Muted Sadness

It is one of the darkest days we’ve had in a while. It is not currently raining, but the storm has started and stopped multiple times, and the sky still looks threatening. I have my Carrot Weather app set to “homicidal personality,” and she says I should stay home today because no one likes me and she blames me for the bad weather.

That’s my girl.

Today is both my mother’s and my ex-wife’s birthday. They’re both on my mind today, but it’s only about remembering joy where Dana is concerned and muted sadness regarding my mom.

In terms of my relationship with Dana, the reason I now choose to remember good things is that I tortured myself for a long time. Anything and everything I could possibly do to blame myself, I did in spades. It’s been six years, so about a year ago I decided to let myself off the hook… not in terms of no longer bearing responsibility, but that the time for self-recrimination had passed. It was only making me miserable to remind myself of all that went wrong. The flip side of the coin is not mistaking the part for the whole. The overwhelming majority of our story is hilarious.

The only thing that’s still hard is seeing her picture come up in my Facebook memories, because I alternate between thinking they’re adorable and feeling like I’ve been stabbed. It’s not that I haven’t moved on, it’s just a trigger, and tiny moments like that take the longest to fade.

My sister went out to the cemetery and gave me an update on Fred, the one silver lining in the absolute shitshow that is grief over the loss of a parent. Fred was the seedling that was planted next to the foot of my mother’s grave… not in memory of her, it’s just that her death and his planting happened simultaneously. It was the birth and death life cycle in front of our eyes. He gets stronger every time we visit. Whereas he used to only have “kid-sized” branches and leaves, now he spreads out over a granite bench and Lindsay got to sit in the shade. The shade. We were joking that our little boy has grown up.

I think the reason we gave him a human personality is that my thought was that I couldn’t hug my mother, but I could hug Fred so tightly that you’d think I went to Berkeley. It will be a sad and proud day when my arms no longer wrap all the way around.

There are some commonalities in both types of grief. If I mention either my mother’s death or Dana, the conversation looks like gravity’s rainbow, the image so loud I can almost hear the whistle. It is as if both of them have turned into “she who must not be named” as it makes other people feel awkward to the point of onomatopoeia. For me, it’s the old trope of losing someone and they’ve just slipped into another room. Their ends of the conversation are over, but that doesn’t mean I’ve gone all “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotted Mind.” I got divorced and my mom died in relatively quick succession. One loss compounded the other as I wasn’t really done mourning the first when the second one started.

There are good things I remember in the wake of my mother’s death, though, because I must. It doesn’t heal anything- it sort of helps. For instance, I remember being on the business side of death for the first time, and how it was comforting to pick out her casket. I know it sounds weird, but it was literally the last time we’d ever shop for her, and we wanted it to be something that if she saw it, she would have been pleased. The fact that I know her casket is her favorite color and has stenciled birds on the inside is enough for me.

The difference between losing people close to me is night and day from being a preacher’s kid and attending funerals of parishioners. This is because so much time and energy were poured into my mother and Dana that I didn’t know what to do with it afterward. I also locked down my emotions, even now but especially in the beginning. In the aftermath, I couldn’t manage to be the appropriate amount of emotional in public, so I just chose not to have them at all unless I was home alone. It was either resting bitch face silence or complete hysteria with no middle ground.

It’s just that no one knew about it unless I was willing to let them in, and at first “them” added up to exactly zero persons. I branched out to people who had also lost parents, because no matter how hard people who haven’t lost parents try, they cannot grasp the enormity of the situation.

It is because of this that I know my divorce and my mother’s death happened in the right order. The people closest to me had the ability to wound me with stunning accuracy, because if I didn’t know them that well, I could either write it off or decide to end the relationship altogether.

There’s also a special list in my head of all the people that claimed to be my close friends and didn’t come to my mother’s funeral. I don’t want to keep track, but I do it anyway. I feel that the friends who don’t show up when you are in crisis are claiming to be better friends than they actually are. I’m sorry if you feel slapped by that statement, but emotions are emotions and logic is logic. Never the twain shall meet. Even if it’s irrational, it’s my truth. My brain just isn’t capable of telling my heart what to do. However, I am not unreasonable. I did not expect my DC friends to fly to Houston with me.

I think the reason that I’ve described today as “muted sadness” is that it’s not only grief over my mother and Dana, but grief over the pieces of me that died inside at their departure. I am no longer person I was six years ago, and it doesn’t matter whether some of the pieces lost are good. Trying to get them back is futile. A dead end, as it were.

In the meantime, I have turned to books. This blog has become a bit bipolar, because I used to post quite frequently. Now, it’s hit or miss. This is because I have a binge and purge relationship with reading vs. writing. I noticed a long time ago that when I read and wrote at the same time, the tone would sound just like the last author I read. I’m not a great writer, by any means, but I do know myself well enough to know when the “voice” I’m using belongs to me. For instance, when I first started blogging in 2003, I am sure I sounded like Dooce for at least a year.

Speaking of which, I had a friend tell me that Dooce used to be good, but she’s not as good a writer as she used to be. I told her she needed to send me an e-mail when I got to that point. It was her job to tell me to retire. I haven’t gotten it yet, so unless she got bored and stopped reading altogether, I’m probably doing ok. Thanks for asking.

I have read so many books in different genres lately. Last night it was a novel in which a woman gets into a car accident, hit by a drunk driver (“A Curve in the Road”). In the emergency room, she finds out that the drunk driver is her husband. Everything unravels from that point forward, and it’s masterful.

