Summer of George

If you don't get the reference of the blog title, then don't even ask.

It's been a shameful five months since I posted.  After a few months of torturing and teasing, spring finally gave way to summer in Chicago -- and it's turning out to be a busy one for me!  I'm trying to schedule a dinner for my new Meet Up group in July, and I literally have only one weekend to fit it in.  I'm going kayaking on the Chicago River, having dinner at ING and Moto, swimming and cooking out for the 4th, spending a week in Hilton Head, hosting my two oldest nephews for a long weekend, and spending a day tubing in Indiana -- and that's only the beginning.  There's also work, which I have to figure out how to fit in somewhere, since there is always so much of it to be done.  And then there's the scariest thing of all:  dating.

I haven't really dated since I was 25, which (let's face it) means I have never really dated.  Dating in your twenties, as a student, means falling into relationships with guys you happen to know and like.  Dating in your thirties, as a professional, is apparently completely different.  I say apparently because I don't know the rules, and I have no idea what I'm doing.  So get ready to be entertained.  

Fair warning:  if you're a guy I've gone out with, you might want to stop reading here.  And if you're a guy I'd like to go out with, then I want you to stop reading here.  

Here is how post-divorce dating-in-your-thirties starts when you have no idea what you're doing:

You start a Meet Up group, which thankfully doesn't turn out to be a complete disaster involving you sitting alone at a table for ten wondering where the other nine people are.  In fact, most of the people who show up turn out to be pretty cool.  And they come back to the next meet-up.  Which is also cool.  One guy in particular seems like something of a loner at the first event.  Kind of quiet.  A lurker.  But he comes to the next event, and you have settled into your role a bit and are rocking it as the Meet Up host, chatting everyone up.  He's only been in Chicago a few months, and he's been to a ton of places, so you suggest that you should join him on one of his food forays sometime.

Be advised:  you just asked someone out on a date.  

But of course, no one so advises you.  You and The Lurker meet for a casual dinner after work one night, and he's an hour late.  And you have serious timeliness issues.  But he's new to town, he got lost and he's embarrassed -- and it's not like it's a date or anything, so no sweat.  You have some bbq, go for a beer, and generally have a great time.  The next week you decide to get together again.  

You're a little nervous about this whole thing, not sure what the deal is, if he likes you, if this is just a friendly thing, but you're sure it must be.  Because you're not dating yet.  That is, until you're sitting outside on a Thursday evening, sharing chips and salsa and beer (salsa because this lunatic doesn't like guacamole), and he asks you when you last dated.  Other than this, that is.  

Guess what?  Apparently, this is a date.  

It turns out that dating can sort of fall into your lap if you're not careful.  (And, if you're dating, you should definitely be careful about things falling into your lap.)  But truth be told, I like The Lurker quite a bit.  I won't go into details here, which wouldn't be fair.  But we've continued going out, and I have fun with him.  

This is how post-divorce dating-in-your-thirties continues:

Another guy from the Meet Up group asked me out.  This time he was pretty clear it was a date.  I texted two friends to find out if it was okay to go out with two guys from the Meet Up group (like I said, I have no idea what I'm doing).  One wisely asked if I'd read the Twilight books.  The other said hell yes.  I went with hell yes.  

He was nice.  Not unattractive.  And had freakishly small hands.  I don't mean that in the "you know what they say about a guy with small hands" way.  I mean in a Seinfeld episode way.  I couldn't look at anything else.  I also couldn't get out of there fast enough. On a Saturday night at 8 p.m., I told him I had to go home and work.  Yes, I actually said that.

Also, I met a guy on a plane.  He was cute, we chatted, and I stopped at least fifty people behind me waiting to get off the plane to introduce myself and give him my email address.  Yes, I actually did that.  Because why the hell not.  

I had an epic five minute date at a bar today.  First clue:  my best girlfriend met him on match.com, but nothing panned out for them before she met her boyfriend.  She figured we're both single, so why not.  Second clue:  he's a musician.  

