A Little More of Everything

a-woman-looking-at-ocean-on-the-beach

I want to learn what life is for
I don’t want much, I just want more
Ask what I want and I will sing, more of everything
Everything

Barbra Streisand, Everything

Last fall was the last time I slept with someone and a question arose unbidden in my brain the morning after. The morning after a mediocre and slightly awkward sexual encounter with someone I trusted and even was quite fond of: How can I be a 50-year old woman and still not know how to ask for what I want? Actually, that’s not it. How is it I could be 50 and still not know what I want?

It has now been almost two and a half years ago that I voluntarily and painfully extricated myself from a destructive and drama-filled relationship. I was so certain then of what I didn’t want in a mate ever again that I wrote down in my journal a list of my deal breakers and deal makers for any future relationship.

What I want: Kind, stable, educated and thoughtful with a decent sense of humor headed the list. Someone who is interested in the arts, informed about current events, spiritual, a good listener. Ideally, too, a liberal foodie who listens to NPR. (When I briefly did online dating, that was my litmus test question – do they like NPR, not like it, one guy asked me what is NPR? and that spelled doom for him, sorry) Other dealmakers: cares about social justice issues and wants to create community with others through connection and compassion. Someone who has something to say, isn’t emotionally crippled (that one is hard to tell until you’re really inside the relationship but it’s critical), who cares about their health and a little about fitness but won’t yell like a drill sergeant and make you do forced marches at o dark thirty; is good with kids but doesn’t still have little ones at home. And they have to be past wanting any more of them! Likes cats (and dogs, too but publicly or even secretly prefers cats). Someone who loves to hike, travel, and sing and dance, live music and movies.

Dealbreakers: I am glass half-full, so this list is shorter but vital:

No alcoholics or druggies – I am too easily swayed and get too invested too quickly in “saving” people with problems, so this is my number one steer-clear.

Inability to think ahead or plan. Yes, I know YOLO and all that, but being able to plan ahead is a sign of responsibility and that you care enough to commit to a Saturday with me two weeks from now.

Travel for a living. Whether you’re a truck driver, or businessman or soldier … I have decided I need someone who is around more to be my partner in crime. Too much time away from one another makes those everyday intimate connections too tenuous and too fragile.

Must be able to deal with my somewhat eccentric and slightly judgmental family, including of course my own darling children. No further explanation required on this one; they are pretty lovable overall.

After my last disappointing and disastrous love affair, I waited a goodly amount of time before getting involved again and I was not the pursuer in any way. For once in my life I was too heartbroken to stop looking at the pain and dissecting it and trying to learn from it to move too quickly.

In her memoir Liar’s Club, Mary Karr describes her mother – “My mother didn’t date, she married.” This is me, at least three times it was. My sister once teased me that it wasn’t necessary to marry someone just because you wanted to sleep with them. For me, who has lily-padded her way from relationship to relationship her whole life, 11 months without even a meet and greet with someone new made me feel like an exile. But I know I was healing and thinking and the time to myself did change me. Now I am hesitant and realistic about my prospects. I hate the term settling but we all make choices to avoid loneliness, not to be confused with being alone. These are not the same. I am one day at a time becoming more ok with the pleasure of my own company.

What I want: I want to be the center of attention, want to be praised for my talents. I want to be of value to my friends and family and my significant other.

What I want: I want to be respected for my brain. I want to be loved and beloved, and on occasion be told I am pretty (cute is ok, I guess, but not as good as pretty) and that my skin is nice or I have a cute ass or a nice smile. I want to be desired – for both my body and heart. I want to make love in a way that’s more than scratching an itch, but rather quenches thirst and soothes fears and makes a bold statement of being there for someone.

What I want: I want someone who doesn’t mind taking care of me a little – lets me get drunk and loud every now and then and takes me home and puts me to bed without complaint, brings me flowers because he loves the way it lights up my face, takes me for drives in the country and takes me dancing and surprises me with a mystery hike or a dinner, a concert or a play, the gift of his time.

What I want: I want someone who will go to church with me – AND wants to talk about the sermon and what it means to him. I want someone who will read my writing, or even better listen to me read it AND wants to talk about it – asks me questions, gives good feedback. I want someone who shows interest in who I am and who I am becoming. I want someone who has the humility to be sorry, who cares for God and the beautiful nature he has so generously given his children, and wants to get out there and marvel at it. I want someone who is not afraid of the intensity of me and will let me love them.

I do know that not finding this person might be somewhat my fault. To my chagrin, I find I am not familiar with kindness, a lack of guile as disconcerting as a tick under my skin. Surely I don’t want to be neglected or patronized or told what to do, but why then am I drawn to men who are emotionally unavailable and arrogant, men who have a wild streak and I think are wonderful but end up making me cry and lose sleep? Someone who uses his knowledge of my heart and the vulnerability of my secrets to cut me to the bone, to betray me.