I’m also taking my time with a non-fiction book about one of the first same-sex marriages to be recognized in the United States (“Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America”). The two women met in the late 1700s. As I quipped to a friend, “that’s impossible! Lesbians weren’t invented until 1805!” I admire the couple a great deal, because in order to stay safe, they basically gave generously to the town. It meant that the mayor and council literally couldn’t afford to piss them off. If there’s anything I adore, it’s a clever “scheme.” I’m not sure they even realized they were running that game, only that the results paid off. They managed to be together until one of them died, so I think it was 40 or 50 years…. impressive by any and all standards. The prose is a bit dry, but the subject is fascinating. I would absolutely love to teach a high school history class with it, because it’s not just focused on the couple, but the war around them. There aren’t any graphic sex scenes or violence, so it would be an important alternative perspective while also being suitable for teens.

If there’s been anything good about my silence, it has been the addition of hundreds of unique voices that let me travel all over the world. If there’s a scene from a book that transported me to the point where everything else fell away, it’s from John Brennan’s “Undaunted.” When he was in college, he went to the University of Cairo. His experiences there are humorous and convey the beauty of Egypt. Plus, it’s fun to picture a White House staffer that used to be a kind of rebel, pierced ear and all.

I’ve read those passages multiple times, because sometimes I just need to lift myself out of what I’m describing as “muted sadness.”

To All the Girls….

I just finished watching “To All the Boys: Always and Forever.” I’ve been waiting for inspiration to write; I needed a memory far enough back in my past that the blowback from myself would be minimal. (I’ve often thought that other people’s opinions stop me from writing- most of the time it’s to keep myself from exploding.) The movie is about Laura and Peter’s senior year of high school, which inevitably made me think of my own. It was so messy and difficult- like many people’s, probably, with the uniqueness of coming out all over again.

I was out at HSPVA, but my mom didn’t want me to come out at Clements. I had the chance to start over, and she wanted that for both of us. Even at HSPVA, I constantly worried that coming out at school would lead to people finding out at church…. but I didn’t have to worry about that. Everyone in my life figured it out before I had the chance to tell them.

I remember fondly the night I came out to my friend Dianne Maurice, who said “if this conversation hadn’t happened, I would have sat you down and told you.” She didn’t have to worry. I’d thought and felt attraction to women my whole life, but didn’t have the words to express what I was feeling until I turned 13. But that didn’t mean I didn’t have my share of boyfriends as well, just that it was what I thought I was supposed to do, and dating Ryan was a mountaintop experience for someone so young. How many middle school couples make it to a year and two months? I’m guessing it had something to do with us as friends being two halves of the same person, and middle school romance is sweet and lingering without the constant peer pressure and internal drive to sleep together. As a result, that friendship has grown more tender over time, because we didn’t have a horrible break-up, either….. although it was strange. I came out to him by telling him all the attraction I was feeling to people that were not him, to which he had the best response ever, which was that I was free to think but not to act.

He eventually found someone else, which was wonderful and terrible all at once. Part of me was relieved for him to find someone whose heart wasn’t tearing them apart. The other parts of me felt his absence like a missing limb, and I didn’t date anyone else until the summer before I was a senior. It was a terrible decision, because six weeks later, I met someone I thought was THE ONE, and had to go through the heartbreak of breaking someone else’s heart, always harder than someone breaking yours. It wasn’t a cheating situation- THE ONE didn’t even know I was alive until Christmas.

But I was her friend from the first day of school, because once my dad left the church, I felt free to be whomever I was going to be that year…. which was wearing pride rings to advertise.

I will never in my entire life forget our first phone call. Dr. Steed, my senior English teacher, told us to get the phone number of someone in our class because the work was going to be difficult. I knocked over two desks to get to her and slipped her my number, because it was easier than asking for hers.

The moment I walked into the house after school, literally 30 seconds in, my phone rang. I said, “hello?” She said, “do you wear those pride rings because you’re gay, or because you’re an idiot?” I said “I’m gay. Do you have a problem with that?” She said, “no. I’m a Melissa Etheridge fan.” It was not a euphemism.

She was dating a hockey player at another school named Mark, a beard she kept up a little too well because it was excruciating watching her basically make out with him on New Year’s Eve. By then, we were together on the down low, even to her closest friends….. because I was out, but she wasn’t. Who would have thought the goalie for the women’s soccer team at my high school was a lesbian? That just doesn’t make sense. 😛

Prom night was also a mess, because we’d sort of gone to Homecoming together- I went with one of her friends so we could be near each other. But by Prom, school was ending and she thought she was ready to be truly seen with me. I bought the perfect dress, and she backed out. She ended up coming over after she was finished at the dance, because I couldn’t just go and watch her. I thought that was crazy. People have asked me many times why I didn’t just break up with her and go out with someone who didn’t have a problem with being out. Listen, it’s not like the lesbian dating pool at my high school was huge. In terms of out lesbian, I was the entire club. It was scary walking in the parade all by myself.

But it wasn’t a lost cause. I made it safe for people in younger classes to come out. By the time my younger sister got to high school, people were putting rainbow flags on their backpacks, and Lindsay asked who started it. They said, “I think it was this kid named Leslie.”

For those who don’t know me in person, the school year was 1995-1996. In that time and place, homosexuality was still considered a mental illness by most of the people around me. It wasn’t that they were hateful, just woefully uneducated. Back then, when I was out and about with my girlfriend, we watched our backs constantly, knowing where and when PDA was appropriate.

Thinking something was wrong with us included her parents. We didn’t tell them- they searched her room and found one of my love letters. We were forbidden to see each other, and like with all teenagers, it didn’t work. We were just even more secretive than we were before….. to the tune of making out in her car near some woods and being caught by the cops, who luckily didn’t do anything except tell us to move along.

In the end, she wasn’t THE ONE, a fact that I ignored for at least ten years. She decided to go back to Canada for college, but before she left, she wanted to get married. Why that didn’t set off alarm bells, I’ll never know…. because how did she think it would work? She couldn’t hide me forever. No way was I going to be her roommate at 30…. even 18 was stretching it. But “roommate” was how it was done in those days, so the fact that same-sex couples can get married and is now so accepted is something I never thought I would see in my lifetime.