We were arguing withint ten seconds of his arrival.  And I mean that literally.  I was like, Music Guy, we are clearly just not compatible.  I mean, we have never met before, and we are arguing.  He took it personally.  Which I guess I can understand  There probably aren't a whole lot of women who will call a date within thirty seconds.  But really, why waste your time when you are literally fighting ten seconds after you met!?  No thanks.   

I was badass, but I call it like it is. 

I'll tell you later how post-divorce dating in your thirties ends.  I'm not there yet.  



Lately I feel that I've been coming into a new beginning.  That probably sounds more optimistic than my posts usually do, but sometimes beginnings require death, and perhaps this last year has been a death for me.  It nearly killed me, but not quite.  There is something in me, and it tickles and kicks at my core, demands to get out.   It makes me wonder if my sense of being "stuck" after the new year was a moment of rejuvenation, a pause to gather energy for the growth to come.   

Bulbs sit, seemingly stagnant under earth and snow while life grows, multiplies inside, and still the bloom must crack through the bulb, claw its way out of the very core of its own sustenance, and then crawl, ever so slowly, towards the sun, pushing pounds of dirt away a fraction of a millimeter at at time.

I am beginning to think that I am not the bulb, buried and choked by the earth, rotting in darkness, but the flint of growth, the glimpse of green struggling to unfurl and dig my way to the sun.  And I feel its warmth.



When the Professor and I were dating, his younger brother, Junior, had a series of girlfriends.  Junior was edgy, creative, hilarious.  I think he was searching for something -- someone -- lighter than himself.  Every year at Christmas, he brought one home with him, and every year, his mother had a stocking for the girl, one with her name embroidered on it.  Every year, there was a new stocking, a new name.  I don't know what happened to the old ones.  Maybe they were tossed in the attic, gathering dust.  Maybe they were thrown out.

I still think of the Professor's mom as my mother-in-law.  She hasn't acknowledged me once since the Professor told her that he wanted a divorce.  Neither has Junior.  Not once.  You would think that I was a serial killer, or a serial cheater.  You woud think that I left him. But maybe they hated me all those years.  Maybe they breathed a sigh of relief, followed by many more sighs and much more relief, when the Professor actually left me.  But I didn't breath a sigh of relief when I lost them.  To me, that is what it was. And is.  Loss.

I wanted to tell someone a story the other day, and it started with the Professor's father.  I opened my mouth to speak, and realized I didn't know what to call him.  My ex-father-in-law?  He died before the Professor left me, and so that didn't seem right.   And I had loved him, and I thought that he at least liked something in me, some fire he saw, however much he worried it would burn out his son.  I couldn't tell my story, because I couldn't figure out the words around that.  So I started, and stumbled, and thought of the Professor and his family, which had been my family.  And I found that I couldn't think of anything else, so I stopped talking.  There was simply no way to begin that felt adequate.

I once thought I knew where things stood.  I once believed that I knew people, and that they knew me, and loved me anyway.  I have learned much in these last sixteen months, mostly about myself.  About others, I have learned that I did not know, that I did not see and certainly did not not understand.  I was, probably, simply wrong, about many things.   About many people.  That knowledge, and the painful learning of it, has made me someone I was not.  Someone stronger, someone scarred, someone deeper, someone hurt.  I am brave, and I am terrified.  I am changed, in both good ways and bad.  I can never be unchanged.

I was wrong about what it means to love someone.  Love goes deeper and longer than I ever knew.  Love is less selfish than I once was.  Love treads more carefully than I did.  And love can bear you up against intolerable pain and make you stronger than you dream possible.  But everyone does not love the way that I do.  Or, at least, everyone I love does not love me that way back.  But still, I am not a stocking that can be replaced or tucked away to gather dust in the attic.  You can pack me up and leave me up there, but I am not.  I am not fungible.  I am deeply flawed, I know.  But so are we all.  And there is beauty and kindness --something uniquely worthy of love, tenderness, loyalty -- in me.  In you.  I may not know yours yet, but it is there.

