A Major Key

Sandra Cisneros just floored me while listening to “On Being with Krista Tippett.” She said that the Sufis say life keeps breaking your heart over and over until it *stays* open. Words to live by, because heartbreak is inevitable in a multitude of ways, and to me, this saying gives it a purpose. It is a deep, lifelong learning.

It came up in my Facebook memories this morning that Dana and I broke up five years ago today, and so the quote was especially apt in that light…. I feel that heartbreak was so great, it is the one that keeps me open to the world. No one ever expects to start a marriage preparing for its end, but I felt especially blindsided by all the things I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) see. There were many things I took seriously, and things I didn’t take seriously enough. In retrospect, knowing which was which is still a mystery. I just know they exist and don’t feel the need to talk it out with her, like some sort of post-mortem closure. I don’t care to know how she feels. It is not a matter of feeling heartless, just done.

And in fact, I care even less about how our marriage came apart than I do about our friendship, which preceded marriage by almost four years. Though it’s not like we talked daily when I first moved to DC, we did talk a few times and laughed a lot. But there must have been too much pain roiling underneath to keep it up, and that is the beginning and the end of it to me. I don’t have need to cause her more pain just because of something I wanted. Her feelings do matter in that respect. But it was extraordinarily difficult to go from talking from the moment we woke to the moment we went to sleep to absolutely no communication, ever. I didn’t insist on it, but I respected her wishes. It was a large factor in my moving to DC, because I am not the best at emotional boundaries. I figured that with half a country in between us, it would be so much easier to find new people to fill the void, and I was right.

I met a swath of people who had no connection to me as a married person, didn’t think of me as “DanaandLeslie,” and for that I can be grateful. Friends who had no connection to my history at all allowed me the freedom to discover who I was on my own again. I was alone, but was not then and never have been lonely. I decided to move into a house with landlords on site and three other roommates so that I would not come home to an empty apartment every night. I figured that with my mental illnesses, living alone with no one to drag me out of my shell would be a very bad thing. The last time I lived in a one bedroom, even then I sort of had a “roommate,” this loud, brash best friend who never really wanted to go home because her own house was empty….. and I grew to love her company more and more every day.

Eventually, there were three of us, all single and looking for family. I don’t know why my apartment became the hang, but it did, and I was grateful. I knew ahead of time that in DC, I didn’t have the built-in connection of friends of friends and church and all that, which is why I opted for a group house. It would take at least a few months to reconnect with the friends I’d made here before, and to find a new church because with public transportation, my old church was too far away to really get involved on any kind of deep level (I was actually involved with two of them back then- Westminster Presbyterian in SE DC and Fairlington UMC in Alexandria, VA).

I realized I could make it on Sunday mornings easily, but not choir, and choir is far and above the biggest reason I love going to church. I feel that I am a much better soprano when I can feel the other moving parts under me, and even though I’ve done solo work (even well), it’s not my favorite (my favorite is actually singing in a quartet so I can hear myself think……..).

It was also important to me that I be free of any connections to Kathleen, my first wife, as well. I bear no ill will toward her, either- we never should have gotten married in the first place, but I was filled with so much hope as an early 20-something that it didn’t register that even though she was bisexual, her preference wasn’t women….. or at the very least, it wasn’t me…. and we’d attended both of those churches together. stone_labyrinthOne of my favorite memories of that time in my life was helping to put in the stone floor labyrinth, because, of course, you can still see my handiwork…. but you better get there fast because they’re about to build a new building. 😛

I also went to Foundry United Methodist for one Sunday just to check it out, but Fairlington was so much closer to my house and just as liberal (one of the first Open & Affirming congregations in Virginia).

Now, I don’t go to church at all (but will someday…. just be patient and stay tuned…), but do go to Foundry on Thursdays for a mental illness support group when I can feel confident about getting out of the house when I don’t specifically have to do so……

It also took me a while to get out from under the burden of people thinking I moved here specifically to be closer to Argo, because that was never the case…… just a persistent rumor that affected me greatly because it was never true. What was true is that I could have moved in next door to her and she still never would have seen me, because I tend to hole up, anyway. As I have often said, I mostly sit at my computer or tablet with my headphones blaring, so a bear ripping out the side of my house wouldn’t even have registered unless I was facing that direction.

Even though I thought of DC and Alexandria as my “home towns,” I still didn’t want to take the chance of feeding that rumor even more than it already had been, so I chose Maryland. It turned out to be the best decision, anyway, because my cousin Nathan (who is a psychiatrist in Alexandria) told me about all the mental health services available in Maryland that Virginia couldn’t even touch….. and even if I was perfectly healthy when I moved here, going through a divorce still would have required talk therapy, especially after a friendship of over a decade and a marriage of seven years and change. So I got hooked up with talk therapy and a psychiatric nurse practitioner that really worked with me instead of at me, which I require because I know enough about medicine that I abhor being patronized. Additionally, I have suffered enough that not only do I know the drugs that do work, I’ve been through the list of everything that doesn’t.