Like most high school kids, I let the relationship go on too long because I didn’t know how to let go. We were long distance, and I looked into immigrating to Canada, but before I could really start the process, I learned something truly disturbing.

Since I was the internet guru, I looked up all the places gays and lesbians gathered in her city. Well, she went, and she met someone. That wasn’t the problem. If she’d come home that night and said she’d met someone else, it would have been all right. But she didn’t. She dated this person for months, to the point of moving in with her before she was forced to admit what she was doing. I didn’t even find out from her. I found out because her girlfriend e-mailed me, saying that my girlfriend had never told her she was seeing someone when she left Texas and that I should just back out because my girlfriend was hers now. I can still feel that pain as if it was yesterday- not that I live there, it’s just present when I think about that time in my life.

Despite that asshole move on both their parts, every trip my ex-girlfriend made to Texas was filled with fun and flirty dates where it felt like we were our old selves, and then a line would get crossed and we’d have an old fight over again or I would get torched with jealousy.

Eventually, she settled down, got married, and started having kids. It was only then, a decade later, that she said she was sorry we couldn’t have been partners as adults, because she thought we would have been good at it. Her words were sweet, and I knew that’s how she meant them. A compliment didn’t line up to the way I took it. I was burning with rage. She said something to the effect that she’d thought about getting back together, but she knew she’d treated me so badly that how dare she have the right to ask me to try again? I think all the anger I’d stuffed down so that she’d still want to be my friend surfaced in that moment- not only at the way she’d treated the end of our relationship, but that she took away my choice as to whether I’d have forgiven her or not.

As it was, I was so hurt that I didn’t date anyone from the fall of my freshman year of college until I was a junior. I had major trust issues, and it took me three years to work them out enough to be able to open my heart to someone else.

Apparently, it’s a pattern, because I haven’t dated anyone since I broke up with my most recent ex (five years ago, almost six). Probably it’s been twice as long because it hurt twice as much, especially since I did a lot of things I’m not proud of in addition to being hurt by her.

I think it might have been different if a couple of years later, my mom hadn’t died. Though I was screaming for a companion in those days, I didn’t want anyone but her- and not because I was stuck in the place of “she’s THE ONE and there shall be no one else.” It was that I didn’t know anyone as well as I knew her, and the thought of having no history with someone and dragging them into the shitshow of my grief was not appealing in the slightest. I got through by trusting friends, but it wasn’t the same as having someone to hold me at night while I cried.

As I started to come alive again, I realized that going through my grief on my own was a good thing, because I didn’t realize how jealous I was of other people my age who still had their parents. I don’t know how we would have managed that, but my guess is “good, most of the time, but the bad would have been egregious.”

I sometimes think it would have been nice to have a mother-in-law as backup, but she wasn’t completely on board with her daughter marrying a woman, either, so I waffle on that point. What I do know is that waiting so long has been helpful, because I feel much freer than I did three years ago. There’s no lingering emotion from that relationship that would help push a new person away. What I do know, though, is that my next relationship will be completely different, both in my approach and the fact that no one can compare to her- a new person would be in her own class, with her own unique gifts rather than trying to think “she’s better.”

The last piece of the puzzle is that I haven’t met anyone who has swept off my feet with awe and lust. Of course, that is not how all relationships begin, but in order to want to be romantic with someone, you have to feel something. I did have a conversation with someone about dating, but it was one of those things where my interest was piqued, but I didn’t make any declarations of love or anything. It was just “maybe dating each other would be fun and we should try it.” We didn’t, and life quickly moved on because I was never pining.

I really don’t have time for it. My attention is taken up with other things, other people with whom I am not romantic but are such good friends that intimacy happens regardless. A person does not have to be in love with you to see your soul if you make it visible to them. I am lucky to have friends that walk in my inner landscape, and it is surprising how much I value it over finding a partner. It’s not that I’ve given up, it’s that I’m perfectly happy to stand back and let them come to me. I don’t have a mad drive that says I’m going to die alone, no matter how many people say that to me because they’re worried. Trust me, that’s a them problem. I will never die alone because I have friends, constantly undervalued in our society because the fairy tale says I need to find one person that completes me and live happily ever after.

For me, the fairy tale is having friends that truly care what I think and feel, the best lesson I’ve learned in the years that have passed since my first high school romance. I don’t have one person that completes me, I have several who oversee different aspects. I don’t want to live in a world where that is seen as deficiency, but celebrated in its abundance. I know love as deep as an ocean because of them. Our shared history has provided ups and downs that stick in my mind, learning and growing every bit as much as I did when I was partnered- perhaps more as each of them show me who I am. They love me as fallible as I am, which is everything I could hope for in a romance, anyway.

To all the girls, all I can say is “thank you.” They are such small words, but the depth behind them is huge. Your love is #relationshipgoals enough for me, and I hope I am half the friend that you have been to me. It has certainly been and will continue to be my honor……

Always and forever.

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.

Amen.

Talking Like You’re Writing

A few years ago, I was asked why I wrote about Argo so much more than I wrote about Dana, considering that I had known Dana so much longer. My answer was this:

To me, that question answers itself. I don’t write about Dana as much because I’ve known her so much longer. Argo is “write” under my skin, emotions so close I can touch them. Dana is a river that runs down deep inside me, and it’s going to take me a long time to carry those memories upward so that I can process them clearly.

Or something like that. I’m paraphrasing.

Now that I’ve had about five years’ worth of perspective, I’ve been thinking a lot about both the good and the bad. It’s not a situation I’d be willing to go “back to the future,” because the way it began was so different than the way it ended, something I never expected that didn’t come out of nowhere… and yet it did. Now, I have the ability to see all the things we weren’t talking about that led to our demise, but at the time, it felt like everything came together slowly and ripped apart in an instant. That being said, I never mistake the part for the whole and I was damn lucky to have been married to her for as long as I was, and those memories are precious to me, save a few I desperately wish I could forgive and forget. It is not about blame. She is forgiven. I have a harder time forgiving myself, and there are some things that will take a few more years as time does its healing magic, often without me realizing it is happening. I am ready to meet someone else, to practice all that I’ve learned in the meantime. I am ready to be a better person/partner than I ever have been before, mostly because I’ve truly taken the time out to feel my grief, talk/write it out, and get over what I believe are some of the biggest glories and mistakes of my life so far.

