DIvorce

::Regarding the Book, the Pain, and Me::

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Girl At The Window

About a year ago, I finally pounded out the last pages of the first draft. A project that began in 1995. The early chapters are covered with the splatters of someone in the midst of an attack. The blood was boiling as the words hit the page. Twenty-plus years later, I can tell you this much: distance gives perspective. And through the years, as the story continues to write itself, the narrative shifts, changes. It — if you’re doing it right — becomes reflective and wise. I am reflective now, and wiser than I was then. So it’s stunning and a little uncomfortable to look back at the initial writing and see how unwise, how in pain, ‘the writer’ was.

I thought I wanted people to know the truth, as I knew it. Writing it down was a form of therapy; I wrote during the divorce process, sometimes all day through the night and into the next morning. I still have those pages, written on an old IBM Selectric. I haven’t read them in awhile, largely because I can’t bear it. That young woman was so broken, and — because she had no place else to put it — she poured her brokenness onto those pages. Maybe that’s how she was able to keep breathing. To put one foot in front of the other. To get from there to here.

It’s been twenty-four years since I started the book. The woman writing this now is not the same woman who wrote the first one hundred sixty five pages. Yes, all those things happened. But wasn’t it another lifetime? The scars are there, they show that wars were braved, but that’s okay. Everybody has their tragedies, losses, betrayals. Love is the ticket to all of them. There is no love with out them.

Think about that for a minute.

Loving someone is the bravest thing a person can do. To truly love means you’ve cracked your heart open and said “yes” to the utter bliss of it, and to the deepest emotional pain possible-while-still-breathing. A surrender to that depth of caring, of vulnerability, invites it. Invites it all.

My parents were the first example of what a marriage, and love, looks like. Theirs was filled with laughter, and dancing, and alcohol, and drama. It all swilled in the chalice of the Holy Catholic church. Daddy was an usher, Mama was fragile and beautiful. Our family, which topped out at six kids, sat in the front row every Sunday, “those stair step Myers kids.” In our chaotic house Mass, and the prayers we prayed there, were the two things that I could always count on. They became my lifeline.

When I say Mama was fragile, it doesn’t mean she wasn’t strong. It means she was different after she had the breakdown. I don’t remember much about it, but I remember the priest coming to the house.  I was young, and confused. My brother Bob was about two, and we were farmed out to family members each day. I went to Uncle John and Aunt Mabel’s. Bobby went to Nanny’s. Daddy dropped us off every morning on his way to work. When I got to Uncle John’s house, it was still dark. But the front door was unlocked. I climbed out of the car, shut the car door, walked up the driveway to the porch, opened the front door, went inside, shut the door, sat on the couch in the dark, and waited for someone to wake up. I was five years old.

Now, sitting here knowing that in March I’ll hit seventy one years of age, it’s a strange feeling; I think back on that little girl. I am she. She is I. We are us.

In a way, it’s like looking at an old movie of someone else.

But I guess if I had to do it again, and was delivered to my aunt and uncle’s home in the dark, I’d still open the door, go inside, shut the door, sit on the couch in the dark, wait for somebody to wake up and turn on a light.

That was a long time ago. Now, I have five beautiful grandchildren, each one a gift from my son Chris and his wife Shanna. On days when I’m not sure what I’m doing still here, I tell myself that they’re the reason I’m upright and taking nourishment. I know that’s a bit dramatic, but I really am determined to keep myself healthy so I can dance at their weddings. And I’ll foster their creative energy, their sense of humor, and their musical prowess till the day I die.

My mother has ten grandchildren, and nine great grandchildren. Daddy passed away in 2014, and mother lives in the moment, from day to day. She’s sweeter than she’s ever been, partly because she doesn’t have a clue who anyone is, other than Karen. Karen, the youngest of her children, watches over her and makes sure she’s well cared for. 
Last time I saw my mother was when I went home to bury my Daddy. We visited, and I probably told her who I was ten times in fifteen minutes. Her response was always, “Well, I’d love to get to know you.” I looked into her eyes, and thought to myself, Mother, you’ve never known me. And for so many years, I couldn’t find you in there. Now, you’re gone completely. I’m trying to learn to be okay with that.

It’s awkward. I’ve worked hard to make peace with the fractures in my family, and with the ones who caused them. I know I’ve built an invisible wall of protection around myself, a sort of PTSD response to family drama and the heartbreak it caused. I wish I didn’t need it, but I do. And so, there it is. But I no longer have the time, the energy for, or the interest in keeping track of who, how, and how often family members have done me wrong. Seriously. Let’s stop.

It’s funny what life does to a person. You start out as a little squirt, being exactly who you are. You can’t really be anyone else, because you haven’t discovered there’s a choice, so you’re just you. Then, with all its pre-conceived judgments, life gets in. You start questioning everything about you. Maybe you were wrong. Maybe you aren’t who you thought you were. So, for the next several decades, you start jumping and adjusting in time to everything that’s said to you about who you are. It’s exhausting; just when you think you’re making progress, just when you think you’ve left that original, ‘unacceptable’ you behind, the bottom falls out. And you’re back to square one … face to face with yourself.  But the truth is, that’s the best gift of all. If the world didn’t need ‘you,’ you wouldn’t have shown up in the first place.

