Something Good to Note

Post it note image

Somebody stepped inside your soul
Somebody stepped inside your soul
Little by little they robbed and stole
Till someone else was in control

“The Troubles” – U2

A couple days ago, I noticed there is a random post-it note on my desk at work with the date September 21. I don’t know why I felt the need to go back and record the exact date my ex and I parted ways for good, but there it is. It just sits and stares at me.

I have often written dates on a post-it note and later forgotten what they mean or why I wrote them. Have you done that? See a post it note with a date or phone number and think, ‘what the hell did I write this down for? I don’t think I’ll forget what this one means – this lone date scrawled in purple in all caps on the little yellow 2×2 scrap of paper. September 21. When I ponder this little note, I realize it means so much more than simply a record of the day and the month.

It means that September 21 is now my new “birthday” the way that alcoholics and addicts use their sober birthday as a milestone to help them stay away from what they know is toxic for them.

It means that time passes, and as deep as this soul wound is, the ache will start to lessen. I do know that with each new day is a new opportunity to be grateful for your life and work to connect yourself to your joy, your passion, your raison d’etre.

It means to me that every time I look at it I can tell myself that despite the temptation, I have lasted another day without succumbing to the urge to text him or call him for “closure.” It kills me, but I know in my heart he doesn’t have the capacity to look at the relationship with anything even resembling objectivity. He showed his true colors when we were breaking up and when I went to give back the damn ring. He only knows how to blame me for my part in the demise of our love and tear me down for my many faults. It is a fantasy to believe any conversation between us would happen any other way. But if I heard him actually say those things to me, I think it would break my heart again. So, nope. Not going there.

It means I am taking back the reins of my life; that despite the yawning chasm created in me after this breakup, there is life after Dave.

This post-it note is also a reminder that I will keep my vow to give myself a year off from September 21, 2014, and not actively seek any kind of romantic relationship. In other words, I am NOT looking. Believe me, this is a real departure for me. I am someone who has jumped eagerly back into the pool after nearly drowning time and time again. But not this time. I need to first truly believe in myself as a cherished human creature.

It means I am so lonely sometimes, and will be for a while. But I know if I use this year to become the best version of myself, and learn to fall in love with that sweet girl, I’ll be ready to bring more of what I truly deserve to my own door. And if no one comes knocking, so be it.

It means that if someone does come into my life in the future, they better be ready because the no bullshit sign is on the front door. It means the very first time I am talked to disrespectfully or condescendingly will be the last time. No reprieves of “oh, he just had a bad day, or ‘he was a little drunk,’ or ‘he’s worried about work …” I know no one is perfect and I will never expect that, but if you are ugly to me, but you’re too proud or stubborn to look me in the eye and say genuinely you are sorry, I am not interested.

It means I will never stop working to be the best version of myself as a caring, compassionate, genuine, joyful ambassador of spirituality who cares deeply about my family, my work, my neighbors, my church, and my community. It means if it is not in your plans to do something in the same vein, to look at yourself honestly and always work on becoming a better you, then I am not interested in you being my companion for the journey.

It means that I need to figure out why I have been attracted to men with an arrogant streak who are “misunderstood.” How do I keep finding men who seem kind at first, but end up treating me cruelly and coldly? This one is on me. I know I need to stop being a broken-wing fixer.

It means that I am writing a new story – one in which I no longer expect princes, but refuse to settle for frogs, either.

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An Unexpected Birth-Day Gift

New Path

Not that I’m counting the days or anything, but it has been almost two months since I talked to him. It seems surreal, like an eternity. But at the same time it seems like yesterday since we had what I did not know at the time was going to be our last meal together.

I recently celebrated my 49th birthday. He didn’t acknowledge it; not even a text. I don’t know how I could have expected anything different, but it still hurt like hell. But I am discovering that what he did give me will last much longer than an empty birthday wish. At the end, it was the best gift of all with which to start fresh with a new year of my life – a new birth. It was his continuing indifference and cold criticism that finally pushed me to that moment of clarity when I could cut the cord; and it is starting to make all the difference.

The tide of grief is still washing over me and at just about any given moment I still might cry. It might be the trigger of a song or a phrase or a place – or nothing at all but a vivid flash of a memory. Watching the intimacy slide away so slowly was excruciating to feel, and when I miss his cute smile I need to remember how empty my arms felt as he become more and more unavailable to me.