The things that come back to me now are mostly hilarious….. like before we were even together. I went on two dates with Allison Frost, senior producer and occasional host of the Oregon Public Broadcasting show “Think Out Loud.” We were not in the same place in our lives (something came up in hers), and we never went out again. But basically from that moment forward, the inside joke that Dana and I came up with was that she was my “celebrity girlfriend on the radio.” This morphed into my “corporeally-challenged celebrity girlfriend on the radio.” And, in true “Bambelanager” fashion, “if it’s funny once, run it into the ground.”

But there are two direct Dana quotes that just slay me…. one is funny, and one is tragic.

  1. I know you are not grumpy with me, because I have been cute ALL DAY.
  2. Go write something. You’re talking like you’re blogging. You’ve been talking for two hours straight.giphy-facebook_s

I feel that it is tragic because I thought to myself, “if I’ve really been talking for two hours straight, why didn’t you stop me?” It just sounded like she was exhausted by me, and just go away.  I felt wounded, because one of our strong points in relationship to each other was long conversations that meandered from topic to topic in a very ADHD way. Story, tangent, story, tangent, story, tangent, story which circles back to the first tangent, etc. I thought that’s what was going on, and maybe it was given Dana’s love of hyperbole. But maybe it wasn’t, and I was just in this hypomanic state, and the thought horrified me because it isolated her. Inside, I was bursting with the idea that I’d read a situation so wrong.

It was at that point that I began isolating, shutting myself up in my office and either blogging or e-mailing Argo, because she was my sounding board at a time when I could really use one. I will never forget explaining a situation to her and her exact words were that I was acting like a “judgmental dickhead.” I laughed so hard my desk chair sagged, because as an INFJ, I have a real talent for letting the J stick out. Also, it was nice to have a new pet name.

(Also, in order not to get the person Argo confused with the book & movie, I will share a line I wrote to her in a “galaxy long ago and far, far away……” I sleep deeply in the belly of the ship, in whom I know my passage is safe. I tried to find a link to the post where I originally wrote it, but when I couldn’t, I realized it was in an e-mail. Sorry.)

I feel that the second quote from Dana fundamentally challenged who I was. I became worried most of the time that I was talking too much, and retreated into myself. Because I had a pen pal with whom I could be completely myself, and write for as long as I wanted, I did. I never cared whether I got a response or not; the important part was feeling heard.

Now, I use Evernote. Some notes are private letters never meant to be read. Some of them are writing ideas. Some are funny, some make me cry because they explore such deep emotional cuts. But, it’s my own space to talk for two hours when I need it…. like when I found out through the grapevine that Argo had gotten married.

I folded like a house of cards, and not because of the crush I once harbored (you can look it up in the dictionary as Worst. Thing. Ever. I would call it a decision, but it wasn’t. My brain just turned to mush and there was no consciousness about it. It was there before I realized what was happening. My heart dropped into my stomach when it hit me.).

My tears centered around me no longer being a friend who was worthy of being told those things… I would have been excited to hear about the proposal, the preparations… everything that comes with the thought of a close friend meeting their life partner. I didn’t even know it was headed in that direction, because the last time we talked about marriage, she said she hated it. In fact, I don’t even know his name. She was dating him when we met, so I jokingly called him her “boy toy.” When I said, “what’s his name so I don’t have to call him ‘boy toy’ for the rest of his life?,” she said that “boy toy” would do nicely. It was a predictable response. I should have seen that one coming from a mile away.

In fact, I thought I saw someone at a Nats game that looked like her, but decided it wasn’t because she was wearing a wedding ring. But just on the off chance that it was, I walked the other way. I got nauseated thinking about what that conversation might be like, and luckily I wasn’t close enough that she would have spotted me. Perhaps she would have walked the other way as well. I didn’t want to make either of us extremely uncomfortable and awkward to the point of onomatopoeia.

As an aside, the other thing that ran through my mind was “what if I make an idiot of myself and it isn’t her, anyway?” Through pictures, I have an idea of her in my mind, but I don’t know many of her facial expressions, the three-dimensional version of herself. In hindsight, that’s probably a good thing…. not that I wouldn’t be open to it now, but not by randomly running across each other without time to prepare for what would have been a momentous occasion for me…. a precious fixed point in time where I hoped it stood still long enough for me to take it in.

There are things for which I’d like to apologize in person, and it would feel so good to see her laugh. To be able to read her eyes and emotions as the conversation went on. To see if she judges for herself that I’m not nearly as weird as advertised. She has said that I am forgiven and she has moved on, but it would be different to feel it. To know deep within, to Robert Heinlein “grok.” But at this point, it’s just a pipe dream, and I will always walk the other way without an invitation.

After writing it all down, though, I realized that I was being ridiculous about it all. We aren’t close friends anymore, and she owes me nothing, ever. If anything, it’s me that owes her. Big time. Like, “if I win the lottery, then you’re getting half” big time.

It would help if I played, but it’s the thought that counts, right? Right? #crickets

Argo is included in this entry because invariably, if you think about a marriage’s beginning, you also think about its end, and this was a big piece. When I retreated into myself because I thought Dana didn’t want to be the person that made me feel heard, it was a small fissure that led to a big one.

