All About Trust

“Being a family means you are a part of something very wonderful. It means you will love and be loved for the rest of your life.” ~Lisa Weedn

I woke each morning to the sound of children. It was either an infant cry or a toddler’s chatter, or a young boy’s question. Francis would leave for school each morning with an energy that I coveted while I began a day of caring for baby girls only sixteen months apart. The joy they brought into my life cannot be exaggerated. Sara loved her baby sister and was gentle and caring, as if infant Erin was a thin piece of glass. She attempted to share everything she loved with this new sibling and would express frustration from time to time as baby just sat and smiled. Sara wanted to play.

Francis was the most amazing big brother and completely cherished by his little sisters. Sara would sit at the window and wait for him to appear on the sidewalk as he returned from school. I was also anxiously awaiting his return but for a completely different reason – I needed the help. By four in the afternoon I was in serious need of a break. As unfair as it may have been, Francis was my relief. Day after day, he accepted the responsibility of helping to care for his sisters, and ultimately, his mom. I always said he would grow up to be the most amazing father ever or a monk – having emptied all of his paternalistic caring resources before the age of twelve.

Our life was tremendously full. Each hour of the day was filled to the brim either working, raising children, little league, household responsibilities, or another of the seemingly million things that make a family function. I felt overwhelmed with a lack of time and emotional resources on a fairly regular basis. Hubby was a good provider and we had enough. Although he was a loving father, he had little patience for the chaos that existed in our evenings. Rarely was I able to get a break. My emotional tolerance was generally low by that time of night. Most of the time, by evenings end, my energy reserves were depleted completely; not Hubby’s.

During this time in our lives, conflicts were generally around the subject of how much vitality and vigor I had failed to reserve for him. It’s true that I was not educated, versed, or practiced in balancing my emotional stamina. I gave everything I had to give to my children and family life from six a.m. to eight p.m. and then, what I needed was sleep. I instinctively knew that I had an obligation, a responsibility to my relationship, to offer myself – not just sexually – but intellectually and emotionally, to my husband. I did the best I could. I would say yes to sex and try to appear motivated. It wasn’t honest. In fact, it was during this time that I trusted Meg Ryan’s famous example in the movie Harry Met Sally and just portrayed my best version of an orgasmic apex. I just didn’t have any more of myself to share. As it would in any relationship, my inability to divide my personal resources more effectively left my husband feeling unloved and unappreciated. I was unable to understand. In my mind, I needed him to be supportive, helpful, and understanding. I didn’t experience any of those things and quite the contrary, I just felt as though one more person was making demands on my day. I did what I had to do in order to have peace at the end of the night.

Stress was taking a toll on our relationship. Hubby dealt with it by drinking and smoking, I just got mad and ugly. Since he was unable (or unwilling) to stop smoking, I became passive aggressive and stopped telling him I loved him. He would say it to me and my reply was mostly “thank you”. It wasn’t one of my best decisions. The distance between us grew until we decided to try marriage counseling.

Faith was still very dominant in our life and so we opted for a Christian therapist. I recall the church, the room, and vaguely, the man. He held a bible on his lap and let us know that God believed in our union. He heard each of our perspectives and offered some bible passages that spoke to the sanctity of marriage. I felt shame. There, in that church office, a Christian environment, without substantial feedback, all I remember feeling is how much at fault I was for withholding love from the man I committed to cherish. I didn’t wait until we got to the car before I turned to Hubby with tears and extreme humility to say how sorry I was. I was sorry for not being a better wife, for withholding words of affection, for not being stronger. I pledged to try harder and to find a way to bring more balance into my life so that I could be there for him. I’m not sure if we ever went back.

Slowly, I began to trust. I trusted that this was my destiny; that all of the events leading to this point were divinely driven and therefore, worthy of my commitment. I looked at my family each evening and saw that I was blessed; that life was full. I was beginning to understand the concept of submission in a way that I had been unable to this point. I was submitting not to Hubby directly, but to life, to God’s will. I was embracing where I was and the people with whom I was sharing life.

In the summer of 1994 Hubby went out west with his brothers to participate in a Scouting event near and dear to their hearts. He arranged to make a couple of side trips to the Colorado mountains and was excited about them. I arranged to make a hearty road trip with my mother and three children through the New England area. We were going to be camping at KOA camps (in cabins) for most of the journey and being as organized and particular as I was – it was mapped out in detail as if I was preparing to perform a surgical procedure on a mass of spider veins. We drove the highway all the way up to Skowhegan, Maine but never again – over the course of two weeks – hit a main freeway. Without going into explicit detail of each day, let’s just say that it was an amazing journey with people I love. It offered my children and me an opportunity to spend marvelous time with my mother. Not only did we see beautiful and amazing parts of our country, but we had the opportunity to have quality time together that has yet to be replicated.