I’m still who I thought I was, way back at the beginning of things, and while I’m a little more careful as I navigate, I have not really slowed down. On the scale of “women types,” I’d say I’m a square shouldered work horse with a great attitude. I can clean myself up and be in groups with the best of them, but given the choice I’ll hit the drive through in my pajamas.

As far as what the future holds, I’m planning to write … songs, essays, articles, books of any sort, fiction or non-fiction. My grandson wants me to write children’s books — a “NannyBoo” series which, I must admit, sounds fun and funny. NannyBoo’s their name for me, once I was christened by three-year-old Chloe’. But whether or not I write the “NannyBoo” series, I plan to write whatever comes out; I’ll write it all down as long as I can. And I’ll finish that book. If it doesn’t get published, at least I’ll be able to leave it for my children to read when I’m gone. They can gain a deeper understanding, if they’re interested, of who their mother really was, and why she was that way. They’ll get to know me better and, by extension, themselves. That’s the best gift I can give them, after all.
Knowing the “me-of-me” is, I believe, the lesson at the center of all the lessons we can ever be faced with. I’m here as me, you’re here as you, and we’ve got us. Let’s give authenticity a shot.

::THREADS::

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Tapestry

Things tend to make sense in ways we don’t expect. Sometimes situations or events go what we’d normally call out of control … all we can see is the chaos. But a step back reveals the wider net, the bigger picture. The choreography, the symmetry of all things.

Relationships. Blood, love, hate, passion. The binding thread that brings them all together is fiery red. But in it … when we’re in it … it feels like drowning, or flying, or crashing. No color at all. Just the grit and grind and focus of getting through it, or holding on to it, or getting rid of it, or expressing it. That is the experience of the thread itself. We are that thread.

Blue. Of Jazz, pain, loss, rain, regret. The thread of blue awakens quickly with each event. Fluid and flexible or vulcanized and unyielding … this strand goes from silk to steel in an instant, its transformation governed by the emotional dictates of experience.

And yet, when we lay our heads down in the dark, all threads come together; as we sleep through the night they work in concert, weaving another length in the tapestry of our lives.

::Two Way Mirror::

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cece-and-tim-hog-posterized

These days we’re like a two way mirror.

Or through a glass, darkly.

At the grade school on Grandparents’ Day, if he shows up he is brittle and distant. He wears a starched smile, the kind that never reaches the eyes. When he looks at me, he doesn’t. Perhaps he can’t bear the reflection of himself that he sees there. Or perhaps I’m making too much of it, and he’s forgotten who I am. Like that time at the Film Festival when I saw him and called out to him. He looked at me, quizzically, then moved toward me, head shaking slowly, hand extended, with the words,

“I’m sorry, you’re going to have to help me.”

I did not take his hand. I looked at him in disbelief, and said,

“Cece.” He was embarrassed that he didn’t know who I was that day. But I realize now that he never really did.

Looking back at the years we were together, I recognize the holes he crawled through to go from our life together into his other life. I couldn’t see it at the time. The camouflage of home and family clouded my vision. But distance brings clarity. And friends who were there then have come to me from time to time since; as an act of confession? To clear their conscience as accomplices? I can’t honestly say.

While I don’t know every detail about what was going on then, I know more than I ever wanted to. Sometimes information serves no good purpose. Except, you know … it helps me realize that I was in a completely different relationship than he was. And it’s confirmed for me that he had no clue of the goodness that was present and waiting for him there. Loving him there. Knowing this is a different kind of heartbreak all by itself.

When someone becomes addicted to dancing with the dark, the light is just an irritation.

::Jordan’s Bank::

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Rockwell Santa

I was thinking today about the Christmases in my life.

In my early childhood, they were silver tinsel, colored bulbs and an  angel star on a tree that shined through the front window and made the world feel magic. They were chenille robes, and the smell of bacon and coffee on Christmas morning; hair left uncombed and presents torn into. They were oranges and nuts, hard candy and a treasure tucked deep in the toe of a stocking.

They were rides in the car to Nanny’s house, clutching my new doll. They were pickled eggs in a jar on Nanny’s buffet, and a pink Christmas tree that glowed with starry lights inside a cloud of angel hair.

When I was old enough−about seven−mother started taking me with her to Advent service on Tuesday nights. I sat between her and my grandmother, Mom, breathed deep the incense, threw back my head and sang the Advent hymns lustilly, as young girls do.

On Jordan’s bank the Baptists cry,
announces that the Lord is nigh
awake and harken for he brings
glad tidingsof the King of Kings.

By the time I was in my teenage Christmases there were five more children. The young ones were so precocious that, every year on Christmas Eve, Daddy prevented early peeks by sleeping on the floor at the entrance to the living room.

Our trees had gotten smaller; Daddy usually picked one up at the grocery store for free the night before Christmas. We were all excited, it was Christmas after all. But something had changed; I was too young to know what, or why. I just knew I felt a little lost. Advent services, and Advent songs, had started to define the season for me, and I turned to them for the comfort I needed then.

