#261 Remember When…

Sharing a daily life lesson, tip, or hack; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#261

Remember when…

This recommendation might sound a bit like the idea of savoring that I presented earlier but it’s a bit different in its goal. The idea here is to recall random shared memories of minor debacles when you are with another person with whom you have some history. Ideally, you’re thinking of a time that you can laugh about now. A time when you had solved a problem, survived a hazard, or preserved through a challenge.

The goal is laughter or at the very least, an appreciation for the lesson learned. It’s an opportunity to review a moment in time from another perspective and share a sense of satisfaction of a previous experience.

‘Remember when we got that flat tire and…’

‘Remember when I left the cake in the oven for an hour…’

‘Remember when we took the wrong bus…’

We all have countless recollections of mishaps and momentary errors in judgment that are retrospectively funny or immensely satisfying. Sometimes, just recalling the collection of awkward moments we shared with another strengthens our appreciation of their role in our life. It’s another type of walk down memory lane that can have you rolling on the floor laughing or being grateful that it is over now.

Pick up the phone today and share a blast from the past with an old friend or randomly bring it up at the dinner table tonight… “Hey honey…”

Remember when…

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

Fading Into Fear

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” ― Henry David Thoreau

I’ve had a hard time getting motivated to write lately… I have several ‘irons in the fire’ so to speak and making the time to sit down and put my thoughts on paper has been more difficult than it has been for months. I wonder… have I said everything I have to say? Probably not. It’s just… life is getting  in my way.

I wrote about Plan B recently… it was on my mind because I have control ‘issues’ and having a plan B helps me to feel safe but it also challenged me to think about what our backup plan was. It promoted good conversation here and maybe offered some fuel to fire up our efforts in laying track so that alternatives could become possibilities. That can take time and organization.

How does one unemotionally plan for a time when your loved one isn’t here? I realize how pragmatic it is and I know the logical benefits of planning but there is a part of my heart that fails to detach from these conversations. Each time one of us says “in case you’re not here” or “In case I die… there is a shudder deep within my spirit. My lungs suddenly inflate and I find myself slowly exhaling in an effort to breathe normally.

We are mortal beings and yet when our mortality sits deliberately and stubbornly in our path; when it spits in our face – coping can be quite overwhelming. We want to make life normal and yet there is a ‘new normal’ – a way of being that we are not used to – to which we have yet to acclimate.

There is a fine line – perhaps an invisible line – between living each day with its offerings and preparing yourself for what is to come. I believe this to be true regardless of the health hurdles we individually face because we, as human entities, prescribe to the need to forward think, to forward plan, to forward seek.

Right now, our lives are filled with details… taxes, budgets, business planning, etc. We will be buying a new car soon. Harlan has one of the TDI Jetta’s that is being bought back by Volkswagen and there have been a dozen hoops to jump through – more paperwork! Trying to fit car shopping into our lives and planning for whatever our future may hold is also tough. Harlan can only walk for a short bit before he gets uncomfortable and he still tires easily.

Getting one’s “affairs in order” – not because it’s ‘that time’ necessarily, but because it’s the prudent thing to do – is more detail oriented than you think when all you do it talk about it. In the face of your mortality there are more particulars and minutiae than is comfortable and the information can only be coped with in parcels. And time passes.

Yesterday, we learned the Oncologist we’ve been working with since the initial diagnosis is leaving the practice because of his own health issues and while we are of course, compassionate toward his personal needs and grateful for the help and kindness he extended to us, we are devastated to be changing doctors midstream. It’s interesting to look at how much trust you develop in a person who is guiding your medical care and the feelings that arise when it must be reestablished with someone new.

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I realized throughout my life that the best part about going on vacation was the fact that we didn’t have to deal with real life for a while. We could just hang out and enjoy the company of people we love, relax and be in the moment – truly. That is when being ‘present’ is easily manifested, consistently. In real life – being present is more difficult. It takes constant concentration and focus. I realize that I am good at it – in spurts – I can take a deep breath and center myself where I can zero in on the experience of ‘now’. I often find myself smiling then; enjoying the sensation.

And then it is lost. I fade into details and fear and uncertainty. I feel anxious about the future. And then the process repeats.

