Good Grief (09/27/2003)

I believe that a roadmap of my grief over my first marriage and subsequent divorce would look something like an EKG… and for the first few months, it was more like a picture of atrial fib.

I keep reminding myself that grief is natural, that grief is a matter of time and time alone, that nothing I do will hurry it along. Those thoughts keep me from feeling quite so sick to my stomach whenever a thought of Kathleen washes across my mind, as if a solitary thought or picture is a betrayal to my new relationship.

In terms of grief, today has not been a high point. It started when I was looking for my friends in the Webshots community who hosted several parties for GLOBAL, the GLBT student group at University of Houston. There we were, Kathleen and me, shiny and smiling at 21. It was Valentine’s Day, and I was wearing my sister’s leopard print pants. My hair was the same color as Carrot Top’s. I struggled to remember the woman standing next to me in that moment. The many nights of jagged crying bouts over the injustice of her infidelities and the role I played in everything that led up to them had left me with precious few memories of what life was like before.

Later in the night, due to the string of thoughts I’d had since seeing that first picture, I couldn’t help myself. I went to the last URL I had for her and took a peek. It was an egregious error that could not be undone. Posted to the front page with glaring clarity were Kathleen and her new fiancee along with both sets of proud parents.

Injustice rose within me. The simple act of taking a family picture was a level of acceptance that I had never received, even though I loved them and even tried to like them most of the time. I could relate to Donna- a writer who escaped into the world of her romance novels because it was better than anything real life could cook up. And then there was Joe, a NASA engineer and realtor who spoke with a strong lateral emission lisp and pronounced the famous author “Jule Verness.” Overbearingly Catholic, Kathleen and I were allowed to show very little affection in front of them and they seemed shell-shocked by my spiky red hair and “I’m With the Band” t-shirt.

As time went by, we each began to get used to each other… with a few exceptions.

There was the memorable experience of me going up to the priest at St. B’s for communion, because back then I was naive and thought that all people needed and deserved communion… and a whole host of other uncomfortable moments that I’m sure will come to me if I sit here long enough.

But I’d rather talk about her shoes. Kat was wearing these open-toe sandals that just screamed, “I watch the 700 Club!” The Kathleen I know wouldn’t be caught dead in those fuckers, preferring instead to wear sneakers with everything.

And therein lies the rub.

THIS IS NOT THE KATHLEEN THAT I KNOW.

Another one for the Archives (6/17/13)

This is another one that to me, is painful and beautiful- worthy of uploading here. The setup here is that I’d been absolutely ignored after first agreeing to meet with me and my therapist. When I told her that I’d rather go to an Al-anon meeting (because of her first wife, not our families) so that we’d both be in an equal room without invading each other’s space, I must have scared her because I never really heard back, even though I would have checked out a different idea if she’d offered one.

This was written while Wi-Phi was in surgery, and I was just as fried as I have ever been in my life. The tone is urgent because I was wracked with anxiety because I’d told her that I needed a deadline to say “yes,” “no,” or “shut the hell up and don’t rush me.”

==========================

I asked you to meet my deadline so that I could have some proof that you would think highly enough of me to respect my wishes. When you didn’t respond, I knew that for whatever reason, you have not seen a single thing that is positive about working all of this out, even though you have said that you want to engage in my process and seemed to mean it for a day or so. I am tired of living in the box where I cannot emote. That every emotion is strung out into a series of reasons why I must not be feeling what I say I’m feeling.

Dana was trying to give you a book she found of classic American sheet music; when you didn’t respond to her, I realized that you might have thought I was trying to get to you through her. Nope, this wasn’t even my idea and I didn’t corner the market on hurting about this thing.

You need to challenge your own assumptions about me, because I come across a lot differently on the page than I do in person. For the last few years, you have only known my writing personality because I didn’t think I was strong enough to let you into my inner sanctum with the possibility of it being ripped to shreds. It is as if the pen (or keyboard) and paper is the blast proof zone. I can look at my own emotions without flinching because the landmines stay untripped.

I need you to challenge the thought that you are always big, you are always in charge, and when I try to assert dominance, it is not a slam against you. My thought process is “if I’m so star-spangled awesome, why don’t you want to elevate me?” I would hope you’d want me to feel like I had some power in the relationship. Because that’s what all relationships are- establishment of a soft constantly rolling hierarchy.

