Growing & Going Deeper

Continued from Choosing Love

“If you want to have the kind of relationship that your heart yearns for, you have to create it. You can’t depend on somebody else creating it for you.” ― Gary Zukav

I found it fascinating how easy it was to have a man in the house again. Harlan was there a lot because as a single mom, it wasn’t all that easy for me to just leave. Sara was not yet driving and so I was generally required to take someone, somewhere. Harlan lived about fifteen miles away from me and had a different sleeping schedule so the hours we could steal for any alone time to build upon the budding romance were few. Most of the time, we shared our time with my girls.

We did love to take our drives, though. We were both on a Starbucks kick back then and so to sneak in a block of ‘us’ time, we would hop in the car after dinner and run up to where it all started… our local Starbucks and take a long way home while we ran through our days. It was on those drives that we created a vision of our life together. He knew that I couldn’t get married or live with anyone as a restriction of my divorce agreement unless I wanted to forgo a significant amount of alimony and so we talked about how to navigate a close relationship but within stringent boundaries. I wanted him to wait for me but there was still seven years until I had any real freedom without financial strings. It was a lot to ask, I thought. He said he would take it one day at a time.

When I met Harlan he claimed that he was but a minute away from hopping on a sailboat and escaping the town where he had been raised. Some of the memories there were dark and haunting – worthy of burying and escaping. I didn’t want him to go anywhere and meeting me – loving me – put a huge wrench in his long-term plan. I worked diligently to help him renegotiate a vision of his future; one that included me.

His work as a Graphic Artist in a small print shop was just a ‘fill in’ job until his house sold – that was the only thing keeping him local to me. My entrepreneurial energies kicked into high gear when I realized that the community in which I lived was void of the kind of services he currently offered where he was employed. We began to build a blueprint for developing a retail business in the community where I lived so that he would be right around the corner. I figured that if he could make money and build a foundation here, the motivation to stay would be much stronger.

One of the things people say about me is that I am a ‘doer’. When I get a thought in my head, it often leads to manifestation. Sometimes, it gets ‘almost there’ and other times it gets there and fizzles but most of the time, the things I try at least get started; and I’ve started a lot of things! This wasn’t my first array into building a business so I used all of the accumulated acumens to lay out our options.

The Universe heard me and I knew God was helping when the necessary components came perfectly into play. We found a location – it came with an apartment – but it had to be converted into retail space. Harlan had a year of recent experience (and a lifetime before that) of reconstruction and so we bought a building and began our first joint project. In reality, it was the second one… the first construction project we engaged in together was building a shoe rack for the laundry room at my house. It was a shoe cubby actually and held more than twenty pairs of shoes which are nothing when there are four females in one house. It was still early in our relationship and frankly, I was on my best behavior. If the shoe rack wasn’t perfect – no biggie… it was in my laundry room.

This project was a little bigger… we had to gut a residence down to the studs, tear out walls, put in beams, construct a forty foot ramp, include a handicap accessible bathroom and shore the flooring up to fit commercial building codes. It wasn’t an initiative for the faint of heart. All the while, I was still a single mom and a full-time grad student. “No problem,” Harlan says… “I’ve got two months of income set aside and I’ll do all the work”. Our budget was strict and we began the end of June with a deadline of August 25. We were all traveling to Puerto Rico for my little brother’s wedding over Labor Day and needed to open for business – to start making money – as soon as we got back.

This is the kind of thing people who have known and loved one another for decades don’t’ attempt for lack of temperamental discipline. We had only known one another for six months and our naiveté may have been our saving grace. We learned a lot about each other in that two months. We learned that we sometimes speak a different language. We learned that we are both always attempting to help. We learned that we have defenses and triggers.

Harlan and I are well into middle age at this point – each with histories rich in disappointment, rejection, and betrayal of some kind. Each experience having left a scar and a story. The end result is an array of defense mechanisms that become exposed at the most interesting times. We learned that I am a perfectionist (cough, cough, sigh) and we learned that he is too – in a different way and with different things. I could take a shoe and pound in a nail – as long as the nail goes into the wood. He, needed just the right hammer – the one designed for that type of nail – before pounding could begin. And saws… there are so many kinds of saws! Just give me a damn blade!

We sat on the front porch a time or two ironing out a misunderstanding, attempting to reconcile how we each felt and trying desperately hard not to repeat mistakes from relationships past. We mustered respect in our disagreements in a way that had never existed in my man/woman interactions before – it was so refreshing and enlightening to see and experience a difference of opinion that didn’t end up being a confrontation and all out fight. We learned that the way we use common language is sometimes different – our words have different meanings and we learned to navigate the differences.