But at the same time, something new seems to be emerging from the rubble – I am feeling this welling of a different kind of strength than I have ever felt before, and it is truly lifting me. Some of the worst soul-pain I have ever known has inspired me to new heights I didn’t know were in my reach to climb.

I am still grieving what I had hoped it would one day be – the enormous potential of us. I am mourning the partner I was to him, the half of a couple that made me feel validated when now I am starting to understand I never needed validation from him – or anyone.

I am grieving the dream of a once and future relationship that is now miraculously morphing into an amazing gift. It is a chance for transformation, an inspiration to invest the enormous energy and huge ocean of love I once bestowed on him on to myself. He couldn’t appreciate it, didn’t know how to handle it, didn’t care long enough to reciprocate it and chose to discard it – but that does not diminish the value of it one iota.

Now I am gathering all that love like a bundle of firewood and I will use it to kindle kindness to all the wonderful people in my life who deserve to feel the warmth. I am learning to relish the notion of discovering who I am – just me – alone but not lonely. How could I be lonely when I have so many great, wise and loving companions for the journey? (Sounds like I’m embarking on a new Hobbit movie – LOL)

It is true that nature abhors a vacuum and the cold draft of air I was feeling from his absence is now being filled with warm and wonderful treasures I had scarcely noticed before. Guess what? I have friends who think I’m really cool! Who knew? I have a writing voice that is strong and unique and irrepressible. Wow!

I have funny, kind and amazing sons who truly care for my happiness (and both called on my birthday – in fact one sang to me on my voicemail message), I have a four-year old grandson who is like a giant cheerleader for my heart whenever he inhabits my world.

I have sisters who are ready with listening ears, and the Hinson sister diner is open 24-7 for comfort food and conversation. I have co-workers who appreciate the enthusiasm and passion I bring to the table at my work. My church family loves me unreservedly and unabashedly, giving me the gifts of God directly through their voices, their kind and loving eyes, their big bear hugs.

I was chatting with a friend not long ago and plowing through another tear-filled, endless scenario of pop psychology trying to understand what happened in my broken relationship with this man, trying to understand his inconsistencies, his anger, etc. Another friend had shared an article about narcissism and so I asked my first friend, who knows him well, to read this article. “What do you think? Is this him?” I asked her in a message.

She responded ever so kindly… “Maybe some traits are like him, but overall I don’t think so. I think honestly he is just f– up. I know you are hurting and you want answers, but you need to just move on, honey.”

What she wrote stopped me in my tracks. I know I over-analyze, over-process things. But in the incomparable words of Taylor Swift, (God Help me, I want to hate her but I just can’t) I realized I do need to “Shake it off, shake it off!”

Instead of focusing on what happened and trying to understand things or people that may simply just be incomprehensible, why not focus on this new wide, wide world of Holly I have yet to explore? It is vast and open to whatever path is calling me. Thank you, God.

I love the k.d. lang song, “This” that has these lines:

With all good intent I come running, to give you a world full of me
and if then you find there is one thing, the one thing you want
this I’ll be

I always identified with this because when I really love someone, I do it with every fiber of my being – a world full of me. I don’t know how not to be that way, but in the song, it is the second and third lines that matter. This time around I want it to be different – it’s not about being what the other person wants you to be, not about sacrificing your desires or needs; it’s about being adored for exactly who you are, flawed and imperfectly wonderful.

I remember the exact moment I decided it was time to end the toxic relationship. I was very torn because my heart was saying “how will I survive without him?” But there was a distinct turning point when my heart just flipped over and it was suddenly all too much – and at the same time not enough.

I don’t know if there will be a turning point for this grief but I am feeling these flashes of joy. The other day I laughed out loud – not just chuckled but guffawed – and I hardly recognized the sound of it. But, boy it felt good.

While there is value in understanding and examining how you function in relationships so you can learn what unhealthy patterns you may be playing out, dwelling endlessly on why the two of you didn’t work out is just futile and painful. In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter what happened to the wonderful and loving relationship you treasured in the beginning. Try to extract the happy moments from it and move on.