Drift…

Come back…

Pay attention…

Drift again…

It doesn’t matter if I am working, cooking, cleaning (which, doesn’t happen all that often), walking, or just sitting and watching television. I am aware of how frequently this process repeats and I find the intensity is triggered by specific nuances. If Harlan is having a good day, I feel stable and secure. If he’s not, the fear creeps in between the ‘now’ moments I try to embrace. If there is a big decision to make I feel an urgency to make it happen now – without hesitation and any patience I have practiced – disappears. If we argue, I immediately berate myself for needing to be right, or needing to be validated – both entirely human experiences that I honor, but I certainly wish my ego would just back down and let my heart do the directing ALL the time!

Each day we wake up to the reality of life, of cancer, of responsibilities, and of relationships and remember that in all of it – we are doing the best that we know how to do on that day. We are both acutely aware of how blessed we are and we have the ability to forge our broken and fearful spirits together like trees that have fallen into one another yet they still stand; at least until one of them is too debilitated to hold the other. For now, we make it through each day – through each week; maybe a little bit in spite – but hey, whatever it takes.

I must acknowledge that we do not stand alone. Indeed, a thick and healthy forest of support surrounds us. It is the oxygen of their existence that I breathe deeply when the spirit of hopelessness tugs on my soul. And I am reminded of hope. And I do the best that I can.

Drift…

Come back…

Noticing Gifts

“A wonderful gift may not be wrapped as you expect.” –  Jonathan Lockwood Huie

I was speaking to a client the other day about things that we learn in life and how each of them seems to have to be learned personally even though generations before us have tried to impart the knowledge. We often don’t value the wisdom of people who have already experienced part of a journey. In this case, we were talking about aging and accomplishments. She is approaching thirty and feels as if time is running out for her to reach some of her goals. I made the comment that I recall thinking the same thing and then I didn’t finish grad school until age fifty. I assured her there is plenty of time. She said, “yeah, that’s what everyone tells me”. The thought occurred to me that if ‘everyone is saying it’ – might it really be true?? What would we do differently if we actually ‘believed’ the information that people who went before us, shared? How can it be wrong if everyone says it?

Now… keep in mind that I’m speaking about life experience here – not whether or not the world is actually flat or that infections can’t be cured. I realize that there are a time and place to forge ahead with one’s own hypothesis but we weren’t talking science or metaphysics. We were keeping it pretty simple that day and focusing on accomplishments. Age is only a number!

When I turned thirty, I believed my ability to impact the world was over. For some reason, I had the mindset that if I was going to be accomplished or achieve anything significant, I would have to be half way there. I wasn’t. I had not finished college, hadn’t had any great success in my job at that point, and had recently quit altogether. I had decided to be a stay-at-home mom for a while – a decision that my step-father thought was a tremendous waste of ‘my talents’ – whatever they were. I never could have imagined the road that has led me to where I am today – never!!

I believe one of the challenges we face in adulthood is having the patience to allow the Universe to deliver. We – at least those of us with control issues – are so often focused on what we think needs to be happening that we don’t just allow unfolding. We get tunnel vision – rigid expectations of how things should be. Indeed, sometimes our sight is so focused on a specific vision that we fail to notice what is right in front of us.

 

I wrote a book. I’ve said it isn’t the book I thought I was going to write when I imagined it all this time but today, after talking with a very special person, I noticed a few more dots that I hadn’t connected before. I see the perfection in what has happened – in the way that it happened and I realize that God had delivered exactly what I had asked for. In our discussion, I imagined exactly how I see the cover of the book – a dilemma I’ve recently considered. It makes sense to me in a way that I hadn’t been open to contemplating before. I continue to stand in awe at the Universe’s ability to manifest exactly what is good for us – when it is good.

Late this past summer I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. I love the way that she writes and being the aspiring creative that I am, I loved what she wrote on those pages. She touts “the universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them”. I know that to be a true statement.

I feel like I walked in circles around an idea, never really allowing it to stand out because I anticipated that it would look a certain way. When it jiggled my mind, I ignored it because it didn’t fit the vision I had. And then, I just trusted. I started something without an expectation of what it would be and in the end… it was that idea – the one that had pulled at me and I saw it clearly.

It was there the whole time but it didn’t look the way I thought it would and so – I didn’t recognize it. I’ve had this lesson before! A few years after Rocky died, I was ready to marry again, I wanted more children but nothing was happening in the dating realm. My options were bleak and I was headed toward 30. I was convinced that it might not be in the cards for me. And then… I had an epiphany. I realized that a family was still possible in any number of possible ways. I could meet a man with children – I could have children later than I imagined – I could adopt a six-year-old… really, the vision I had of my life was so rigid that only one possibility seemed desirable until I considered how many others were plausible.