But do I regret the seven years and change Dana and I were married? Not in the slightest. I learned lessons that could not have been learned in any other way. We had more fun than the law should have allowed. We thought so much alike that we joked that we shared a brain. But as time went on, we stopped sharing the deepest parts of our hearts, afraid to let the other one in for fear of rejection. And actually, I shouldn’t speak for her. I can only speak to what I felt at that time in my life.

I have come to feel that the relationship ran its course at just the right time, because both of Dana’s parents are still alive (as far as I know- we haven’t spoken in three years or so), and having a partner with no frame of reference as to what I was going through, especially in the acute moments after my mother’s death, have only made me feel relief at the fact I was single when it happened.

I know for a fact that I would have been irrationally angry that her mother was still alive and mine wasn’t, because I was irrationally angry at a lot of people back then who still had their parents, especially when they were much older than me.

If we had been living together, I would have made the huge mistake of taking that anger out on her, something she never would have deserved. She also would not have enjoyed being married to someone who became the equivalent of a shut-in. I am glad that I did not have the chance to dampen her spirit the way mine burned out until I could rebuild…. and I will never be finished. A parent’s death fundamentally rewires you down to the neurons about which you think don’t do anything. I act and react differently, my breath has changed, my outlook varies from nothing matters to everything does…. and when I say “nothing matters,” I mean the part where my mother won’t be there to see it.

She won’t be there to meet my as of now imaginary someone new, and the possibility of additional grandchildren (I don’t want to have kids at this age, but if I limit myself to dating only women without them, I will be lonely a very long time). Won’t be there to accept an autographed copy if I somehow miraculously get published…..etc., etc., etc. In the present, she’s not here to tell all my funny stories, or to read my blog and tell me everything that’s wrong with it. 😛

The thing I did miss then was having a companion, someone who would just lie next to me as I cried, and I mean that universally and not limited to Dana. I was ready to start dating again by October 1st, 2016, and on October 2nd, that thought vanished. I couldn’t bear the thought of dragging another person (especially someone I did not know well) into the freak show that was my life. I’m still not convinced my life is not a freak show at times, but at least there’s no opening song and dance act plus encores.

And even if my stories now are full of tangents that meander into other ideas and people, it is comforting to think that the river is rising, which lifts all boats.

Shared

…there’s a ghost in this house,
When he sings it sounds just like you,
When he falls it brings me down too.

Does it get easier to do?

-Robyn Dell’Unto

When I listen to this song, I can’t decide if the ghost is internal or external. Are the people I’ve loved and lost following me, or is it the feelings I have about them? The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

For instance, if I could go back in time and not move to DC, would I do it?

I have many regrets, and this is one of them, but not because it isn’t wonderful, and I wouldn’t even think about it if my mother hadn’t died so relatively shortly after I did.

Dana made it clear that she did not want to work on our relationship, and I could not live in the same city with her and not obsess over whether I could abide by that decision and how and when to leave her alone.

Moving was a way to give her space to figure out her own shit while I figured out mine, without the need to check in with her every damn minute to take an emotional temperature. I don’t know if it was ever in her plan, but I thought that with time and distance, things would look different, that we might ultimately find our paths back to each other after an enormous amount of therapy on our own, because what we had together was spectacular.

I couldn’t imagine a lifetime of it just being over. I held on to that hope for about six months, and then I began to grieve in earnest. During that time, directly after I moved, we talked a few times, and then never again. And even in our discussions, it was never about how we were really doing, just catching up like ladies who lunch. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it was an adjustment.

I remember thinking, “this is not the Dana that I know… and that’s the point.”

I think the feeling of the rubber meeting the road in six months is relatively quick. At the time it felt interminable, but it wasn’t. Just a small part of the process in taking her from my reality to my past. The ghost that lives in my house, because I don’t lock her away and don’t care that she’s here. In a lot of ways, it’s comforting, because the memories that come up for me are of laughter and not of strife. I choose to block the bad parts and focus on the good.

And does it matter that these are the feelings I have when I’m alone, closed off to being with anyone else, because I just don’t want it? I don’t see it? That I am incredibly happy with having friends and family who love me, and that being the extent of my support system?

I am not over the way I treated her, and though I have made progress, I am not forgiven. It feels like letting myself off the hook too quickly, because I don’t want a repeat of this pattern ever again.

Also, I’ve never lived my life without a ghost that played tapes in my head, and I have work to do where that is concerned, as well. I’ve never had a mind free of wandering off into the past, reliving conversations of happier times and wondering why things went wrong… and two of them weren’t even romantic relationships, unless you count the complete mindfuck that went along with them. Although the second is self-inflicted. It didn’t have to be complicated, and I made it so.

But there’s a new truth in my life that is here to stay. Dana and I shared some incredibly privileged information that I won’t be able to bring up with anyone else, and I mean this on the serious. No one can ever know, and not because it’s dirty or bad or wrong, it just is. So part of my willingness to work on our relationship, no matter how bad things got, was the reminder that if I lost her safe space, there was no replacement, and never would be.

In that one way, our lives are connected as permanently as our matching tattoos. When I left, I made a point of calling them our honing beacons, but I wouldn’t use it now. It’s just another thing that is.

We were smart enough to be aware of the fact that we could break up when we got them, so we choose something that was meaningful to both of us severally and jointly. It’s not like I have a huge back piece that says “I love Dana.”

But in my worst moments, sometimes it feels that way.

I’m also not stupid enough to believe that her friends won’t read this, so let me assure them that I have no intention of moving backwards, of reaching out, of doing anything to endanger the peaceful silence we have achieved. My stuff to work out is owned, and I have no need for closure.

It’s been too long, it hurts too much to envision those conversations, and the ponderings of my heart are not to be shared… and by that, I mean that I don’t care if she reads my blog. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn’t. I’ll never know or care. What I mean is that it’s not her job to care about what I think or even affect her life in any way. My thoughts, again, aren’t meant to be shared.

They’re just brain droppings, and maybe not even healthy ones. They just are. It’s not my job to judge their merit, just to let them come and go, talking about them with myself and probably my therapist.