Maybe these gifts just are not meant to be ours forever. We just get them for a little while and we may want to cling to them or long for them to come back but that is just exhausting – for God’s sake girl, let it go. I believed in the beginning he was a complement to my pretty happy life, but somewhere along the way I let him define my happiness, and it’s way past time to reclaim it.

I am starting to reconnect with my own heart, my own zest for life. I looked out my back window and saw the hush of the new-fallen snow the other morning and did not immediately go to my unhappy place, thinking of him, ‘I wonder where He is, and if he is enjoying it, and if he is thinking of me, too?’

Instead I thought, ‘Look at the wonder of this winter – the glimpses of grace in these snow-laden trees, this old man humming to himself, walking his dog in frigid temperatures, look at the ruddy faces of the children on the hill, shouting and playing in the snow.’

Instead I thought, ‘Look at the love and gifts all around you – let them be the boat that carries you over the tide of grief to uncharted, peaceful and potentially much happier shores.’

How I keep from repeating my relationship disasters has very little to do with my next potential partner and everything to do with me – my attitude, my confidence and my love for my own kind but imperfect self.

I have to give credit to Christian minister Andy Stanley for this next statement – and proclaim my love for it. Focus on becoming the person that who you are looking for is looking for. Think about it. Think about it some more.

Not that I am looking right this minute; in fact I am taking a year off from anything resembling dating, but hey … in the meantime, what a great concept! And while I am working on that wonderful new “becoming,” I need to exorcise the ghost of that person who was once beside me.

I need to step out on my own knowing that me, and just me, is enough; in fact, more than enough, to fill that void.

I am starting each day with this short mantra that is all I need right now: (thank you, Harry Pickens)

The real secret: Breathe. Pray. Love. Serve. Repeat.

Amen.

Holly Adored

adore me box

 

The package comes monthly in a plain black box and when I saw it on my porch last week I have to confess it made me really sad. You see, now that I walked out on my man and the toxicity that was happening there, I am a bit conflicted about Adore Me, the lingerie of the month club that has provided me with exquisite, lovely, reasonably priced sexy attire for several months now. They even pay shipping for unlimited exchanges until the sizing is just right.

The title is cute and even though I no longer have someone else to “adore me,” I think maybe it could be empowering to do that for myself. Another side of me believes it would probably make sense to just cancel the damn membership, but at the same time, hope springs eternal, as they say. Although I am pretty confident by the time I have sufficiently pieced my heart back together to show anyone but myself any of these bras and panties and teddies,  A) I know I will have a huge stockpile and B) I hope to God by that time to be too thin to fit in any of it… Like I said hope springs eternal.

But it got me to thinking about one thing I truly miss about the breakup– (Warning: this may be TMI for some of you) and that is the great, occasionally even mind-blowing, sex. In my almost 49 years, I had never felt that intense, soul-connecting, OMG-I would-do-anything-for-you kind of passion.

I had never been big on lingerie in the past, not even fancy panties or anything. But when my ex made it abundantly clear how sexy he thought I was it gave me such wonderful confidence. He not only enjoyed my curvy shape, he reveled in it, gloried in it. Anyone who has ever struggled with their weight and/or body image knows what a huge deal this is, no pun intended! It made me bolder, loving, and sometimes I even felt like the femme fatale for once in my life

In the last five years my hormones have also been aligned in a way they never have before and I have been more sexually attuned than I can ever remember. Lingerie, “fun” DVDs, toys … I was never that uninhibited, but the combination of being truly in love with someone and my pre-menopausal hormones had me positively humming. So now what?

I’m not going to go out and get laid just for the heck of it. First of all, it’s not safe, and secondly, I do have standards, and thirdly, I know what a self-esteem killer it can be to sleep with someone you don’t really care about. Hello? Calling my teens and 20s? If I know anything about myself, it is that I am firmly a relationship person. Another option some would say, hmm how to put this delicately? is to “help myself.” But until I can do that without prompting another round of gut-wrenching crying, I have given up on that for the time being.

There have been long abstinence times in my history, like when my ex-husband was fighting in Iraq, for example, so I know I will survive Really, it’s only been seven weeks, Holly- calm yourself, citizen! Maybe what I need to think about is why this seems so important to me to be desired. All these years of keeping the secret inside that I never felt good enough would disappear for a little while whenever I felt validated by some attractive man’s attention. But guess what? A 49-year-old woman, even a relatively cute and cool one, is virtually invisible to most men these days. They are looking for younger partners or someone to cook and clean and go live in the country and go fishing with them and out on their ATVs.