I had imagined a life of ABC but got a life of XYZ…. Same alphabet, just different letters. Instead of green bows on the gifts, they were red. Because I was looking for green ones, I never stopped to consider that what I wanted was in the boxes with red bows.

Today, I realized that I was noticing that lesson over again. Funny how we forget what we know and need to be reminded! Christianity teaches us (Matthew 7:7) “ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find” – that God wants to give us the things that we ask for. The Law of Attraction tells us to ‘visualize what you want and you will manifest it’. Oprah taught us that “you get in life what you have the courage to ask for”.

I’m not sure which one of those universal truths or guiding statements is responsible for the progress I’ve made here over the last several months but I know that I’ve just trusted it to happen – with no expectations of what it will look like. I trusted it by staying present. By focusing not on what I was going to accomplish that day specifically but by relying on the here and now… what is happening now? What is the message at this moment? What do I feel led toward at present? I did only what felt authentic in real time and today, I realized that it was there all along. The book I had imagined years ago, was sitting right there, ready to be written.

I can’t help but consider how many other areas of my life this applies to? What am I missing by structuring my vision so strictly? How many times do I need to learn this lesson?

My client imagined her life a particular way by the age of 30 – as I had. She had a very narrow perspective of how to get there and how it would unfold. I never allowed myself to write because I couldn’t figure out how to get from where I was to what I imagined and without a specific and direct plan I didn’t want to go forward.

The substance here is the principle of trust; of believing that it will be exactly what we need – when we most need it but only recognizable if we have opened our mind to ALL potentialities. Don’t allow yourself to be so focused that what you are seeking goes unnoticed.

Epilogue

Continued from Commitment

“A hard life is not a punishment, but rather an opportunity.” ― Brian L. Weiss

Harlan and I continue to love one another. In the eight years since we were in Vieques, we have shared incredible joys, learned more valuable lessons, and built modestly successful businesses; and we’ve done it together. We’ve been partners, lovers, and friends.

I finished grad school and opened a private counseling practice. It’s now funny to think that I started with one client – just one person sitting on my proverbial couch – and then two… and today I often have a waiting list of people who need to get in that week. I love what I do and find that I am happy to go to work most days. I work in the same building where the Print Shop is located and so Harlan and I get to see one another sporadically throughout the day – creating moments that we fill with a hug or a brief injection of love and appreciation although he is better at that than I am. When I get focused, I often have tunnel vision.

I do not believe that Harlan’s presence in my life is a coincidence. As we grew in our discoveries of one another we realized that throughout much of our adult life we had been dancing together in the Universe. His brother got married at the church where we (ex-Hubby and I) were members in the early nineties. He worked in the building across the street from the first house ex-Hubby and I owned together, although not at the same time. He and his ex-wife traveled across the country the same year that I traveled with my family – visiting many of the same national parks – only two months apart. And, when I road tripped with my mom and the kids, we stayed overnight in the town where he owned a business in New England. There were too many incidents to believe that it is all coincidence or happenstance. We were waiting for one another – for the time when our souls could come reunite and continue whatever journey had previously been started.

Harlan has become a bold presence in the life of my son and daughters, helping them to see a different perspective of masculine energy. They have grown to love and respect him not only as my partner but as a personal friend. In fact, they have all grown into incredible people. I don’t go one day without being in wonder at one of them; their work ethic, their commitment to success, their compassion, and their fearlessness. They inspire me to be a better person and they challenge me to learn the art of ‘letting go’. I could not be more proud. Frank got married a few years ago and I adopted another daughter as a result. Almost daily I count my blessings that he chose a woman I could so easily love. She embodies the spirit of our family and bolsters him in the way that a mother hopes for her son. Their partnering is a wonderful example for the girls.

I’ve continued to grow in my faith, my ability to be introspective, and in my esteem. I am stronger today than ever before and yet I don’t feel it is over. Indeed – it may be only beginning again. I think that perhaps we are allowed growth plateaus – times in our life that feel like we are coasting… nothing much happens – it feels comfortable and easy. And then, the learning begins anew.

When Emily left for college, Harlan and I were finally able to live together. We bought a home and moved into a perfectly downsized house that would allow us to comfortably grow old together. Late last year, just as we were settling into the long-awaited period of ‘empty-nesting’, Harlan began to feel sick. After months of frustrating and grueling testing and doctors’ visits, he was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer. We sat together in the small windowless office of our first oncology appointment and listened as the doctor said: “at some point, we will be discussing comfort care”. The prognosis was approximate – an average, they said – of two years.