But it’s just me in all my midlife crisis angst. Now I have a great little house of my own, filled with pictures and memories and clutter. But I’m not sure how it would be to share it. I have work, my writing group, my family, my Pilates buddy, my church volunteering, my occasional drinks with friends. I know I am self-centered and guilty of believing I am the only one in a relationship whose feelings can get hurt. But it is my right to “set the tone” as my mother always used to say. I am still not convinced I am loved despite my faults.

What I want: So despite the fact that I have prided myself on being open to a relationship, how open am I really? The other side of my bed is always filled to capacity with books, magazines and cats. There is this intimate, romantic fantasy of how great it is to curl up and spoon with a man curled liked a question mark against your back, his arm thrown casually over your breast or resting on your leg. In reality, I have terrible night sweats and about five seconds with a man’s heat against my back and I’m throwing off covers and moving away. And the snoring, dear God I have never been so ready to throttle someone. Road rage, hell, this is Bed rage. Murderous bed rage. My comeuppance has been to find out I am also a snorer of the third dimension of hell. Is this what happens when you get old? I understand the idea of separate bedrooms so much better now.

I am older now and the dream of having an intact family has faded away and gone, and if I’m honest I was never exactly a domestic goddess anyway. But a companion for the journey? Yes. I cannot find the motivation to cook for one, but I love cooking with someone or even on occasion, for someone. Does it sound crazy to say we could just read in the same room and glance up and smile at one another periodically? Or to binge-watch Netflix together.

What I want: Beyond significant-other issues, what I want is to more readily remember that 99.9% of what I really want is already waiting patiently inside me in the land of being still and introspection. I should go visit that place more. I want to think less about what I want and more about what other people need and be of greater service to them. I want to know – every single day – that there is limitless capacity for love in this world and I can find a way to be a part of that. I want to stop living inside my phone and my head and other people’s opinions. Daily prayer. Explore the wonder. Honor my body with good healthy food more often and make time to work out or at least walk. I think that’s all I really want. Is that so much to ask?

 

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Ten Great Ways to Embrace Holiday Melancholy

Grumpy Christmas cat2

In the spectrum of happiness, I think friends and family would rank me high on the scale – maybe an 8,  with an obnoxious tendency towards being passionate and perky. But sometimes I have a day – or two – or even a weekend when I feel wan and weepy and woeful. We all do, I suppose, especially during the holidays.

But this time I have decided I should just own it and revel in the self-destructive glory of it. So when you are blue, here are 10 ways I have noted to stay in that negative space and wallow to your heart’s content. 

  1. Eat junk food. When I’m in a funk, I make sure not to cook anything myself. Eat only fast food or delivery. To make the nutrition negativity is a complete wash, binge on cookies (Golden Oreos are my favorite) and then move on to candy (Milk Duds and Reese’s) or ice cream. Don’t bother to put your treats in a plate or bowl. Just bring the whole package or carton with you as you stay immobile in your Lazy-boy, which brings me to #2.
  2. Binge-watch television. With the advent of Netflix, this is easier than ever. You can spend hours and hours enraptured. You don’t even have to open the blinds or know what day it is. Make sure not to binge-watch comedies, though. That might lift your spirits a little too much, which is counter to your goal of embracing your self-pity. Instead, watch something intense and/or sad. A good Law and Order SVU marathon will keep you numb and empty with its heart-wrenching cases of rape, child sexual abuse, human trafficking, etc. Guaranteed not to release you from your desolation as you consider all the horrible ways humans can harm one another and society. As an added bonus, it might even disturb your sleep or haunt your dreams.
  3. Don’t shower or bathe. No need to cleanse yourself or feel refreshed. Wear your rattiest robe; don’t put on any real clothes. Don’t brush your teeth or comb your hair, even be deodorant optional if you dare. Let the grunginess of your heart inside be matched by your appearance on the outside.
  4. Don’t do any housework. Let the dishes pile up. Let the dust bunnies breed. Forget about that pile of laundry. It’ll be there waiting for you, don’t worry. Don’t sweep or vacuum or mop or clean out the refrigerator. Make sure the space around you is chaotic and cluttered. Remember, you are on a mission to be miserable.
  5. Don’t read a book. This diversion will likely distract you with enjoyable stories of people and places and events that your mind will connect to. You could actually take pleasure in the journey. You must avoid anything that helps you escape from that deep dark hole, and an entertaining novel might help you climb out.
  6. Don’t go outside. Those errands to the drugstore or grocery or even the beloved taco truck down the street can wait. You don’t want to hear the birds, see the sky or trees or smell the air. In fact, don’t even look outside or open your door unless it’s the pizza delivery person. Make sure you keep your blinds closed and use as little light as possible. Only what you need to see what you’re eating or change the channel on the remote.
  7. Don’t exercise. No treadmill, definitely no walking or jogging or biking outside. Ignore your body’s cravings for activity. Just live in your lassitude and laziness and crawl deeper inside your fleece throw in the recliner. Dozing off in your chair several times while watching television also helps feed your languor.
  8. Skip church. Connecting to others in your faith community is a bad idea. They may remind you that someone truly cares. Hearing the choir sing the psalms or the congregation singing Alleluia together will mess up your malaise, for sure. And of course, knowing God is always with you will give you hope. You don’t want that.
  9. Obsessively scroll Facebook. Who needs a real life when you can live vicariously? Although you may see something funny or clever, it will undoubtedly be overshadowed by suddenly realizing you’ve spent hours trolling. Revel in the anger and outrage and disbelief in humanity generated in you by reading the inane and insane comments posted by people about every current news or cultural event or political topic. There is something so perfectly depressing about the time suck of Facebook. The way everyone can overshare and post pithy sayings about life. Or photos of malnourished animals, or demands that you say Amen to something in order to be blessed or come into money, or some such BS.
  10. Last but not least, make sure not to make any human contact whatsoever. Don’t take advantage of the multitudes of volunteer opportunities in the community or shop for an Angel Tree child or family. Also, don’t message or text, and definitely don’t call, any of the friends or family who love you. They would be more than happy to let you ramble on about your worries and issues and ennui. You must pretend you are totally alone in the world to truly make this abject and heart-sick lethargy the complete package of despair. You know you can make it if you try.