I’m not stupid enough to think that any of my ghosts aren’t secretly reading, and I can’t care about that, either, because then this space ceases to be my own and starts to be a reflection of what I think their opinions might be.

My thoughts aren’t meant to be shared, leading to common ground.

It’s my weight to carry, and they don’t deserve (in good ways or bad) to take off a few pounds.

I am a product of my own inner landscape, sharing common ground with strangers who have had similar experiences… perhaps learning about the ghosts that walk in their houses. Reaching out, but not to anyone in particular.

I remember explaining this phenomenon to Argo, when she wasn’t a ghost, but very, very present, talking about someone else. That when I found out a piece of my past was lurking, she thought I was writing to it on purpose. I told her that quite frankly, when I found out the blood drained from my face and I nearly threw up. She got it, and we didn’t have to discuss it again. Once was enough, and I love her for that. She believed me the first time, and I didn’t have to convince her. It just was. She let it be, and it was the right thing to do. I don’t think I would have been willing to continue our unusual kinship if it had become a thing.

I could easily have let Argo become a ghost, listening to our made up whispers in my dreams instead of grabbing onto reality. The truth is that she is very present in my life. But those conversations happen in daylight, steeped in what is really right in front of me and not pipe dreams.

Probably because we didn’t have as many connections as Dana and me. I never shook her hand, thought her hugs would be memorable but never experienced it firsthand. A virtual x had to do. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if virtual became real, but only from the standpoint that it would have changed operatic swells of emotion into daily normality, letting minutiae temper the page. On paper, it’s easy to run off into flights of fancy. When someone is right in front of you, it isn’t. Reading when I was making her eyes glaze over or her temper flare was different than seeing it. It would have changed my direction and my distraction.

But what I know for sure is that I achieved my own peace with it not happening, it not being likely to happen, and just smiling like an idiot that I got to meet a piece of her at all. That for a short time, we walked in each other’s inner landscapes and it adding galaxies to me that I didn’t know I needed.

Still need, but okay with it being a long time ago and far, far away.

If I could go back and change anything, I would. In a hot second. But that’s not how life works. I got on the “think it, say it” plan without realizing its consequences, which were devastating in their scope. Knowing it was all at my own hand is the worst part, and something that 25 years from now, I will still look upon with regret and shame. Not being in my right mind doesn’t erase or excuse any of it.

But because I’ve seen her picture, her face does cross my mind, choosing to ignore the raw parts and focusing on the joy she brings me now. Memories are powerful, as is happiness surrounding them.

The one that makes me laugh all the goddamn time is, “you like to rap to Eminem? Explain to me exactly how I’m not going to fall in love with you. USE BIG WORDS.” Because of course, I was kidding, but she took it seriously and said, “you might fall in love with honesty coming through our chord, but you won’t fall in love with me, as adorable as I might be.” And that makes me laugh just as much, because it is so undeniably true (both that she was right about misreading falling in love with honesty and falling in love with her as a person, AND that she is, in fact, adorable- she’s so much funnier than me, and the degree is annoying. As an aside, there was one joke between us in which I came in kings full over aces, and though I don’t remember which one it was, I do remember feeling like I’d checkmated the king using just a pawn and a knight, when every day previously had felt like grasshopper would never reach satori).

To paraphrase Maya Angelou, people may forget your words, but they will never forget the way they felt. I’m paraphrasing because I don’t like the actual quote, which is that “people will never forget the way you made them feel.” No one can make you feel anything. Your response is your response, and not anyone else’s to own. What is yours to own is either the laughter or the fallout.

I feel like that is what I do on this blog to a tremendous degree. I deal with my own responses, and their consequences. I can’t take responsibility for anyone else’s. What I can do is learn from the fallout, and try to make new mistakes. To think that everything will one day go perfectly is its own delusion.

What I do reflect on is interconnectedness, how my every response creates consequence, and how I live with it.

Because my thoughts aren’t meant to be shared.

What Am I Going to Be Weepy About Today?

One of the universal signs of Aunt Flo’s arrival is that I can start crying immediately for no reason at all… or I just make them up as I go along. Menstruation, depression and anxiety are such a lethal combination. It becomes heightened awareness of everything I actually have to cry about, although the impetus is generally nothing and expands into everything. I finally got tired of not knowing when this was going to happen, so I found a period tracker online and signed up. I also track my ovulation, because sometimes that causes cramps as well, when I am tricked into thinking “it’s time,” and it’s not. I used to have a premonition of the big arrival, and it has gone away through the use of so much Aleve and Tylenol.

Why I didn’t think of this before is obvious. Why track it when I don’t sleep with men? Why track it when I’ve been abstinent for over three years? Why track it when women’s sperm count is incredibly low? 😛 As I used to tease Dana, my then wife, “maybe boxers would help.” Of course, this was when we were thinking of trying to conceive, and after that, it was just an inside joke…. because in the Lanagan family, if it’s funny once, just run it into the ground.

I also hate changing my usual underwear. I generally go for boys’ boxer briefs because they double as knock-off Spanx. I find tampons incredibly uncomfortable, so there’s really no way around having to wear those sexy “Granny panties” we all buy at Target.

As I have said before, this blog is about my own journey, and you’re invited. I’m not trying to exclude men, but I think it’s important to reach out to other women with this entry. Women are the majority, so saying “most Americans get periods” is entirely accurate. And, in fact, I am not entirely excluding men. There are plenty of men that get periods until their transition to male is complete, an awareness that most people just don’t have, but should. For transgendered men, they also have the ability to get pregnant, so unless they’re actively trying to conceive, it’s important for them to track as well.

Transgendered men get pregnant for all sorts of reasons, the usual being that their wives aren’t capable, so they offer. It’s convenient in gay relationships as well, not having to use a surrogate.

Back to you, Bob. Let’s go to the phones.

