how angry we get, or how far apart we live, or what the official papers say. Love evolves, shifts, shrinks, stretches, curls up, moves beyond. It may shake, and it may crack, and it may come to resemble something far different than we planned. Or wanted. Or want. But love never ends.
 
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God’s Gonna Kill You: A Love Story

Picture it: Pensacola. Summer 1998. I’m 18, just out of high school. It’s only a few months since my reception into the Catholic Church, which took place during an hours-long Easter Vigil Mass at my uber-traditional, ultra-conservative parish, and at which ceremony I wore all white, including the doily on my head.
 
 
“Pius” is 19, home for the summer from his all-male Catholic college, with plans to join the Catholic seminary when he graduates. He is a friend of a friend, but our mutual friend keeps bowing out of plans the three of us make together. Pius and I wind up spending many evenings together watching reruns of the X-Files. He helps me pick out a VHS camcorder to buy with my graduation money since I’m really into making movies and think I might go to film school some day. We hang out on my day off from my job at the bookstore for the college where I’ll be starting in the fall, and we drive to a mall that is an hour away from our own mall, and nearly identical to it, just for fun. At the mall, we eat Chick-Fil-A and play games in the video arcade. We win an assortment of trinkets, including two plastic flower rings. I wear the pink one on my pinkie, and he wears the blue.
 
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We talk about family, faith, our firmly held beliefs in What’s Wrong With Society and how we’ll never conform to the ways of the World. We talk about our dreams for the future, our still-unmade plans. We talk about the capital-C-Catholic husband I hope to have some day, and all the Catholic children I hope will sit around my table like olive branches. I tell him about the guy from church I had a crush on last semester and how I tried to show him what a great Catholic I am so as to plant seeds that would grow into thoughts of, “Wouldn’t she make a great wife?” We go see the X-Files movie in the theater, and we eat pizza, and we go to the next town over for the once-a-month Latin Mass.
 
I begin to relish instances when strangers in public mistake Pius and me for boyfriend and girlfriend or even husband and wife. I begin to think Pius would be a great candidate for my capital-C-Catholic husband. I begin to write tormented, guilt-ridden entries in my diary about how selfish I am for wanting such a good man for myself when God wants him for the priesthood.
 
“Oh, terrible, terrible irony! You make my dreams manifest in a man destined for things more noble than I!” *
 
One night, as my curfew approaches, we lie on his bed, chastely discussing all manner of important topics, and he notices that I am preoccupied.
 
“What’s your problem?” he asks, joking but kind. “I can tell you have Issues.”
 
My stomach is suddenly filled with hummingbirds. I deny having Issues. “You’re the one with Issues,” I retort.
 
He concedes this point, then proposes that he will tell me his Issue if I will agree to tell him mine. I consent to this, then take it back, realizing I’m terrified to confess my feelings for him. “Don’t tell me an Issue,” I say. “I don’t know if I want to tell mine.”
 
“So there’s this Lord,” he interrupts me. “A Lord with a serf and some land.”
 
I recognize the beginning of a parable. “Who is the Lord?” I say. “And who is the serf? Are you one of them?”
 
“No, I’m neither,” he explains. “The Lord… that’s self-explanatory. I am the land.”
 
“All of the land?” I ask.
 
“Not all of it; just this one, sectioned-off part of it.”
 
“Ok,” I say. “Who is the serf?”
 
He smiles. “I don’t know! You don’t want to hear this story. It could be you–you’ll never know!”
 
I protest. Now my hummingbirds have multiplied, but I am desperate to hear what he has to say.
 
He continues. “The Lord tells the serf, go ye, take these seeds, and spread them all over the land. Spread them everywhere–but not that sectioned-off area. Leave that part alone. So the serf goes around, tossing the seeds about Rip Taylorishly–all over the place.”
 
I have to stop him so he can tell me who Rip Taylor is. He is apparently known for throwing things around haphazardly. Pius pantomimes this with flourish.
 
“The seeds land everywhere,” he continues. “Some land on the road–“
 
“What happens to those seeds?” I ask.
 
“Oh, they shrivel up and… go blind.” I giggle at this. It’s a reference to my last-semester crush. “But some of the seeds end up in the forbidden part of the land, the land the Lord had set apart from the rest,” he continues.
 
“Oh,” I say.
 
“And now… now it’s harvest time, and the Lord can see where all the seeds have grown, and he can see they went where they shouldn’t have. He goes to the serf and says, ‘I see some of the seeds are over there. Why did you put them there?'”
 
Flutter! “So she put the seeds there, even when the Lord told her not to?” I ask. “What will happen to her?”
 
“Nothing,” Pius reassures me. “She didn’t do it on purpose. But now the land is wondering… and asking the Lord… if he can have her… or if the Lord will just smack the land and say, ‘you’re mine!'”
 
We both laugh at the unceremonious end to the parable.
 