 

This is where I must leave the story – the irony of his illness is not lost on us. In fact, we are each deeply challenged by it. We have taught one another so much… I have learned more about myself in the last eight years than perhaps in all the time prior and Harlan too. We know we came together to learn. This cancer is impacting both of us significantly. Obviously, Harlan is the body that is suffering from the disease – and the treatments. We both are afflicted with emotional challenges; not only the ones existing in the present but also the ones that have come washing over us from the past. We have noticed triggers we both thought were rusted and locked; renewing themselves with old – unwanted energy.

We arguably are doing the best that we can. Every day we confront the current hurdle and attempt to jump. Most of the time we make it. My imperfection is highlighted almost constantly and I have become accustomed to facing the fact that I am only human – although I don’t like it. The ugliness of cancer doesn’t always bring out the best in us and at other times it highlights everything good. The dichotomy of it can be exhausting.

 

I’m not sure where the words or energy for this story actually came from. It’s only been ninety days. They flowed easily each day as I sat with my laptop and opened the evolving word document. I can only imagine that they are a gift from God. That the Universe has allowed me to see myself in entirety so that I can use the accumulated knowledge now in perhaps the most difficult challenge yet. I feel fortified and open to the next set of lessons although I hate the idea of them coming. Perhaps there is another story unfolding.

 

I do believe that this amazing life – with all of the pain, lessons, joy, and exhilaration is worth living. Even though I get intensely tired from time to time, I am eager to walk the path that will lead me into pure love, into peace. I remind myself of that destination and it motivates me to take the next step. The existential veil that lies atop each experience does not go unnoticed and I am deeply grateful for each day as it draws to a close; regardless of its impact.

Thank you for walking with me as I dared greatly.

Remembering Ruthie

In loving memory of Ruth Elaine Rought 11/30/1949 – 12/13/2016

He who praises another enriches himself far more than he does the one praised. To praise is an investment in happiness. The poorest human being has something to give that the richest could not buy”. ~ George M. Adams

Today, I am thinking about death and its impact on the living. The day before last, an angel was born of an earthly soul who was my Aunt. My mother’s youngest sister, a vibrant, sassy, stubborn, and gracious woman who was just eleven years my senior. One of my distinct memories of her was when she was pregnant with her first child, I would have been ten I think… she was standing in front of a large laundry basket that was in front of the television and she was ‘allowing me a treat’ to be in the room while ‘Love is a Many Splendid Thing’ – a popular soap opera from the late sixties / early seventies was airing. Back then, things were aired live and you had to watch it – or miss it, there was no in between. Consequently, I was abiding by the instructions of ‘be seen – not heard’.

Ruth drank coffee and smoked cigarettes most every day of her life and my memory of that day includes those smells. I idolized her. She was the big sister that inhabited my fantasies when I was lonely. We were blood sisters. A couple of years earlier, before she was married, she and her friend Tony included me in a ‘swapping of blood’ that we obtained via pinprick. While that may seem gross and quite unhealthy in today’s world, back then, it was a ‘rite of passage’ for me, meaning that I could be in the room while they talked about high school and boys. I, of course – now that I was a blood sister – was sworn to secrecy.

I recall times when she was babysitting us and she would settle us into a booth at a diner located across the street from a gas station where this special guy worked. She would go hang out with him, leaving our waitress with orders to feed us as much as and for as long as we wanted or at least until she returned. We couldn’t see her but we believed that she could see us and she warned us that everyone was watching so we behaved ourselves and waited patiently for her to finish her flirting. Sometimes, she was an ‘overnight’ babysitter and I remember one summer when she stayed with us for a week where she would let us get fudgesicles from the corner market. She would eat two and I wanted to grow up so that I could too.

She and Barry (the boyfriend from the Gas station) eventually got married and Ally and I were her flower girls. I thought she was the most beautiful bride I had ever seen. Her waist was Gone With The Wind small and I envied her petite frame and exotic look most of my life. Uncle Barry was a human teddy bear with a small round belly and a soft smile that enticed you to crawl up into his lap at a moment’s notice. Some of my fondest memories come from the weeks that I would stay with them in the summer. By the time she had several children, I was the perfect babysitter and it was time for karmic balance. My weeks with her entailed changing diapers and folding clothes while she did the other half of the daily chores, some of which included chatting with friends on the extremely long corded telephone while I ran around the yard chasing a bare naked two-year-old.