So you have your marching orders, you know now what you must do. Now go forth, be un-merry, let your heart be heavy not light, and fester in your self-imposed sadness. I have faith that you can do it.

 

Love Letter

loveletters3We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.

Thornton Wilder

For Valentine’s Day – A Love Letter to My Treasures

This Valentine’s Day I am writing a love letter, not to a romantic partner because I don’t have one of those this year. A love letter to someone, in fact many someones who have been critical to my recovery. Critical to my discovery of hope in my future and even more importantly in me.

Dear beloved friends and family who I will never be able to thank enough if I took a million years:

Now that I am wiping the dirty pain from the window panes of my heart, I am awakening to the fact that I have gained far more than I lost. I would much rather be alone than embroiled in an ugly drama. I would rather be alone than left holding a faded rose, a valentine’s card that should have been for someone’s grandma, and a paperback I already own as happened one V-day. These gifts so casual and easy to obtain as to be insulting from a man who professed to love me.

What has become astonishing to me is how much more love I have in my life than ever before if I will simply acknowledge it. Since I began to care about my life on my own, a huge circle of friends and beloved ones have surrounded me with a cavernous caring and compassion. They have given me perspective, support and therapy, allowed me endless processing and crying time, talked me down from several ledges, bolstered my confidence, and reminded me of my inner beauty and unique love-ability.

They have provided encouragement for just Holly, in all my flawed, big-hearted messiness. They have helped me see that person is enough, in fact she is plenty and maybe even too much for some people to handle. But those people can keep walking. I have been nurtured, given companionship, made to feel valued and needed. They have been my defenders and protectors when I felt inadequate and they validated the gifts I bring to the table. Without the huge heartache, and my crying out for a little help, would I have known this love? Would I have seen that it was already there?

One thing I have recently discovered is how much I have adopted the interests, hobbies and values of the men I have been with. Did I really like white water rafting? Well, no frankly I didn’t it scared the shit out of me and after that one harrowing incident at New River Gorge, I finally drew the line. Did I like drinking every weekend, watching movies and never leaving the house? Not every weekend, no. Did I want to be a roadie and help carry musical equipment and let the “band” practice in our basement when we had a small child upstairs? Not really, no. But I wanted to be a helpful mate.

But I buried me, and now that I am single again and an empty-nester, I am free to pursue my own interests exclusively. I have uncovered a few things:

  1. I will stop lying and pretending that I like to cook.
  2. It is Ok to say no to invitations if you want to do something else – even if it is by yourself.
  3. I knew this, but now it is more present to me: I get my energy and zest from connecting with other people and their stories. I am a storyteller, that is who I am and God, it is so freeing to not just know that, but to feel it deep down in my bones.
  4. I have people that love me enough to let me be completely honest and vulnerable. I was such a people-pleaser I always glossed over the sometimes ugly truths about myself – and my life.
  5. As Robert Plant sings in the Led Zeppelin song In the Light: “When love is pain, it can devour you. But you are never alone. “

So to my beloved valentines and there are so many of you now – I say this is such a Happy, Happy Valentine’s Day.

All I can say is this: I love you all so much for giving me … well, me.

On the Bridge

bridge3

I have traveled the paths of desire
Gathering flowers and carrying fire

I am crossing the bridges of
sorrow
Empty with yearning and full of tomorrow

  – October Project

I was struck dumb when he actually mailed me back my panties. I think my exact thought at that moment was, “Are you f —ing kidding me?”