As we continued to learn from one another – not just construction tidbits but also how to trust one another’s judgement and value our experience, we developed more and more emotional intimacy – our friendship grew in and around the love that we had proclaimed to feel toward one another. We easily laughed with each other and continuously found topics to fill our conversations. At the end of each day we were tired and spent but found energy to cuddle as we drifted off to sleep.

Harlan was a kind of man that was new to me. He was modest, so modest in fact that I didn’t know how to behave. He didn’t seem to have the same kind of ‘expectations’ that others had in my life… going to bed and cuddling didn’t need to lead to anything else. I literally was able to enjoy the experience of feeling his arms wrapped around me and know that I was loved even though we just laid there – drifting off to sleep – we were together and it was nice. My love grew deeper.

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.

Catholic Guilt

It’s necessary for me to take a post and go back a bit. One of the fundamental pieces of me that I’ve yet to write about is faith. What I currently believe and practice is the consequence of a tremendous evolution through the years and integral in the way that I have viewed myself, the world, and the challenges that have presented in my life.

Like the post I wrote about my dad, it is impossible to truly know or understand me unless you have perspective about my faith. I’ll begin to draw the picture here and then attempt to integrate it more into the ongoing discussion.

I was baptized Catholic at the age of 5 or 6. My mother converted and I’m not quite in focus about the details but I know that my Grandmother’s great friend was the mother of a priest who rose through the ranks of the Scranton (PA) diocese and was present at all of the important events of my religious life growing up. I always felt special because he was there, even as a young Bishop.

Growing up Catholic – as any Catholic knows – generates guilt. It begins – I think – with confession at the age of 7. In order to receive your first communion, you must attend confession where you ‘confess’ your sin of the week. Now come on … We were taught about sins… sins were ‘bad’ things. It implies that every week you are bad – in some way. (No wonder we are all screwed up). Keep in mind – this is what I HEARD which, may be a bit different that what was said yet I am not the only Catholic child that received this message – I assure you. So – I grew up believing that I was innately bad. F*** original sin.

I was a fair weather Catholic. We went to church when it was convenient and then my parent’s   divorce really made it complicated because it made everything ‘bad’. My mom stopped going to church or practicing faith in any way for the rest of her life. My dad was more deeply connected to his Catholic roots and found a progressive church – some really progressive  Christian brothers – and received an annulment (even with three living children) so that he could marry my stepmom – an extremely devout Catholic. By the time I was 16 – I had lost faith in Catholicism and was embarrassed by the guilt / shame that it seemingly propagated.

However, I was still deeply entrenched in the mentality that in order to be loved and accepted by people who mattered to me, I had to be a ‘good’ Catholic girl. Basically this meant that I taught Sunday school, grabbed a bulletin so that I knew what the Homily was about and then sat at Denny’s and drand coffee until church was over – then told my parent’s that that I had gone to Mass. So, this “good Catholic girl” was lying about going to church and racking up the guilt/shame cards by the decks!!

I was caught by the way… one of Dad’s clients noticed me by a picture that my “proud Dad” had shared and the client was like “oh yea, she’s a beautiful girl…. I see her at Denny’s on Sunday mornings all the time!” … Busted! Liars always get caught.

At 19 I was a part of something called SAGE – a movement of self discovery and awareness, very “New Age” kind of stuff that was before the whole New Age movement. I can’t guarantee my memory is completely accurate here but the essence of the experience is key. It was about SELF AWARENESS and AUTHENTICITY.  About letting go of pains and wounds, forgiving others, and cultivating LOVE in daily life. I fell in love with the presentation of those principles in harmony. I wasn’t yet aware of my own abandonment wounds to truly reach any deep issues but it was really impressive for some of the older adults who shared. I felt honored to be a part of their experience. I became really close with some of the people who shared the SAGE experience – an entire family of loving individuals who were more of an impact on my life than they probably ever knew.

I also believe strongly in things that are considered paranormal; spirits, out-of-body experiences, etc. In my BR (before Rocky) life, a friend and I were sitting up late one night – cold stone sober – talking about possibilities and spiritual potentialities. Suddenly, there was a disturbance in the room environment and we both noticed a circulation that grew from barely noticeable to almost person size. I stared in disbelief and realized that I was NOT ready to experience anything significantly different than what I currently understand. I looked away and it went away. Really – it was the late 70’s but we were clear minded – completely.

