Deep Disappointment = Yuck!

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”  – Unknown

I wasn’t working for the first time since I was a teen. Francis had a couple of neighborhood buddies and would ‘go out to play’ with Matthew and/or Andrew almost every summer day it was an option. Hubby went to work. Usually we would have our morning together and then he would leave to see clients. He often didn’t return until late evening. My days were long and rather lonely. We were just keeping our chin up financially so there wasn’t much flexibility in the budget for exploration or home improvement although I was really good at making something from nothing and by all measures, we had a lovely home.

I was restless. There was a significant period of time where the realization that I had turned 30 and had not yet effected the world in a profound or meaningful way was depressing me.

Hubby and I were often in sync when we were dreaming about building something – the dream, the prep, and the implementation – they were the glue that spurred and motivated us to work together effectively. He moved to another company, which generated a tremendous amount of work that we agreed to do together. I maintained my licenses so I was able to contribute / help in a sizable way. I essentially became his assistant and I now had a purpose beyond being a house sitter while Francis went out to play.

Our days were fairly typical for a small family of three. We did the best we could – day by day – and settled into a fairly symbiotic routine.

Fast forward a year to the summer of 1991. We had some financial successes that year and we made the decision to take Francis to Walt Disney World for vacation. My twin (half) sisters were turning 15 that summer and we invited them to join us. I missed being physically close to my family and being a part of their day to day lives so it was great to be with them for an extended period.

I’m a spendthrift when necessary. Especially back then, I was able to stretch a dollar further than your average rubber band. We were going to camp in WDW so we had to drive – allowing for transportation of all the camping equipment. We drove to Virginia and took the Auto Train from Lorton to Sanford, FL.

I had worked on the Amtrak trains for several years while I was in California going to college and I was excited to share some of the experience with my family. When I booked our ‘coach’ tickets on an overnight train, I really hadn’t given it any thought because I knew that the seats reclined to an almost prone position. I hadn’t though, considered the impact of sleeping out-in-the-open for the rest of us. Really, those kids were able to sleep almost anywhere – it was us, as adults that had a more difficult time. I had the upper hand as I knew what to expect but Hubby wasn’t happy. He wasn’t comfortable and he didn’t really sleep. Deep breath Leslyn – you are on vacation.

After a rough evening, we at least woke to find ourselves in Florida. The beauty of the Auto Train is that upon arrival in FL, you just get in your own car and continue the trip. It was a tight squeeze for the 5 of us but we made it to the campground that I had found on our VERY new internet. It was the prudent alternative and we discovered why when we arrived to find that the only trees on the property were babies, barely 5 feet tall. For any of you who may have ever gone tent camping, you’ll realize immediately that tent’ers rely on trees to tie off their tents. To make it more insane, the tent we were using was a borrowed CANVAS army tent that slept 8 – I thought it would all be easy. Well, except that I never took the summer Floridian weather into account. Apparently, it will often rain every afternoon in the manner of gusty, fast moving thunderstorms.

The first one we experienced was the day of our arrival and it rolled in while one of the girls and I were at the grocery store. We returned to the campground to find Hubby attempting to yell directions over thunderclaps, in between lightning strikes while Francis tried to hold a tent line (he was actually flapping in the wind) and sister #2 in tears. Everything that had not been in the car (which was with us at the store) was soaking wet and the tent looked like a pool float with a broken air stem – completely deflated – flat on the ground. This vacation wasn’t starting well.

The other thing we didn’t know about Florida weather is that by 9 am it was 90 degrees outside. Our canvas tent soaked that summer sun like a dry sponge and so my grand plan to save money by eating breakfast at camp and packing lunches went right down the sewer. Within an hour after waking, we were mostly huddled in the air conditioned bathhouses, attempting to muster enough courage to spend the day waiting in line while we were either bathed in our own perspiration or completely soaked by a drenching downpour. My advice to all of you reading this… don’t go tent camping in Florida in the month of July. Ever.

The bulk of our vacation was good. The twins quarreled from time to time; Hubby’s patience was challenged a fair amount; and I played mediator a time or two. We were there for two solid weeks over the 4th of July (which, as a note – WDW offered the most amazing fireworks display I’ve ever waited 6 hours to see). It continued to be agonizingly hot. The last weekend we were there, an air conditioned cabin became available at the campground and we instantly agreed to rent it. I’m not sure I ever again slept as good as I did that first night in air conditioning after 11 days of hot tent resting.

We were exhausted when we got on that train to go home; not only from heat distress and sleep deprivation but because as most people who’ve had a WDW vacation would agree – you need a vacation from that vacation. It’s go, go, go… each day. It’s great; but it’s tiring. So, by the time evening fell and we were well on the way home, it was apparent that sleeping in the coach train seats was going to be challenging once again. Hubby, feeling frustrated and wealthy, approached the conductor to see if there were any sleeping car accommodations open. “Yes, there is one – it sleeps two” he said. “I’ll take it” says Hubby.

I turned my head, not really sure if I had heard that exchange correctly. “It only sleeps two?” I asked? “Yea, you and I can get a good night’s sleep. The kids will be fine here” replies Hubby.

Um… It took a moment for this idea to sink into my head. He was willing to let twin 15-year-old girls and a 7-year-old boy hang out alone, on a train full of strangers. Hmm. I wasn’t sure if that was just ignorance about parenting / caring for children or if it was a chilling example of a selfish disposition. In either case, it didn’t set well with my personal value structure nor did it fit inside my definition of responsible behavior. He went anyway – I slept in the coach section with the kids.

I recall feeling deeply disappointed that night. I was unable to relate with the decision he had made. I felt disconnected and distant. In my mind, that experience provided me with important information but it didn’t fit into my vision. It wasn’t in accord with what I wanted my world to look like. I filed it away – or perhaps a better description is that I stuffed it deep into the back of the filing cabinet in a folder that was labeled… ‘YUCK’.

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Puzzle Pieces

The first half of that year was packed with so many changes that we all simply existed in them. It was not a time of reflection or personal growth. We were attempting to define how this new family would exist in the world. People who become parents to a child beyond a certain age have not yet grown into patience and tolerance. I think much of that comes day by day and is reinforced by infant smiles, tummy naps, and the series of ‘firsts’ that are shared together; an insight that was absent from the backdrop of my future husband as Francis was now a sprouting first grader.