On Tuesday, I am going up to the top of Mt. Tabor around 7:00.

When Ellie and Quinn died, you sent me a note that said what you wanted and needed from me more than anything was to just sit there and be quiet next to you. Enjoy clove cigarettes and whiskey in the utter quiet without saying anything. Just. Be.

It is a different time and place, but I hope that you still want to sit next to me without saying anything. I’ve said enough for three lifetimes.

I would like you to join me, but that’s not a requirement. I figure, I can open the door to reconciliation, but I can’t make you walk through it. If you don’t show, I will sit there until I feel better, then I’ll pour the whiskey on the ground and walk away.

If you do show, my hope for this meeting is that absolutely nothing gets done. Like I said, I’ve written enough. I will sit there with my whiskey and know it’s a moment and shut the hell up.

===============
Epilogue
===============

…and in case you’re wondering, I sat on the bench with two shots’ worth of whiskey in the caldera of Mt. Tabor for about an hour. As promised, I poured one of them on the ground and walked away. Then, when I got home, I divided the shot into three parts. My Dana and my best friend shared it with me. It. Was. Perfect.

Song to the Moon (06/13/13)

I don’t normally use this blog for correspondence to someone, but I loved this letter so much I thought it was worthy of sharing for posterity’s sake. I want this in my memoirs. This was written after I went to Al-Anon for the first time.

==============

I just realized that I know a piece of the puzzle that you don’t know, and that you’d probably like to. My sister, Steffi, was an attorney at a domestic violence shelter for many years, so her bookshelves are filled with thousands of dollars worth of self-help. Dana and I spent some time with her last summer in Sacramento.

I was asked to preach, and because of the Lectionary, I started reading about battered women and abuse. I went through Steffi’s library at length and read everything I could possibly read about battered women because I was looking for you, trying to find your emotional picture, so that I could figure out what the hell had happened to me over the last 24 years. I didn’t start the project by looking for you, but a book on verbal abuse held up so many red flags that I cried for weeks. You stifle my love for you by not letting it flow naturally. By damming it so that my emotions slap on you like waves and all you have to do is destroy the dam so that the tsunami doesn’t have time to materialize in the first place.

The missing piece of the puzzle for me was wondering how I could pull myself out of this relationship without your permission. It’s not that I couldn’t let you go, it’s that once you were gone, I still couldn’t take off the ring, you know? My interactions with you changed, but my behavior didn’t… a complete and total hallmark of verbal abuse. You also manage our connection so tightly that it’s strangling, and I didn’t know that wasn’t normal for a very long time. And by managing, I agree that it’s ok that you take up all the room in this relationship because that’s how we set this up. After 25 years, our relationship can’t handle some cracks and tears? Please.

Last night I lost about 400 lbs of emotional weight, and I feel lighter today than I have in weeks.

Before those books, my mental health was very unstable because the fact that I couldn’t NAME THE PROBLEM and it was going undiagnosed for years and years and years finally got to me. I realized how sick I was without even knowing it, so it kept compounding.

My first family didn’t drink at all. They had other flaws, but that wasn’t one of them. I say this to acknowledge that in raising me, everybody did the best they could do and I’m not bitter. I’m awesome.

You helped make me into a gorgeous woman, (name redacted). With your help, I’m a knockout. With your help, I learned how to get it done emotionally. With your help, I learned to love the banjo (that was a lie… releasing the shame).

There are two pictures in my mind that I want to leave you with today.

The first is the way the air electrified for me when you touched my hair because I knew that if you were touching my hair, then it was something really intimate… because anyone who tries to touch your hair has a fair shot of not bringing back a hand.

The second thing I want to leave with you is the most precious of my life, the most healing, and I’m sure it felt so friggin’ weird to you, but I have to explain now what I couldn’t explain then.

Years ago, Dana and I went to visit Steffi and the parents in California and we were literally scrambling for me to make it back for a meeting with you on time. I made it at, like, 5 of 7 and when I arrived, you were lying on the couch. I was so emotionally crispy that I couldn’t help it. I dove into you to get the scent of home, the feel of home.