During this time away, I took the opportunity to write to Hubby each night, sharing our day’s journey and the highlights along the way. My intention was to embody the spirit of participation in our experiences similar to the letters I wrote Rocky when he was overseas when Francis was an infant. I also used those letters to express my love and support for our family, for our marriage. It was an excellent time of reflection and it offered me time to seriously evaluate the life I wanted to live; the life I wanted for our family; the dreams we hoped to manifest.

Both Hubby and I had rolls and rolls of photographs to develop (back in the day we actually had to turn in film) and we turned them in for processing together. After picking them up, it was fun for us to sit down and share our travels, to swap stories about our time apart. One by one, we flipped through the photographs and laughed or ohh’ed and ahh’ed over the incredible scenery each of us had seen. One photo in particular caught my attention. It was of him, alone – in a time WAY before selfies were possible or a ‘thing’ – it was a full body photograph of Hubby against a backdrop of mountains. He explained how he had gone back to that trail without his brothers for a couple of days, to fully experience the intensity of nature in that part of the world. He continued to tell me that his time there on the first part of the trip hadn’t been complete and here was this photo, taken by another traveler on the trail. He looked happy.

Something about his picture disturbed me.

 

Little Hurricane

“Don’t despair: despair suggests you are in total control and know what is coming. You don’t – surrender to events with hope.” – Alain de Botton

Our little family was running on auto-pilot. My twin sisters took turns spending the summer with us to care for baby Sara and Francis while I took my Series 7 licensing classes and exams. By then, they were turning 16 and ‘playing house’ was fun. It was great to have them around – what new mother doesn’t dream about having a built in mother’s helper? Hubby and I – always in unison while planning – were redesigning our business plan and imagining an environment that offered maximum flexibility while also maximized income potential. With me as an administrative principle, it left him available to optimally utilize his talents. It seemed like a match made in heaven – he got to be the brightest star in the constellation and I managed the sky.

I had given up trying to reconcile how I felt about our physical life. The only communication skills on that front existed in the form of lingerie, toys, and erotica. If our encounters went to a place that I wasn’t ‘comfortable’ with, I simply went out of my body. I became another person very much like my time in high school when I adopted a character in a play and presented that personality to the audience. She looked like me, talked like me, and laughed like me but she didn’t think like me. In fact, she didn’t think. She didn’t have emotional feelings, just the ability to experience physical things, most of which ‘felt’ good. She rather enjoyed the carnal reactions of those nightly encounters. That is unless ‘I’ was exhausted or menstruating, in which case there was a perceived expectation to ‘make it quick’ or provide pleasure, which ever was more appropriate. In those times it was harder for ‘me’ to escape and then the emotions would flood my psyche with feelings of disrespect, insensitiveness, and/or distrust.

If ever I attempted to communicate these feelings, I experienced rebuttal in the form of disparaging comments, criticism, or complete discredit for what I expressed. It seems that I ‘was naïve’ and unaware of what ‘most people did’. It was always pointed out that my body said one thing and my words said another. I didn’t know how to argue that point and it always ended with a passionate seduction that took the form of intense physical pleasure. I resigned myself to the understanding that ‘this’ was love.

In October, my dad died. My rock, my foundation, the man who always had my back – died suddenly. He had called one morning to find me busily preparing for a conference trip to Florida. I chatted briefly but told him I’d call next week after we returned and I’d catch up. I never got the chance. We were only in Orlando for a few hours when we got the call and by the next afternoon, I was back home, repacking and flying out to Cincinnati. The second funeral I had ever attended. One – two. Two funerals in my life so far and they were the most important men in my world.

That year we spent Christmas in Virginia with my mom and step-dad. My brother was working down in Atlanta by then and came home as well. Our other sister lived in the area and of course, the twins were still at home, in high school. The whole family was there and it was good. It was baby Sara’s first Christmas and we all spoiled her with attention. I missed my family. Long distance telephone calls were still expensive and 250 miles is not a Sunday dinner distance. We drove down fairly often. We had a big ‘ole conversion van in those days with a five-inch television in the back. The only VHS movie we really had was Top Gun and Francis would watch it once on the way down and at least once on the way back. It got to the point that Hubby and I would sit in the front seat acting out the parts of Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis – having memorized the parts by osmosis.

