Gratitude Always

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” ~ Meister Eckhart

Today is Thanksgiving, 2016. I’ve been writing for sixty-seven days consecutively and I can hardly believe it. I am so very grateful for the words as they flow. It seems apropos to spend a minute speaking about gratitude. I talked about Positive Psychology couple of days ago and Gratitude is a fundamental concept in the practice of positivity. Research on this construct is definitive… people who practice gratitude regularly report more joy and happiness in their lives. They are less lonely, have lower blood pressure, stronger immune systems and demonstrate more compassion and generosity. The ‘science’ of gratitude has grown by leaps in the last decade with researchers proving by results of fMRI’s that just ‘thinking’ grateful thoughts highlights areas of the brain involved in the experience of happiness.

With all of those benefits, it seems like a no-brainer to devote a part of every day to the expression of gratitude and I’m not simply suggesting remembering to say “thank you”.  Gratitude is more than expressing thanks. According to the website Gratefulness.org –

“Gratitude is essentially the recognition of the unearned increments of value in ones’ experience.”

I love this definition because it speaks to the concept that all of our experiences – the good, the bad, and the ugly – are springboards for gratitude… even those that we didn’t ask for.

I attended a day-long seminar about Gratitude a few years ago as part of a continuing education effort and it was a bit of a lazy class for me because I already ‘bought into’ and practiced the methodology that was presented. The concept wasn’t a particular challenge for me. I will admit to only half listening as the presenter challenged us to be grateful for EVERYTHING that had ever happened in our life; I looked up. What? I found myself listening more closely and thinking this guy didn’t know ‘my’ life. No way could I find appreciation for the crap that I had gone through…

He challenged me to consider my experiences and pains and to offer a silent moment of thankfulness for them. I browsed through my memory banks and thought back to divorcing Hubby… all of the toil and trauma that was associated with that relationship and then I went even further to the death of Rocky… I had no words. How does one say “I am grateful that my husband died?”

I sat in that big room full of other therapists and helping professionals with a blank stare directed toward a man who was asking something of me that felt impossible. I momentarily felt lost and scared, it seemed as though I was about to do something wrong and then – I understood.

I didn’t have to express gratitude that Rocky died or that I went through tremendous pain due to Hubby’s actions but I COULD say – without hesitation – that I was deeply, profoundly, grateful for the lessons I learned as a result of those situations.

Every. Single. Thing. that has ever happened in my life has offered me an opportunity to see myself differently, to garner insight or wisdom unavailable to the unaffected. Until you find yourself in a parlor of caskets attempting to figure out which one fits the personality of the man you had married, you will simply not truly know what it is to be a widow.  Until you are gravely betrayed by a family member you intrinsically trusted, you will not understand the inclination to build barriers of stone around your heart. Personal testimonies offer us insight that can only be achieved by feeling, doing, and being a part of a scenario.

The perspective one achieves through experience is priceless if we seek to understand and in turn, grow. We get to choose what we do with these outcomes. Choosing to be grateful for the enlightenment acquired offers far more benefits that other options.

I am eternally grateful for my life even though I haven’t ‘liked’ many of the moments in it. Truly, there are far more fabulous ones that those I might trade in and so I practice appreciation for them all.

What does it mean to “practice” gratitude? Is it as simple as a few thoughts or written words? It can be if it is consistent and habitual. I will recommend to people who are new at this to start with just one thing… Get a notebook and at the end of each day, write down one thing that you are grateful for that day. It might be only that the day is over and you still stand. In the morning – read what you wrote. At the end of the second day, write another thing you are grateful for from that day. On day three you will read the two things you have written and so on… at the end of a month, you will have a list of thirty things that you are grateful for. Everyone I know who has engaged in this effort has reported feeling better at months’ end.

In addition, I encourage the expression of appreciation. It dawned on me one day that in all the couples counseling I do, no one has ever come in telling me how appreciated they feel.  In fact, it’s been the opposite one hundred percent of the time. Couples in crisis, don’t feel appreciated. It’s also important to note that when we ‘do’ feel appreciated, we are much more tolerant of the little things that add to our dissatisfaction or frustration. Once, each and every day, turn to your partner or a family member and tell them you appreciate something about them or something they might have done for you at some point in time. The expression of appreciation to someone else helps you both.

I have a few little gratitude habits that I find myself engaging in without much thought these days and they are minuscule in contrast to where I would like to be but I’ll share nonetheless.  Whenever I find a close parking spot I say a word of thanks for the ease of parking. When I can’t find a close one, I automatically say thanks for the exercise I will be getting. I say thank you when a new client calls for the prospect of helping someone and the income it will generate. When someone cancels, I say thanks for the time to do other things. It doesn’t matter the scenario or the situation, I find something in it and express thanks.

Utilizing a Gratitude journal has never been easier. Not only can we utilize an old-fashioned notebook and pen but there is also a myriad of app options for smartphones and tablets ranging from free to just under $5. We have no excuse really…

Today, I am everlastingly grateful for not just the experiences I’ve had but also for the people who’ve been there with me both past and present some of whom are… Mom, Dad, Trish, Barb, Allysen, Patrick, Mike, Jim, Monique, Carole, Ruthie, Suzi, Cathy, Emi, Glenda, Tim, Norm, Debbie, Dee, Diane, Denise, Joyce, Anne, Rocky, Greg, Dorothy, Jack, Jane, Frank, Elizabeth, Linda, Martha, Anna, Charlotte, Jim, Chuck, Ron, Charles, Greg, Kim, Michele, Sherry, Amy, Judy, Marianne, Debbie, Diane, Lise, Renee, Kim, Bill, Debbie, Jill, Bob, and Rosemary.

Most especially … Francis, Sara, Erin, and Emily – you all… are the reason I breathe each day.

And finally, … H. I appreciate you more than I have words.

Penetrated Composure

Continued from In-Between Spaces

“I am more and more convinced that some people are put in our lives solely to try our patience and tamper with our tolerance levels.” ~ Richelle E. Goodrich

I’m not sure we – as a culture – consider the expression of emotion as a strength but after hearing Ellie say it I was able to ponder her words. It’s true that we want mostly want to run away from or fight back when we experience negative feelings and surely, moving them out of our awareness seems like the most logical plan to feel better. Facing them, experiencing them, processing them, and allowing them to ‘BE’ is far more difficult than putting them in a box and sticking them on a mental shelf. Admittedly, feeling some things is just too hard and there are appropriate times to shelter our psyche from the pain of *some* emotions but generally – it is better to feel them and allow them to move on – away and out of your sphere.