I don't know yet what it all means.  I don't know what to do with all that I have learned, or how much more I will heal, or in what way the breaks and scars might make me even better -- or worse.  I want hope for the best, although I have no idea what that might bring.  But I know I have to hope, because I yearn for more.  Despite, and because of, everything.  More.


Auld Lang Syne

It's been more than two months since I blogged, and I feel guilty about that.  It's not that I've been too busy, but that I haven't known what to say.  I feel sort of like I'm writing a chagrined letter to a friend I've neglected.

The last two months have been full.  There was a trip to Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, for Thanksgiving.  I found getting my SCUBA certification to be more challenging than I anticipated.  There is something about it -- the water pressure of being so deep, the ceasing of all sound but your own air bubbles, the feeling about being completely isolated from the divers hovering only five feet away -- that makes me want to rip the regulator out of my mouth and scream.  With each dive, it takes me some time to get past that, to breathe through the anxiety and relax.  And my friends helped me do just that.  I made the trip, and the dives, with my dear friend, Julie.  I won't get into all of the gory details here, but long story short, as they say, I came pretty close to not getting certified.  Julie, who already was certified and who fears nothing -- who cannot possibly understand my own anxiety -- supported and cheered and pushed me all the way.  Julie is the kind of friend who takes your or leaves you on true terms.  She is one of a kind.  Love it or hate it, she will tell you her truth.  We all need a friend like that.  I think it helps me see myself in a way I would not, otherwise.  And it pushes me to be a better person, to be less afraid, or to at least walk head-on into my fears, knowing that they won't destroy me.

Christmas came upon me suddenly, which I suppose is probably best.  I didn't spend much time this year feeling very festive, but that also meant I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about the holidays, missing the sweet joy of sharing the holidays with the Professor, and all of the excitement that always went with that.  And so I made it through the holidays mostly unscathed.  But I will admit I thought of the Professor a great deal.  I missed him.

Things have been kind of dark and blurry since then.  I chalk it up, at least partly, to generic post-holiday blues.  I think it's pretty normal to feel down after the holidays, especially in a cold, snowy city like Chicago.  But I also think it's another transition phase for me.  I kept pretty busy last year, kept myself focused on concrete things I had to look forward to, a new job, parties, vacations, etc.  Even the divorce itself was something to focus on.  I had an objective:  getting through the divorce in a dignified way, not doing anything to give the Professor a reason to think he made the right decision in leaving me.

Now that it's over, and the holidays are done, I feel kind of lost.  The challenge, however it might be described -- getting through the divorce, handling it in the best way I could, being the best person I could, giving the Professor every opportunity not to go through with it -- seems over.  And what is left?

I don't know.  That's the answer.

Things -- life -- haven't turned out how I expected them to.  I did get what I wanted out of this last year, or at least what I could have hoped to dig from the remains of a decimated life, which is to say that I recovered some dignity, I put myself back together as best I could, I didn't kill myself, and I kept moving on, waking up each day, pushing myself, doing what scares me.  What choice did I have?

And that question keeps coming back to me, because 'what choice do I have' is a fine way to get through a tragedy, but it's no way to get through a life.  Lately, I feel a little stuck there, like I'm treading water.  Where do I move on from here?  Honestly, I want what I had, or thought I had:  love, companionship, friendship, acceptance.  But the thought of going through it all again, meeting someone, learning to know someone, sharing myself with someone (which part of me feels must be a completely screwed up and unlovable someone, or else I would not have been left), seems impossible, like an unmoveable weight on my chest, bearing me down so that I cannot breathe.  If the person who knew you most in the world -- the person who knew all of your weaknesses and flaws -- could not stand to be with you, how could anyone else ever love you?