I am overwhelmed when I’m on my period, because unless I’m in the kitchen, I tend to flood out emotionally. I’m not generally irritable, but weepy and need contact comfort, which currently is snuggling with my Postman Pat doll. You can’t get the one I have anymore- my parents bought it for me when I was eight and we were on a trip to London. It’s one of the few things we were able to rescue from our house fire when I was 12, and I am entirely grateful for “him” now. He’s big enough to be the little spoon when I feel like hiding under the covers. I kind of want to put him away for safe keeping because he’s so rare that I don’t want him to unravel. For this reason, I started a birthday (Sept. 10th) wish list on Amazon in which I added a large stuffed dog. It looks incredibly lifelike and not something that looks like I  have wished I was still a toddler. But no lie, the Gund Grover was appealing. I added it to the list and then took it back off, because I realized quickly that I would get embarrassed by it and give it away, like I did with my Alf and bigger-than-life SpongeBob dolls. I shouldn’t have given SpongeBob away, though, because I remember clearly being in the ER at Inova Alexandria in 2001, when Kathleen brought him to me and I wept into it for most of the day, when there weren’t enough beds and the doctors just pumped me up with morphine and set me in the hallway.

That is an interesting story in and of itself. When I finally “got seen,” I was having abdominal attacks that looked just like appendicitis, and I was minutes away from being prepped for surgery when the doctors realized that wasn’t it. I had a hole in my esophagus that had become infected. I was actually born with that gap, but since it had never become infected before, I’d never noticed. But, I was doubled over in pain, and since it wasn’t like there was room (or even appropriate) for Kathleen to climb into bed with me, SpongeBob was an excellent second choice.

Why yes, I know I’ve revealed I’ve been married and separated twice. Thanks for noticing. It’s not painful or anything (/eyeroll). The reason I’m not officially divorced from either of them is that one is a civil union in Vermont and one is a domestic partnership in Oregon. For the civil union in Vermont, it was 2001, when it wasn’t even recognized in other states, so the legal advice we got was to just let it lie, the idea of national marriage not even on anyone’s radar.

Dana has said that she’ll file in Oregon, and as long as I don’t contest it, it will just be over. That was long, long ago, and I am still waiting……………. I should really take matters into my own hands, but I haven’t for two reasons. The first is that I’m really hoping for some follow-through on Dana’s part. The second is that honestly, I just haven’t cared enough. Why that is, I just can’t say. I could spitball a number of reasons, but it would be just that; I’d only be guessing, not knowing for sure. The one thing I do know is that it’s taken me years to get over losing her, so with no one on the horizon, it just made sense to put it on the back burner and wait it out. I don’t feel like it’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m fully prepared to receive said dissolution. It’s more like waiting to close a really great chapter in my life and move on to the next one.

I don’t know if the rules have changed for dissolution in Vermont or not. In 2002, you had to live in Vermont for six months before you could file, and neither Kathleen nor I thought that was a good idea. “We’re not getting along, so of course we need to move to a place where most of the time it’s cold and dark.” For that reason, I am surprised I lasted in Oregon as long as I did.

But now that I have two failed relationships with legal complications under my belt, I am gunshy about ever getting married again. It is now my view that commitment and loyalty don’t need a piece of paper…. and as long as there are no health insurance or federal and state tax implications, I think that advice to myself is sound. If a wedding is important to my next partner, should I be so blessed, she’ll get one. But that doesn’t mean we have to file a marriage license. Being supported by our community is way more important to me than getting the government involved. I feel as if I’ve already been there, bought the t-shirt… and now it’s way too small…. and the tag itches. Besides, it’s already got stains on it. I don’t want to wear it anymore if I can help it.

One of the things that really bothers me when I am in the throes of being weepy is that I can’t believe I have two divorces under my belt when all I really wanted in the beginning is to marry my high school sweetheart and be together for fifty years…. Ten years after we broke up, having been friends the whole time, she accidentally gutted me in a Canadian Starbucks when she said that she regretted not being able to be partners as adults, because she thought it was something at which we would have been good. My inner 18-year-old cried big alligator tears that night. But during the conversation, I managed to hold it together, even though my insides were screaming. Most of the screaming was due to, “I treated you so badly when we were young that how dare I come back and ask for forgiveness.” My inner monologue was just wailing that she’d taken away my choice to forgive her or not.

However, the angst didn’t last long, because I think what was supposed to happen did. She used to be the friend that knew me best in the entire world, and then years later inexplicably unfriended me on Facebook and stopped answering my e-mails. It was truly painful being ghosted by someone who’d been an enormous part of my growth and development, with no explanation as to the whys and hows. I can’t think of anything I specifically did to offend her, so to this day I have questions.

She did reach out when I posted on a mutual friend’s page that my mother had died, but after that one conversation, she was gone again. I didn’t even know you could message people who weren’t your friends, so after that, I completely blocked her. It isn’t that I don’t love and value her. It’s that seeing her comments became too painful to ignore…. something that I have done with other friends as well. It’s not about my feelings for them, exactly. It’s that seeing their faces/comments on social media, especially when Aunt Flo is telling me to cry about everything, is just a painful reminder of things ending badly.