Umm, no.

In fact, I know dozens of lovely, amazing and smart women virtually ignored by the opposite sex.

It probably sounds shallow to talk so much about looks, but hell, look at how our entire culture makes us feel about it. Standards for women’s beauty are impossibly high, and we spend millions on cosmetics, fashion, Botox, even plastic surgery to continue the dream of a youthful image. What does it all mean, really? Does being attractive give us wisdom, compassion or character? Of course not. I guess I am also equating looking good with sex, when there is really no correlation. As Bette Midler once wryly put it, “Ugly girls have vaginas, too.”

On the other hand, there is no denying that regular good sex had a positive effect on my physical, mental and emotional self, even my energy and strength. Was it the love that made it so good, or was part of it just “scratching an itch?” Is it immoral of me to think about sex for sex’s sake? I am liberated – hey, I watched Sex and the City. But am I sufficiently mature and intact that I could do no-strings-attached and walk away without emotional repercussions?

If I’m honest with myself, my answer is probably no. After all, in my heart I do believe that lovemaking should ideally be the exquisite and endearing expression of caring between two people who will be there for one another in the morning – and beyond. Anything else cheapens it.

So, I guess I will bide my time, not worry about shaving my legs for now, focus on personal growth, find my mojo and learn to love myself. For now, I’ll take on the sometimes thankless task. I’ll rise to the challenge. I will Adore Me.

Holly Ascending … not Holly Accommodating

A lovely view from Hopscotch Farm in Prospect, KY

I’m going to pull myself together, put on a new face, climb down from the hilltop, baby, get back in the race.

Dreams I’ll Never See – Molly Hatchet

 

Sometimes I feel truly incompetent and wonder how I’ve managed to get through this life so far. Last summer, when I moved into my new house, my son had to show me how to start a lawnmower. The first time I had to use the new weed eater I held it upside down, and for a good long while too, because my son had changed the setting to edging and I didn’t realize it.

I still struggle to change my toothbrush head or put together the simplest of items or remember to change the furnace filter, but there are times when I do remember I really am strong. I walked out on an alcoholic husband to start a new life with two small children in tow. I had never even had utilities in my own name. It took me nine years to get my college degree because I worked full-time and was raising two kids, but walking across that stage I was exuberant. It was one of the proudest and strongest moments of my life. I may not be handy, but I know how to persevere.

Another time, I had to take a job as a waitress at 40-something because my third (and last!) ex-husband walked out on me and moved to another state weeks after returning home from a tour in Iraq. I lost that marriage, my good job in my career field, and my house all in about the space of a year. The crowning touch was when I learned through the grapevine that my ex was re-marrying rather quickly. His betrothed was a soldier he had a secret affair with on one of his missions in Iraq. And guess what?  She was also pregnant with his child.

So …I know that I can survive the pain of this heartbreak and learn to live without this man I loved so much in my life. It will eventually get easier, and I do know there is light on the other side. It is just those little things that suddenly tighten your chest when you see or hear them.  A line in a song on the radio the other day that reminded me, “No one has ever hurt as much as you.”

Wow, it hit me like a brick, and my eyes pricked with tears, remembering a love so fierce that for me it became transcendent while for him, it merely began to fade away a little more with every step I took closer.

Is that the problem – that I always want for more ? … to be closer, to share more, to have a deep intimacy? I am afraid that maybe I will never be satisfied, never have enough love – but ah hah that is the key, is it not? The love must be inside of me, a part of ME so no one has control of it or can take it away. It needs to live inside of me the way I believe God’s spirit is within me,  a love that will never abandon me.

I want to embrace this new path of self-discovery as ardently as I once embraced the person whom I thought was the love of my life. My friend told me one reason I struggle so with this is that I have this great big love in my heart and in my personality,  and without someone to direct it to,  to shower it upon,  I feel lost, and she’s right. I have a great need to give, for someone to be the recipient of my caring. I have too often squandered the gift of me on men who were undeserving or incapable of the deep intimacy I crave. I do understand that I need to love myself; it’s just not always easy to break patterns and to put your mind around what they really mean.