Before I met the Professor, I honestly thought my opportunities for life-long love were over.   I realize that sounds dramatic.  I was only 27 at the time.  But I had put myself, and others, through a lot by then already.  I sort of knew I was a little screwed up.  I doubted anyone could stand me for very long.  I actually ran like hell from the Professor.  But he eventually wore me down, and I decided we were both equally flawed, and that we were both lucky to find someone to take us unconditionally.  The thing is that the more I think about that, the more I recover from the last year and think more objectively about the ten years preceding it, I can't help but recall those feelings.  I thought I was done before I met him.  I thought he saved me.  And I know it shouldn't be true -- I know that my strength and goodness this last year should mean something to me, should be a light of my own future self, shining to show me the way -- but the truth is, I can't help but feel that his leaving me only confirms what I already believed.  That I am too screwed up for anyone to properly love.

That makes it hard to move forward on the love front.  How can I pretend to be this great, SCUBA diving, hang-gliding, litigation wonder, when I feel like I am such a mess, inside?  If the one person who truly knew me -- knew all of my worst habits, saw me at my ugliest and most raw, but also saw my best, my most generous and loving self -- left me, how can anyone else ever love me?

So what is next?  What is left?  Am I loveable?  Will I be alone forever?

I don't know.  I can't say yes and I certainly can't say no.  Life hasn't turned out as I had imagined it would as a child, and that sort of breaks my heart for my child-self.  But there has still been beauty in my life, and wonder, and warmth.  I have been so lucky, to have loved so deeply -- and more than once.  Perhaps all of the love that I have already had in thirty-five years is more than most people get in a lifetime.  I can't argue with that, because I have had some beautiful and intense love.  Perhaps that will have to be enough.


The Cost

I feel like I don't post as often as I should.  As I mentioned on a previous post, that is partly because I feel some pressure (internal, external, I don't know) to post things that are meaningful or profound.  Who wants to hear the mundane of my daily life?  I certainly don't, and I'm almost more certainly interested than anyone else.  

So what motivates me to write, when I do? A friend recently said of her own blog that she only writes when her heart is heavy, and that resonated with me.  That would explain why my posts are more serious, and often sadder, than I actually am on a day-to-day basis.  And it makes sense to me.  A heavy heart makes me reflect, and reflection gives me things to share.  

My heart is not too heavy tonight, and I have nothing profound to say, but I do have something on my mind.  I recently got a new MacBook Air, and the key pad is amazingly easy to type on, so I'm loving that at the moment, although I am still slightly sick over the price tag -- which could have come close to renting a house for my entire family in Hilton Head this summer -- and slightly sick at myself for purchasing something so expensive that I wanted and can use, and which will make travel with a laptop so much easier, but which I did not truly "need."  

My financial considerations have changed enormously since the Professor left -- before, when I was working, we regularly spent $400 a week on wine (yes, I am slightly horrified to admit that, and I have no idea where it all went; the cellar, our bellies?).  Now, however, other than my regular bills (which, admittedly, aren't small between the mortgage, the dog, parking downtown, student loans, and the list goes on), the occasional dinner with friends, and the wonderful weekends I've been able to share with family here in Chicago, I really spend very little.  In a way, getting to know my own budgetary needs has been getting to know myself for the first time as an adult.  

It turns out that I like to spend money on my house and doing things, and I love to spend money on those that I love, but I enjoy spending money on little else.  It turns out that I despise clothes shopping, even if I can buy a size two.  I hate trying things on, and I don't really care much for the clothes themselves.  Give me jeans and an Old Navy t-shirt, a hoodie if it's cold, and I am seriously set.  I don't need a fancy television, I like my $35 hair cuts and my hair stylist with a pink mohawk.  I want to buy my parents dinner, I want to give my nephews something that makes them smile, I want my sister to come and visit me.  For me, I have realized that money is only useful to the extent that it buys moments or things I can enjoy with other people.  And I am so, so grateful to be able to do that.  