Ruth and Barry were young lovers and self-proclaimed soul mates. She loved love. She was passionate about him, about her children, family, and her beliefs. She would argue a point – if she believed it – until you were torn and tattered; not to tell you, you were wrong but to be sure you had heard that she thought she was right. I may have learned some of my talent as a result of that exposure. She taught me that I didn’t need a bra until I could hold a pencil under my breast and proceeded to demonstrate her point. By her standard, I was forty when a bra was finally necessary.

I moved away and began my own adult life but each time that I went back to ‘the farm’ to visit my grandparents, Ruth was there, wanting to know everything there was to know. We began to build a friendship that was based less on the big sister image and more as contemporaries. When I brought my son ‘home’ for everyone to meet, her daughter Renee took great interest in him – wanting to help me – picking up where her mom and I had left off.

Ruth moved to Cincinnati where my Dad and Stepmom lived with my little brothers – mom’s sister but family nonetheless. When I would go to visit, we ALL got together and my brothers grew to call her Great-ex-Aunt-Ruthie. She and my step-mom even developed a semblance of a friendship – you couldn’t resist the energy that Ruth extended.

Sadly, in 1990 her husband suddenly and without warning or cause, passed away. I will never forget the phone call. I imagine I was on her list because she had become a member of the ‘widow’ club and she needed console from someone else there. We commiserated together on the woes of widowhood, the pain, and the emptiness. I had remarried by then but she struggled to move away from the depth of heartbreak. For a time she lived life hard, I think to escape the anguish that overshadowed her spirit. She floundered for a while and then headed home to the comfort of what she knew and where she belonged. She returned to the home place and found comfort in being near her parents.

She met a guy – loved – and lost again. Not by death this time but it was equally difficult because the disappointment was deep and razor sharp. She wasn’t ready to cope with being alone and in the midst of that ache, she lost her parents and sister. Her adult life was also – filled with loss.

Her spirit was immensely strong though and she persevered. While I was settling my grandparent’ estate (she lived next door) we would often talk and she believed in positivity. She worked diligently to build upon and emit optimistic perspectives. Everything she knew was being challenged but she persisted and pushed. The stubborn stance that had proven maladaptive in historical moments now provided her courage and tenacity. She fought with a daily dose of affirmation and gratitude. Indeed, she became one of the most gracious women I’ve known – always offering words of praise and encouragement; expressions of hope and confidence.

A year ago, last summer I picked up the phone when she called to say hello. It was a foreboding conversation and I didn’t understand. She was emotional, loving, and supportive – asking for an update on my kids, work, Harlan… there was something in that phone call that sounded like she was saying goodbye but I didn’t question it until later.

Within a couple of days, her daughter Renee called to tell me that Ruth had been hospitalized and she was headed up to the farm. Long story short… Ruth had small cell lung cancer. After stabilizing her and understanding the diagnosis and prognosis better, the decision was made to move her to North Carolina so that she was close to premier medical facilities and family. She underwent treatment and responded well. She used the accumulated emotional resources she had acquired to adjust to this new space, a ‘new normal’ and adapted in an environment extraordinarily different from the rest of her life. It was a new world for her and yet, she captured the hearts of people everywhere she went because gratitude and love oozed from her no matter her condition or position.

November 30th, 2016 was her 67th birthday. I called several times but she didn’t pick up. Finally, I texted Renee and asked if they were together – figuring they might be having a birthday lunch. “I will be in 30 minutes”, Renee replied. “Great – please tell your mom Happy Birthday from me,” I said. “Give her a big hug”.

Through the years, Renee and I had become tremendously close, developing a relationship much more like sisters than cousins – carrying on the tradition of her mother and me– handing down the baton through the generations… “Will do” she texted me back.

I thought I’d try one more time though and with the next phone call, Ruth answered and listened patiently as I sang her my rendition of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song…. “Oh thank you honey, it’s a wonderful day,” she says.

She was full – overflowing really – with exuberance and gratitude for the blessings she had already received and was eagerly awaiting lunch and a short shopping expedition with Renee. She listed several people who had already called, remarking that even RZ had wished her a happy birthday and she was so very pleased. She exhibited, vocally at least, intense satisfaction with how her day started and sounded full of boundless appreciation for my short call, for all of the people who had remembered her.