Rocky and I were married in the Catholic Church. On the ‘wife’s application’ there was a question I had to answer and certify that I would “submit myself to my husband” – there was nothing on the husband’s application in like. I’m not sure it is like that today – in 2016 – but keep in mind I am accumulating attitudes about spirituality that I am using in consideration for how I ultimately construct my faith. The Catholic Church is beginning to wear on my tolerance.

In its defense, Rock and I went to a couple’s seminar at our home parish on sex and marriage. It was now 1982ish and as is perceivably customary of the West Coast, progressive ideology was presented. We were taught that what happened in the bedroom between a husband and wife that was consensual and experienced in love was acceptable by the church.  Oh. Thank. God. I was immediately relieved for all those times that the missionary position just didn’t cut it. Thank you Church – for approving of my sexuality.

This is the foundation that the rest of my spiritual development is based upon. Some might argue that it is flawed but ultimately, it was strong.

 

Only Darkness

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
― Mary Oliver

I was a widow.  Prior to this moment I was mostly untouched by death; the very old grandmother of a childhood friend and my own grandfather that I had barely known.  One day we were talking about more babies, going to school, buying a house, and our next vacation – two weeks later I was picking out a coffin and planning funeral music. It was the most surreal experience of my life. Please people…. Pick out your own coffin!! Make your own funeral arrangements!! Do NOT let your loved ones have to do it…

How does one coffin shop?? A funeral director ushers you into a room full of them and explains the benefits of one from another. This one is particle board covered in velvet – it’s the least expensive. This one is Brazilian Cherry and lined with satin. This one has 7 layers of steel with a lead core to survive a nuclear explosion. This one has a time capsule for DNA so the body will never have to be exhumed. Are you f***ing kidding me? I want my husband back!

I left my body. I was aware of sounds and people. I was aware of where I was but I became someone else. It was as if I was back in high school, on stage, playing a part. Rocky wasn’t the velvet type… maybe Cherry… it was warm looking. I wanted him to be warm.  I saw something with a flannel interior and chose that one.

Do you have a favorite reading? Do you want someone to sing? What kind of music? When? Where? How? Who? Holy shit… shut up people. Leave me alone! My soul was screaming but my voice was deciding. He loved Journey and Little River Band – play those songs. Yes, On Eagles Wings – that’s nice… Sure, she can sing it. I floated above it all remembering our wedding night when some fool packed the car air vents with flour so that we were blasted as soon as the car was started and looked like two old people checking into the hotel. It was apparently, not… a vision of our future. I was remembering our first kiss… it was some kiss! I was remembering the sight of him holding our son for the first time… such love. So many dreams, not enough memories.

My sister-in-laws took me shopping for something to wear. I wasn’t so concerned about being stylish or fashionably chic, nor did I care about how well my purchase would fit. My primary concern was finding something that I ‘felt’ beautiful in, not for me – for Rocky. I wanted to be beautiful. I was searching for something that felt calm and comfortable yet highlighted my best features, perhaps the color of my hair. It couldn’t say happy but I was adamant that it did not shout sad. It could not be black, navy, or brown. It shouldn’t be too short or too long; the fabric not too thick or too thin. I was not sure if it should be one piece or two, and I was undecided about the sleeve. We were in hunting mode, searching for just the right thing. Eventually, I settled on a light peach linen suit and an ivory blouse with satin buttons and a round collar. It was feminine, soft, and quite respectful. It worked with my strawberry blonde hair and most importantly, it didn’t scream funeral.

I dressed up and showed up at the funeral home on the night of the private viewing. It was for family only. I did not go into the room where he was on display. I was unwilling to see my husband as a dead man (ultimately a mistake). I was told that the funeral director did a fantastic job with makeup, etc…

That’s nice ~ with a southern slur**

I was still detached. Existing on another plane where I was safe and not alone and loved.  In reality, I was surrounded by so. many. people. Rocky’s large family had all flown in. My dad and step-mom drove in along with a few other relatives. His co-workers, mom’s friends and neighbors whom we had started to know. I don’t know where Francis was… I seem to remember making a decision to keep him away from the ceremonial affairs because I didn’t want him to be negatively impacted by all the emotions, but I can’t remember who had him. I logically know many of these people loved – and still love – me. It’s just that, well – they weren’t HIM.

I got through it. We all did. Indeed – there were lots of funny stories and laughter that goes with them. There were tears – lots.

I couldn’t go back to the house where we had been a family; it was too much for my spirit. His brothers went through things so that I didn’t have to. Someone moved our stuff into storage. I kept a pair of 501 Jeans (because his butt…well, it was so HOT in them!) and I kept his Navy whites. I don’t really remember making all of those decisions and I’m sure some of them were made on my behalf, out of compassion and concern. I’m not sure any were made out of understanding; even my own. How does one understand the death of a 23 year old whose whole life was yet to be lived – or the wishes of his widow – or the lonely cries from his child? How?