My therapist told me I am overly accommodating to what other people want or need – it’s not called compromising if I don’t get any of what I want – that is capitulation. For some reason, examining who I am or what I want too closely is self-indulgent, uncomfortable, and frankly, kind of scary.

With some perspective, I can see that I care too much about what others think, that I seek approval from men of my sex appeal (such as it is) because desire is proof that I am wanted, and I have always wanted to be somebody’s “someone,” so I have jumped from marriage to marriage and relationship to relationship so I never have to be alone.

My friends have been so validating of me.  They say I am cute, smart, funny, spirited, lively, loving – I just want to say to them, “So why is that not enough for me, to know how much I am loved?  Why does it have to be a romance with a man when in nearly every instance those have turned out  poorly for me?”   Jeez oh Pete, you would think I could learn a lesson at some point, huh?

But I am trying not to beat myself up about the past – but I sure want to stop repeating it. I need to remember that it is exactly the sum of these experiences that have brought me this far – that have made me the wonderful person I am. This moment in time is exactly where I am meant to be – there are lessons to be learned, and I am ready.

I have decided I have to start starring in my own story.  This time I am the lead role, not the sweet, funny, helpful best friend.

I want someone to be completely captivated by me and chase me – want someone to sweep me off my feet, I deserve that. But I also wish I was the kind of person who could keep themselves more intact.  Someone who doesn’t rush to judgment or become enamored too quickly if she is given compliments or kind words or kisses.

In the empty corners of the evening, my heart drops as I remember. There are places and times when I miss him so keenly I feel like inside I am just dying with longing. I can see him – peeking at me from behind the shower curtain and scaring me to death, miss the cute little way he dances,  him holding my hand in church, sitting beside me quietly on the cliffs overlooking the lake at Green River,  watching the sunset beside the willow tree in my backyard. I miss the way he would bounce in to my house, big smile, happy to see me, hair still wet from the shower. I miss being his honey. I miss the sweet face of us.

But I also know I romanticized the relationship and took the spare threads of his affection and attention and tried to make a blanket out of them to keep me warm. He was loving in his way, but it was always just in his way; often not the way I needed or wanted. I was always a sideline, an option to exercise whenever he wanted. I let him treat me this way, let him dole out the breadcrumbs of his love and then lapped them up like a dog always eager for more. In reality, we lived in different worlds, and we were running parallel with no real future or connection happening down the road.

I think he wanted to be the man I tried to make him out to be. For a while he was able to play the role, to keep up the façade of the loyal boyfriend there for family functions, there to fix things at my house, or to mow my lawn but somewhere along the way it began to change.

He stopped spending the weekend or even spending the night; sometimes he chose drinking over making love. He once told me that my happiness and my full rich life were what he was attracted to about me. But in my mind, he began to be intimidated by those same things because he doesn’t really have his shit together – and in his heart he knows it. So he started lashing out, picking fights about nothing and everything,  saying he was merely expressing his opinion, or we were debating. But upon reflection he was extremely patronizing, dismissing my arguments as not worthy of his time, berating me, making me defend not just my beliefs but also attacking me as a person, the very core of me.

I sure wish I could understand why I always seem to gravitate to men that have a hole that needs mending – who need to be taught how to be in a relationship – men that in my deepest heart I must be thinking – “But they just have not had someone like me to love and nurture them – with my extra-ordinary love and ebullient spirit – I can mend them, I can lift them up.” In other words I want to rescue emotionally unavailable men. My sister said it less charitably, “I take in strays.”

Here in November it is time to think of giving thanks, and I am so grateful. I am blessed to have a remarkable life – one full of faith and friendship and family. I have two great sons and an adorable four-year old grandson, who never fails to give me joy in abundance whenever I am around the miracle of him. My mom and dad are both passed, so I am lucky we are a tight-knit family, and I am close to my sisters (all five of them!). I am graced by a rich variety of wise and wonderful women who I am honored to call my friends. I have my writing, my incredibly loving church family who are as beloved and warm as my favorite pair of jeans. I go to plays and the ballet,  and I have books. Thank God for books.

I saw it written recently that it is both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so very deeply. I thought about how my tendency to give myself over to relationships so completely has resulted in searing heartache. But then I smiled, remembering one of the family stories my sisters love to tell on me that always used to embarrass me, but as I get older I feel more pride than regret.