The next day, for no apparent reason, she fell, collapsed. Over the subsequent twelve days, her body deteriorated to the point that it was no longer supporting her life on its own. Her decision to be removed from life support was honored and she passed peacefully into the space that is not here, into the space where her lover, her parents, and her sister had gone before her. God, how we will miss her.

I have thought about death today. I’ve thought about how much death hurts the living. No matter our beliefs, the idea that someone we love is no longer available to touch or to hear or to listen… it’s a sad thing. We weep for ourselves, for what we want and can’t have. I want to console Renee, Chris, and Julie but there is no consolation for losing your mother. None. I want to say something that is smart, funny, sassy, or profound to eliminate their pain but it doesn’t work; there is nothing to say.

I’ve been writing about life lessons, reasons for living, and what is it – HERE, right now – that I can learn to further my own life’s work. I know that I want to learn gratitude the way that Ruth used it. I want to be grateful – openly grateful – not just in my mind or in my prayer – but with my voice – All. The. Time. Like Ruth. No… she wasn’t perfect and she did occasionally allow her humanness and sorrow to sprout through the cracks but she learned to weed and to let gratitude grow. She practiced appreciation in a way that we all can learn from.

Perhaps Ruth was part of my family so that I could learn more about gratitude – I know about gratitude, I practice gratitude but not like that. I like how she did it. As I look at her life in the way that it crossed and impacted mine, I realize that I can learn from her. Ruth I am grateful for you. I appreciate you. I hope to experience another lifetime with your soul as it was always a gift to me in this one.

HUGS

Proven Prophecy

Continued from Soul Theory and Chances

“When you stop trying to find the right man and start becoming the right woman, the right man will find his way to you.” ~ Unknown Author

It started simple enough, a sentence here, a paragraph there. I vacillated between acknowledging the flirtation and hesitating to make a move back. He was persistent and quick. If I returned an email in the morning, there was another comment or question within an hour usually. I learned a bit through email at first. His name, his work, and his family were all introduced in electronic format; simple words that were announced by my good old AOL pronouncement of “you’ve got mail”.  And then he asked if we could talk.

Talking made him real. And I had to think about whether or not I truly wanted him to be real … wanting something and having it are two very different things and as much as I claimed to want companionship – it came with other things – like real telephone conversations. I gave him my phone number and told him that I would be driving up to get my older daughters the next day and we could talk then.

My girls were with their girl scout troop, on an annual trip that at one point turned into something fun for the mom’s too. They went ahead of me and so I had an hour’s drive to chat on the phone with this new guy. He had a great voice and I found myself enjoying the sound of it. I recall asking him if he had any bad habits to which he replied: “I slurp my coffee”. I decided if that was as bad as it got, I was in luck. We realized that we had a lot in common, daughters, challenging lives, childhood scars… and he seemed to be interested in talking beyond the surface – to be introspective. I liked that a lot.

We talked for the entire hour and then some as I sat in the parking lot outside the hotel for a bit. I tore myself away from the conversation by promising to talk with him again the next day. Cell phones made connecting so much easier and more immediate. The girls had a blast with their friends and I had fun with my mom friends – consuming a nice amount – perhaps more – of wine that evening. We ‘bunked’ in the hotel room, sharing queen beds so that we were all four to a room. Cozy and thrifty! I don’t sleep well under those conditions and it was a long night. At just after six am, my cell phone rang. Thinking it was one of the girls, of course, I scrambled to answer it as we all woke up – a couple of us a little worse for wear. “Hello”, I whispered… “Did I wake you??” a sobering masculine voice asked? Wait… what time was it? I looked at my watch again and double checked it against the LED readout on the nightstand between all those sleeping moms… “who is this?” I uttered in a hushed tone.

“It’s Harlan”, he said. Mr. Match.com guy. I learned right off that he woke up with the cows and accelerated with the sunrise. He claimed it was the ‘Mainer’ in him – after living in snow country for more than twenty years, he had a habit of getting up to add wood to the stove before anyone else attempted to move. He took care of people by keeping them warm – and apparently, talking to them at the crack of dawn.

Since I was in a room full of sleeping women, I had to hang up but promised to call him back quickly. I had the sense he was sitting somewhere, near a computer, probably slurping a cup of coffee while I groped around for my clothing and a hairbrush in an effort to get out of the room and down into the lobby.