Additionally, our completely nontraditional courtship was practically nonexistent and was limited to the time we were able to squeeze away from my responsibility as a parent. I often felt pulled and overextended as I moved from boy to man – giving each of them more of myself than was frequently there. The concept of self-care was unknown to me and my energy poured into these two people I loved as if nothing else in the world had any importance. In the brief time we had been together, I had learned that the way to keep a happy man was to be available in the bedroom. It sounds like such a cliché but the amount of discord in our day to day lives appeared to correlate directly to the amount and quality of sex that occurred in our night to night lives. It wasn’t long before I discovered that for us, peace and contentment was dependent on sex.

The problematic piece here was my relatively limited scope of knowledge. I had no concept of what was ‘normal’ or about setting personal boundaries. I was again being taught but without the same level of respect that had once been afforded to me. I was oblivious. I allowed myself to be guided in part because I had an embedded value that a ‘wife should submit to her husband’ and while that was barely a whisper in my mind, the greater element was fear. As long as he was content and satisfied, my interpretation was that ‘I was enough’, that keeping him was a certainty.

He worked a lot of nights. He made house calls and often entertained clients in a neighboring city. We didn’t know people yet so babysitters were unavailable and I was typically home – waiting. On many evenings, I couldn’t wait up and so I went to bed, never knowing exactly how late he would return home. A few times it was in the wee morning hours and there was always a plausible explanation. Again, my naiveté was solidly entrenched. I trusted. The warning bells were inaudible.

Our wedding day began with rain and all I could think about was the old Irish superstition that posited hardship for marriages that started in the rain. There were a few minor hiccups just before the ceremony but quite quickly the doors opened and the wedding party began their stroll up the aisle. I was escorted by my best guy – Francis very stoically arched is elbow high enough for me to hold on and stepped in tandem with my abbreviated stride – making our way up to the alter. For the majority of the ceremony he stood with my brother and took it all in. Just after we were pronounced man and wife, we asked Francis to join us and presented him with a unity medallion. It was symbolic of the three of us joining together to become one family and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as Francis also said, “I do”.

Hubby (what I will now call this man I married) and I went to Spain for the honeymoon and recuperated from the intense energy that the last several months had stolen from us. My new husband was energized about discovering Spain’s famous ‘nude beaches’ so I learned the only Spanish sentence I’ve ever known … donde esta playa para nudista? The concierge directed us and I was delighted to discover the Mediterranean coast in the buff. It was a time when I felt good about my body. I wasn’t skinny by any measure but I felt my features were proportionate and for the first time in my adult life I wasn’t obsessing about my size. That sense of comfort allowed me to relax and have fun in a bikini although for the most part, everywhere we went in Spain was at least topless if not simply nude. A tremendously large part of my comfort level was knowing that I didn’t know any of these people. I would never see them again and frankly, everyone was topless so boobs were everywhere – all shapes and sizes. I fit right in.

One afternoon as I was laying on my stomach sunbathing, my husband came over with another man to introduce me. I looked up into the face of a tall Italian looking man who promptly began talking to us in an explicit New York accent. He was an American living in Scarsdale and all I could think of is what if I saw him again?? I wouldn’t stand up as my bathing suit top was in my bag at the bottom of my lounger as was the only towel we had brought down from the room. That man sat there for more than an hour as the Spanish Rivera sun beat down and blistered my back. I was unable to communicate clearly how disappointed I had been that he was there so long- rendering me incapable of moving without exposing my nudity to him. “What’s the big deal?” says Hubby, “there were tits everywhere”. Somehow in my mind, the idea that another American would see me was inappropriate and unacceptable. I thought it was information that had been very clear. I believed that I had made my feelings about the entire ‘nude’ thing unmistakably transparent. There, on my honeymoon for the first time – inside the first year of our relationship – I felt abandoned. Why wasn’t he honoring the way I felt? This was personal and beyond that type of compromise one might typically require. It was about my body, about my comfort. I felt belittled and chastened because I was attempting to make my point – to stand my ground; to no avail. Eventually I conceded to the argument in an effort to save emotional energy and enjoy the rest of our honeymoon. I dismissed my concerns with the flick of a thought.

We went home and settled into married life. There was a metaphorical pea in my mattress every time I remembered the afternoon of the ‘stranger’ incident at the pool. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I knew something  was off. I tried to talk about it with Hubby but he just didn’t see my grievance. I chatted with a friend or two and was unable to find any validation so I filed the mishap away into the file that I ultimately came to call ‘Leslyn’s faults’.

I turned 30.

Prince Charming Remix

“We race through our life without pausing to consider who we really want to be or where we really want to go.”  – Jim Loehr

Moving wasn’t a problem for me. I had done it approximately every 12 months since I was 12 years old with one two-year exception those last couple of years in high school. Fortunately for me this move was considered a ‘corporate’ one so the packing, loading, and moving was completely managed by a third party. I was present for the pack-out and everything went painlessly until the moving men lifted the mattress and box springs to reveal the (thankfully still boxed) dildo that E had given me as a gag gift which I had stored under my bed. My face abruptly surrendered to a warm crimson flush and I was immediately torn between a quick grab and hide or a quick run from the room pretending that I hadn’t seen a thing. I bolstered my pride and exited the room reminding myself that I’d never see these men again. Today I am sure it’s not the first one that they had ever seen but then – I felt as though it might as well be a scarlet letter plastered on every box that they packed and carried onto the moving truck. I imagined myself branded.

I moved first into his apartment until we received the occupancy permit on our townhouse. One might imagine that a lot of information can be gleaned from a man’s bachelor pad. The only thing I realized is that he collected Playboy magazines and considered salt and pepper ‘spices’. My commute to Jersey was grueling and to compliment the difficulty, I had enrolled Francis in a Catholic school not far from our new house; a school that didn’t offer transportation so I drove him into the city daily and picked him up from their aftercare program by 6 pm.