On the way home after Christmas I was sitting in the front seat talking to Hubby about my emotional goodbye just hours earlier. I was still feeling rather funky and complaining about my body’s aches and pains although I was just 32 that summer. Quite suddenly, it occurred to me that I was late for my period and with some thought, realized I was three weeks overdue. Baby Sara was in the back seat only eight months old. Oh my goodness… holy cow… I think I’m pregnant.

…….

It was confirmed and I had an adjustment period. I was still changing several diapers a day and now there would be another little behind needing wiped, bathed, and patted. My body changed rapidly. Our wombs are like balloons, the doctor explained, after being blown up a few times, it just kind of remembers which shape to take. This new baby was due in September which meant all of my maternity clothes were going to be the wrong season. That felt like a minor inconvenience compared to the anxiety I felt about pregnancy in general since my last one was so full of marital discord. I was quick to remember the emotional turmoil that I experienced less than two years prior and I went ‘on guard’ to protect my heart.

It was rather unnecessary as it did not get repeated (which, flipped the switch on my wariness scale and left me feeling unsettled about the fears I had experienced then). This pregnancy, in fact, was completely different. I felt happy. Life at home took on a comfortable routine and I didn’t gain much weight; thankfully because I still had 25 pounds of baby Sara weight left over.  I only looked pregnant from the side for most of the term. I experienced a sense of contentment for the first time in a long while.

The twins again took turns staying with us that summer. They were 17 and turning into fantastic young women, looking at colleges and anticipating their future. They were each little mothers and delighted in making sure Sara was a baby fashion icon, adorned (as was insanely popular in the 1990’s) in matchy-matchy top, bottoms, socks, shoes, and headband. We have dozens of photographs from that summer documenting the current toddler styles as introduced by Gymboree and Baby Gap. I loved having them around and was eternally grateful for their help. As a two-year-old, Sara was talking up a storm, repeating her vocabulary on demand as we, very proud parents, put her on display for family. It was a personality trait that blossomed through the years as she always created some kind of dance or skit to be performed before bedtime.

Labor Day weekend was approaching and we would be losing our teen help because she had to go back to Virginia to start her Senior year of High School. On the Thursday morning before, I woke early to discover that my water had broken. I wasn’t exactly laying in a pool, but soaked enough that a shower was necessary when I noticed contractions had begun. I quickly cleaned up and we headed to the hospital where again, the doctor opted to induce my labor. I experienced a panicked memory of the last induction and the intensity of it so we agreed to take it slow. The Pitocin rate was reduced and I settled in for what turned out to be a manageable but long day of labor.

The pregnancy had been so completely different than the one I endured with Sara that we were convinced the baby would be a boy. So much so that we only had one name chosen; Phillip. By 4 pm, we had another daughter. A daughter with no name. We had thought about Erin Nicole or Alexandra Nicole but couldn’t decide. We decided to sleep on it and see what we thought after holding her for a few hours. Hurricane Emily had just decimated Cape Hatteras and many of the babies in the hospital were named Emily that year and while we didn’t name her Emily, she did somehow get nicknamed Little Hurricane. Finally, when they pressured us to choose, we dropped the Nicole and took our little Erin Alexandra home.

We were now five.

Family of Four

“Many men can make a fortune but very few can build a family.”  – J.S. Bryan

We were sitting at the dinner table one evening discussing baby names; girl names, boy names, first names, middle names … we said the name and added the last name. One by one, we drifted through a selection trying in on for size. Suddenly, Francis looked up and asked with a very serious and sobering voice “Why does my last name have to be different?” Hubby and I looked at each other – oh boy. I didn’t see this coming. My heart leaped and hurt at the same time. What is the right answer here? What can I say to this precious boy about his name, about his new brother or sister and their name… What?

Hubby and I talked and talked about how to answer his question and facilitate a sense of belonging. I struggled. By now, Francis was calling Hubby ‘daddy’ and he had no memory of his father. Rocky’s parents lived in the Midwest and many of his siblings were in the Northwest; I only saw them the first few years after Rock’s death. In fact, after meeting Hubby, I hadn’t gone at all. I was terribly conflicted about having residual feelings for my dead husband and wanting a relationship with his family versus keeping my attention on the man in my current life and his family. It always felt as if I was being disrespectful to one of them if I was thinking of the other… I chose not to think. I focused on what was in front of me. Hubby was in front of me. I focused on him.