I will say however that hearing this and truly learning it are two very different things. I recall one afternoon in particular where I failed at this principle completely. We were meeting at the office of Hubby’s attorney; he and his attorney, me and mine. Additionally, our corporate accountant was also there although I still have no idea why except for the potential for them to collectively intimidate me. I was choosing my battles carefully and so meeting there was a deliberate concession. We sat around a large table with Hubby’s attorney at the head – she was managing the discussion. I seem to remember that we were attempting to ‘line-item’ the specifics of asset distribution and support details. What I do remember is a challenging series of questions from his lawyer – we probably could call her the Queen Beeatch – about my impending Psychology degree. She determined that it was a waste of time because it was ultimately worthless without going to Grad school and he “definitely wouldn’t be paying for that”.

We went back and forth about the value of my contribution … trying to establish my ‘worth’ in the business and marriage. They were attempting to determine my employability and how much money I could earn outside of the business that we owned together. It was a rather ridiculous conversation as I still didn’t have a degree and all my ‘earnings’ had been run through the business so there wasn’t anything concrete from which to reference. In addition, I would be required to sign a ‘non-compete’ agreement when we terminated the marriage – rendering me unable to work in that industry within a certain mile radius for years to come. All the knowledge I had acquired over twenty years would be irrelevant.

My attorney was good, arguably equal to Queen Beeatch in qualifications but in terms of attitude, she was a delicate flower sitting across from ugly, spiteful, demeaning, bitchy, arrogance. I needed more power. I thought we were prepared but having never been through it – the things I had on paper were inconsequential compared to the pompous energy and disposition Hubby’s lawyer brought to the table but I did not stand down. My heart steeled up… protecting me from disintegrating there on the spot, from melting into oblivion, which is what I wanted to do. What was accountant Steve thinking? I was pretty sure he knew the scene… he had been around in the early days of discovery and exposed to my fury when I found financial items in our books that were corroborating of my fears. I felt betrayed now by him as well… how does one do a job regardless of the integrity of one’s client? The attorney I understood… the accountant?

As anyone who has been down this road can attest, no matter how congenial your intentions, emotions can supersede the best. I drew weary, exhausted actually. Emotionally drained of any recourse that I had planned and simply wanted the afternoon to end. We took a break to allow each of us to conference for a moment with our representative and my attorney’s only question regarded education. We didn’t have anything in writing about college for the girls. I couldn’t imagine any situation that would have prevented Hubby from providing college funds if he was able so I bowed out of the need to further the agony of this day. I wanted to leave. We got the green light without much more circumstance and I left the building, I left everyone behind and walked to my car feeling alone and crushed. It wasn’t what we had been discussing per se, but the tone of the meeting … as if there was some unseen overarching power that Hubby’s ‘side’ had over mine. I don’t know how his attorney slept at night. I won’t group her into the whole of the legal profession but she certainly upheld every negative stereotype I’d ever known. I wondered how much he was paying her compared to the fees I had accumulated. Our divorce was costing tens of thousands of dollars.

I got to the parking lot where I had quickly pulled into and thought perhaps I had walked the wrong way because my car was not there. Everything else about the scene was memorable, the same, except my car, was missing. I then noticed a sign which had not entered my awareness when I pulled in, warning customers that the space was explicitly for another business and all others would be towed.

Are you fucking kidding me?

I pulled out my cell phone with shaking hands and called the number on the sign only to find out that my car had been towed to a local impound yard. Shit. Crap. Damn. Seriously?? The impulse to sit down, cross-legged, right there on the asphalt and throw a temper tantrum was exceedingly strong. ‘What would that solve?’ my mind cautioned. As a carousel of possibilities circled in my head, I found myself walking back to the law office.

Hubby was still there speaking to his attorney in a different office and had to be summoned by the secretary. I explained what had happened and he offered to take me to where the car was located, not far from where we were. I hated that I had to ask. I wish there was another logical and simple solution but we were both there and I had spent fifteen years depending on him to get me out of a tough spot… I was doing it again.

We walked out to a rear parking lot that I hadn’t been told about or offered… his truck was there and I got in. Immediately I noticed a woman’s touch. His and her sunglass holders, lip gloss in the center compartment, and a ‘frilly’ bottle of flavored water that I knew he would never drink. Oh, my heavens, when would this shit be over? I found myself, once again not being able to breathe. My heart was racing and my thoughts screaming to let me out of the truck but I was unable to speak or move for fear that my body and thoughts would connect and betray my wishes to exhibit composure.

We drove into the garage where my car had been taken and I got out as quickly as Hubby stopped. I moved toward the office so that I could pay the fines and leave but he got ahead of me to open the door and I noticed, pull out his wallet. I was obviously shaking at that point and my restraint was dwindling rapidly; my eyes were swelling with tears and I was afraid to attempt speech. I let him pay the ransom and swiftly grabbed my keys, said “thank you” and turned to go. He followed me. Please… just let me get the hell out of there.

“Are you ok?” he asked as I slid into the driver’s seat of my car and turned the key. “Really, thank you,” I whispered as a tear finally escaped its hold and ran down the side of my face, fortunately, on the side he couldn’t see.

Photo credit: flickr.com/volver-avanzar !!! via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

In-Between Spaces

Continued from Back to School

“One thing you can’t hide – is when you’re crippled inside.” ~ John Lennon

My family was still divided over Abee’s involvement in my marriage; so many little things had surfaced over the course of a year that it made it impossible to distinguish truth from fantasy. We hadn’t celebrated the holiday’s together and it seemed as though I saw Mom less and less. She was doing great though. She had finally acclimated into her community and made friends. She was getting involved in a number of activities and that alone may have diverted her attention but in part, she continued to be torn.

I discovered, quite by accident, that she had enlisted Hubby’s help around her home – the one she shared with Abee – to do some maintenance items. It was an impossible task for me to be unreactive as the man who had so deeply betrayed me was now doing favors for my mother… didn’t anyone in my family have boundaries?? Of course, because I loved Mom, I wanted her to ‘be taken care of’ and it was nice of him to offer but I just couldn’t reconcile it. In my mind, he was doing it for Abee too… she lived there. Was I never going to be rid of this pain? Was there always going to be this crazy reminder of how two people whom I loved deeply made a conscious decision to delude and abandon me? Was there never to be healing in my family unless I acquiesced, gave in and offered consent for this inappropriate relationship? It continued despite my pain, despite Mom’s disapproval, despite family fracturing.