Looking at it from here I can see it was during those years my father lost his job; he was doing what he could to keep six children fed and a roof over us all. It’s clear that his was a hero’s journey, and my heart breaks a little for him when I think about it now.

Then cleansed be every breast from sin;
make straight the way for God within,
prepare we in our hearts a home
where such a mighty Guest may come.

I became a mother when I’d just turned twenty one. And that changed everything. Christmas was more magical than ever. Being Santa to my babies was wonderful. I sewed, and baked, and made ornaments out of egg cartons. We strung popcorn and cranberries; every year we bought the annual Christmas album from the Firestone store.

I saved S&H Green Stamps all year long; I poured over the stamp catalog to see what gifts I could get with my books of stamps.

We made our Advent wreath, lit the candles, purple and pink; said the Advent prayers; went to church and sang the hymns. We made a birthday cake for Jesus, and every Christmas morning the children would run to see if the tiny statue of the Baby was in the manger, having been “born” during the night. The ultimate result, through the years, was Christmas seasons of love, and laughter, and plenty.

 For thou art our salvation, Lord,
our refuge and our great reward;
without thy grace we waste away
like flowers that wither and decay.

Then there’s the Christmas I was separated from my husband of twenty-five years, headed for divorce.  I’d been holding my own through what was a very rough year. But it seemed like everywhere I went during my holiday shopping I ended up face to face with the perfect gift for him. It was like the stores conspired to show me what I would not be purchasing. Try getting through the holiday without buying him THIS. With each ‘gift confrontation’ came another crack in my heart.

It was exhausting. I clung to my Advent. Yes, it became mine. I wrapped myself in it; I sang the songs and prayed the prayers, sometimes silently other times screaming them at the top of my lungs. There were moments I lost track of what I was praying for, or who I even was; I just knew that Jesus was my lifeline, and I was calling 911.

To heal the sick stretch out thine hand,
and bid the fallen sinner stand;
shine forth and let thy light restore
earth’s own true loveliness once more

I’ve grown into a lovely single life, my kids are beautiful adults, and I have five precious grandchildren. During these Christmas seasons I find that I’ve returned to the feelings of my childhood, but with a depth I couldn’t know then. The many times, and ways, in which my heart was broken have taught me this: in me dwells a personal and a tender yearning for new life; I ache for the beauty of the season; I am joyful at the redemption this Holy Baby brings. And I treasure the brokenhearted, hopeful Advent in us all.

All praise, eternal Son, to thee,
whose advent doth thy people free;
whom with the Father we adore
and Holy Ghost for evermore.
*

*Words: Charles Coffin, 1736;
trans. John Chandler, 1837

 

::SAFE HARBOR::

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SAND AND SEA

I got back from the beach last night. On my morning walks by the shore I harvested a few beautiful shells. Now I stand at the kitchen sink with my coffee, lower them into the basin of water.
And my mind drifts …

“Come out of your shell.” Or, “She needs to come out of her shell.” I’ve heard it said about others, I’ve heard it said about me−both sincerely and sarcastically, as in , “Umm, girlie, you need to climb back into your shell; you’re a little ‘too far out’.”

But the shell thing−like sea urchins or snails−what a Divine idea. To carry your protection on your back; to be able at a moment’s notice to dodge any bullet simply by “climbing in.”

If I could have, I would have. Especially in the nineties. Those were ‘the paranoid years’. The time when my hair fell out in clumps. I knew people were whispering about me through the soup cans at the grocery store. One of the things Tim did was he copied my journal, rewrote it, then showed it to everyone he could think of. Hell yes, I wanted a shell. One that could hold a woman in her forties, protect her from the man who’d claimed to love her; one where she could cry every tear until they made an ocean she could float away on.

I run the water till it’s a little warm, and begin massaging each of the small, ridged shapes with my fingertips until their pearly surfaces become visible.

Some say time heals wounds. But it never says anything about what you’re supposed to do while the healing happens. Sit on the floor, back corner of the closet? That was a favorite spot. Fall asleep on the couch, with the TV on? That happened more times than I can count. Get home from your therapist, pace for twenty four hours, watching the clock til it’s time to get in the car and head back to her office? For months I did that. She saved my life.

Those experiences−the closet floor, the couch, Dr. High’s office−they never felt like healing at all. They felt like one big gyroscopic attempt to hang on. I thought the spinning would never level out, that I would never find solid ground. But the truth is, I did. And healing happened.

When I think about the woman I was then, I am moved by her pain; by her need to hide away. I want to reach back and hold her. I want to tell her it will be okay. Tell her that, believe it or not, she’ll survive. And she’ll be glad she did.

I swish the water gently and choose a shell, think of the moment I picked it from the sand. I turn this delicate vessel over in my hand. It is a profound reminder of protection and release.

Where have the creatures gone? Perhaps they found other shells for safe harbor. Perhaps their time came to transition, becoming one with the flotsam and jetsam. Or perhaps they are braving this world like I am−out of my shell, ready to move forward into whatever this day and this life will bring.