There are two instances where my nurse practitioner really shone. The first is that he wanted to change my SSRI to Prozac, and I shuddered. He asked me what was wrong, and I said that it made me so nauseous that I couldn’t function or eat. The second is that we were talking about ADHD, and he asked if I’d tried Stratera. I told him that it was interesting, that opioid agonists work on me, like Tramodol, but methamphetamine agonists didn’t. That was how our relationship matured quickly, because he raised his eyebrows at the fact that I knew the word “agonist,” and his tone quickly changed to “ok, we’re equals now.”

He really listened to me as I told him that I liked to do short courses of Ritalin or Adderall in order to get my coping mechanisms under control, then stop them until I felt I needed a refresher course, and I liked the lowest dose possible to get the maximum dopamine effects without the awful side effects.

At the time, I didn’t have any weight to lose. I was so sad that I wasn’t eating, anyway. I survived on drinks, because I had a block on eating. Things like Carnation Instant Breakfast, Slim Fast, Ensure, etc. were the basics of my diet until I felt better. I am now up to a healthy weight, but back then I looked like a heroin addict (which, for the record, I was not). I also stopped drinking alcohol almost in its entirety, because I noticed that I felt and slept better when I didn’t, and I really needed sleep to let my body recover from trauma. Divorcing from Dana was traumatic on so many levels, like the fistfight that ended our relationship permanently because I didn’t want to leave the house at all until the bruise under my eye was gone and the phantom pain wasn’t all day, every day.

And it turned out that the phantom pain lasted for months, because I was devastated and that’s how it manifested. It’s gone now- forgiven but not forgotten. But I was so weak in the moment that even a punch to the face didn’t stop me from wanting to get back our relationship at first. It was moving away and really reflecting on what happened that convinced me that while I could accept friendship, I could never accept getting back together, because I couldn’t live in fear that something like it would happen again.

I was not innocent in that fight in terms of emotional escalation, but when Dana broke the physical barrier, I went off like a rat dog with a Napoleon complex…. an apt description because Dana was over a hundred pounds heavier with a fist three times bigger.

And perhaps that is yet another reason I’m so much more willing to talk about Argo now than I am about Dana, because Argo has never hurt me…. I mean, she has, but less than I’ve hurt her and never in a physically threatening way.

I actually just put that together, that I can’t extricate myself from thinking about Dana without going back to that moment in time where my eye was bruised and my heart was broken….. and that with Argo, all I think of is love and laughter. It’s just so much easier to go back to those moments, because even when I try my absolute best to only remember the love and laughter with Dana, I still hang my head in shame.

Although I do hang my head in shame at the relationship with Argo crumbling at my own hand, because even though it was never true that I moved here to be closer to her, it would have been a dream and a half to get to know the real her instead of just the black and white version….. to include her in my family of friends rather than always being on the outside…. my Raggedy Man.

My body memory is so strong for both of those days, my love for both women an intrinsic part of me, just in vastly different capacities. I saw a funny memory on Facebook the other day about having to stop calling Argo my “wine and yoga pants-type girlfriend” because I kept getting ads for wine and yoga pants on my feed. 😛

It was an unfortunate side effect that at the beginning, my wires got crossed and I had a mountain of shit to work through regarding the toxic version of friendship that was presented to me at a very early age, the part where all close friendships initially made my teenage heart go haywire. But to my credit, I worked my way out of that hole, just not as quickly as I would have liked, because first I had to get rid of the toxicity that made me think those things in the first place….. and I did, very successfully. Now I am in great shape when it comes to friendship, being close and vulnerable with people I respect and admire without the emotional baggage of my own teenage “stuff.”

I feel it is apt that “Clearing Iranian Airspace” from the Argo soundtrack just started playing, because I am ending this entry on a major key.



Last night I went to Dan & Autumn’s White Elephant Holiday Party. It was great to be back on Leslie Ave., and don’t think I haven’t thought about stealing a street sign more than once. If I win the lottery (it would help if I played), I’m buying that house right from under them (watch your backs, dear hearts……). The only thing that would keep me from doing so, and this is big, is that I love Maryland so much. It’s a bit more liberal without Richmond to deal with…….. but Del Rey is just so damn cool.

25438828_10155716438840272_5761970691560350761_oNot only is it a funky neighborhood reminiscent of Hawthorne in Portland, Oregon, Dan, Autumn, and my cousins, Nathan and Emily, all live there. It’s nice to have so many people I adore at one Metro stop (Braddock, in case you’re wondering… one past National Airport on the Yellow Line…. as if I will ever get used to calling it “Reagan” instead). I took this picture at about 12:30 AM as I was on my way home, and the lights just spoke to me. I remembered my first day in DC, when Dana and I patched our relationship up just enough that I called her just to laugh about the fact that I’d gotten on the train going the wrong way and ended up at Braddock instead of Ft. Totten, where I generally transfer to the Red Line, even though it’s faster at other stops. This is because I am just lazy enough to want a longer trip on one line…. Don’t make me get up…. I’m playing Zen Koi here, man……. WMATA is changing things up a bit, though. You can’t transfer to the Red Line right now because it’s closed for maintenance from Rhode Island all the way to Silver Spring. You either have to take a shuttle bus, or Uber when you’re running short on time. The shuttle buses take twice to three times as long. By the time I got to Silver Spring station, the bus home had stopped running. I got an Uber, and then my phone died. My driver couldn’t find me, and canceled the trip. I ended up at Dave & Buster’s, where the bar has USB plugs, and after about ten minutes, tried for another ride home. This time, it worked. I didn’t get home until after 2:00, but it was completely worth it.