I was grappling with a few conundrums… first, and probably most importantly, I came to realize I had control ‘issues’. I can hear at least a dozen laughs in the universe as I type these words and while I know that I liked to ‘be in charge’… my intent has never been to ‘control’ people – only situations where my involvement was necessary. If there were people in the peripheral… well then, they got sucked into the control vacuum. It’s important to understand, and I preach this to my clients, that control is what we utilize – as human beings – to feel emotionally and physically safe. If I can be directing my environment, then I know what to expect – I am can be more prepared for uncertainties. Without control, I am vulnerable and vulnerability means that we run the risk of experiencing pain.

I had assessed this assertion a time or two in the past when it surfaced and had been identified as problematic but this time it was in my face – I was noticing it, or rather, the lack of it and I identified the crux of the problem each time Mom told me Hubby had helped with something or if someone said they had seen Hubby and Abee together – out in the community. I’m not sure why people felt the need to disclose their observations, but it was much more common than one would imagine – they were not inconspicuous. There wasn’t anything for me to do but to learn how to ‘accept’ their transgressions. The place of acceptance was still w.a.y. down the road on my growth journey so for now… I was focusing on letting go of the things over which I had no ‘control’.

And that was my second ‘issue’. I needed to ‘let go’. Really – there were so many things that I had to ‘let go’ of that I literally, made a list. I wrote letters to people who had slighted me (but didn’t mail them) and meditated on the things that needed to go… I imagined each of them in a bubble and watched as it drifted away… I pictured each item as a leaf that dropped onto a stream and swiftly floated downstream… I cut the list into a thousand pieces. Each of those ideas worked a little and after each technique was completed, I felt a little lighter. I warn clients of the expectation some of us develop that if we commit to ‘let go’ of something that it disappears… it may not – in fact, it often does not. We need to practice letting go. Today, one of the most effective methods I use is to open my hands. The brain is powerful and if I am thinking of something and deliberately open my hands – there is a perception of letting go. For me, driving is when I usually allow my thoughts to run away and one may frequently observe me controlling the steering wheel with flat palms.

What I really needed to ‘let go’ of – was needing control. That was my prayer. It may be a cliché to say “Let go and let God” but what is the choice?? It doesn’t matter if you believe in an old man God, or Mother Nature, or an energy field in the Universe… opening your heart to the experience of vulnerability, of not knowing, is the challenge. It became important for me to chant “trust” to myself in meditation and while perfectly conscious throughout my day. I was constantly reminding myself of my most basic spiritual beliefs… that everything happens for a reason; that I was walking a specific journey; that there was ultimate balance in the universe.

I think the most difficult part of this was that almost every day there was something else to ‘let go’ of. As long as Hubby was living at the house I was aware of his movements and I tortured myself by keeping tabs on the company’s balance sheet. I still had access to the American Express cards and the checking account. I could see that when they traveled for business they were only getting one hotel room instead of two. I could see what restaurants they dined in with dates and times. Part of me convinced myself that the investigating was due diligence for the divorce – which it turned out to be – but it was entirely unhealthy. It was agonizing to watch, week after week, the manifestation of disloyalty but I couldn’t pull myself away from it.

I existed in this space between being the person I wanted to be…. strong and growing – contrasted with a person who was trapped in the anger and dismay of a failed dream. I vacillated constantly between the light and the dark. There were days when I simply couldn’t talk to anyone because I was ashamed of how negative my thoughts had become. It took all my strength to stay up…

One morning as I was driving to school I was talking to Hubby about some of the divorce details. We were at very different points of agreeableness. It was a difficult conversation and I felt as though I was getting the short end. There were days when I felt explicit loathing – as close to hate as I had ever come – even though Love was supposed to be ruling my heart. I had a meeting with one of my psych professors to discuss research I was doing for her. I sat in the parking garage and cried – again – it was almost a daily habit as we hashed out our agreement and then took a deep breath and walked across campus to her office. I was thankful for the early winter air as it quickly hid the emotional evidence of tears.

I sat down and began the dance of small talk in preparation for moving on to more specific topics. She asked me a series of questions that somehow triggered an emotive response and tears once again, sprang to my eyes despite my strong opposition. “Damnit”… “I’m sorry,” I said, “I hate it when I am this weak” … “so sorry”.  I shared that I had a hard discussion with my soon-to-be-ex-husband on the way in this morning as I tried hard to control myself and she looked at me with genuine empathy. It’s important to describe her because she was indeed my professor, but she was all of 28 or 29 years old, tiny… very petite, and gentle. She was soft spoken and quite deliberate with her words even though her smile was seemingly spontaneous. “Silly lady,” she said as she reached over to touch my hand “don’t you realize how much strength it takes to show emotion?”

Back to School

Continued from Love’s Journey

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” ~ Henry Ford

I believe that I survived because of meditation. It allowed me to ‘reset’ so that my emotions didn’t stay elevated. I eventually learned about stress and cortisol levels… that when we are experiencing extreme emotions (stress), our bodies create hormones designed to help us in that moment (fight or flight response) but our systems are not designed to support consistent levels of those organic chemicals. As such, it’s vital that we learn how to work with our bodies and reduce the amount of time that we allow stress to dominate our life.

I started school full-time in the fall of 2005 and while I was ‘the old lady’ in most of my classes, I loved every minute that I sat in class learning. Of course, I was in the front row and raised my hand twice as much as anyone else… maybe because I was asking all their questions too?? I started all over again with French and literally, every single person in that room had just graduated from high school, but me. It was there – in French class – that I learned the meaning of true humility. I embraced the experience and learned to laugh at myself as I tried to recall the vocabulary I had acquired twenty-seven years earlier. I formed a study group with a couple of gals in my Bio-Psych class where we talked a LOT about the behavior of rats and brain function… Dr. Gans was exceptionally  patient with me as I put three kids on a bus in the morning and then hi-tailed it thirty miles to campus.  If I didn’t time it ‘just right’, I would get behind school buses that stopped at every driveway for more than ten miles. The universe had my back most of the time but every so often, and twice on exam days (Murphy’s Law), I would be ten or so minutes late… entering right in the middle of her lecture kick off. It was pretty hard to ‘slip in’ when my seat was way up front.