In the envelope were his keys to my house, a short handwritten letter, a check for $100 paying back money I had loaned him, and a pair of my red and black panties. Not particularly sexy panties, not even close to being my favorite ones.

What the hell? Was he that clueless or just heartless? Why on earth would he return them? Maybe he doesn’t want the next girl to find them.

When I returned his things, there was a whole box of items – greeting cards I had sent him, a lint roller, church clothes, an extra comb, robe, slippers, sunglasses, etc. And yet that is all I had at his place – one pair of panties? Did he really think I was missing them, that I wanted them back? In fact, I couldn’t look at them a second longer, so I threw them in the garbage with the coffee grounds.

It is still like physical pain not to talk to him. Lately, I have been in the bargaining stage – why can’t we just be friends? Sadly, pathetically, I thought maybe even a booty call now and then because God, I miss him touching me. But I know even if he wanted that, why would I? In what universe would that not be emotionally devastating for me?

And the more I reflect on this, the more I know I can never go back. To him or to anyone who would treat me that way. Ever again.

So much that I miss. I miss his sexy voice saying, “Hey babe,” like he always did when he answered the phone. It never failed to thrill me a little because the way he said it I felt like I belonged to him; and that felt great. And I miss my friend, the one who watched Jeopardy with me, and praised my intelligence, when every now and then, I would get a lot of questions right. The friend who single-handedly laid the tile for my kitchen floor. I can still see him now, bent low, his carpenter jeans paint-stained, and his muscular forearms glistening with sweat. He glances up gives me a grin. The friend, the man who thought I was adorable and sexy and fun. I miss his sweet face, his laugh, his hands; our love.

But I know what I truly miss – the essence of us – has been gone for a while now. I miss that beginning relationship, the one that had what I felt was unlimited potential to lift up the two people in it in extraordinary ways. It was deep and euphoric on a level I have never known. Now I am utterly terrified I will never know that feeling again in my lifetime. That is what I mourn – that is what I miss the most right now.

What I don’t miss, on the other hand … wow, just about everything else.

Despite the mounting evidence to the contrary, I just couldn’t see what has happening right in front of me.

With this man, I despaired of the leaving but it had gotten so dark I felt my chances of finding my way home rapidly slipping away.

At first, he stayed at my place a lot, especially on weekends, and I loved having him there. He had a drawer for his clothes, a robe on the hook and slippers under the bed.  When I asked once about a drawer for me to keep a few things at his place, he said he didn’t even have enough room for all his own clothes. Wow, red flag. It is easy to see that now. He could never make room for me, not in his room, or his life, or his heart.

One weekend, we were at his trailer at the lake. I was washing the dishes after he made us some food on the grill. The sink was tiny, and as hard as I tried not to, I was continually slopping water up onto the wood walls. He was very exacting about the cleaning at his lake place. He was always coming up behind me, and sighing and trying to sop it up. “So I guess I’m going to have to do this, too, now since you just can’t get the hang of it,” he told me in a mean tone. He knew exactly what to say to hurt me where I felt most vulnerable, so then he said, referring to my ex-husband and his wife: “I keep thinking if it was Cindy, she would have made the dinner herself, and already had everything cleaned up, too. I guess Kent really traded up, huh?”

I felt trashed by his comment. He was sitting in his chair, smoking a cigar. We had already been fighting and my nerves were raw and I turned back to the sink away from him as the tears rolled down. When he noticed I was crying, he yelled at me, “Oh, so now here are the waterworks. Just suck it up, Holly, I don’t believe your tears for a minute, and I’m certainly not going to help you be helpless.” When I think about it now, it sounds very callous and demanding. Then, I just believed him. He’s right, I am too sensitive.

Yet, I still saw glimpses of potential in our relationship. We went to Dale Hollow for my birthday, a lake where he had spent his childhood summers. “You know, I have never brought another girl here – ever,” he told me. I beamed. We talked and walked all the way around the lake, picking up fossils. I felt happy he wanted to share this special place with me – I must still be important to him – even if he doesn’t always show it …

Bu the recriminations continued – I laughed too loud – I talked too much – I didn’t take initiative to jump in and help when we were doing something together. I would always ask him, “Honey just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it,” but he would respond that I should know what needs to be done and why should he have to tell me? I was not willing to face him head on and debate issues endlessly until he felt he had won – yet when I capitulated; it seemed to make him madder.

Ultimately, I was thinking I didn’t want to lose him, but what happened was I lost me – my integrity, my dignity, my self- respect.

When my niece died suddenly, I assumed he would go to the funeral but he refused. “What? You’re not going to my niece’s funeral?” I said disbelieving, “Why not?”

“I just really don’t feel like going,” he said. “Well, sorry but you don’t have a choice,” I said. He bristled. “I always have a choice.”

“But honey, it’s just what you do for people you love; you just suck it up. I need you to be there, baby.” But my words fell on deaf ears as I stood at her visitation and funeral without him by my side, feeling like someone had hollowed out my insides.