I know I was not the only one struggling with these impossible questions but I was so deeply immersed in my personal loss that I was unable to really consider the experience from the perspective of his parents or siblings. It took me years if not decades to be willing to look in that direction. At some point, everyone left. Everyone went back to their own lives and I was left to face each sunrise and each sunset in a way that was unfamiliar to me; unwanted.

A friend took me to her parent’s beach house for a week. We took the kids too.  Then a week later, I went back to work because there was nothing else to do. I didn’t know how to be a widow. I was so very pissed at the world. This was NOT supposed to be my life. I thought God and I had agreed that me – as a single parent – was off the table. Rocky and I had mapped out our lives…. there was going to be three children, a house, and a career by 30. It was planned. It was imagined. If that wasn’t going to happen – what was? What was in store for me?  For our son? What did the universe want from us?

Each morning when I opened my mind – there was only darkness.

**That’s nice ~ with a southern slur** – My mother told a story about a proper southern woman who believed it completely unladylike and immoral to curse. And so, from time to time you could hear her say “That’s nice” with a gentle smile and a slight nod of her head. When asked if she ‘really’ thought it was nice?? she replied “Why no darlin’ – that’s how us Southern women say “FUCK YOU”.

Photo credit: Infomastern via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Hello… This is Leslyn

I’m the one on the right. On the left is my youngest beauty as she headed off to Europe for a semester of study. I am smiling because she is embarking on a phenomenal journey; the experience of a lifetime. Inside I am much more pensive. She is my baby. I know she is ready, she is adventurous and has been saving / preparing for this trip ever since she got a taste of Europe in high school on a French class trip to Paris and southern France. She has planned side trips and packed efficiently. I wanted to say “stay, move home, and never leave” but that was only a tiny voice; the one that tries to keep me tied to the past or to my fears of the unknown. I know I’ve done my job and that she is well equipped to explore the world and study hard. That’s the story of the photo…. for my first post I want to be more profound.

This entire project is a product of the universe and its recent messages to me.  It was very simply – START.

For years (and I’m sure to write more about that) I’ve been led to write. I have much to say. Not only about my life – the details and the lessons – but about what I am still unsettled about and the questions that continue to expose themselves. I’ve been afraid. For all the reasons that Elizabeth Gilbert speaks about in her recent best seller Big Magic – I’ve not started. In her book, she challenges readers to “have courage to bring forth the treasures within you”.  Shortly after completing that read I moved on to Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly for the second time but this time heard “Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

Ok… universe I am listening!! I am ‘daring greatly’ by making the commitment to expose my thoughts, my life, and most importantly, my imperfect self for the world to see. I am somewhat unique in my counseling practice in that when it is appropriate, I share some of my personal experiences. I believe in the power of universality – knowing that we are not alone in the world or in our struggles. I feel confident that the majority of my clients experience my ‘humanness’ in a positive way and I hope that the same applies here. I have struggled with imperfection even when the intellectual part of myself could clearly see that perfection was an impossible goal.

As I thought about this blog, the perfectionist in me wanted the “perfect” name – the one that would be ‘catchy’, or draw in gazillions of readers. What in the world defines that?? How am I to know what you all want? I sat on GoDaddy for an hour entering name after name, seeking something original.  I came up with a short list and sent a text or two to my people for their input….

“I’m finally starting that blog I’ve been talking about and need a name. Here’s a list… what’s your vote?”

My people responded with different preferences. Shit. No help. Think Leslyn – Think. What feels authentic to you? What sounds catchy? I slept on it. I woke up this morning with the reminder on my heart that this blog really isn’t about anyone but me… it’s my blog – my thoughts, my life, my words. It doesn’t matter how ‘catchy’ it is….

My phone rang and as usual, I answered.  “Hi, This is Leslyn…..” That’s it! I immediately realized that the most authentic thing I have done today is answer the phone in a way that identifies me to a prospective client. That’s me. Leslyn.

I have struggled a lifetime with a name that is different from everyone else. I realized at some point in the last 30 years that it allowed me to feel different.  It’s taken me some time and some work to feel authentic with the name “Leslyn” so there it was – so incredibly obvious…. This is Leslyn. (pronounced LESS LYN)

My promise to myself and to anyone who happens to be reading is that I will be authentically me here in this space. I am ‘daring greatly’ by publishing here but I am grateful and excited that the time has come for me to experience vulnerability in this way. I hope you will walk with me.