The cool part of going back to school in mid-life or for any ‘non-traditional’ student is that the only reason we are there is … to learn. I found out that professors love us. They, of course, entered teaching to teach and we were there to absorb everything we could so it was a perfectly sound, symbiotic, thing we had going. I was serious and demonstrated it by preparing lists of questions, highlighting my textbooks, taking copious notes, and utilizing office hours before tests and after.

I became undeniably fascinated with human behavior. My appetite to understand why people do what they do was almost insatiable. Between the ‘self-help’ library that I was amassing and the academic perspectives I was acquiring, information was being absorbed faster than any other time in my life. All of a sudden, the prospect of browsing through Behavioral Journals became enticing rather than frightening as it has when I first sat through Statistics just a few months earlier. When I was compiling research for a paper on cognitive distortions or adolescent development cycles I would approach the customary sources and then get lost in a sea of collaboration and philosophies from psychology professionals all over the world. Thankfully, academic libraries are available online for registered students and it was fairly typical for a paper to take twice as long to research as it did to actually write for the simple excuse that I was easily distracted on topics ranging from the science of gratitude to deleterious effects of daily stressors and more.

Of course, I read hundreds of studies about dozens of topics but I easily got lost in the – then – relatively new ideas of Positive Psychology and Transpersonal Psychology. They were theoretical positions that moved beyond what we traditionally think of in terms of human behavior, the Freud, Skinner, and Pavlov postulations. Psychodynamic (Freud) and pure Behaviorists (Skinner & Pavlov) theories felt outdated, strict, and slightly contrite as compared to those who introduced the ideas of Transpersonal psychology; Carl Jung, William James, and Abraham Maslow. Indeed, I was so enthralled that I briefly considered bagging my life and trying to get into the University of San Francisco’s Consciousness Studies program. I was hooked.

“‎…the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” ~ C. G. Jung

I devoured as much as I could read about Humanistic approaches, especially those in the Transpersonal realm. It was amazing to me that the ideas and thoughts which I had been focusing on recently, the idea that Love was critical (in some way) to our emotional wellness, was being a ‘real’ thing and being studied all over the world. I’m not sure why I was surprised as I have a strong belief in global consciousness and frankly, it wasn’t exactly ‘new’ but here it was – hundreds of studies that validated the direction I was headed.

Wikipedia defines Transpersonal Psychology as a “sub-field of psychology that integrates the spiritual and transcendent aspects of the human experience with the framework of modern psychology” and elaborates “It is also possible to define it as a ‘spiritual’ psychology”.  It fit my ideology perfectly and became instrumental in the design of my approach as a therapist. Additionally, the field of Positive Psychology was beginning to garner lots of attention. Coming out of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where Martin Seligman, known as the ‘father’ of this domain, was concentrating his research.  I was fortunate enough to have a professor that personally knew Dr. Seligman and was equally excited about some of the findings, especially in reference to ‘gratitude’. It felt as if I was approaching the epicenter of intention; the Universe was leading me perfectly into the place I was destined to be and introducing me to each element, each component that I would eventually need as I moved forward.

I discovered that professors will generally curve UP for students who are attentive, committed, and exemplify hard work. I tried to establish a thoughtful example. The girls and I would take turns sitting at the computer, typing our little hearts out as three of the four of us were knee-deep in homework most nights. Em was still in Elementary school and was an excellent student but the workload wasn’t yet all consuming. I’m sure that they would have been great students regardless of my personal scholastic efforts yet I’d like to think that I embodied study habits which, they carried on. With intense dedication, I managed to squeak out straight A’s.

Christmas arrived. It was going to be the first year as a partitioned family and Hubby was still living in the basement. I didn’t feel as though it was in the kids best interest to exile him, and I sure as H.E. double L. wasn’t going anywhere. By then, Frank was also living in the basement although he wasn’t home very much either. Christmas morning found us all – sitting in the den doing what we had always done. Hubby and I made it as normal as possible for the girls and managed to be beautifully civil to one another even though I knew he was going someplace else after all the gifts were opened. Perhaps that helped; I didn’t spend any time lamenting on how ‘normal’ it felt but rather used all the ‘tools’ that I had developed from my Positive Psychology studies. He did leave and I remember being only a little sad. The people remaining in the house were my favorite humans and I had everything I needed. I focused intently on gratitude and for the first time in a long time – I felt blessed.

Love’s Journey

Continued from Decision

“Love is the beginning of the journey, its end, and the journey itself.” ~ Deepak Chopra

Not long after ‘decision day’ I was at church, me and the girls. I was hurting and looking for support. Sometimes, and many of you can attest, a church is a busy place, especially on Sunday’s. It wasn’t the time or necessarily the place for a full-on discussion about the events unfolding in my life but I wanted to at least let Pastor R know something was amiss. As we made our way through the ‘receiving line’ to share our regards, I gave him a little hug and said softly “things are bad, history is repeating itself”, believing he would understand since he was so instrumental years ago after Hubby’s first indiscretion. He smiled, nodded, and hugged me back. I went home and waited for him to call.

He didn’t call. I went to church again the next week – this time by myself because Hubby was with the girls. There is no doubt in my mind that I looked sad… most nights I cried myself to sleep in those early weeks. I waited for him to make eye contact with me so that I could telepathically share my pain with him, or at least make sure he was able to notice my demeanor. I had been a part of that church since its organizational days and knew most people there as we were still a small group. No one asked about the family. No one asked me how I was doing. I might as well have been invisible that day. I bypassed the line of people waiting to say hello or otherwise to Pastor R and headed home with deep disappointment.

I didn’t go back. I waited though, waited for R to call… waited for someone from one of the home groups or ministries to call and at the very least make sure everything was ok… nope. Didn’t happen. I know that I could have picked up the phone and called someone, I know that I could have reached out to R again, and I know that it wasn’t anyone’s direct responsibility to keep track of me but I expected it. I expected my faith community, people who had known me for seven or eight years to at least ‘notice’ that I wasn’t there week after week and to find out why.