I had a vision of what constituted a family. I naturally fell into thoughts and routines that had felt comfortable when I was married. I failed to distinguish them from my marriage with Rocky and this new relationship. I wasn’t on the same page as my new guy. As a matter of fact, we probably weren’t in the same book or perhaps even in the same library. I intellectually knew that he would need time to adjust to a lifestyle with a child that wasn’t biological his but the emotional part of me had difficulty balancing that logic. I was straddling life between being a single mom and a couple. The triangle had yet to close.

Wedding plans were furiously moving forward as we moved into our home and began to establish a life together. We were getting married in his hometown. We used his church and his pastor. For the second time in my life I was going to marry on terms that were dictated predominately by my future husband in terms of location and clergy. The other details were mine or ours as it would be and it took years for me to realize that each time, I was so eager to be loved that I acquiesced my own wants. I recall telling myself that it wasn’t important to me. That I was compromising. Indeed, that part may be somewhat true. It is also true that I felt if I were to make my needs known or demand they should be a priority – that the plan may decompose, self-destruct, and never manifest. I had somehow developed a belief that if I didn’t ‘go along’ with the desires of my partner, that I could be – would be… dismissed.

Our relationship had challenges – after all, we had known each other all of 5 days before a proposal, 12 days before an official engagement, and 6 weeks before moving in together. In addition, there was a cute little (almost) 6-year-old in our midst constantly – yearning to get to know this new ‘dad’ and we were still attempting to learn about one another – all three of us. I was afraid. Plain and simple – I was afraid that if I allowed myself to really love this man – he could leave me and I would experience something similar to the pain that I felt when Rocky died. I was constantly in a state of vacillating between wanting to be in love and afraid of loving.

In addition, I had fantasized for six solid years about what it would be like for my son to have a father. There was a solid, visceral, and vivid picture in my mind of what that entailed. It wasn’t manifesting in the way I had dreamed. The raw, organic paternal representative that I had envisioned all these years was slow to emerge. I had very little empathy for what it must have been like to integrate an immediate ‘family’ into the life of a serial bachelor. He was a year older than me and had never married.

Back then it was less typical for people to wait until their 30’s to marry. As a female, when you met someone that age you would simply assume they were divorced. When I found out he hadn’t been married I was immediately suspicious – why not? Of course I heard everything that sounded like a string ensemble to my heart “he had been waiting for me”. I was completely impervious, simply devoid, of an understanding of how gullible I was.

Work wasn’t working. The drive, the change, the people… it wasn’t working for me and I didn’t want to move back into a sales position. It didn’t seem like an alternative to me because it would have put us in the same sales office, competing against one another. He was the top broker in that region. I was at least smart enough to know that our egos (and hence, our relationship) could not have afforded such direct rivalry. His success afforded me the option to work or not.

I quit – by fax machine. I had thought long and hard about my decision and had drafted a superb resignation letter but I was pretty much a big ‘chicken shit’ because I knew that I would be disappointing a lot of people. A few whom had invested a lot of time and energy in my success and I was quitting – letting them down – giving up. I didn’t have the heart to face their disapproval. I faxed my letter at 9 am. They were incredulous. It became a ‘story’ that I never lived down; a sublime example of ‘what NOT to do’ in a corporate environment.

It was early 1990 and everything had changed. My life had pivoted in a way that had been unimaginable just six months earlier. I adopted a narrative of romance – it was all so romantic. Seemingly, for the second time in my life, Prince Charming had infiltrated my world in such a way that I appeared to be rescued. Perhaps this time it was more a reality than a simple perception. I was no longer alone, broke, or a sole parent. I was beginning to dream again. I allowed myself to visualize a future that included another grownup. I was again, allowing myself to depend on someone to be there; to have my back, to be reliable.

There was only one problem.  Just under the level of my conscious awareness, fear was woven into my thoughts, actions, and reactions. No matter the reassurance or behavior, no matter the support or reinforcement, I had learned to distrust that someone who loved me would ultimately be there for me. In retrospect, I wonder if I somehow intentionally chose someone who would fulfill that prophecy.

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I Said “YES”

“There are many forms of love as there are moments in time, and you are capable of feeling them all at different stages of your life.”  ― Shannon L. Alder

There was an avalanche in my mind. In that moment, a deluge of Rocky memories flooded my consciousness; our first night together, our wedding, the birth of our son, his accident and death. It was an instant and an hour all at once. Entwined in those flashbacks were the persistent moments of feeling alone, of unrelenting struggle, of continuous fear that my dreams would never manifest. I instantaneously reeled back from and moved into the idea of making a life with this man in front of me. I thought of my list and how he fit each item that I had asked the universe to deliver in the form of a man. I recalled Francis’s question about getting a ‘new daddy’ and remembered that I was soon turning 30.

I said “yes”.

The moment was surreal. We both laughed nervous laughs and spent a second or two chiding ourselves for being there – in that predicament – but concurrently rejoicing in possibilities. There were enough similarities that we both – in unison – zeroed in on them and began to imagine the blueprint that would guide the rest of our lives.

Later that night, after the insanity of our evening had been absorbed, we called family members to share our news. One of his brothers asked if he was stoned, another said “who?” and his youngest sibling said “it’s about time, tell Sandra we said hello”.  Excuse me? Sandra?? Um… did I miss something?

It came out that he had been dating a woman for the last several years and had yet to mention me to his relatives. I later found out that he didn’t end that relationship until he went home from this particular weekend. Maybe he was hedging his bets. It was one of many overt caution lights that I subconsciously chose to ignore.

He went home and returned a week later. In the interim, there were similar late night discussions that lasted into wee morning hours and ended with me calling E. There were more flower deliveries and plenty of nerves. He asked my ring size.

He returned on Friday, August 12th. Exactly two weeks from that first smile across a dance floor 200 miles north. He came bearing gifts but first, we had an important milestone to bear. Together, we went to pick Francis up from daycare. It was close to closing so there were few cars in the parking lot. I went in, signed him out, and we stepped outside to see this new guy in my life leaning against the car, arms crossed, waiting.