The incident was close to being a deal-breaker, but at the end of the day, I loved him and wanted to get past it. He had apologized to my sister for not coming, so I tried to move on and not hold it over his head. I let it go. But he couldn’t let it go.

One night, after work I met him at a local bar and at first, he was very solicitous, buying me drinks. But then he was drunk and he became abusive, throwing every below-the belt comment he could think of at me. He mocked me because my ex-husband’s wife had kindly mowed my lawn for me the week my niece died. I had been staying with my sister to support her in her terrible grief. “Damn, you can’t even mow your own lawn; you had to get your ex’s wife to do it, that is just embarrassing,” he taunted.

But then the lowest blow: “You just walked around playing the martyr at the funeral, didn’t you? You cared more about me not being there than you did about grieving your own niece. I heard you weren’t even that upset.” I blinked, not sure I heard him right. But then I knew I had. How dare he even say that when he wasn’t even there to know what I thought or felt? I was indignant, but I couldn’t even get a word in to refute his comments. He continued on his rampage. Finally, he bolted and I just sat there, stunned and humiliated at this public display.

How did I let this happen? … It crept up so slowly – just like kudzu. At first it’s lovely – then it snowballs and then it controls and chokes out all the other plants and flowers in its path.

Years ago, I volunteered at a women’s domestic violence shelter. I could hear the same words ringing in my head:

“But you just don’t know him; he’s not always like this, he’s a good man, he can be so loving and wonderful. He has been great to me.”

“It used to be different. It wasn’t always like this.”

I remember the women telling me how the physical wounds they suffered were not as bad as the verbal abuse, the emotional abuse.

“The bruises heal and go away. It’s the ones on the inside that don’t go away,” said one woman with a haunted look in her eyes.

Even after everything that had happened, it took seeing it through other people’s eyes before it finally dawned on me.

In fact, it was someone I never even met who put the nail in the coffin for me. The last time I saw him; he picked a loud fight at the restaurant and then walked out. I sat there, humiliated; crying and paying the bill. The sweet server just looked at me sadly and said, “Honey, no one deserves to be talked to like that.” And suddenly it was just all too much, yet also not enough.

The next day, I was at my job working on a video about a cancer patient in her 30s who had passed away in February. The nurses on the unit found out that Valentine’s Day was her anniversary. They brought in a special dinner for the patient and her husband, bringing out a white tablecloth, china, candles and wine to mark the occasion.

The nurses told me about the special night the couple shared – one of the last ever for the patient. Her husband sang the John Legend song All of Me to her as they held hands on the hospital chairs. At this point, she was bald, weighed about 80 pounds and was on oxygen. Her husband thanked the nurses for everything they had done for his beloved wife.

“I wanted her to have just one more good day,” he said.

Just one more good day.

I don’t know how or when I forgot to know this, but I, too deserve to be loved like that. For crying out loud, we don’t know how long we have to love each other. I have already cried too many nights over this man, who no longer deserves my big, beautiful love.

I am not out of the woods yet. I am still crossing the bridge. And I’m not even sure I know who this person is anymore making the journey. But there is a widening circle of light so I can at least see the path, and I am ever so slowly winding my way home.

After the Storm

After storm2And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears
And love will not break your heart but dismiss your fears
Get over your hill and see what you find there
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair

Mumford & Sons, After the Storm

I guess I’m just not ready for prime time. It was just a quick stop at the local neighborhood bar on the way home from work to unwind a bit.

This almost-dive bar is well known for its crusty, eccentric patrons (most of them old-timers who know the bartenders by name), cheap but stiff drinks, and pretty decent pub grub. I used to go in there fairly regularly myself, at least once every couple weeks, usually on a Thursday. I know there is almost always someone to chat up in there with no pressure. It’s a relaxed and easy environment.

On this occasion, rum and mixer was the $3 drink special so I pulled up one of their unbelievably uncomfortable bar stools next to “George,” a friend I have talked to on a number of occasions, and ordered a rum and ginger. We chatted amiably and later “Mike” sat down on my other side and we talked a little. He is someone I haven’t met before, but he says he comes pretty regularly, too.

When I had a second drink, George figured out that a) he wasn’t going to get my full attention b) I was not going to change my mind and come to the bar on Sunday to watch football with him so he could explain the game to me even if he did buy my second drink and c) he works the early shift, so he went home.

Mike and I continued to banter about a little bit of nothing, our conversation covering a number of topics including the best dessert places in Louisville. Our conclusions: Pie Kitchen and Sweet Surrender are both great, but too expensive. Blizzards are much cheaper, always awesome and there is even a DQ close to the bar. But we didn’t go next door and get a Blizzard.