Describing the disappointment is difficult because the rational part of me wants to take responsibility for not communicating properly about it. The emotional side of me, however, went directly to that place where abandonment resides; fortifying some internal creed that was now easily triggered. Many of the criticisms I had about organized religion were validated in this failure. The negligence that I perceived from this spiritual community was flawed by my expectations and forced me to investigate why I had developed them. In addition, it created an opportunity for me to better understand what I wanted from people who share my beliefs. The icing on the cake was when the leader of the finance ministry called to schedule our annual commitment meeting. I think I hung up on him.

I never did return to that community and no one ever asked why. I tried a few other churches in the area and I was always unsatisfied with either the contradictions, the hypocrisy of the congregants (some of whom I had known through the years, realizing that they were ‘fair weather’ church goers) or the degree of fundamentalism and rigidity. I just cannot relate to a literal translation of a Biblical text. I read the bible as a teen and took the opportunity to read it again, the New Testament mostly, during this time… I read it with a different perspective, a more open mind to language and metaphor. I thought long and hard about the idea that I was created in God’s image… what? God was a tall, heavyset, white female? Did I look like him more before or after my tenth birthday? Why is God depicted as male? Why old? Why do we think of God in human terms at all?

One of the most profound things I’ve ever heard about imagining God came from an interview of Deepak Chopra on The View – an ABC television program. They asked him “how do you envision God?” and he replied, “to visualize God is to limit God.”  Something important clicked for me in that explanation. Then, in the Brian Weiss book Messages from the Masters, he writes that a Soul Master defines Love… “Love. Everything is Love… Everything is love. With love comes understanding. With understanding comes patience. And then the time stops. Everything is now.  Love is our nature. We are Love. … Love is the ultimate healer.”

I started to assemble a collection of ideas across various world religions and there were similarities that resonated within me deeply.

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I knew I didn’t have to be a practicing Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc…, to embody these tenets. Moreover, I knew that when I focused on Love, I felt God’s presence no matter where I was. I chose to simply BE love as much as was possible and to foster and grow the spirit of love in my life whenever and however I could.

Many of us have great intentions and I am no different. I was good at loving people, paying it forward, growing my faith … until… Hubby and Abee entered the picture. It was there that all my faith was challenged and I grew to believe that they had been sent into this life for the sole purpose of generating obstacles for me on my spiritual development journey. It was working…

I found myself turning to Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. Here, I discovered more validation for my pain as well… “God intentionally allows you to go through painful experiences to equip you for ministry to others”. I, like countless others, was known to beg for a response to the question ‘why me God, why me?’ It’s incredibly difficult to accept extreme circumstances as purposeful without some paradigm of faith and so I found resolve in these words. More importantly, it was yet another source confirming the necessity of Love… offering sentiments such as “Life minus love equals zero.” And “It’s not what you do, but how much love you put into it that matters.”

I turned to Deepak Chopra to learn meditation and here is where I found profound peace. I heeded his words “In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you” and when I was angry, frustrated, scared, or unsure I sat still and followed his voice into a state of calm that offered the most incredible tranquility and comfort. In those moments, I imagined myself wrapped in a cocoon of light, in the arms of God’s love and I was safe.

Decisions

Continued from Soulful Expedition

“By your decisions, you paint a portrait of Who You Are” –Neale Donald Walsch

The entire year of 2005 felt disjointed… I vacillated between believing that I was making a good decision and wanting everything to go back to the way it was – well, not really… I wanted it to be the way I wanted it to be. I didn’t want what I had but I did want all of the things that we had dreamt about. I didn’t make those dreams by myself. Hubby was right there, using his own paintbrush to create the portrait of our lives together. I thought we had been painting on the same canvas, using the same colors, and sharing a muse.

Existing in the same environment was unbelievably difficult. It fostered an obscure sense of hope during those moments that were like a transparency overlay of ‘normal’ on the reality we were living. I knew when Hubby didn’t come home at night and I couldn’t help but wonder where he was or who he was with. Even though I didn’t want that mania in my life, I didn’t want to be without it – another conundrum that fought to root in my mind. I just couldn’t get myself to a place where I didn’t care.  In many ways, it was like a slow, excruciating, painful death… seemingly absent of an endpoint.

Frank graduated from college in May that year and I made arrangements to take the girls. I had booked the hotel room six months in advance and shared the location with family so I was surrounded by love as Hubby and I shared the first major life event since decision day, partitioned from one another. We had agreed that we would attempt to ‘co-parent’ effectively right from the beginning but this was our first ‘major’ test. We would have to take pictures that Frank could look at for the remainder of his life – a celebration for him – somewhat tortuous for us as we understood the completeness, the totality of the end of our marriage. And yet, we struggled to believe it.

We would occasionally discuss a reconciliation but I had learned how to establish boundaries of steel. Actually, my boundaries by then were made of vertical steel columns and horizontal I-beams… the kind you find in skyscrapers that keep them vertical regardless of violent summer storms. Those limitations included an exit strategy for Abee from our business and some kind of treatment initiative, a long-term – evidence based – plan to eliminate the potential for infidelity to ever again exist in our marriage. I was unwilling to budge from those two ‘deal breakers’. They were my ‘hard limits’ and they represented the dead end of every bridging conversation we attempted to have. He also had deal breakers.

Nevertheless, we continued to show up – separately – at swim meets, school, and scouting events but didn’t sit together. I wasn’t there yet. There were times when I could feel his eyes seeking mine but I refused to give in and glance back. I was insanely stubborn and unyielding, refusing to be flexible. This is the result of betrayal. It was the only way I knew to ‘fight back’ and the love I had for our children was bigger than the disdain I had for him. I put their interests first to the extent that it wasn’t complete and total disrespect of myself. I had finally learned to put self-respect first.

After being deceived by Hubby and Abee, our therapist fired them as clients but I still went. I was learning a lot about myself although I admit I was still a bit lost. I was directionless. I knew I wanted to share everything I was learning – about life, life lessons, love, God, spiritual growth, I knew there was a message there but I had no credentials other than my life and I was in the middle of some big stuff. I credited my therapist for being the map reader for me … helping me to lay it out and observe the roads, to help me decide on the destination and to plan the route there. I wanted to do that too… I decided that summer that I would become a therapist and was almost immediately dismayed at the expanse of the journey. Five years. I would be fifty. Shit. I felt defeated and bested. I was in the middle of a divorce; how could I make that happen?