Coffee has always made my morning better and so I grabbed a cup before I sat down to redial my phone, gathering some energy, and shoring up my mood so that I could at least sound, intelligent, and entertaining. Does anyone sound like that this early in the morning? I tried to imagine. We talked and talked. We talked so long that one by one, the moms and girls walked through the lobby on their way to breakfast, noticing that each time they passed by, I was still there in a chair gazing past the people, through the window, and into the sunshine that was coming back in through the plate glass. I learned all about his prowess at golf and football; about his art and farm animals; about his jeep and his dog. With him, I shared my children and my ex; my academic career and my goals; as well as my current thoughts about reincarnation and spiritual development.

He was a good listener and I began to feel a little giddy. Talking on the phone was better than email. I felt safe and comfortable. He wanted to meet.

Just the thought of it made my hands sweat. Now I was imagining that all the things I had begun to like about him would be overshadowed by things that could be wrong with him. Geez… I was a coward at heart. I realized that I wanted all kinds of things but had very little grit when it came time to go get them. I was risk adverse. I forced myself to work through those feelings; to push past them and I managed to agree to meet him but…  it would have to be on my turf.

There was a Starbucks close to home, far enough away so that it couldn’t identify my neighborhood but close enough that people I knew may be there or could – at a moment’s notice. I had read up on how to be a good ‘internet dater’.  We agreed on Monday night after dinner, that way I could use the excuse that I had to make it home to make sure all the girls got to bed in case the date wasn’t going well.

I got there early – better for the satisfaction of my control issues – and took a seat in the back so that I had a view of the entire café. He told me that he would be wearing a cream sweater with khaki pants. I hadn’t been there long when I saw him walk into the store. He was tall, and I recognized the combination of height, mustache, and cargo pants that he had promoted as ‘his style’ from his online profile. I watched as he walked in and stood at the register to place an order and had a minute or two to observe before he glanced around and our eyes met.

He had nice eyes and I noticed how trim and muscular he was, I could tell even through the winter clothing he was wearing that he had been an athlete. I also noticed how straight and tall he stood. It was something that my mother always commented upon. She used to tell us that posture was necessary and always noticeable. I believed her now. He came over and sat down next to me, smiling – I smiled back and we sat there for a second or two not saying anything; it felt like minutes before one of us spoke. He was funny. His sense of humor was a bit sarcastic but it was quick witted and I found myself laughing.

I was having fun. It felt good to sit there with a man, laughing and enjoying myself. I was glad I took the risk and the longer I sat there, the more interested I became. We identified a number of times in our life that had been ‘almost meetings’ as if we had danced around the country after one another at various times but the timing was never right. I suddenly remembered the prophecies I received on the mountain from my roommate and from Michael… this was it – Harlan was the one they were talking about. It was near the end of the year and almost Christmas in fact, Harlan’s birthday was on Christmas. It was too coincidental … no – there are no coincidences… I had just met ‘my man’. It was Monday, December 10, 2007.

NOTE  *As I finish writing this and get ready to post I realize that I am writing about a day EXACTLY nine years ago. I’ve been writing now for 83 consecutive days and there is no way that I could have mapped this out to coincide with exact dates. I am tickled that the Universe is allowing me this trick, providing affirmation that it is leading me, honoring me with words and memories as I need them. I am humbled and grateful.

Penetrated Composure

Continued from In-Between Spaces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you fucking kidding me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Needs

“You know, life fractures us all into little pieces. It harms us, but it’s how we glue those fractures back together that make us stronger.”  -Carrie Jones

I felt foolish and stupid and lost. I stood by the front door of our home and looked out at the gorgeous open space in front of me. We had built this house when all of that was just farm land. Today, there were twenty-five other houses in our neighborhood and I wanted to be in any one of them – any home but mine where only chaos seemed to perpetually exist. I wanted to be someone else, any one of those neighbors.

It was an upper middle-class neighborhood, mostly families, about half were single income households. It was the kind of neighborhood where the parents stand at the bus stop in their slippers holding coffee cups that were either empty or turned cold as we stood there – no matter the season – and chatted about our busy lives, children, and home life. They thought mine was great because I didn’t ever let them see beyond the wall that I had built to keep the absurdity contained. Some of us attended the same church, most of us were involved at the school in some capacity, and if nothing else, we ran into one another at the grocery store at least once a week. In all those places, perception – illusion – was important. I had fought hard to fortify the mirage no matter where I was, to hide any indication that ours wasn’t the typical suburban marriage. Only a handful of very close friends got to see the garbage in my life and even then, it was only the stuff that was still floating on the surface. No one got to unlock the mental drawer and open that file tucked deeply inside.