Francis went to visit every summer however, at least until Rocky’s parent’s health failed to the point where they required a caregiver. I recall the one time they came to visit us, Hubby wasn’t around at all. I’m not sure if it was because it was awkward or if he was simply giving us some space. I never felt he was very accepting of my prior life. He had never been married and therefore didn’t have a reference point from which to allow for me having feelings for or a relationship with another whole family. Rocky’s siblings were great people yet I hadn’t been ‘in’ the family for long and we never lived close. We were all raising our children, building careers, leading busy lives and while we did exchange Christmas Cards each year, it was generally the extent of our connection. Furthermore, I’m not sure that having meaningful relationships with them would even have been acceptable to Hubby, my perception was that he resented my enduring feelings toward the family-at-large. Although I don’t recall a confrontation, I distinctly remember feeling like I had to choose. It’s entirely possible that I was just too immature to process being a part of two families; the absence of connection wasn’t anyone’s fault.

Never-the-less, without his family in the picture on a regular basis, Francis didn’t have a compass from which he could experience his Rockefeller identity. Of course, a healthy child needs to feel as though he/she is a part of something larger than themselves and Hubby had a large family close in proximity. They were big on birthday’s and Holidays. There were a lot of them actually and it seemed as we were always celebrating something. They would be good surrogates.

The tug-of-war was constant – or seemed so at least. I sometimes dreamt of Rock. He was here – in real life, telling me it had been a huge mistake, that he hadn’t died – he had amnesia. (Remember, I never saw him in death … it makes one wonder.) It had taken him a long time to figure out who he was and to find us. He wasn’t the same as I remembered him. He was distant, happy that I had moved on and acting aloof with me. This dream would happen on and off for years and always I felt torn and devastated – wanting to go back to my life with him but realizing that I had a different one now, with someone else, and had committed to it. I always woke disappointed and emotionally exhausted.

Ultimately, we agreed on adoption – it seemed to be the only reasonable option. Francis and all of his siblings would have the same last name. I sat down to write the most difficult letter of my life. I wrote to Rocky’s parents to tell them that I was expecting and that my hope was to create a family for Francis – a mom, dad, and now a sibling…. And I explained how important it was for Francis to have a sense of belonging – to know that he was part of something big and special, part of this family. I shared that Hubby had a large and loving family also. I poured my heart out to them, told them how much I missed their son but that I was trying to move on – to live. I wished that we had lived closer and that we could somehow have established a more concrete sense of inclusion for Francis but I felt it was in his best interest to allow Hubby to adopt him. I promised to keep Rocky’s memory alive for him, to share stories, and photographs. I promised that they would always be a part of our lives, and that they could see Francis whenever it was possible. I cried through the entire process but I believed I was doing the right thing. They reached out in love and support – as they always did. It didn’t feel good, but I did feel settled. We set the wheels in motion.

My due date came and went – I walked and walked. (Someone told me walking would help with labor). Finally, on April 28th, I went to the hospital with some mild contractions and we agreed with the doctor that it was time to induce labor. In just under three hours our baby girl was born. Hubby was a trooper during the labor even though I didn’t know which end was up and Francis was able to hold her within the first hour. We named her after my childhood baby doll – the name I had always dreamed of for my daughter – Sara Elizabeth. Her big brother wouldn’t leave her side even when he was given the chance. I allowed the vision of our family to swell into something picturesque and I hoped.

The adoption had been approved and finalized just weeks before Sara’s birth and we celebrated both children on the day of Sara’s baptism. We were a family of four.

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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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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Photo credit: alex mertzanis via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Can We Talk About Sex? Part 2

“There is nothing ignoble, or unholy, about having sex. You have to get that idea out of your mind, and out of your culture”

– Neale Donald Walsch

 

In part 1 of this discussion “Can We Talk About Sex?” I speak to the introduction of sex into a girl’s life, well…. My life… but I know it is very similar to that of other women. The piece that is so extremely important is, what we – as women learn about ourselves and about expectations in regards to our own sexual interests and behavior.

Sex is one of the parameters that we use to label ourselves. Often those labels break down to simply good or bad. We tend to associate any sexual activity outside those that we personally are comfortable with as ‘bad’.  The following are thoughts that I have had and/or feelings expressed by friends or from clients through the years:

I like sex.