Right after Frank graduated from college, I started. I was scared to death of Behavioral Statistics and even more so when this tiny, petite, old (really, she was 70 something) woman walked into the room wearing a full suit with a high collared blouse, buttoned to the top. It was 80 degrees outside and for some reason, there was no air-conditioning. She spoke in a low monotone voice and cleared her throat every 5th word. The chick behind me started texting a mile a minute (I could hear every button push) and I knew I was in trouble. Within a week, I understood that if I raised my hand, asked questions, and demonstrated (well-deserved) respect for my elders… It would all be ok. More than half the class had dropped but I survived. I got a B.  I was encouraged and so I registered for a full semester of Psychology classes, French, and Women’s Studies beginning in September. I had only a few months left before I became a full-time student.

I used that time to educate myself in a different way. I was more fortunate than many, many women like me… I owned half of a company that had some value. I was still married to a man who generated a healthy income and continued to pay the bills so I didn’t ‘have to’ work – not right then at least. I had to believe in divine direction because at any other time before, the circumstances were different, the resources less abundant, and so now… I had options. The timing of the reality provided the capacity for me – with much diligence – to investigate and navigate what would be in my (and the children’s) best interest. I was a hawk. My eyes and ears were everywhere from business evaluation to support allowances. I became an expert traversing Google; discovering resources and precedent for situations like mine and I waited.

With each passing day, I garnered strength. I used my support network, built new alliances, and got informed. I kept my finger on the pulse of the finances in our business and stood up for my rights as co-owner. I will comment again on how difficult it was to walk away from that part of me. The internal struggle to push through it and go to work even if it meant I had to be around Hubby and Abee versus letting go and observing it in action was at times, maddening. On the few occasions that I did drop in for one reason or another, it was like breaking through a barrier betrayal and disillusionment, like what football players do as they enter a stadium for a game rematch each week. I finally had to decide that constant exposure to such painful energy was simply unhealthy for me, keeping me tethered to the shadows of my soul. It was my first true experience of ‘letting go’ that I consciously practiced and it was laborious; a daily endeavor.

My goal was to stay focused on love. I knew that was the most important decision I could make for myself and for my future. I was tempted, so tempted to give in to my anger, my contempt, the humiliation, and sorrow… and occasionally I did, in the form of vile language directed at Hubby or the disparaging conversations I would have with friends or in my thoughts; my ugly thoughts. I am only human though and I knew that love was more dominate in my spirit and so I learned to forgive myself and to keep going.

Soulful Expedition

Continued from Splitting Delusions

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” ~ Buddha

Going back to school was only one of many decisions I made in the first couple of months’ post-decision day. I had to jump through a few hoops, gathering all the twenty-five-year-old transcripts from the five years I was in college as a young gal. I was told that anything with a C+ or better would transfer if there was a matching class. In total, 90 credits transferred which was amazing, leaving me to finish two years of psychology classes and French…  Since I was shooting for a Bachelor of Arts, I had to take four semesters of a foreign language. Ugh! I had taken French in High School and for two semesters way back when – in college so why not… maybe some of it would come back to me. I still remembered how to count.

Taking classes was a great idea – in theory. However, I wanted to make sure that I would succeed so to garner an appropriate measure of my ability to successfully navigate college in middle age, I opted to take Statistics first. I wanted to schedule it over a ‘May-mester” … three weeks of daily class between the Spring and Summer session. I figured if I could master Statistics (which I had dropped as a nineteen-year-old because I was certain I was failing) then I would keep going. I registered for the class and kept my fingers crossed.

In the meantime, the girls needed something to look forward to as it was feeling heavy and dark at home. We were all at dinner one evening… the three of them and me. I suggested that we plan a great vacation and they got excited. “Where do you want to go?” I asked.  “Disney!” “A cruise” “The Caribbean” … they shouted simultaneously and in non-agreement. Hmmm…. “what about a Disney Cruise?” I asked. Immediately there were smiles and hugs – a lifting of spirit that warmed my heart to an exquisite simmer of happiness. The temporary relief of change and uncertainty was welcomed by each one of us as we sat there and made plans to make it happen. We agreed that I would stop having the house cleaned once a week; the girls would take responsibility for clean bathrooms, dusting, vaccuming, etc., and we would redirect that money into our cruise fund. Their dad and I have always been strong proponents of fiscal accountability; also, believing that something earned is often more deeply appreciated. We agreed to create a special ‘envelope’ where we would accumulate funds and they were excited and eager to get home and decorate it. We sat together to research our options and set the date for January 2006 – we had twelve months to make it happen.

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My extended family was in an uproar. It was no longer a secret that Hubby and Abee had been indiscriminate. Our poor mother was still disbelieving and after listening to everything else I had discovered, she decided that ‘hate’ was the only thing she could feel. I can’t imagine how she must have felt watching her children divide, take sides, and disconnect from one another. A mother has so many dreams for her children and we were definitely not fulfilling the fantasy she envisioned. For almost a year she had watched and attempted to console one daughter while trying to direct another. We had allowed her to accept a promise of remediation and now, it was done. I was unwilling to consider any direction that allowed for the possibility of more philandering and emotional upheaval in my life.

On what would have been my fifteenth wedding anniversary, mom and I spent the day together shopping and exploring a neighboring county that was full of farmland and quaint villages. We were doing one of her favorite things to do – driving and exploring as was I… spending time with mom. I had stopped working by then. Our company was the brainchild of Hubby and mine. It was the cumulation of a dream that we had manifested through the years via long, deep conversations, relentless pursuit, and grave concessions. I had learned to cook hamburger – literally – one hundred and one different ways as we poured our profits back into the business. I scoured yard sales and consignment shops for children’s clothing so that we could buy office furniture for new employees. It was as much my dream at that point as it was his but I couldn’t go there every day and see them together; he wouldn’t fire her. I gave him an ultimatum… she had to go – or I would.

Had it been a mistake last year when I first found out about them? Should I have just bit the bullet then and said ‘good riddance’?? Had I been a simplistic fool to think that we could have risen from such a calamity? I guess it didn’t matter – it was impossible to turn back the clock and it was bigger and so much more complicated than a familial trespass. I perceived that my only choice was to rely on the ideology that was cementing in my soul … that each of us has a journey to walk; our own path. I continued to allow myself comfort in reading.