I don't often splurge on myself, I don't waste money, and I'm not expensive to keep.  Nonetheless, here I sit, feeling guilty about typing on my new, adorably thin MacBook Air, which I kind of hate.  Rather than thinking about how cool it is, I just can't let go of how much it cost me.  

If only we coud feel the same way about relationships that cost us too much.  



35 Things - Eighteen through Twenty-six

It is taking me entirely too long to get through this list, not because I haven't learned 35 things, but because when you try to distill what you've learned into just 35 things, it's hard to select and articulate the most significant.  I keep getting hung up on trying to say something profound, something meaningful -- or at least something hopeful and optimistic.  It's not working.  So, without much discernment, eighteen through twenty-five -- and, with substantially more thought, and also with humility, twenty-six:

18. I may be scarred, but I am not destroyed.  On the other hand, I may not be destroyed, but I am nonetheless damaged.  And that makes me afraid, both that no one will be willing to love me again, and that I won't be willing to let them.

19. The best friends provide comic relief, wise ears, stern words, and open arms, all of which are absolutely necessary.  Laugh with them, speak to them, listen to them, embrace them.

Thank you to all of my wonderful friends (new and old), and especially to Julie, for giving me all of the above, even (and particularly) when I don't like it, which is when I need it the most.

20. I would rather struggle to be better, to change, than live with ease, blind to my own failings.

21. Wanting to to be better is not even close to enough.  Change requires small, excruciating steps, frequently in the wrong direction.  It requires daily effort and endurance, and may not be apparent for a long while.  I still have a long way to go.

22.  I'm not sure I can stop loving someone I have once loved.  I can love them less, and in a different way, but I'm just not sure I can stop entirely.  And I'm not sure that's something I want to change.

23. Two people can share an experience -- or a love, or a life -- yet experience two entirely different things.

24. Strong, brilliant, otherwise self-possessed women regularly define themselves by the men (or man) in their lives.  We mold ourselves to them -- or try.  I do it, women I love and admire do it.  I'm befuddled.

25. Family, family, family.  Aunts, mother, sister, cousins.  They have buoyed me through dark times again and again, and this year is no exception.  They ground me, they lift me, they infuriate me, they delight me.  They push and inspire me to be better, to be more like them.  These are the strong women -- and the strong man who will always be thirteen in my mind and a brother in my heart -- who help me define myself.  They are my ties, my history, my fabric.

Speaking of strong women, I feel compelled to mention Erin Poston Stone, a classmate and fellow Model Arab Leaguer of mine from Converse, whose husband very recently passed away.  Her most recent blog post literally left me in  tears this morning, waiting for court and realizing that, if I didn't stop reading immediately, I would be sobbing in front of the judge.  After court, I was simply unable to get into the car and drive.  Instead, I could only sit in the parking lot at McDonalds to finish reading Erin's post.  I read it in its entirety again when I got home from work this evening, and cried for Erin, Cameron, Patrick and their entire family.  I also cried for Dr. B, the Professor, and his family.  The heart cries for those it loves.

Erin is, and has been, so breathtakingly strong.  Her writing is heartwrenching and real.  Her experience and her blog posts remind me that I am so lucky.  I am surrounded by women who endure and survive much worse than I have ever dreamed of going through, and I am humbled by that.

And so, lesson number twenty-six is that no matter your experience, however devastating it is, someone, somewhere, is almost certainly going through much, much worse -- unimaginably worse -- and they are doing it with grace and beauty.  Like Erin.

Erin's blog:



The Truth Is There Is No Truth

Despite the fact that no one has actually posted a comment on the blog itself, I've received more feedback on the last blog post than on any other post I've written, both in terms of the number of responses and their intensity.  It's been an interesting experience of discovery for me, because I didn't anticipate that a post painting me in such a negative light would elicit sympathy, encouragement, and passion.