Francis was pretty a pretty typical 5-year-old, running in circles, showing off his excellent stopping short skills and then talking nonstop until we arrived home. I made dinner and we sat there – the three of us – at a glass table, making small talk while we attempted to include Francis in the stiff dialogue in which we were engaged. It wasn’t all that child friendly, in fact I wondered for a moment if this man I had agreed to marry would in fact, make a suitable surrogate for my son. I think we were all just very, very pensive about this new family unit that was being birthed there – that evening.

The gifts were presented… a beautiful delicate watch “to record our time together”, a bottle of Dom Perion so that we “could celebrate with something relative to the importance of our union”, and a ring; a beautiful three quarter carat marquee diamond surrounded by baguettes. It was phenomenal. Because he had asked, it was sized correctly and slipped on my left hand ring finger without difficulty. We were officially ‘engaged’. I recall stacking Billy Joel CD’s into the CD player and lighting candles while I moved from staring at my ring to staring into his eyes and wondering what life had in store for me this time. I was slightly afraid to be happy.

The next morning, we all got in my car and headed 2 hours south to Virginia where my mom and stepdad lived with my twin sisters. It was their 13th birthday. We adults hibernated in my stepdad’s office while he interrogated my betrothed unmercifully about his intentions. They were skeptical and when we were alone, fiercely argued that he was TOO charming. That something was amiss. The twins were bluntly annoyed that we had crashed their celebration so we tried to abbreviate the visit and engage in birthday celebrations. I had been warned.

Our next unveiling was a couple of weeks later when I was presented to his family. It wasn’t necessarily a demure event, it was a graduation celebration for one of his brothers and so there was a large representation of extended family to greet me as I was introduced into the clan. Most family members had had an opportunity to resolve their initial shock but some still demonstrated stunned reactions when they realized we were engaged and I wasn’t Sandra. By the end of August, we each had met the family on both sides – with the exception of my dad and stepmom who lived in Ohio – and we had settled into a routine of weekend visits. Work was going to be problematic because I was a manager and that wasn’t an option if I transferred into the Philadelphia region; I’d have to go back into sales.

I really struggled with this decision. I had worked tremendously hard to be a branch office manager and although I wasn’t killing any records, we were on the right track. My new fiancé was definitely the larger earner between us so it made sense for me to make a move. My boss and I agreed that there was only one option if I didn’t want sales. An opportunity to take over an office in New Jersey, about an hour away from where we would be living, had opened up (hmm…the universe was working?). That in place, we began looking for a home.

It wasn’t long before we found a townhouse in the city of Wilmington, DE. It was new construction in an old part of town and it could be ready by the end of November. I arranged to move as quickly as possible so that Francis could start 1st grade as soon after the beginning of the year as possible. Life was moving incredibly fast – at light speed and I was beginning to have difficulty keeping up.

It seemed as though there was a life emerging that I was only able to observe. It was happening as if on auto-pilot. I was aware and making decisions, but very much like the day I was forced to make funeral arrangements, I was just moving forward as if I had been set on a track with only one direction. I didn’t question what was happening as I believed in the law of attraction – in my list – I believed that God was answering a prayer for me so I went with it and allowed it to develop into an energy and like the gulf stream – it carried me away.

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Wait, What?

“For it is a sad rule that whenever you are most in need of your art as a rationalist, that is when you are most likely to forget it.”  ― Eliezer Yudkowsky

I knew that he was obsessive about the cleanliness of his car. We had sat in it for a bit to get away from the crowds while in Lancaster and it looked brand new. I commented on it and asked how long he’d owned it. He shared that it had been more than a year but he made sure to take good care of it. As I got into mine on Thursday afternoon I realized that mine looked like a preschool lived there. There was a melted crayon in the back seat, graham cracker crumbs ground into the mats, and apple juice splatters both on the seat back and the side window. Francis wasn’t yet concerned about cleanliness and it was pretty low on my priority list. I knew I would be mortified to be judged by my vehicle so I went home and set about cleaning it. I scrubbed and vacuumed the inside but to little avail. The carpet was disgusting even after vacuuming.

After digging around under the kitchen sink, I found some harsh chemical carpet spot cleaner and used the entire container on the front floor mats of the car – my strategy was to clean only what was showing. It was a hot August day and I was sweating profusely. At some point I wiped perspiration off my chin just hard enough to allow carpet cleaner to enter an open pore and a chemical burn began. By the time I got my face flushed with cold water and felt confident that the damage had stopped, I had a nickel sized burn smack dab in the middle of my chin.

Life needed to start being kind to me. I was stressed enough about this visit and now I was contending with a chemical burn that would not be covered by foundation makeup. FML. Seriously. Damn. Now what? In less than 24 hours I was going to pick this guy up from the train station, a guys I’ve known less than a week, and allow him to run a meeting in my office. Then… well, then we had the whole weekend in front of us and there was no way I could hide. I’ve never thought of enough adjectives to describe the extent of my immediate frustration. I called E.

Friday morning came and I packed an overnight bag for Francis as I needed this weekend as adult time. I was seriously aware that I had established the baseline for our physical connection and my body was really happy about it but my heart was in severe caution mode. I wasn’t kidding myself by thinking that I would have any significant self-restraint if he wanted sex but with this massive scab on my face, I wasn’t feeling all that sexy. I suspect I didn’t look that way either.

At the train station I picked up a paper timetable so that I could use it as a shield – I wasn’t agreeable that my chin would be there, right out front and center for the first thing he saw as he came around the corner. I looked suspicious for sure, holding it up to my face rather awkwardly. He came around the corner and as he did, the minute I saw him, I knew that somehow in the dozens of hours we had shared ourselves over the last several days, I was falling in love. My heart sputtered as he smiled deeply with his eyes and said hello with his mouth. He bent over to kiss me, I moved the paper away and he jumped back a step with a quick look of surprise. “Oh my” he says. Oh boy, I think. We had a good laugh.

We get through the day, the meeting, the questions, the curiosity of all the people who worked for me, and made it back to my apartment by late afternoon. I was feeling a bit more comfortable. We made cocktails and sat down and talked. Talking didn’t last long. After darkness had truly settled into the room and only the moon offered light, I lay awake struggling with the conflict between my body and my mind. I don’t know what he was thinking but I had an all-out mental war ensuing between those parts of me that simply liked sex and all of the physical pleasure it allowed and the heart/mind parts that were connected to my self-respect, my values, and my morals. All of a sudden I wasn’t sure if he was there for a bootie call or if there really was something developing between us. I wasn’t going to ask though.