Another significantly profound book, one that will forever be implanted in my memory is Messages from the Masters: Tapping Into the Power of Love by Dr. Brian Weiss. With practically every page turn I related to his words, reputedly words spoken by Master Souls while his patients were under hypnosis. Here again – the exact origin becomes unimportant, inconsequential to the substance that was presented.  I read “forgive the past, it is over. Learn from it and let go.” … like I had never heard that before…

This time, however, it had true meaning. I read “come from the heart, the true heart, not the head. When in doubt, choose the heart. …when the intuition rings clear and true, loving impulses are favored.” I realized that many of my recent actions had been driven by anger and disgust. When I did talk to Hubby, accusations and attacks dominated my communication. I needed to choose a different tactic, one more consistent with the person I wanted to be today… someone who could love through difficulty. This task was way, way harder than it sounds. I struggled almost hour by hour to stay in a ‘love’ place and frankly, I failed more often than not. I was new at this – new at thinking of life as something that could teach me, help me even when I felt so much pain.

In a strange way, it helped to have mom be angrier than me. She was incredibly ugly, spiteful, hateful and it was so contrary to her normal, true self that when she talked to me sometimes, I was taken aback. Mom was loving and gentle 99.99% of the time but in this case, the father of my children had behaved in a way that splintered her family – her children into a bazillion pieces… and as such, she was inconsolably fractured. I found myself defending him, not his behavior but him – as a person… I tried to share my new (to me) theories with her, speaking about loving people – all people – and understanding that they are each taking their own soulful expedition.

Basically, she told me it was bullshit.

Splitting Delusions

Continued from The Longest Day

“I’m not crying because of you; you’re not worth it. I’m crying because my delusion of who you were was shattered by the truth of who you are.” ~ Steve Maraboli

Our bodies are designed to protect us against complete emotional obliteration and when the defense system is activated properly, it resembles my image of a ‘zombie’ – flat affect, disheveled appearance, monotone speech… that was me for a day or two… I would sit and stare, at nothing in particular but into the room sometimes watching the dust particles dance in the sunlight wondering how many of them I was inhaling with each breath; curious to know if the hair in my nostrils really was catching them so that they were not collecting in my lungs. It is intriguing to consider the folly of our thoughts when the reality is too difficult to deliberate upon. I was experiencing my life in its most simplistic possibility, practically floating through the hours as they passed. That was God’s gift to me, a respite from the suffering so that I might recharge my depleted spirit and muster the courage to move forward.

And I did. I wasn’t open to talking to Hubby for a few days. We moved through our home and work life with obvious dissent but kept silent because there was simply nothing more to say. He would ask me to talk but I simply could not. There was nothing left in my vocabulary that hadn’t already been said at some point throughout the years and to vocalize the same sentiment was now superfluous. Apparently, the prior pleadings, arguments, or confrontations had only temporary effect and the components of a happy, respectful, monogamous relationship that were important to me just couldn’t be met in ‘this’ relationship – the one that existed between he and I. It had finally – after so much time, pain, and frustration – dawned on me that we had been fighting for the impossible. Hubby and I were not the dream team. I understood that the man I had married was not the man that I saw in my heart. And that man would never – ever – behave in a way that so decimated my heart or that of our family. I finally grasped that I didn’t know this man but what was clear, is that I didn’t like him or want to be married to him.

I saw an attorney and followed her advice. He refused to leave our home, apparently on the advice of his lawyer and so he ‘moved’ into our finished basement. It took a couple of weeks for that transition to be complete, as even in pain there is often a question of its finality. The interim was awkward and painful because both of us were desperate for some semblance of normality and comfort, but in our house – there was none. We would occasionally ‘slip’ into old habits as I found myself laughing at something he said and for a microsecond, the energy in the room felt familiar and easy but I quickly rejected its lie because I now knew that nothing was ever ‘easy’ with us. There was a consistent whispering in the air, a beckoning, to concede and return to life as I had known it…

We told the girls we were separating; that Daddy was moving to the basement and we were going to ‘take a break’. They each reacted differently and I later discovered that our oldest had been listening to many of the ‘fights’ and so she was relieved. Man, the things we do to our children! We divided our time at home so that the girls had an equal opportunity to be with each of us. When it was his night, I went out and vice versa. I usually waited until after ‘bedtime’ to come home so that his bedtime routine wasn’t interrupted. You know how it is… because he had worked so many nights as they grew up, I was the person who usually did the ‘tucking in’, at least on weeknights.

The girls differed on how they were adjusting to our separation and we attempted to answer their questions honestly while offering only what we believed to be age appropriate. Franky, they didn’t have a need to know the details of our adult relationship so we kept it simple and unilateral; no blame. My attorney had suggested a book ‘Mom’s House, Dad’s House’ by Dr. Isolina Ricci – a book I refer clients to, to this day. Even though Hubby and I didn’t have separate houses yet, it was a great guide of how to help kids navigate the division of parental attention.

On weekends that were ‘his’ – I left. I called in every favor I had ever earned and visited with friends and family. I used their beach houses, their mountain cabins, and spare bedrooms for months on end. I became an expert timeshare sales customer. I think over the course of eighteen months, I utilized free weekends at resorts selling timeshares a dozen different times. You see, if you agree to sit through a timeshare sales pitch, you can spend a weekend – free of charge – at the resort you are considering. I was a champ – proficient and skillful – on how to say “no” regardless of the ‘pitch’ or pressure. I spent weekends in the Pocono’s, the Jersey Shore, the Virginia mountains, and New York City. I was alone on these trips and took advantage of the solitude to look at myself in the mirror, to learn meditation, and to grow in the way that the universe was directing me.

One of the first books I picked up after what I will call ‘discovery day’ was about reincarnation, written by Dr. Brian Weiss, a psychiatrist in Miami who used hypnosis in his practice of helping patients cope with pain. One patient – Catherine – went into a spontaneous regression and began offering information to Dr. Weiss that became, ultimately, life-changing. I encourage you to pick up the book – Many Lives, Many Masters and keep an open mind. This book was just the tip of the iceberg with his stories of people under hypnosis in regression experiencing amazing and profound insight. I was immediately intrigued. Most importantly, most what Dr. Weiss speaks to in his collection of writing echoed many other things that I had recently explored by other authors… it was if there was a theme unfolding in the aggregation of my reading material. The Universe was validating these ideas again and again.