Many responses have been along the lines of telling me I'm being too hard on myself, everyone has their bad moments, etc.  And I get that, I really do.  As I said at the end of the post, I know that's not the whole story.  As one generous friend said, it's a simplistic narrative.  And it is.  This blog is.  The reality has far more nuance and complexity than my last post -- or any single post taken alone -- can capture. 

The point of my last blog post was not that the end of my marriage was entirely my fault, or even mostly my fault.  But before I started this blog, I thought long and hard about what I wanted it to be.  I could use this as a forum to exact some meaningless, unfulfilling revenge.  I could play the victim, rally you to my corner (although, admittedly, most of you are already there).  I could say the Professor was terrible with money, emotionally inaccessible, utterly lacking in empathy.  I could tell you stories about how the Professor failed me, disappointed me, broke me.  And I'm sure I will.

But I have no illusions about the fact that I can also tell you stories about how I failed, disappointed and broke the Professor.  I don't mean that I deserved to be left.  I don't mean to justify his leaving or anything else he has done since then.  I couldn't want to mean that even if I wanted to want it.  And I don't want it, because this is all still a story I don't want to read.

But here I am, writing it nonetheless.  And, whatever else I do or don't know, I know that no single blog post can completely portray the Professor, or me.  No retelling can tell the true story of our relationship.  More likely, there simply is no true story, no single, definitive history.  And, if there is, it probably cannot be told from my perspective, because my perspective is necessarily limited by the fact that it's mine.

Or maybe that's wrong.  Maybe the Professor is a static, uncomplicated and unredeemable character, and my reluctance to accept that reflects an unwillingness to believe that I was taken.  But I don't really believe that.  I can't, for numerous, complex reasons.  And I don't want you to, either.  I loved him.  I still do.  And I have to believe there is something to that, something important and life-altering, even if I don't understand it.  Perhaps because it's true.  Perhaps because I need it to be true.  Probably some of both.

I'd like to say that I have some sort of broad, noble goal for this blog, some profound motivation for the things I write.  But I don't.  This is just me, living this experience in the most honest and thoughtful way that I can.  I will be angry, and I will write fury.  I will be sad, and I will write sorrow.  I will be selfish, and I will write pity.  I will be sorry, and I will write guilt.  But, whatever I write, I will try to temper it with awareness of the limitations of my own retelling.  I hope you can read it that way, as well.


35 Things - Number Seventeen: The Whole Story

You would think one long year would sufficiently exhaust my tears.  No.  There are still good days and bad days.  Don't get me wrong, most days are good -- or at least so filled with work and other commitments that they have room for nothing else.  But some days are still very bad.  Oddly, now that I don't see or talk to the Professor, I think more about the things I loved, the things I miss, not less.  (My therapist says it's "normal.")  In his absence, I suppose it's easier to forget the most exquisitely painful moments of the last year and, instead, to recall the sweet moments we shared in the seven years before.  Not that they were all sweet.  I recall many horrible moments as well, but the moments I recall best involve my being horrible.

I have a special skill for recalling the worst in myself, but that probably has something to do with the fact that my worst is pretty bad.  I cannot deny that I am a person of extremes.  Like the nursery rhyme says, There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the  middle of her forehead.  When she was good, she was very, very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid.  

It would certainly be easy to embrace a version of my marriage in which I followed my husband to Chicago, worked at miserable, demoralizing job so that he could pursue his PhD with leisure, financed his every consumable (and expensive) desire, and was left once he secured a position teaching law before 80 new young and admiring students each semester (approximately 54% of which are female, according to statistics).  It would be easy to embrace the simple version in which he left (or, rather, did not leave but said he wanted out); began dating immediately, while still living in our house, regularly staying out well past midnight; yelled contemptuously at me to stop crying myself to sleep night after night, as I was keeping him awake; moved into an apartment with two total strangers and slept on a mattress on the floor for months (which apparently was more appealing than living with me); and asked me to nonetheless be available to him for practical and emotional purposes for many months thereafter -- a request I willingly, happily, and heartbreakingly obliged.  It would be easy, and those things are all factually true -- and painful to recall.  But that is not an accurate rendition of what happened, because it lacks context.