When we first moved back to Louisville from Oklahoma City, I was just starting seventh grade. On a frigid night during Christmas week, I was trying to convince my family to go out for an impromptu Christmas caroling around the neighborhood, but they were having none of it. So, I simply decided it was too important to me so I went by myself. I just wanted to feel some of the spirit of the season, so I literally went Christmas caroling door to door by myself. The neighbors answering their doors were a little startled to see me caroling alone, but mostly they smiled at this girl singing her heart out, off-key and cold, but so determined to be merry anyway.

I am still so determined, and I am slowly, slowly learning how to revel in my own unique and open-hearted self. I can laugh at the audacity of that singing girl, but she is teaching me something.

You don’t see people for who they are, you see people for who you are.

I will pick up the pieces of my heart, I will discover who I am without a romantic partner by my side and stop letting others define my value.  I will seek out even more of the kind of people with whom I want to surround myself.

After all, this blog is not called “Holly Accommodating.” It is Holly Ascending.

Not Out of the Woods Yet

It has been 30 days now since I have heard his voice, saw his face. For those of you following my saga of heartbreak, you know I recently broke up with the man I thought was going to be the love of my life, the ONE.

Even though I was the one who cut the cord, and I still believe with all my heart I made the right choice, it is still a daily fight not to call him, try to see him.

I miss his casual, “Hey babe, “when he answered the phone that never failed to thrill me a little because I felt like I belonged to him. I miss my friend, who was interested in whatever I was doing, was encouraging of my career, my writing group, genuinely cared for my happiness. I miss 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 – that essence – 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. When it was good and rich and wonderful, I was the happiest I had ever felt in my life. The sunny positivity I already possess in my personality seemed exponentially expanded and 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.

The phrase “not out of the woods yet” seems appropriate in so many ways right now because it literally means being lost and on a metaphorical level it is about not being sure if you are going to survive or thrive again. It means not quite being OK yet.

It also makes me think about being in the woods and in nature and hiking – something I enjoy so much that when I am there I never want to leave until I am forced to go home by darkness or duty. I despaired of the leaving but it got so dark I felt my chances of finding my way home rapidly slipping away.

I hope you will humor me and hang with me while I process this a little. Maybe I can help someone recognize themselves in this story.

I know my track record is suspect, but I don’t believe I was trying to set myself up or lie about what I wanted out of this relationship. After three divorces, I truly believed I had grown out of my desire to co-habitate or get married ever again. Good Lord, why would I want that?

I am proud of my hard-won independence. This is the first house I have ever owned completely on my own – for goodness sakes my son had to show me how to start a lawnmower. I am an empty-nester at last, and keep busy as an active volunteer with my church, my women’s writing group, ushering at Actors’ Theatre, spending time with my grandson. Why would I want to put up with someone else’s needs or habits or closets or ideas of décor or taste in TV shows? That constant negotiation and compromise of time and dinner and yard work and chores?

But guess what – as crazy as that all sounds – it turns out when I truly love someone – I can’t help but want to nest and nurture a little. I want to make sure they eat right, and I want to have our families come over for summer cookouts or Easter dinner. I want to share the snoring and the farting and the vacations and the cleaning and the yard work and maybe even learn how to plant flowers for once in my life. He play-acted for a while that he wanted this – I think deep down he wants to be that person – family time and sleeping in on Saturdays and talking and watching stupid movies and sharing our hearts with one another, but he never really committed. When it came down to it, he wanted me to be his on-call girlfriend and he fought hard to keep me in that box.

I always encouraged him to stay overnight at my place as much as he wanted – he had a drawer at my house for his clothes, he had a robe hanging on the door, slippers under his side of the bed, extra change of clothes, lint roller, etc.   My house had much more amenities – cable TV, food, computer, etc.

Conversely, at this house the refrigerator was always empty; he had office chairs at his kitchen table. The nice TV in the living room was only set up to watch movies, and when we watched TV in his bedroom the signal was intermittent and we sat in office chairs because most of the time his bed was full of clothes. His home had so many dream-catchers you thought you were in a trading post, and on his walls were so many Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison posters you thought you were in a college dorm room. I never felt comfortable or welcome, and looking back it was clear that was his intent. When I asked once about a drawer for me to keep a few things in, he said he didn’t even have enough room for all his own clothes. It is easy to see now. He could never make room for me, not in his room, or his life, or his heart.