In this book the phrase “our task is to learn, to become God-like through knowledge. We know so little … by knowledge, we approach God, and then we can rest. Then we come back to teach and help others”.

This idea resonated so deeply in my soul that I sensed vibrations moving in unison with the words as I read them. That’s empirically identical to the basis of what I had taken away from The Conversations with God series I’d been reading, no… studying over that last couple of years. I grew to believe with no hesitation that I was experiencing a journey, a spiritual, a soulful quest to be the best possible version of myself.

The weekends that I wasn’t being ‘mom’, I used to learn and I became more and more enthralled, excited really… about the concepts that were forming concretely in my heart. I was going to use this pain – this growth opportunity – to be better… to be the best me. And I wanted to tell the world about it but I was only a suburban housewife who had never finished her education.

I decided to go back to school.

The Longest Day

Continued from The Tipping Point

“Those who are heartless once cared too much” – unknown

When my tears were spent, I stood up and squared my shoulders. I was finished. Done. Through. Right there – in that moment, I knew that this marriage was gone. I was no longer willing to spend another minute allowing myself to be disrespected in the manner that had been a hallmark of this union. As the saying goes – ‘fool me once, shame on you… fool me twice, shame on me’. This was the third time and this time, my mother could fend for herself…  It was time for me to think of me – the messages I was sending to my children, my daughters – about self-respect.

I had things to do today. I was scheduled to get my hair cut and then meet some friends for drinks. I thanked my therapist for being there, for allowing me to breach a boundary in the most unforgivable way and scheduled an appointment to sort this all out.

I headed to my hair stylist, approximately a thirty-minute drive. I had first met him two years back after my hysterectomy when I realized that I had the same hair style for twenty years or more. I had researched stylists in the area and his name came up as one of the best. My primary interest was finding someone who could look at my face and determine – for me – the best hairstyle based on the shape of my face and my hair texture. In past attempts, a stylist would ask me what I wanted, ‘look through a book’ they would say… well – that’s like buying a pair of panties that I like from the Victoria Secret catalog and then being pissed that they don’t look like ‘that’ on my bottom!

Michael had cut my hair that very first day – trimming at least eight inches or so – and gave me a new look. It was something completely different and I loved it… I’d been going to him ever since. Funny that this particular day I was seeing my hairdresser, the proverbial therapist…

I recall being there and obviously emotional. There is no hiding this kind of emotional devastation even if I had wished to. When he asked me, what was happening, I put forth an avalanche of verbal expression, detailing each minute of the morning with explicit detail. It was a safe place, a location where no one knew me or my family, and I was free to exhibit any amount of animosity that popped up in the conversation. I was incredulous. I was beginning to get pissed, pissed at Hubby, pissed at Abee, mostly, pissed at myself. For a while, I forgot all the spiritual development that had been a part of my recent life and moved back into this rudimentary human reaction space. I wasn’t focused on forgiveness or spiritual growth, just the pain of my immediate experiences and it was raw.

Michael listened, like any good therapist – hairstylist and proposed blonde accents to spice up my look. Thankfully, that meant another two hours at the salon and I was grateful for the diversion. I didn’t care what he did, sex me up – spice me up – make me look younger… it didn’t matter. What did matter, was my plan. I needed to create a plan.

I never planned to divorce my husband. Years back, the first time I had discovered infidelity, our business was young, I had a newborn baby and our finances were just budding. Today was different. Our children were older; our business was established and we were much stronger financially. This was better than at any other time before, to think about leaving our marriage and believing that I would be ok. I had never finished a bachelor’s degree. I had taken a voluntary second place, a submissive posture with our business in terms of production – running most of my earnings through Hubby’s position because of the tax advantages. On paper, I was worthless except that I owned an equal fifty percent of our company. Otherwise, my resume demonstrated twenty years of partnership but no production quotas to support successful claims.

We were earning good money so I knew that it would all be ok, that it would work out, but there was a moment of anxiety when I realized that I had not personally produced a dime in income for more than ten years. I needed to put a plan in action but I had no idea where to start. I sat there with foil protruding out from my skull thinking carefully about what I must do next. I knew that first and foremost – I was finished with Hubby. There was an absolute in my heart, an unequivocal finality in regards to the future of our relationship. We would co-parent… that’s it. There was no denying that we had four children to raise. Even though Frank was in college, we still had three girls, the oldest of which was about to begin high school.

Oh. Our girls. What would I say to them? The breadth and width of Hubby’s betrayal is his story… not mine to tell but it clearly would have an impact on our family. I had to find a way to frame this morning’s experience in a way that could be digested by adolescent girls. I was willing to take the fall, to say that I was no longer willing to be in a marriage where I didn’t feel valued. I could say it in a way that didn’t disparage Hubby but still honored me. Why in the hell was I concerned about his favor??

“A heart can only take so much pain, and although it won’t shut down, it will begin to shut out.” ~ unknown

There were a gazillion thoughts swirling through my mind as I sat in Michael’s salon; some of which made sense, some did not; some were rational, others not so much. My defense system kicked into high gear and I formulated several automatic responses in anticipation of greeting Hubby later that night. I was going to stand my ground – we are done. Period.

My hair turned out fantastic. I was blonde from ear to ear and by any measure, the cut was sassy and the color was sexy. Michael was good at what he did and perhaps a little impartial to me, protective of the perceived injustice that existed in Hubby’s behavior.

I finished up the day at a restaurant / bar in a small neighboring town where one of my good friend’s and her friend – an acquaintance of mine – were catching up. I was exhausted, completely spent and somewhat unwilling to relive the melodrama of my day. I just needed to laugh, to think of something neutral, to escape the reality of my life so that’s what happened. We talked and laughed about kids, life, and busy schedules. It was good to be with friendly faces but I was wary of the impending confrontation that I knew was looming in front of me. I needed to go home.

When I got there, Hubby was sitting on the couch, watching television. I hadn’t spoken to him since earlier in the day when I told him I wanted a divorce. I suspect he had realized at some point that he had left his email account open, that there was a lot of evidence to suggest that he had significantly betrayed everything our matrimony vows embodied; so much evidence. He was regretful, remorseful, and repentant. I sat down on one side of a very large couch to listen. He stretched out and put his head on my lap after commenting on how much he liked my hair. He cried. I sat there quietly and still.

My heart was stone cold.