So then of course, the conversation turned to relationship status and I told him I had broken up with my ex in September. I was taken a little off guard when Mike Immediately asked me if I missed my ex. At first I wasn’t sure how honestly to respond. But as usual, I was open and frank and said, yes I do miss him. He asked, why didn’t I just talk to him, then? I told him that just missing someone, just loving them was not enough; that the relationship had been toxic.

When Mike opened that conversational door, though, my intention certainly was not to come barging through it like a bull in a china shop. I could hear my brain screaming, “Shut up, shut up, just change the subject, for God’s sake,” but Mike was interested, or at least pretended to be. So I found myself recounting the good, the bad and the ugly in detail. Suddenly, I was mortified to realize I was crying as I recalled the relationship’s beauty and promise in the beginning, and the indifference and loneliness in the end.

When I finally did shut up, I am sure Mike was now thinking, ‘Wow, I really didn’t want to know all that.’ I quickly let him off the hook by making my excuses and getting my tab. I smiled, and said take care. He wanted to give me a hug and that was nice, just to feel the childlike comfort of being folded in someone’s arms for a moment. At least I wasn’t still crying as I left the bar. He said he would see me again sometime.

As I was leaving, I felt like an imbecile for what had just unfolded. I had allowed my emotions to take control and conduct the train, and I felt like all I could do was watch helplessly and ride it out. I truly thought I was past that, pouring all my feelings in the lap of an unsuspecting stranger.

Driving home, I tried to just put the embarrassing incident out of my mind. After all, Mike was flirty and kind, and at the bar he had told me someone would come along to make me forget all about my ex. When he said that, something in me wanted to rush to defend my feelings. I wanted to say that the man I had loved was special and would not be so easily erased from my heart; that it hadn’t been just a fling. Oh, whoops, I’m supposed to be getting past this, not setting up a shrine to him inside my heart.

I still do want to call him every day, but the fierceness of that desire is waning a little, bit by bit.  Whenever I do consider texting or calling, I feel like the devil is on my one shoulder, aka My Broken Heart. On the other shoulder is my angel, aka Self Respect. Every day they duke it out, but so far the angel is winning through sheer stamina. I hope it lasts.

I am not going to beat myself up about what happened. I am just not ready for prime time. Yet.

I do know that tiny step by tiny step, I am evolving. I am learning who I am and how not to sell myself short or settle for anything less than I deserve.

I am emerging from the shelter post-storm. As the sun breaks through a massive bank of clouds, I shield my eyes as I walk up the hill. I am smelling that just-washed musky freshness that permeates the earth and sky after the storm has passed. How welcome is that feeling of renewal, that clean heart, that umpteenth chance. After the storm.

Beautifully Broken

How did we know that our lives would be so full of beautifully broken things?

broken-heart-on-cross– Dave Matthews Band

It is cold and dismal out today. I checked the calendar and realized that as of December 21, it has been 90 days. Isn’t that a typical jail sentence for minor but serious offenses? I feel like by now I should have made bail and been released. But this broken relationship continues to feel like iron bars across my heart. It is still lacerating, and knowing it was the right thing to do to escape it while I still had my sanity does not seem to be assuaging my grief at all at the moment.

What helps: work, movies, friends, writing, reading, hiking, children, music, binge-watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix.

What hurts: Just about every other blessed thing

At my family’s Christmas brunch, I felt the ghost of him by my side. How could it be possible that he was not there? I missed his smile, his hand in mine. But more than anything, the knowledge that after all the festivities and gifts and food, we would be leaving together to enjoy each other’s company, talk, drink a little, maybe make love or just cuddle and watch a movie. I miss his touch, the back of his hand curving against my cheek, his hand patting my knee.

I am trying to counteract this image in my mind by putting it next to the other one with which I had also recently become familiar: scowling face, derisive tone, sarcasm, ultimately his dismissal of me and my ideas and conversation as not worthy of his time for one more second.

When I saw his simple text, “Merry Christmas, Holly,” I felt gutted with sadness and stupidly excited, like when we first met and had just started trading flirty texts. Like the last year marred by dysfunction and drifting away of affection had never happened. Like maybe he had that revelation that we had something so amazing it deserved an iota of effort to save it. Like he had changed his heart overnight, like Scrooge in a Christmas Carol; had an epiphany and turned into a person who realized my abundant love was of value to him after all. Nope, just a crazy dream.

One of the hardest things for me to do has been to let the dream die; to realize I was just another woman who came in and out of his life. He may have loved me, but I wasn’t really special to him after all. And for whatever reason, that just crushes me. We all want to feel beloved and when we are and then it is yanked away, it seems like the most malevolent of tricks.

I know I am lucky he is not more interested in stringing me along, because I don’t know if I could resist a few more rounds with him. This time I imagine I am drawing a line in the sand much sooner. I am defending myself. I am walking away the first time he is shitty to me and hits below the belt.