(name redacted), when you hold me the way you do, it makes me remember why I moved here in the first place. That your body and your mind and your heart felt more like home to me than my mom’s, my dad’s, my girlfriend’s… Not until I met Dana did I meet the one which you called “the passion that will ignite my soul.” Those are my words for the moment when my center of gravity changed, so that we could break our first family connection… as I have done each time that I have been in serious relationships. The only time you become that center of gravity is when I’m so wrecked that I completely shut down and you’re the one I want. You’re the one I want when I’m hurting so bad that my soul is crushed into my 13-year-old behavior.

And this will never have anything to do with you unless you want it. and you’re going to have to want it, because we’re fucked up and I won’t be friends with you if you can’t show your crack and let some light in (That was a joke).

Welcome to what family looks like for me. I hope it’s dark, twisty, hilarious, and worth it.

Love,

Leslie

Somewhere Out There

It’s my favorite song in the entire world, and I bawl like a baby every single time I hear it. I am sure there are other people that feel the same way, but I have a special connection to it. When I was nine and my sister was three, my mom and dad took my sister and me on a cruise. While on it, we had a talent show, and my three year old sister brought the house down by singing that song. People were engulfed in tears, including me. It’s one of the best memories of my life so far.

Today, it chokes me up that I left (name redacted) behind, and the song means even more. Today I remembered what I considered the best and my favorite memory of her, and I wished on the stars for her happiness.

We were on the waterfront, sitting together on a picnic. She was introducing me to someone, and she called me her best friend, out loud, right out there where everybody could hear it. I saw stars. I think on that memory and I blubber like a baby while “Somewhere Out There” plays in Lindsay’s three year old voice.

It is amazing to me how much grief allows me to let go by smiling all the way through it with happy tears.

I’m a Boy!

I am not transitioning. It’s a line from “The Sword in the Stone.” I feel that I must use that as the first sentence if I’m going to use a title like that, because the excerpt on Facebook will freak people out and they’ll start calling before reading further. How do I know this? April Fool’s jokes. In one, I said that I was transitioning. In the other, I said I was pregnant. Both were fairly believable- my girlfriend at the time of the pregnancy prank said “I watched you have a period for three months and I still fell for it.” Let’s just say my writing can be very descriptive.

The reason that this entry is so titled is that it came to me when I was reading over my past entries to kind of evaluate where I am. In “The Wheat and the Weeds,” I explored the idea that I’d fallen in love with my abuser’s inner child, and the equal relationship ended when that child grew up and I was still a plain old teenager. It reminded me of the scene where Merlin turns both himself and Arthur into squirrels, and the lady squirrels find them incredibly alluring. The lady squirrel is still clinging to Arthur when he turns back into a boy, and she’s devastated, slinking off into the trees.

I was clinging to her inner child when she suddenly turned into an adult. Comparing that to a literal illustration helped me to understand my grief in a new way. In a sense, that is coping with grief in a nutshell… learning to understand the things that need to change so that you can process your loss in a positive way. My abuser has affected my art since we met, which has always been this type medium whether it was letters, e-mails, or starting blogs. It’s been a positive outlook even when there was only an audience of one.

Part of grieving has been learning to turn away from e-mailing her anyway, even when I knew there would be no response. It was never about her. It was always about me. I thought I might never know what would make her understand, what words would strike some sort of chord, so I wouldn’t shut up. I’m sure my level of bandwidth was really intense, but at the same time, there was a lifelong precedence for it.

Losing that urge to connect with her was the creation of a broader audience. My art didn’t have to be kept secret anymore, because I stopped caring about her reaction to my grief, because there wouldn’t be an end to it if I didn’t. It was like my body and soul finally said, “enough” in so small and still a voice that I knew I had to listen to it before I got knocked down again.

So I don’t e-mail anymore. It’s been a very long time- since I started writing for this blog in a disciplined way, so about a year. I think part of the reason that I’m still recording memories is that I’m terrified to lose them. They’re a part of me now, from the worst moment to the best. I never realized how unconditionally I could love someone until I met her, and even more since I’ve started thinking, really thinking about how my actions have influenced her in ways that I’ll never know, and finally don’t need to.