I wanted to build something together – yes, enjoy the days together one at a time and as they come, but also sharing a dream of the future, sharing our lives in all their mundane glory. I am that person and I cannot deny it. I tried so hard to hold back the 110% passion I bring to the table and I was ready to accept the terms because I was trying to appreciate what I had and not ruin it by trying to make it something it was not. Maybe I did do exactly that after all.

But I also think what started out as a man I believed, no, I know, at one point cared for my happiness and tried to build me up, ultimately couldn’t accept me for who I really was. He knew what it would cost him to be a part of my life so he proceeded – (to be fair maybe not completely consciously) to tear me down piece by piece and dismantle me.

At first, they were isolated incidents, and in between them, there was happiness and laughter and weekends at the lake, so the doubts just started creeping in almost imperceptibly. This was a man who held my hand in church, carried in my groceries in the pouring rain, a man who wrote me short romantic poems by text and then later copied them in a little black book and gave it to me for the first anniversary of our first date. He listened to me sing and we went dancing – sometimes we had dance parties – just the two of us – in his kitchen in our stocking feet. He gave me a promise ring for our second anniversary. He was a masterful lover – sexy, passionate, tender and attentive.

All the while the fights remained in the background mostly, and I made excuses – well, he was a little drunk – or we were a little drunk – I know he’s worried about his job – that mortgage adjustment loan was turned down, etc. etc. But no matter what the fight ostensibly was about, it was always sharp words, patronizing, criticisms and hurt feelings and crying.

He spent a lot of time working out of town or on different shifts but still would not commit to spend time with me on the weekends – the only time I was free. We often did end up spending time together but I felt like I was the default plan, not the priority. He refused to plan ahead and many times, I was disappointed to find on Friday afternoon he was at the lake for the weekend fishing with his buddy. I never wanted to monopolize his time, but I was also never consulted like someone in the “girlfriend” category should have been. He often went to family functions with me but then would surprise me and run away to the lake, often by himself. These were all normal relationship things, I thought, and we could work them out, but then the fights started to become more frequent than the pleasant times.

He criticized my taste in music, my religion, my argument on gay rights, (I believe it is not a choice, but he said I was just not making my case, in his opinion); he was arrogant and full of attitude suddenly to my son.

When we fought, most often he would yell and storm out and run away from our fights – the next day brushing it off like nothing happened. Every now and then he would goad me so long I would lose my temper and meet him head on but then I hated myself for who I became when I did that. So I began to pretend, too, and pacified him. He told me I was too sensitive, I shouldn’t feel things so much, wear my heart on my sleeve. I needed to develop a thicker skin; he mocked my crying as manipulative and acted like I had ulterior motives. I began to wonder why he was even with me; if there was anything he liked about me anymore.

But I ignored the put-downs, the bitter sarcastic remarks. His bullying manner just unraveled me and I began to be cowed by his verbal attacks and stopped standing up for myself. 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.

I still saw glimpses of potential in our relationship. We went to Dale Hollow Lake on my birthday and had a wonderful time talking and walking all the way around the lake, picking up fossils. This was the place he had gone summers as a child and he opened up about what the place meant to him. 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 jump in to clean the lake camper the way he wanted me to. 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 and he kept challenging me to “keep up,” insinuating I wasn’t intellectually on his level, which infuriated me.

Then, it escalated into a more public realm and when I look back, I do truly believe he wanted out but he wanted me to be the one to end it so he upped the ante.

When my niece died suddenly, he refused to go to the funeral because he “really just didn’t want to go” and resented it when I said he had no choice; that this was just what you do for your family, for the people you love, you suck it up and go. But my words fell on deaf ears as I stood at her visitation and funeral without him by my side, feeling like I had been sucker-punched.

It was close to being a deal-breaker, but at the end of day I loved him and wanted to get past that incident. He apologized to my sister for not coming, and I tried to move on and not hold it over his head, so I let it go. But he wouldn’t let it go, and we had a huge fight on the back porch of a bar. He dressed me down because he heard I had taken my ring off during the funeral, despite the fact that it was back on my finger at that moment, and from there he threw every below the belt comment he could think of at me, ridiculing me because my ex-husband’s wife very kindly mowed my lawn for me when I was exhausted from those early days of grief supporting my sister after my niece died. The lowest blow was when he accused me of caring more about the fact that he wasn’t at the funeral than I did about grieving my niece. He was on a rampage. Finally, he stormed off and I just sat there, stunned 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 the Center for Women and Families with women who experienced domestic violence. I could hear their 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. The ones on the inside stick around and continue to hurt,” said one woman.