25438879_10155716165570272_5618868711594337185_oHere’s a picture of what I brought to the White Elephant party, which got a big response. I picked it out weeks ago, and the excitement was killing me. It was so hard not to just blab all over everywhere what I was taking, but I didn’t until after it was opened. I am generally not very good at keeping secrets. One of the funniest things that happened between Kathleen and me is that when we lived in Alexandria, for our third anniversary I booked us one of those cruises down the Potomac where you can look at all the monuments at night. I kept the secret for three months, and then, the day we were supposed to go, Kathleen asked me if there was anything she needed to bring, having no idea where we were going. I said, well, you might want to bring a jacket. It’s going to be cold on the boat. I clapped my hand over my mouth and we both fell out laughing. Since that particular dumbass attack, I have had to try a lot harder to hide my nefarious-yet-generous activities, because it just slipped out. I didn’t mean to spoil the surprise, I was just on the “think it, say it” plan, which often leads to very heavy face palms. Although I did spill to my dad and Lindsay, because there was no way it would make it back to DC. Friends and family that are so far away come in handy.

So, I open the present I picked, and tears came to my eyes. From the moment I opened it, I knew it was the perfect present for me. I valiantly tried to stay neutral because the reality was that it could have gotten stolen at any point. I did, however, hide the bag behind my back, hoping that everyone would forget it was there. I don’t know whether it was the tears that did it, or whether my plan worked, but after the gift exchange I told the people who brought the gift why it meant so much to me. Busboys & Poets is my favorite restaurant here, and one of the last meals I shared with my mother was at the Takoma Park location, where I am fairly sure the gift was bought because that’s where they live. In addition, the restaurant gets its name from one of the most famous writers in American history, Langston Hughes, who was the busboy poet.25398107_10155716200820272_144966618721340104_o

As you can see, not only is the gift a coffee mug with the logo, it came with a Langston Hughes finger puppet with a magnet in his hat so you can hang it on the refrigerator, or in my case, the mirror above my dresser. My stepsister, Caitlin, will be happy to know that it holds much less coffee than the Doctor Who tankard she gave me a couple of years ago. I told her that I loved that mug because it holds four cups of coffee at once, and she said, isn’t that a bit much? Well, probably, but between the depression and ADHD, coffee acts as the right amount of stimulant to get me out into the world and give me some modicum of concentration without having to resort to Ritalin, Adderall, Stratera, et al. If I accidentally drink too much, too late, I just take a Tylenol PM. However, I rarely have to resort to that, because in a person with ADHD, stimulants have the opposite effect. They actually make me calmer…. well, as long as it’s just plain cups of coffee and not a Starbucks monstrosity of shots. I don’t need those kinds of highs and lows…. I just have to keep the bus from going under 50 (wow, that reference just aged me). It does not, however, stop the stream-of-consciousness in my head where tangents lead to tangents which lead to tangents and possibly the loss of the original point… but I’ll get back there eventually.

With presents like this, it feels like the universe is telling me that my mother is still right here, with her own nefarious generosity. Who knew that a White Elephant gift would tap into my emotions so deeply? I went to the party expecting to surprise everyone else, but the real surprise was mine alone.

But one more surprise before I go. Dan’s birthday is coming up, and I asked for a minute alone with her to give her a present. When it happened, before I took out the gift, I said, because you travel a lot, I’m giving you jewelry appropriate for a friend. I figure that wherever you go, when you look at it, you’ll think about where you got it and smile… and for that moment, I’ll be with you on your journey. If that sounds too practiced to be off the cuff, it’s because I made the exact same speech to Argo years ago, because was also one of my “dames on a plane.” But just because it was the same speech, that doesn’t mean that the sentiment was any less heartfelt. I don’t know if Argo still wears hers because of our blowouts, but I’d like to think so. I won’t tell you what hers was, only because it might identify her in some way. But I will tell you that Dan’s is a beaded bracelet that looks too fancy for an old school “friendship bracelet,” but it’s the same idea. They’re Tibetan prayer beads, which, to me, represented prayers without wax…. and as I joked with her, “no homo.”

In Michelangelo’s day, sculptors who made mistakes often filled them with wax to cover the impurities. A complete sculpture without doing so were called “sin cera,” Latin for without wax. It is the origin of the word sincere. “Prayers without wax” is code for the deeply felt message of thanks for being that friend who understands me the most since we’ve both lost our mothers, which are different conversations than the ones I have with people who haven’t. It has been amazing to have someone who knows how to catch me when I pitch forward in the haze of loss.

It is just as miraculous to have a gift I will look at every day in order to smile through pain… a sign to me that God moments happen in the most unexpected places.

A surprise, as it were.