I hadn’t been really connected to someone since Rocky died. This – whatever it was after such a short time – felt like some kind of connection and I wanted it. I buried the questions as well as the feelings and put on my happy face, the one that focused on good physical feelings. My body was responding without abandon even though my heart was on hold.

It turned out that my mattress was completely unsatisfactory for two. It was queen sized but I’m pretty sure that it was the same one I had obtained for $50 from an old friend when I got my first place at 18. It was well over ten years old and realistically it did support one person fine but two – simply rolled into one another and then got squished by the side. We went mattress shopping. It was yet again another rather awkward experience as I could not afford a new mattress and I probably should have been more vocal about that before we got into the store but how does one casually bring that up? It turned out that he didn’t even ask – he just paid for the new bed and arranged for immediate delivery. Somehow I don’t think we got it that day so I’m not sure how it solved the direct problem but I wasn’t complaining. And again, my thoughts went into hyper mode wondering why I was allowing a relative strange man to buy me something so personal and expensive. I vacillated between being really grateful and judging myself rather harshly for letting it happen. It felt a little bit like a quid pro quo.

We went to dinner that night at an upscale Chinese restaurant that offered screened privacy tables. It was charming and quiet and the conversation never paused. We easily laughed and found more things in common. Our professional long term goals were closely aligned. Our families seemed to be comparatively similar and our familial aspirations were paralleled. I felt desired, pretty, sexy, and smart when I was with him. He announced that he needed to find the restroom and as he stood up he said “while I’m gone, I’d like you to think about how much I love you.”

Whoa. What? And he walked out of the room. Again, time stopped. The whole of my world spun furiously around me while I simply sat there in a suspended dimension.

My stomach churned into a mass of uncomfortable nervousness. I was barely able to catch my breath and I was still mentally stammering when he returned to the table, smiling. “Well, what are you thinking? He asked as he reached for my hand across the table. He wrapped both his hands around mine and stared intimately into my eyes. “I love you too” I said inertly. I was still having difficulty breathing. He continued to gaze at me intently and then in a steady, calm voice he asked “What would you do if I asked you to marry me?”

The only reply I could think of is “I wouldn’t say no”.

He responded with “Well, I’m asking.”

Just Give Me Xanax

“Each meeting occurs at the precise moment for which it was meant. Usually, when it will have the greatest impact on our lives.”  ― Nadia Scrieva

It was a long drive home for several reasons. First, getting anywhere on Sunday afternoons if you are moving through the Washington DC area (even 25 years ago) is a formidable challenge and it doesn’t seem to matter what direction you are travelling. I was driving and being the frugal (broke really) single moms we were, we packed food so E (what I sometimes call my BFF) handed me one of the sandwiches she had grabbed from the lunch buffet we were too hung over to enjoy. I took a sizable bite, chewed a couple of times, and then all of the air was sucked out of my respiratory system. The amount of freshly grated horseradish on that sandwich could have been the base ingredient for an atom bomb. I sincerely, could not breath. It’s a true miracle that we didn’t die right there, me from horseradish, E from the median I almost crashed into.

One of the best parts of having a best friend is their ability to build you back up after our mental gremlins have demolished our self-image, self-confidence, or self-worth. All of my ‘self’ things were battered and torn after the weekend. I was still very much trapped inside that girl who believed she wasn’t pretty enough or smart enough. The girl who believed random sex was ‘bad’. I was pretty sure that I had just demonstrated myself to be a disappointment to every standard my parents had ever attempted to instill. Socially, I had just fulfilled the role of being ‘cheap’ and ‘easy’. Label after label drifted across my awareness as I judged myself harshly. She was great at listening to me babble and then countering each and every contorted thought I presented with something positive and complimentary. Balance… that was always the goal.

It was still time before cordless and mobile phones. I had a really long cord on the kitchen wall phone; long enough that I could drape it across the little breakfast bar to the couch where I could comfortably chat. In addition, I had one on my nightstand. I wasn’t home an hour at best before the phone rang. My first thought was that E had forgotten something at my place and was turning around to get it. Nope. It was him.

He was calling to tell me he had gotten home and that he couldn’t get me off his mind. For just a split minute I was feeling a bit prideful, figuring it was the sex piece he was lamenting over. Actually, on that occasion, he didn’t refer to sex but to how much he wanted to get to know me better. I had some time before my weekend sitter brought Francis home so I settled in and began to share myself in a more appropriate way. We talked again that night before I went to sleep. We covered a lot of history and filled in some details where holes had developed from our weekend discussions. Since we worked for the same company, some of our conversation was about the stock market, our investment strategies, and pet peeves regarding both. We were on the phone well into the night.

I was tired at work the next morning as I prepped for the Monday morning meeting I typically ran. Just before I got started the door opened and in walked a delivery driver holding a massive vase of red roses with a dramatic white bow tied around it. There must have been 30 or more long stemmed roses. Everyone oohed and aahed. The women were instantly barraging me with questions and the men just offered raised eyebrows. My meeting wasn’t going to be productive.

I had to call. I did. If it were today, of course I would Snap it, save it to my story and then all of my friends would be involved. But again, this was back-in-the-day so I was relegated to also using the phone and of course, I called E. We oohed and aaed together about how sweet it was that I received flowers and I shared our talk from the night before with her. Best friends get the whole scoop!

Again that night after Francis was tucked into bed and sleeping, he called and we talked for several hours. I was amazed at how much there was to say. We talked about our families and I shared the story of Rocky’s death. We compared stories about being the oldest sibling and about large families. It began to feel easy. After we hung up, I would call E and talk about how I felt about talking to him. There was a lot of talking.

Wednesday I received more flowers, a different kind but a bigger bouquet. We talked again at lunch time and for several hours later that night. I pulled out that ‘attraction list’, the one where I had written down all the qualities I wanted in a man… As I ran down the list I felt goosebumps developing. He was all of them but one. He wasn’t Catholic. He was Lutheran though geez – -you couldn’t get much closer. Frankly, it turned out that my philosophies aligned more closely with the Lutheran traditions than with Catholicism anyway – at least back then. Lay ministers and no confession worked well for me.