The context is this.  I am hard to live with and hard to love.  I am sensitive, demanding, bratty, selfish.  I am rigid.  I can be hysterical.  I can be nasty.  I can lose my temper, and lose control.  I have thrown a remote control across the room, splintering it.  (I had to order a new one from Tivo for $50.)  I scream.  I cry.  I do not tolerate dissent.  I have been known to bite my hand, literally, when I can't take it anymore, don't know what else to do to release my anger (although, in my defense, rarely).

The day before the Professor proposed, we bought him a new grill for Easter.  We assembled it together at home -- precisely the kind of task that brought out my worst, my most rigid and demanding self.  For not getting it exactly right, for not being quick enough, I derided him.  I degraded him, I dismissed him.  I know that much.  We had a terrible fight, which I can't precisely recall, but I'm sure it ended with me screaming and sobbing hysterically in bed, as they all did.  The next day, he asked me to marry him nonetheless.  He hid Easter eggs all over the house, a treasure hunt ending in a fuzzy yellow chick hiding a blue Tiffany box.  When I remember that weekend, I remember how I yelled at him over the grill.  And he was hiding Easter eggs, a sweet clue to the next egg tucked inside each one.

There are other, equally horrific and shameful memories, and they all share the same theme:  I was ugly, I was selfish, I was cruel.  I often acted like the Professor's love was assumed and expected, however I treated him, whatever I did.

Perhaps we were never a good fit, perhaps it would not have worked, however perfect I could be -- I don't know, and I never will.  But what I do know, what I have come to face over this last year, is that I have a huge hand in the end of my marriage.  In a way, I helped to set the end of things into motion before we'd even started.  I crushed him.

The last year is not the whole story.  It is humiliating and painful in a special way, because it means I have to take some ownership of my marriage and divorce -- to look at myself and cringe -- but, it is true.  I shared seven years with the Professor (eight, if you count this last year).  I knew him.  Despite what those who love me most may want to think, because it's easier, because they love me, because the alternative is complex and, thus, uncomfortable, the Professor is a good person -- a person enthusiastic and hopeful for love -- and for most of the eight years that we shared, he was probably better to me than I often deserved.  And so, whatever has happened in the last year that has hurt me, damaged me, destroyed my trust and hope, I have learned this:  I, too, am culpable.  

It is not the whole story, but the story is not whole without it.



I saw something important tonight.

Walking back to the office after a quick bite, I saw a crowd.  Nothing unusual in downtown Chicago.  I walked into the crowd, meaning to walk right through.  It was a circle of sorts, but people were leaning in towards each other, away from what their heads turned to face -- a young woman being forced to the ground by a man in jeans and a red sweatshirt.  I stopped walking, rocked on my feet, and turned half towards her, half away like the others.  No one seemed sure what to do, poised between stepping in or walking away.

It was a few seconds before he forced her to the sidewalk on her face, writhing.  She kept saying "why?"  He pulled handcuffs out of his jeans.  Apparently, she'd shop-lifted from H&M.  Who knows what she took.  She looked like a student, with a back back and lap top bag that had been flung to the street in their struggle.

The entire scuffle probably lasted five seconds and we all dispersed, set into motion when he snapped on the handcuffs and hoisted her to her feet, dragged her back towards the store.  I walked away feeling sad, like I'd just seen someone's worst shame, someone's life fall apart.


35 Things (The Most Important Thing)

I cut off all of my hair.  Ok, not all of it, but more than half.  I don't know what got into me.  I went in for a trim, and as I climbed into the chair and Mallory wrapped a black bib around my neck, I decided to cut it all off.   That's not exactly right.  I didn't contemplate it, but the words came out of my mouth.  She asked, how short, and I said I didn't care.  I just wanted something different.  I crave something different.