I like bondage.

I want sex every day.

I prefer to masturbate.

I hate sex.

I could live without sex.

I have had group sex.

I enjoy sex ‘toys’.

I like to be watched.

I am a swinger.

I am voyeuristic.

I am sadistic.

I like anal sex.

I have had dozens of sexual partners.

I’ve only ever had one partner.

I fantasize about women.

I fantasize about men who are not my partner.

Ok. There you have it – items from the entire spectrum of sexuality. Do any of them sound familiar? Have you found yourself judging yourself or someone else because they expressed one of these opinions?

In The Complete Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue, Neale Donald Walsch writes:

“Sexual expression is the inevitable result of an eternal process of attraction and rhythmic energy flow which fuels all of life.”

Who determines the definition of ‘sexual expression’? Many of us feel that it is church, family, culture, etc. that cements the confines of that phrase into our understanding of acceptance. When we allow someone else to dictate what is good for us, we open the door for feeling rejection, disappointment, etc.

YOU are the only one that needs to define what works for you sexually!! It is YOUR body – if you like it, great. If you don’t – fine. YOU determine your sexual parameters and they are NORMAL if they fit inside YOUR comfort spectrum. What fits inside my range may or may not be the same for you. That will never make it wrong – it makes us different!

I completely buy into the common belief that sex better when it is the culmination of love between two people. A ‘spiritual’ experience shared with a person with whom you feel emotionally close. Truly – sharing yourself with someone in that intimate manner is a wonderful, beautiful thing.  And… it’s true. Eventually we all realize that good sex with someone you love is magical!!

Sex is can ALSO a physical experience that may have nothing to do with love.

I am saddened that so much of our culture places emphasis on sex without love as a ‘bad’ thing. We propagate the notion that people who experience, and God forbid – enjoy – sex outside of love / marriage have somehow violated our standard of honor. When what we hope for people we care about is that they enjoy the ‘magical’ experience I mentioned above – what we are teaching is a value statement about them as a person if they don’t adhere to our more knowledgeable perspective.  Each one of us needs to determine what is right for us as individuals and I encourage everyone to foster a spectrum of support and an absence of judgment in order to create a healthy environment in which to experience our sexuality.

The only truly important part of this discussion is what YOU as an individual – determine what feels respectful and authentic. Yes – the word respectful is necessary here. You need to respect yourself sexually. Far too often I am sitting with a client talking about shame and sexuality. I remember having so many of those feelings.

Too many of us are taught that sex is ONLY about love and if/when we experience sex without love, we assign a judgment. We judge ourselves, we internalize, we assume others judge us (sometimes not an assumption).  Because of the sex/love correlation, some of us think that if someone wants sex with us, they must love us – WRONG.  Others think that if we love someone, sex with them should be great – WRONG.

I have seen plenty of couples through the years that are incompatible sexually and struggle because they really love one another. Generally, it’s because one of them remains sexually frustrated – the physical parts are not being fulfilled. Likewise, there are couples who are suited perfectly from a physical perspective but fail to experience respect, trust, and commitment. In a perfect world of course, there is a beautiful combination of both.

When it is all said and done, the most important element is the ability for an individual to experience a relationship that exhibits RESPECT in regards to sex and sexuality. If your partner wants to experience sex in a way that is uncomfortable or unpleasant to you, he/she may not be the right partner.

There are few things worse than attempting to fit a size 14 body into a tiny g-string and a push up bra that your partner saw on a Victoria’s Secret model in the fall catalog. Really…. It’s NOT going to look like that on me!!! I will feel stupid and fat wearing it. It won’t matter if you tell me I am beautiful! I will be judging the fact that I don’t look like that 21-year-old model – no matter what you say. Sorry guys. It is the exception to the rule that a woman feels pretty and sexy in that kind of lingerie if she is not young and skinny. We generally want the light to be out and feel like we’ve been successful if we don’t cringe while you run your hand up the side of our baby fat roll. (The fat roll we got when we created and birthed those babies.)

Rocky used to tell me that touching that part of me reminded him of the love he had for what we had created together. After he died, I was petrified that another man would never be able to experience that fat roll in the same way. Oh brother – the things we think about!!

I’m sure that I will integrate more sexual commentary as posts go forward but it was necessary – again – to set the stage for my perspective here. The way that we each identify and define ourselves as sexual beings is uber important in the decisions we make as adults. As you will see…

I appreciate comments below…. if you are so inclined.