He wanted to see me again and we agreed he would come to Fredericksburg. As a branch manager, I sometimes brought motivational speakers in to inspire my reps and a Top 10 sales representative fit the bill. We scheduled a meeting for the coming Friday morning. He would take the train down from Delaware and be at my office by 10 a.m.

I called E. I shared more of our discussions; how I was beginning to feel. I ranted incessantly about the craziness of how fast this was all developing. My internal warning sirens had started to run out of steam as the foundation of a relationship was evolving. He lived in another state, he had never been married, he matched my list, he was super charming… I was feeling excited, nervous, afraid, vulnerable, and restless – all at once – constantly. Somehow I went from an undignified walk-of-shame on Sunday to a skittish ball of anticipation and overstimulated imagination on Thursday. What was happening? It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know about Xanax. She allowed me to run through the gamut and then matter-of-factly asked me “what will you do if he asks you to marry him”. Wait… what? Seriously? We’ve known each other 5 days.

I can’t say ‘yes’.

Can I?

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The Walk of Shame

“A lack of boundaries invites a lack of respect!” ~Unknown author

My intention was to ask him to dance but when I eventually found him in the nightclub he had his arm around a little blonde and I figured once again, this guy was out of my league.  I enjoyed the rest of the night with my friends and woke up in time for the Saturday morning meeting. It was a little bit like a cattle call as we all headed into the conference hall, a bit hung over coveting the coffee we were lucky enough to grab from the massive urns outside the ballroom. We had to sign in so the line slowed just before the doors.

Just as I was getting close to entering, I saw him – the guy who winked. He was tall, just a couple of people ahead of me and he had curly dark hair. I elbowed my bestie, pointing him out – attempting to be totally nonchalant. I dropped my head just long enough to provide my signature and as I walked through the doorway he was there, literally by my side with an outstretched hand “Hi, glad to see you made it through the night. I’m Bill.” I stammered some kind of hello and then quickly moved along in the flow of my friends to find a place to sit all the while chiding myself with the notion of ‘geez, what are you – in 2nd grade or something’????? Again, the idea of dating, of meeting a new person was so entirely awkward… it was almost painful.

As if I was in a high school cafeteria noticing the new boy in school, I sat at that morning conference table asking my friends to scour the audience in an effort to find where he was sitting. He seemingly disappeared, blending into the crowd as if he was a chameleon in a tropical forest. No one could find him. With a deep sigh and another notch in the belt of tough luck that I constantly wore, we forged through the day.

Later, at poolside, I saw him again. He was sitting with a large group, drink in hand, engaged in doing what all of us were attempting… having fun and relaxing. My BFF was AWOL – she didn’t come down by the pool with me and hadn’t shown up all afternoon. I was behaving like an idiot. Yes, I am being grossly self-critical but seriously, that was me… diving into the pool rather boldly, right in front of that group of people where curly haired Bill sat with his cocktail. I’m pretty sure no one payed me one moment of attention. I was experiencing humiliation that was completely and totally self-inflicted. Where were besties when you needed them? She could have saved me from deprecating behavior.

That night found us in the ballroom again for a presentation of awards to the top 10 in a bunch of different categories; sales reps, sales offices, etc. My friend group was associated with a top 10 office so we were decked out in our finest fashions with perfect hair and makeup. Again, we scoured the room on foot to find Mr. Curly Hair and again, we didn’t see him. While moving onto dessert, someone at my table asked me what the guy’s name was again, I replied with what I remembered and then looking at the evening’s program, we saw his name. He was a Top 10 rep. Shit again. That was just one more thing that pushed him out of my league. Deep breath – move on.

As is customary, these conference events went on, and on, and on. After the awards ceremony, there was a cocktail hour and then dancing with a DJ until last call. We were all drinking, dancing, and having fun. It was approaching midnight, meaning my birthday was about to begin. I was ready to bring 29 in with furor. The last year in this tortuous decade needed to be great in order for equilibrium to exist and persevere. I was dancing the night away when a gal from my home office showed up – Curly Hair in tow – and introduced us right there – mid dance – as she declared how shy I am.

It wasn’t long before we tired of dancing and trying to scream at each other over the music so we stepped out of the nightclub with our cocktails and found a place to chat. I was crazy nervous as we started to orchestrate getting to know one another. I was surprised to find that the conversation flowed smoothly and was rather effortless; time flew by. Our drinks empty and the bar closed, we headed to my room to raid the bar.

My roomie wasn’t there but there were three gifts, wrapped in birthday paper waiting on my bed. Yay! I love presents! I opened the smallest box first. It was a container of scented, edible, massage oil. O.K., next – a flat package. It was an annual edition of a male nude pictorial (later we realized it was geared toward gay men; depicting men intimately touching). The last box was about 12 inches long and 4 inches’ square. Um… everything in my body screamed – leave now; put the box down and exit the room. DANGER… DANGER.  I attempted to act on my intuition and moved toward the door, blushing and fumbling for a rational reason to find friends – any friends. “Let’s open it” he says. “That’s ok, let’s go.” “No, really – what do you think is in in?” as he picked up the box and began peeling the paper from its edges. I grabbed the box and as I did, the top corner ripped off the box to identify the contents.

Ok, kill me now. Please, God – strike me or at least give me disappearing ability, immediately. The box contained, as you have undoubtedly guessed, a dildo. All I know is that he began to smile broadly until his entire face was engulfed and with a deadly, serious voice stated “we are going to have fun, you and I”. Oh my god, can we just leave – get me out of this room. It took all of my energy to gather any remaining dignity and exit quickly. What I didn’t know is that a tone had been established right then, a seed of expectation had been planted.