I find it ironic that one of the things that pains me the most is feeling like he lost respect for me because I would not fight back more, when it was he himself who put me in the position to have to defend myself. I am blaming myself for not being more of a bitch willing to take him on, so essentially beating myself up for being a lover, not a fighter. Really, that is sick logic.

There is a great song from the show Nashville, How You Learn to Live Alone. This passage really captures the slow process of resignation as I am working so hard to let it go.

It don’t feel right, but it’s not wrong, It’s just hard to start again this far along
Brick by brick you’ll let it go, as you walk away from everything you know

Bit by bit you slip away, lose yourself in pieces in the things that you don’t say
And you sit there in the rubble, until the rubble feels like home

When I think of that rubble, it reminds me of a phrase I have often heard in spiritual circles – beautifully broken. We all are; we all need to be, it is our brokenness that ironically bonds and bounds us to one another because God and each other are all we got. Actually, not sure if there is a difference between the two. It is my friends who are loving emissaries for God and his unwavering devotion to me. God is a fan, thank God. Learning to trust that walk in the darkness is a bitch, sometimes, though.

I am seeing a therapist, and sometimes I feel stuck in limbo land between dwelling too much on the past but at the same time trying to make an honest assessment. I am working to discover who I am and what I really want so I can somehow stop sabotaging my life with self-defeating relationships that are not worthy of me. Can I get an Amen?

Since it is close to New Year’s Day, I decided to revisit my goals from 2014. A couple years ago, I decided instead of resolutions, I would set goals in every area of my life: spiritual, physical, professional, personal, financial, etc. When I reflected on 2014; as usual I realized some were a little too ambitious but overall I was pleased with progress I had made. I made a list of accomplishments and realized very quickly that most of what I marked as successes were relationship-driven. This is me all over, and maybe I need to stop fighting my own heart. After all, a broken heart is an open heart, is it not? Beautifully broken.

I can’t stand the look most people give me when they hear I have been married – and divorced – three times. I am probably over-sensitive about it but it just seems pitying. I imagine they are wondering, “Gee, she must be hell to live with,” or “she’s looking for a man with money,” or more charitably, “she must fall in love easily.” I guess what I want them to understand it is about that I liked belonging to someone. My joy is in giving and being part of a partnership –but to paraphrase a quote from one of my favorite movies, the odds were not ever in my favor. In fact, each man was quite lovable but in a very easy- to- discern pattern (in hindsight) was simply not there for me, and not capable of growing together in a future with me.

Lately, I have felt increasingly angry and resentful towards men in general. I never had a brother and I won’t even get in to the complicated feelings I have about my dad – I think I just never understood males. With rare exceptions, I hate sports, and most of the recreations many men like to engage in -drinking, hunting, fishing, video games, strip clubs … I guess maybe I want them to be too much like women – open-hearted and real, for example.

I know I am over-generalizing a little here but I hate the way as men get older, they stop appreciating women for who they are (if they ever did) because we are no longer as aesthetically pleasing – they continue in a pervy way to lust after young flighty girls the age of their daughters. You can say it’s their genetic makeup if you want, or because they are more visual, but whatever, I just resent it.

Wow, I sound bitter. I didn’t use to be that way. But I feel like with each failed relationship, I am learning something. But sometimes I think the biggest thing I am learning is to just give the fuck up. I’ve been watching this show called Orange is the New Black about the life of women in prison. To me, it is an intriguing look at what happens when you are thrust in situations that require total surrender. Sometimes you just have to fly the white flag and lie on the ground until your world stops spinning a little. It reminds me that we have this one big and beautiful and painful life full of pitfalls and pleasures that it sometimes takes courage to recognize in the haze of our self-centeredness.

Beautifully broken. Our ability as compassionate people to help each other hobble through to the next “pool of light,” as author Anne Lamott puts it, is still extraordinary.

This last busted romance has hit me so very hard – and made me wonder if it is even worth trying anymore. When my ex and I got together, we had already been friends for years. I was post-divorce, but finally starting to come into my own; working again in my field, reconnecting with friends and just starting to dabble in a feeling of contentment with my life. I love to smile, laugh, talk, connect with others. I am positive and perky, always everyone’s cheerleader and right now I just feel like saying oh, fuck it all.

I’m tired of putting a positive spin on everything – sometimes things just suck. I have found myself hermit-ing away and blowing off social or other obligations – licking my wounds I suppose, but maybe that’s OK.

But while I am grieving, I am trying to listen. To appreciate the everyday and ordinary joys of simply being on this planet. Nature, music, prayer, community, friends, writing, motherhood.

And being. Just being. A beautifully broken being. But I suspect everything I need to continue to repair the pieces is already inside me. If I can just be quiet enough to hear that still small voice.