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

My sister and I were walking on the pedestrian bridge and he and his friend came up and met us on their bicycles. We argued about our plans for the evening – I had asked earlier with a wink if we could have a “Sade and lingerie” night and he had agreed to a quiet night at home but now wanted to change plans. She heard his derogatory tone as he mocked my facial expressions and said he just wanted to give me the opportunity to hang with him. I saw her jaw clench as she turned away. Later, she asked me about how he talked to me and I told her it was the tip of the iceberg.

But it was a server at Outback who put the nail in the coffin. The last time I saw him, he picked a fight at the restaurant and then walked out and I sat there, humiliated, crying and paying the bill. The server asked if I was Ok and I said I would be fine. She waited until I looked up from the table and she said to me, honey no one deserves to be talked to like that. And suddenly it was just all too much. It was a revelation.

The next day, I was working on a video about a cancer patient in her 30s who had passed away in February. The nurses on the unit were telling me the story about in her last days on this earth, they did something very special. They found out how Valentine’s Day was her anniversary. They made a special effort and brought in a dinner for the patient and her husband, bringing out a white tablecloth, china and candles and wine to mark the occasion. They told me how her husband sang the John Legend song All of Me to her as she sat there with him, bald and down to about 80 pounds and on oxygen. Her husband told them thank you for everything they did. “I wanted her to have just one more good day,” he said.

When I thought about that, two things occurred to me. One was that I wanted someone to love me like that, someone who knew how to give their whole heart and I know I do deserve that. And secondly, life is short and I have cried too many nights over this man who doesn’t deserve me. The courage of that woman and the love her husband had for her inspired me and continues to guide me as I try to make sense of what happened and move on.

It is still like physical pain not to talk to him and last week I was in the bargaining stage – why can’t we just be friends –maybe a booty call now and then – but I know even if he would be willing it is ridiculous to even think I could do that – it would 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 treats me this way. Ever again.

No, I am not out of the woods yet – but the autumn sun is lighting the path – and I am slowly finding my way home.

Brokenwinged bird

chimney rockEpilogue:

Hello, everyone! I started a blog almost two years ago now but never even made one post and I confess I am still a newbie. But I was inspired to post my first real blog after I very reluctantly and sadly broke up with my boyfriend recently. The relationship was not serving me; I was being disrespectfully treated and I know it was the right thing to do.

But oh, how I loved this man and I am good and truly broken-hearted but in true Holly-go-lightly fashion I will let my pain spill onto the page (and all my friends’ ears – God bless ’em!). Hopefully, continuing to perform this catharsis by writing out the incredibly chaotic swimming inside my head will get me back to the title of my blog – to who I truly am – Holly Ascending.

This is a poem I wrote shortly after the last day that we were an “us” and I wanted to share it just in case anyone can relate. Thanks for listening!

Epitaph

I want to go back – back to the days when you were my strength, my joy
when I was your lady, your beloved
When we had a love we could be proud of

Just like that – I am left to put away the pictures, the notes, the silly mementos, to turn off “our songs” by Sade
to avoid our special places for a beat, until enough time can pass that the pain doesn’t steal my breath when I am there
and my heart starts to heal

But how do you turn away from the sunset my love?
From a sky full of stars that calls your name in its mystery, in its dark beauty
From the swaying shine of the lake with its ripples spilling onto the shore, bursting over the rocks and in that moment
my heart is so full of us, so full of laughter, joy, the utter euphoria we shared
From our eyes smiling at each other at the glorious sight of that shoreline with the trees bending as if it was just for us alone in the universe

How do you keep from remembering your carpenter’s hands stroking my hair, your sweet mouth on my breast, your hands owning my hips
Your eyes, kind and full of promise, searching my face, finding all you needed there

How do I crawl through the muck and fucked-up regrets

How can I imagine the emptiness of a life never again being held in your arms – but I must

Because there is no choice but to endure it