We eventually ended up in his room and the make out session of all make out sessions ensued. For the first time in more than 4 years, my mind wasn’t on Rocky and my body was on fire. He played me like a violin and reminded me of JG, the man of my early years who taught me about pleasure. All of my reserves melted and I rejected every ounce of self-respect I possessed in order to satisfy the calling of my primal voice. I woke up in the morning feeling embarrassed and somewhat ashamed of myself. I didn’t want to be a one-night-stand girl. In fact, I had resisted that temptation on so many other occasions, I was pissed at myself. Since I was completely unaware of the principle of self-compassion, I beat myself up, grabbed my clothing, and proceeded to embark on a very long walk-of-shame. I had watered the seed of expectation.

It turns out that my BFF was reacting to a prank birthday gift she had received back home and wanted to share the undignified excitement with me. If she was going to get a dildo for her birthday, then so was I. We discussed the details of the prior evening and laughed until we were breathless over the absurdity of it all while we packed and prepped to leave.

Sunday was going home day. Curly hair guy and I connected and were awkwardly conversing over lunch as several people stopped by our table to say goodbye on their way back to where they belonged. My BFF was patient but strong willed as she packed us some roast beef sandwiches for the drive home (and as it turned out with WAY too much horseradish) and gave me the ‘come on’ eyes more than a few times. I was trying to save my dignity by engaging this guy in small talk and pretending that I wasn’t morbidly embarrassed from my lusting lack of self-control. I obligingly provided my phone number to Mr. Hot Stuff and left Lancaster. I secretly hoped that I would never return.

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God Bless Best Friends

“Everything that has happened in your life has happened perfectly in order for you—and all the souls involved with you—to grow in exactly the way you’ve needed and wanted to grow” -Neale Donald Walsch

Eventually I was promoted and scheduled to open a branch office in Fredericksburg, VA for the Investment Company I worked for. I took my son and a neighbor girl up there, lived in a hotel for a month while I attempted to make things happen, and focused on making a life for us. It did take root slowly so we moved. I got an apartment and Francis started Kindergarten. We were a team – he and I. We settled in to our routine as a mother/son pair. I was 28 and began making peace with life.

It was an interesting time. For me – being 28 was like a neon light flashing “30’s Coming” over and over inciting me to ‘hurry up’. My mental timeline for being married and completing my family was ending at 30. While I had had an epiphany some time back about reaching my goals in a different way, it was becoming more difficult to trust that process by the day with the absence of evidence that it may change. I became aware of my body aging. I was getting laugh lines around my eyes and more chin hair. I recall spending a solid weekend giving myself a facial and steam bath, caking on the moisturizer and then going to buy a bottle of wine; they carded me. YES!! It worked I thought. Whereas today -I find this memory quite hysterical – it was difficult to feel then. Not rationale given perspective but we don’t have future perspective – we don’t know what we don’t know!

Francis was my light. He was so incredibly gentle and innocent. A special memory for me is a day when I came home tired and perhaps a bit frustrated with work. I must have sighed really deeply because he asked me “what’s wrong mamma?”  “I had a bad day honey, it’ll be ok” I replied. “I’m sorry mom.” His little voice was gentle. “Oh honey, it’s not your fault”. I picked him up to sit in my lap. “Yes, it is” he says in a small voice. “I forgot to tell you to have a good day”.  I cried.

As adorable and endearing as he was, he gave me a really hard time staying with a sitter. I couldn’t blame him really. For most of his life he had been cared for by my mom or his sitter since infancy. There in Fredericksburg everyone was a stranger. Aside from that, I worked a ton. I would drop him off at school in the morning and then he would be bused to daycare afterwards. I was almost always one of the last to pick him up. One day he asked me “When am I going to get a new daddy?”

I had to explain that in order for me to find a new dad, I’d have to date people and get to know them and find out if they would work out which meant he would have to stay with a sitter. He starred off into space for a bit and then looked at me with very serious eyes and said with a resigned tone. “OK, I will.”

I tried dating again. Dating in 1988 wasn’t any easier than it is today. Let’s face it – dating kind of sucks. There is so much uncertainty; intense vulnerability. It highlights our insecurities. I met a guy who worked at a gas station I went to almost every day; not for gas but lunch or bread, milk, etc…. He worked there. He asked me out and then asked me if I liked seafood – I said yes to both questions and gave him my address. He picked me up on a Friday night and took me to Long John Silvers.

I used all of my good manners and worked really hard to be open and non-judgmental. It didn’t work. I was overwhelmed with the failed expectation. I swelled with aggravation that my life was panning out like this. That even though Prince Charming had found me, I was relegated to being there – with a gas station attendant – on a date at a fast food restaurant. No second date and I changed gas stations. And then, I felt guilty and snobby. I’m sure he was a good guy really. It wasn’t all about WHAT he was. It was so much more about who he wasn’t. I missed Rocky.

I remembered a dogma of the SAGE movement I had attended almost a decade earlier based on what many of us know now as ‘the Law of Attraction’, which postulated our ability to attract into our life those things we focus on. I created a list of my ‘perfect’ man. He would be tall, Catholic, unmarried, attractive, financially secure, etc… those were the key points. I read the list daily with an emphasis on believing that this person I was visualizing would appear in my life. The technique had worked for me years ago when I was searching for an apartment, why not try it again?

I was fortunate enough to have fantastic friends. That group of people who had become a surrogate family. The only problem was that after I moved they lived a solid 3 hours away. My bestie and I created a ‘schedule’ of events so that we always had something to look forward to. She was also a single mom and our children were buddies, which made it easier. They were Nintendo buds. Her daughter was a bit older and therefore much more practiced than my 5-year-old who didn’t have a system yet. He would sit crossed legged on the floor next to her with his lips slightly parted, intently watching the screen while she played. I always wondered what was happening in his mind as he watched her manipulate Mario and Luigi around the screen. It turns out that he got really, really good at playing video games.

In any regard, she was my ‘other’ for those months. We created a bucket list and then planned weekends to fulfill the items there. We went camping with the kids and created memories that we still talk about. We visited amusement parks that challenged our patience and equilibrium. We cooked, baked, and threw parties. We drank a lot. It was truly one of the happiest periods of my life. If I were a Lesbian, I could have married that girl!