I am a squirrel, and she is a boy. This blog is just what I think when I’m wandering in the trees.

The Day Robin Williams Died

Robin Williams is such a mythic figure that I thought I would talk about yesterday, because I will come back across this in a few years and of course I want to know where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news. He is that iconic for me, and in a sense, became everyone’s favorite father figure in plenty of films, my favorite as Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire.

That’s the kind of man Robin Williams was. You can’t pick “the best thing he did” because the things he did fall into so many different genres it would be comparing Chevrolets to roof repair. I can talk about the things he did for me personally, though.

I was coming out in the same years that movies like The Birdcage and Mrs. Doubtfire were made. Robin Williams normalized gay couples for me- in The Birdcage, he actually played a gay man with sexuality- clearly adoring his husband. In Mrs. Doubtfire, Uncle Frank and Aunt Jack just are. Robin Williams could help bring gay rights to life in a way that few other people could because he could do it apolitically. It is not surprising to have found him as an ally- he was a resident of San Francisco/Marin County most of his life. However, few people were as dedicated to showing equality as well as talking about it. In terms of gay rights, we couldn’t have asked for a better straight man (as it were).

So here it is, my August 11th, 2014

We were in shock at work. Dana, Lindsay, and Matt (wife, sister, brother-in-law, respectively) were in shock at home. After having written both M&M and Under My F#$%ing Skin, I was a giant rageball and trying not to let it out, which I compensated for by being snippy and rude. I’m amazing like that. Anyway, I am in Full Metal Jackass mode and then I find out that Robin Williams has died and he was only 63 years old.

I was, in a sense, waiting for it to happen. I was not shocked in the least. When you’ve had that long a history with drugs and alcohol, spend 20 years sober, and then take a drink, there are three possible things that will kill you. The first is shame. The second is the feeling that it would be better for all involved if you weren’t there to fuck everything up. The third is that in the final stages, you just want the pain to stop, and nothing is working, and you can’t ever see yourself recovering. “Every day is just going to be like this. I will never get any better.”

I don’t know this because I am an addict. I know this because alcoholism and addiction are just two situations that can make you feel so unworthy of love and life. I’ve been through other ones, but it’s the same Truth.

So there I sat, just staring off into space, thinking about how similar we’ve felt in the past, and how differently we both turned out.

Under My F#$%ing Skin

So I came back from living in the same game with my first wife to living the original game with my abuser, which I just put together right this minute and I feel like I’m going to crawl out of my fucking skin.

So, to pick up from where we left off

Until (name redacted) started picking up her toys, I never realized how much she and my first wife resembled each other. They didn’t look anything physically alike, but they’d both been mentally groomed by an abuser to do all sorts of things that broke their psyches. In some ways, it was such a relief to figure that out, because any trickle of “what if” in my mind was no longer. Of course I’ve wondered what would have happened if she hadn’t moved at just the right time. What human wouldn’t? Seeing my first wife as having similar characteristics allowed me to see the full spectrum of what I would have taken on, and in some respects, already had. In my relationship with (name redacted), I had already given her so much, and in running post-mortem on my first marriage, I realized that  the what-if said this: I would have given <name redacted> more, and more and more and more and it still wouldn’t have been enough. Even when I change the circumstances, the resolution looks the same. In every case, the cognitive dissonance between her words and her actions leaves us at an absolute impasse.

It’s comforting to me there is no way that I can change the order of what happened, the timing, the age gap. It sounds counter-intuitive, but the more I realize things like this, I just become more Zen, rather than when I first met (name redacted) and called God a punk ass bitch to God’s face because I was so angry that God had put this woman in my path and made me too short to love her (well, I’m still short, but you know what I mean). Oh, God and I have gone 65,000 rounds on this one, because I can emotionally kick the shit out of God when I want to. I have somehow always known that in the silence is where God lives, and that even if I am kicking the shit out of air, there’s still resistance.

I had to pray through the realization yesterday that I married a pattern and not a person. I had to breathe, sit with it. Marrying my first wife was years and years ago, so I know that I’ve grown so much since then. But that doesn’t mean that realizing who I was isn’t triggering me into who I am. It’s like going back to college for the basics after 20 years, and then you get there and you realize you haven’t forgotten anything.