Why do we do that?  Do we think changing something physically will change something else?  Change our lives?  I have done it before, and I bet you have, too.  I have cut my hair short, colored it red, gotten a tattoo, pierced my belly button (the only one of the four that I regret).  I have lost weight and gained weight and lifted weights.  But it hasn't changed me.   Although I suppose it reflects something else, something already changing and moving inside, something that wants to stretch and get out, or hide.

Mallory's hair is neon pink, sometimes blue - the unnatural blue of children's food.  You might have some trepidation about letting someone with spiky pink hair cut or color yours, but I like talking to her.  She makes no judgment (after all, she has spiky pink hair!).  Like my therapist, but cheaper.  Friday night we got caught up on our love lives -- mine, still a daily process in healing; hers, sadly foundering.  Mallory asked me if it's still the first thing I think about when I wake up each morning.

I thought perhaps she was looking for comfort in what may be her own story soon, and I was reluctant to answer.  I was also caught off guard.  People who know you well don't ask those questions, probably because they hesitate to encourage you to think of the thing they most want you to forget, maybe naively hope you already have.  Strangers don't ask such questions because they wouldn't dare.  But shampoo and a warm bath towel create parameters that don't apply elsewhere.

I told her I don't wake every day immediately devastated by the loss, the way I once did.  But each morning, somewhere between the bed, the dog food bowl, the coffee pot and the shower, I have a thought of him, or of us.  It resides under the skin of my consciousness.

That's probably not what she wanted to hear and, frankly, not what I'd want to hear, either.  But it's there, and I carry it with me.  And perhaps the things I'm doing now -- working 14 hours a day, hang-gliding, cutting my hair, joining a gym for the first time in a decade, getting my scuba-diving certification -- are just a transparent attempt to build a new consciousness, one without him in it.  Or perhaps it's just me living my life, grasping it with a new awareness of how abruptly and painfully it could change, of how inconspicuously time can pass without my having done anything I should have done.

(After all, I did waste two years of my life unemployed, when I should have been writing, volunteering, learning, doing things.  I didn't know it was wasted, at the time.  I thought I was recovering from a hellish job, loving my family of four, then trying to patch it back together.  But I didn't know what was in store, and now I know that I can never know.  And so I feel compelled to move, to do things that scare me, to excite myself, to go for it, and I get restless when I don't have to be at the office by seven a.m. on a Saturday.)

Probably, it's some of both -- pushing myself away from what was, and racing into the night to find the next adventure because I've already lost too many opportunities through my own complacency.

I once wrote the Professor a letter in which I told him that I wanted to mark the moment, mark the seconds and days we shared in early love, in finding new adventures in making fried egg sandwiches and giggling in bed at night, because I knew that the moment would pass, that one day we would have hard times, we would struggle, and I didn't want us to look back on that moment and say, if only we had known how good it was.    I wrote that I wanted us to say we are so lucky that we knew.

Apparently we both forgot that letter, that moment, and what we knew then.  We blinked, and five years passed.  I resented him for the fact that I hated my job, and later because I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, and so I did nothing.  He resented me for being anxious and unhappy with work, and then for still being unhappy without it.  He lost respect for me and, to be honest, I think I lost respect for myself, as well.  And, in all that time, I did nothing to change it.  Or I did, but I was too late.  (I won't get into what the Professor did or didn't do, because this isn't really about him and was never meant to be.)

And so, this is the single most important thing I learned in the 35th year of my life:  If we let life happen to us, it will, and we will sit and watch, helpless and nothing more.

So, here's to impulsive hair cuts, new jobs, hang-gliding, scuba-diving, planting spring bulbs in September, working 14 hours a day and meeting friends for dinner when the day is done, drafting your own divorce papers, joining a gym and using it, dusting off your bike, getting a new passport, joining a book club, using a power saw, serving dinner at a soup kitchen, being an attorney again, and doing whatever else scares you most.