My heart was shattered. I didn’t understand how it could – again – be decimated so intricately. I thought I had stitched it together with glue and string and secured it with locks… I thought I had buffered its ability to be broken ever again. This time it was so, so complicated. My family, my mom, my sister, the rest of us – our daughters – what do we say to our daughters?

I didn’t ask Hubby to leave, he didn’t seem to want to go. We didn’t know how to move from this point. Hubby could not explain how or why things had gotten to this point, only that he was confused, ashamed, hurting, and undecided about the next step. We scheduled back to back therapy appointments to try and unravel all the emotions and thoughts that had us both thinking we must be crazy.

Abee didn’t come to work on Monday and I was a little worried. I called Emma to make sure someone was looking out for her – after all, she was my baby sister. “She’s here” is all Emma said to me. Of course. She would run. She ran to the only place that was safe since mom was away – to her twin.

Mom flew home but she didn’t fly into our area – she flew to Emma’s city. She went straight to Abee who apparently was comatose or something. WTF?? Because I had three kids and a business and a life – I didn’t get support? No… it wasn’t that. It was because I didn’t surrender to the pain. Not yet anyway. When I finally got to talk to mom she was a little less adamant that it hadn’t happened but she did point the finger directly to Hubby. He was the problem! Being almost 20 years older, he should have known better – he was a devil. She hated him. She was going to take Abee and move, far away – out of Hubby’s reach.

Wait, What?

“You’re leaving again? what?” I didn’t know how to respond to this. I didn’t know how to process the words that I heard my mother speak. Abee was the victim here? Seriously? I got mad. All the feelings that had been abated over the last several months as I saw them – well, didn’t see but felt them carry on an affair right under my nose – with total disregard for me and our family – lashed out at my mother.

“What about me? Why do I end up being punished for this? I’ve waited more than twenty years to have you be a part of my life in a meaningful way and you’re leaving again? Because of this?”

I unleashed all the abandonment sediment that had rested in the riverbed of my soul for all these years and thoughtfully dared my mother to do it again. I wasn’t going to let it happen. “Please mom, please stay. We’ll make it work.” I said. “I need you”.

Mom was house rich and cash poor. She would have lost a ton of money if she left. Sadly, she was financially dependent of Abee for the lifestyle that they lived. It wasn’t possible for mom to stay and for Abee to leave. Abee was dependent on us for income.

It ran over and over in my mind and I couldn’t find another solution. If I wanted mom to stay – Abee had to stay – Abee had to work – she worked for us. Shit.

My back was against a wall. In therapy, all I did was run through possible scenarios and none of them ended with mom staying a part of my or of my children’s life unless Abee continued to work for us. We paid her more than she could probably get somewhere else and mom’s livelihood was directly tied to her income. I was between a rock and a hard place; cornered, if I maintained the need for mom to be here. She was the only person I felt like I could count on. For me, healing required her presence.

Our therapist thought I was crazy and Hubby was against it but I demanded that we find a way to work through it and keep everything as it was. I went into hyper-control mode – attempting to manage some degree of emotional safety. I squared up and directed almost every detail of my day so that I could stay in ‘safe mode’. I turned into a robot of sorts – moving from one task to another so that our children were as insulated from the trauma as they could be. Clearly, something was wrong and we tried to comfort them but we were entirely imperfect. Our fighting was too loud, our words too strong, and our uncertainty too deep to maintain consistent levels of composure.

I couldn’t talk with anyone except mom and my therapist. Who would believe this? Even the therapist was incredulous that we could make this work. I insisted that ALL of us be in therapy – with her. It seemed logical to me that if one person was on the inside of our thoughts and emotions, our dysfunction, and our healing process; it would be easier. I refused to listen to her challenge to my rationale and she eventually yielded to our request albeit with the caveat that it was highly unusual and may someday make a great story. (!)

I felt incredibly alone in my anguish. My best friend, my sister, my confidant, was no more. My husband, my partner, my supporter, was gone. The combination of the betrayal and loss of what I thought I had was more excruciating than even the death of Rocky twenty-one years earlier. With death comes finality. This was different. Even though I moved my desk into a different room in our building, when I walked into the office every day I was reminded of the deceit and deception that had existed in my life. We still had to work which, meant meetings, phone calls, and planning sessions; it couldn’t be helped. We were small, there was no place to hide.

My instinct, my priority, my need …was to keep my family together and that’s what I set out to do.