Now it’s my turn. I lie silently for several minutes, thinking how to respond.
 
Pius becomes slightly agitated. The clock is ticking. “Your move,” he tells me.
 
“So, the serf.” I begin. “The serf can see where all her seeds have gone. She sees the plants that have grown in the sectioned-off land, and she really likes them there. So she’s thinking about asking the Lord to reconsider what he said about sectioning that land off. But… then she’s all, ‘you’re the Lord! It’s all you!'”
 
My contribution to the love parable is much less detailed than Pius’s, but it gets the message across. And then it is time for me to leave.
 
Over the next several days, Pius and I indulge in sitting close together for our X-Files viewings, and holding hands during our drives. We have many anguished discussions about how no one must know we are doing any of this, how disappointed everyone would be in us if they knew. Pius is meant for the priesthood. If I were a better Catholic, I would put the Church’s need for vocations ahead of my own desires. What kind of brazen hussy robs the seminary?
 
It’s not for a couple of days after the parable that Pius kisses me. He tells me, “One way or another, I will marry you. Either as your husband, or as your priest.” I find this thrilling, yet bittersweet.
 
But we have a very serious concern about our heady, secret romance. What if God really does want Pius to be a priest, and what if Pius decides not to become a priest because of me? We are in agreement: if that happens, God will kill me. Definitely.
 
The stakes are high, and the summer is almost over. After a happy weekend together, we decide not to see each other the following Monday. I’ve been spending every free moment with Pius, staying up until the very last seconds before my curfew. We need a day to rest.
 
But when we see each other again on Tuesday, something is different. With each passing day, he’s touching me less, picking on me more. We aren’t alone as often as we were. Our conversations lose their intimacy.
 
Finally, with his return to college only a day away, I get a moment alone with him. “So the serf,” I say. He raises an eyebrow at me. “She’s pretty confused, because there was this whole thing with the land and this garden she didn’t mean to plant. And she’s been really enjoying it and everything, but now she doesn’t know what’s going on.” I look at him pointedly.
 
Pius’s response is not what I want to hear. “I guess the land’s just all, ‘I dunno, whatever.'”
 
And with that, the threat that Pius would choose me over his “true” vocation, prompting God to kill me, evaporates. Pius goes back to school and doesn’t reply to my letters. I find out later that he is dating someone, and it is not a secret.
 
One day, a year or two later, I go to a midweek daily Mass downtown. I have stopped going to the uber-traditional, ultra-conservative parish where I was received. I run into Pius before daily Mass starts, and it is a friendly if subdued reunion. By this time, I am dating Lou. Pius points to a girl who looks not unlike me, kneeling in a pew and praying. It’s his girlfriend. The two of them have just arrived to town, having driven overnight from out of state. They both have greasy road hair. As I smile graciously at Pius and say goodbye, I feel inwardly gratified that I do not have greasy road hair and that I am, in fact, looking quite cute and well-dressed that day.
 
Later still, after I have finished college, married Lou, and moved away to graduate school, Pius and I again find ourselves in our hometown. It is Christmas break. The past is behind us, and we make plans to go to a local church with a Christmas light display. This church used to host a huge festival each fall that was well attended by the locals, and for Christmas, the grounds were converted into booths of Christmas dioramas, toy train displays, and hot chocolate stands. Pius and I walk the grounds together in the cold, admiring the thousands of twinkling lights that hug the tree branches high above. The fall festival and Christmas events have dwindled in recent years. Pius went to this church when he was a child, during its heyday, and he shows me the booth his family used to run, points out the dilapidation of the infrastructure. We notice areas where the lights in the trees are burned out. We sip hot chocolate, reminisce, and catch up.
 
He drives me to my dad’s house in the car where we once secretly held hands. I’ve had a nice time with him and feel cheerful with nostalgia and letting go. He pulls the car up to the curb outside the house, where I know Lou is inside waiting for me. I reach down into the pocket of the passenger side door to retrieve something of mine, and I find a clear plastic gumball machine egg with a plastic fly inside. “Whose is this?” I ask, thinking it must belong to his niece.
 
“You don’t remember?” Pius asks.
 
I shake my head. “No. Should I?”
 
Pius looks out the windshield. “We won it. At the mall.”
 
I look at the trinket again, searching my memory. “I remember that day,” I say. “I remember the mall and the arcade. I remember the plastic flower rings. But,” I shrug, “I don’t remember this.”
 
And that was that.
 
I haven’t seen or spoken to Pius since then. I have heard he is married (not to the girl with greasy road hair) and has two children. By all accounts, he found the capital-C-Catholic spouse. Maybe she even wears doilies. I wish them well.
 
I, meanwhile, have learned one thing if nothing else in the intervening years, and that is that God does not kill people for getting married. God does not kill people, period.
 
This is a lesson I’m glad to have learned.
 
*actual quote
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