Our lives mirrored one another’s in almost every way and we relished in our friendship because it made the commitment to abstinence we had made, bearable. We both had such negative experiences with men in recent history so many months before, we had committed to abstain from casual encounters of any form. We thought it would surely be the healthiest way to gather our wits, our strength, and our courage for an eventual relationship. She was responsible for bringing my spirit back to life. As it happens, we share a birthday – although I am the younger one ; ) – and the combination of shared experiences, love for one another, and deep, deep respect have fed our friendship for almost 30 years now.

Our company held an annual conference to educate us and reward us for the successes achieved throughout the year. It happened that this year, we both qualified to go and it was to occur over our birthday weekend in 1989 so she drove up to me and we traveled to Lancaster, PA together. Lancaster is a good sized town in the heart of Amish country in Southwestern Pennsylvania. It was familiar to us since the company arranged to have the same location year after year. It was a relaxing, beautiful drive on country roads. We were looking forward to sitting by the pool and seeing old friends who lived in other parts of the country. We always looked forward to this event.

Many of the people who attended the conference were young. Working for pure commission weeds out the weak really quickly. Lots of young people try so the population at these conferences was weighted with twenty-somethings. There was a nightclub at the conference center and as is typical at these things, it was packed after the dinner/speaker session ended. We were all dancing and drinking; having a great time with new and old friends. During one of my dance floor appearances I locked eyes with another guy across the dance floor. They were piercing. He smiled. I smiled back. He winked. I winked back.

And then my heart fluttered.

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My Heart at DEFCON 1

I spent the end of my twenties as a single lady. In retrospect, it was a time of defense. I was in personal DEFCON 1. I was unwilling and unable to invest my emotional being in any type of intimate connection. I developed ‘control issues’. Ultimately, at any time that we feel unsafe – emotionally or otherwise – we attempt to gain control of our surroundings so that we can experience comfort. My intent was not to control any ‘person’ or really any ‘thing’ – simply create an environment in which I felt emotionally safe. It was much harder to do than one imagines.

In those years I did have a relationship with a guy who was really, really, comfortable. He was great. Non-confrontational and easy, really easy to be with. He was fun. He wasn’t a lot of other things that really mattered to me but I loved the ease with which we existed together. It was mostly a long distance relationship and when it became a REALLY long distance romance because he moved – he asked me to marry him. He called dad and I said yes. There was no ring – no real plans – it was a desperate proposal. We loved what we had together – we didn’t love each other!

He relocated and started building his life in a new town – I was setting things in motion to get there. It was really hard for us to connect when we couldn’t even spend weekends together (Ahhh… time before cell phones and Skype). He was lonely – I was distracted and busy with a preschooler and a 50 hour per week job. We started arguing and disagreeing about timing of my move, etc. One day he called and talked about an ‘attraction’ he had to a woman he was working with… he was reconsidering our engagement. I didn’t give him a chance. My reaction was at gut level and instinctive…. “I guess I’ll just have to get over you then.” That was me – controlling. I believed I was in control of the amount of emotion that I could allow in the experience. I shut down anything that was intense. I had developed a coping mechanism that was completely unhealthy. I was refusing to feel.

It was me – reacting to yet another loss in my life. I didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt – I didn’t let him explain or share feelings, insecurities, or fears. I shut him down before he could shut me out. He was done in my mind. I had reacted from a place of deep pain – a part of me that had lost love and had yet to be willing to experience the vulnerability of truly loving again.

Love – in any way – did not feel safe.  I had loved my mother and she left. I had loved Rocky and he died. I had loved another and he got sidetracked. Bam! Fuck love. I was now in control mode and making sure that love didn’t touch any part of my life. Defense … Defending … Protected. That was me.

I didn’t know that I had adopted those mechanisms. I was on auto pilot. I was dating and anticipating… excited to meet each new guy but every time, failed to make a connection that felt authentic or long lasting. I was holding everyone I met to the standard of how I loved Rocky and of how he loved me. Even though there were real moments in my marriage that humanized him, Rocky remained a superman in my mind. I had him on a pedestal of sorts. I knew that there were problems in our relationship that were real and typical of young love – it didn’t enter the equation when I associated men that came after him. No one compared.

I put a lot of focus on being a mom. I rented a room in my house to a guy that had been a really good friend of Rocky’s. He was in the area for work and was a great addition to our home. I wanted to love him. We weren’t romantic at all but I wanted to be with him – he was a connection to Rock. I couldn’t. I’m not sure he ever knew my thoughts and I’m still not completely sure if I was simply horny and trusted him or if I loved the idea of him from the perspective of the memories we shared. We had both loved the same guy – differently of course – but it was a connection that I didn’t have with anyone else. I lost track of him eventually.

I was a mom and a hard worker. I spent a ton of time working (a pure commission job) just to make ends meet. Rocky didn’t have life a life insurance policy. I distinctly remember a couple of guys from some Veteran’s group sitting at our kitchen table before he went overseas, trying to sell us a substantial policy but we were poor and young. We believed there was time. He had a small benefit from the Navy Reserves but it took me a long time to submit the paperwork. There was a finality about it. If I got the money it meant, he wasn’t coming back.

Our life (Francis’s and mine) was forging forward without much effort. I bought a house by assuming a mortgage. He started preschool and I kept working. I would drop him off at daycare in the morning – pick him up at night – take him home to eat dinner – and then wait for the babysitter to come so that I could go back out to work and yet… we were basically broke. I had never finished my degree so I felt stuck with the job I had – a sales job with an investment company. I was determined to make something of it.

I was lonely though. I still wanted a piece of that dream I had created all those years ago and I had become somewhat depressed and pessimistic – angry almost – about it coming to fruition. I recall a pivotal moment one evening when, after making a dead end sales call far away from home, I had started the return trip home – in tears – feeling completely and totally defeated. I was sure that none of my dreams would ever come true. In an instant – there was a voice – a male voice – deep and comforting – that said “stop being narrow minded – there are so many possibilities”. Holy crap… did God just talk to me? Was that my imagination? Who’s there? It’s hard to explain what a deep sense of ‘knowing’ I had immediately. It was so intense that I started laughing. Like a slide show on fast forward, dozens of potential life scenarios appeared in my mind. I went from sadness to exhilaration in a second (this experience is what I reference when I attempt to empathize with a psychotic break). I experienced an understanding that had not been there before. I would be OK.

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