Momentary Lapse of Reason

Love ready

I gave in to temptation and texted him. I know it was insane, and I had this crazy notion that somehow we could talk – not to start or re-start anything between us, or rehash the past, but just talk like friends. The friends that used to ask about one another’ s families, or talk about stuff on the news, or just have interest and care for one another. But I am not ready for this. He is not ready, either. We may never be, or one or the other of us may never be. It wasn’t an unpleasant interaction, in fact very neutral. But his response to my text was carefully worded and tactful but for once, I read between the lines.

When I said I missed him, and ‘would he talk to me?’ he responded saying he was away and wouldn’t be home until later. At first, I thought that meant he was hinting I should call him later. But then I read the rest of the text and he said he was working 13 hour days and that didn’t give him much time to talk. What he really meant, I realized, was that he really doesn’t want to talk to me, and I can’t talk to him just because I want to; that is one-sided and pathetic.

I was not surprised at his response that he didn’t have time to talk since when we were romantic partners he wouldn’t or couldn’t make time or room for me in his life then. I thought that maybe he missed his friend, but he made it clear he doesn’t want or need to be friends with me, especially when his ego is still tied up in the fact that I was the one to break up. I am sure he thought I was playing games or something but I really wasn’t; just being unrealistic about my ability to put aside my emotional upheaval and talk as friends. He always subscribed these ulterior motives to me that didn’t exist. He always thought I was trying to manipulate. Sometimes I wish I knew how to do that, but anyone who knows me knows it is just not in my DNA. I am honest and genuine and transparent to a fault. In fact, he derided me for “wearing my heart on my sleeve.” He was just used to drama, and it only exhausted me so I refused to play.

I know it was dumb to text him, and I am kicking myself for my lack of control and willingness to fling myself headlong into something so potentially self-destructive. How did I think it wouldn’t be hurtful to do this? But I am human, and it was a quiet and lonely Sunday afternoon and I guess the holidays are making me particularly vulnerable. I had just put my Christmas decorations out and was trying to decide if I wanted to even bother with a tree this year and suddenly I just wanted to talk to him so badly – just chat- just connect.

My mind was swirling – why do I even want to talk to someone who treated me neglectfully and coldly? I guess it is because there is still this maelstrom of memories cropping up in my heart that won’t be denied – I am spellbound by the ghost of him – remembering when he caressed my cheek and kissed my forehead. When he texted me love poems during the day, when he showed up at Easter with a lovely picture for my kitchen wall that was perfect for my décor. When he said that he loved my shape; that I was adorable. Even more when he said what he loved the most about me was that I had the biggest heart – that I was beautiful on the inside and outside. (Man, this guy had me in the palm of his hand) When he texted me how proud he was of me when I prepared a special reading for church. Maybe it should have been a small warning sign though, that he wasn’t there when I read it.

In fact, he was always more comfortable, and our relationship more successful, from a distance. (Can you say “emotionally unavailable?) For years, before we were involved, we were friends and he would call when he was driving a truck over the road and we would talk for hours. When my marriage imploded when my soldier husband walked out on me after returning from his tour in Iraq, I cried over the phone while he listened and comforted and cared. I thought that foundation of friendship was going to serve us well when much later we moved into a relationship.

He had always traveled a lot for work but I knew we would talk just about every day, and he never failed to call when he was on his way home. I missed him, but I was willing to deal with the travel – it was his job and there wasn’t much choice. But I did want to be the one to be there to welcome him home, but he had no interest in sharing our lives by sharing our living space, so again it was from a distance that I loved him. Near the end, he was spending more and more time by himself or with buddies at his trailer at the lake. We talked every day and he would tell me how much he was thinking of me and how much he missed me, but yet I was here and he was always somewhere else, not for work this time but by his choice.

I was so careful to not cling – to keep my many outside interests thriving so he would never become my whole world – but damn it if somehow that didn’t happen anyway – at least emotionally because I always wanted more than he was willing or able to give. He gave me a beautiful ring, but couldn’t articulate what exactly it meant. I was still thrilled – I knew it wasn’t an engagement ring and I didn’t want it to be necessarily but it did seem to be indicative of some kind of deeper promise or commitment. But one day I asked him if he had told his mom or sisters about giving me the ring, he said it was none of their fucking business. So I let it go.

It is fascinating to me that I was able to let so much go unchecked in the relationship, but I am having such a hard time letting go of it all now. I have to make myself remember the ugliest moments – the mockery and patronizing and comments that chipped away at my confidence – the many, many nights I cried myself to sleep over this man who does not deserve my tears.

I saw an article online the other day entitled, ‘The Formula for Happiness,” and I was skeptical, but in fact it was pretty on target. Three things: Let it Go, Acceptance and Gratitude.

I know I need to do the first thing before I can fully embrace the other two, so here I go. I was happy before I met him, I can once more find my joy. I just need patience and to treat myself with as much tenderness as I once gave to him. But no more texting, no more pity party, I can do this thing. Thanks to whoever is listening to this craziness and reading my blog. You have no idea how much it really helps. You are helping me to “let it go.”