The last time I got really, really angry was when I specifically asked Dana to leave my family and me alone after insisting on no contact with me directly, then liking a picture of my sister and me on my sister’s Instagram account. But did I do anything about it? No. I pretended it didn’t matter and just ignored her. But pretending is the key word, because obviously it bothered me enough to write about it…. this was about 30 days ago, so you can guess why it got to me…………

Perhaps Dana thinks it’s been long enough that these things don’t matter… but there are parts of that relationship I’ve had a hard time forgiving, and I’ll never forget. The first is that a relationship that was so mutually beautiful still ended in a fistfight of enormous proportions, the result of keeping so much bottled that it got violent when the Mento eventually dropped into the Diet Coke. The second is that Dana’s parents live relatively close to me (within 40 miles or so), and when she came to visit them, she made a point of telling my sister through social media (they don’t actually talk, because when someone hurts me, my sister also burns the bridge). I got butt hurt that she didn’t reach out to me directly and then I realized that e-mail goes both ways. I sent her a short e-mail saying that if she wanted to see me, I was open to it, and if not, that was fine, too. What I got back was an e-mail from her sister that said not to contact Dana again through any means. The double standard is rage-inducing, so I literally took a chill pill and got on with my life. I figured if that was the kind of behavior I could expect from her, I didn’t need that temperature in my life, anyway. I think I was shocked more than anything else, considering that when I first moved to DC, we talked a few times and it went well.

But the last thing I truly have trouble forgetting (although forgiven) is that she didn’t come to my mother’s funeral. I didn’t need her there as my emotional support person. I already had “my person” there for that (thanks, James). I also wasn’t using my mother’s death as an excuse to reconnect with her romantically, because not only would it have been wildly inappropriate, I didn’t want it (not then, not ever again).

We’d had a great conversation when I was waiting to go to the airport, a distraction I sorely needed because at first it was crying, and then it was laughter until I was crying again, the kind of laughter where you’re just shaking in silence while tears and snot run down your face.

I continue to feel it was about respect for both me and my mother, and it was surprising to me that she was willing to be my friend for a few minutes, but not enough of a friend to come to the funeral of her former mother-in-law of over seven years…. and that a friendship of over four years before we ever got involved was not enough of a reason to just be there…. and not even for me directly. Just to look out into the crowd and see her face as I was giving my eulogy would have been enough.

And, of course, being weepy makes me miss the contact comfort of my mother’s hugs even more intensely than usual, because there’s nothing like needing your mom when you’re in pain and she literally can’t be there…. won’t be ever again.

I count on my friends who are mothers to fill that void, because as I have said before, they love differently than everyone else. It is enormously comforting to be in the room when they’re with their kids and soak up the mother love radiating through the room…. and with the exception of infants, remembering when I was those children’s ages and how my mom was (and what she was to me) at that time in my life.

The last thing that truly dogs me during these few days of ALL THE FEELS at once are the mistakes I made when not being as careful with Argo’s heart as I should have been, because it invariably leads to what could have been…. and how most, if not all of the destruction of that friendship was at my own hand, and I just feel that shame over and over, even though I’ve talked about it with therapists and have coping mechanisms not to get stuck in those moments, reliving them and empathizing with the pain I must have caused. There’s plenty of context, but not excuses. I hope I’ve taken enough responsibility that something like it will never happen again. It was painful enough the first time around to stop that behavior cold. Losing such a beautiful woman, inside and out, with my own cortisol and sin was akin to cutting out part of my heart with a dirty knife. When I am truly depressed about it, I think of all the things I shouldn’t have said and all the things I wish I’d said instead. Maybe things worked out the way they were supposed to, but I don’t really believe that. What I do believe is that it is a regret I will continue to carry, never truly letting it go because the reminder that I am capable of causing pain to others when I am not careful with my words doesn’t seem like a bad thing.

It only becomes a bad thing when the feeling that I can’t forgive myself rises from the ash.

Not being able to forgive myself is so much harder than forgiving others for what I perceive has been done to me. I am so much more infinitely tolerant of other people’s words than I am of my own.

It has caused me to become extremely withdrawn, so that when I’m around others I am reminded to think deeply before I speak, or let the moment pass and not speak at all…. and when I’m alone, thinking that it’s better that way because I cannot possibly hurt anyone if I’m not talking at all….. limiting what one friend calls “crazy spatter.”

Which will be infinitely worse for the next four to seven days.

Alexandria

There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.

-Nelson Mandela

In May of 2001, my then-girlfriend, Kathleen, graduated from University of Houston. She interviewed with several companies, and chose the Global Information Systems department at ExxonMobil. They gave her the choice of starting in Houston or in Fairfax, Virginia. To this day I’m not sure how much Kathleen wanted to leave Texas and how much I did. I don’t know if she was excited or if I convinced her, but off we went to the suburbs of the nation’s capital. We chose to live in the city of Alexandria (as opposed to Fairfax County) because it was roughly halfway between downtown and Kathleen’s office. I didn’t know where I’d end up in terms of school, so I wanted easy access in both directions. We found a great little townhouse between the Blue and Yellow Metro lines, not too far from The Pentagon……..

The plan was solid in theory. I’d had a full-time job for the last two years, making enough to support both of us. Because I’d done that, Kat said that she’d work and I could go to school. What we didn’t factor in was the cost of living increase. Even with both of us making more than I had in Houston, we still couldn’t seem to get ahead. In retrospect, I think we just aimed too high, too fast. We wanted to live a middle-class existence, not thinking ahead that a savings account might be a nice thing. The conversation in my head runs thusly:

Me: What the hell did you and Kat do with all that money?
Me to me: We ate it.

It takes money to be around people with money and we were too stupid to realize we didn’t have any. Most of the memories I have of that time in my life involve going out with various coworkers to restaurants where the food was forgettable and the tab was expensive. If you are looking for advice on how to spend over fifty grand a year on absolutely nothing, I am an expert. It starts with caring way too much about what other people think if you turn down an invitation. There. The first lesson’s free.

My dreams of finishing school and going on to my Master’s started drying slowly and then the last bit evaporated overnight. Kathleen wanted out of the relationship, exiting in the ugliest way possible. She slept with mutual coworkers so that coming to work was excruciatingly awkward, and then I lost my job and went back to Texas as broken as I’d ever been up to that point.

I attended a grief support group, where I mourned the past and the future I thought I would have. Eight weeks later, I went to visit my friends in Oregon. Two weeks after I got back, I packed up my car and called Portland home. It wasn’t enough to put 1800 miles of distance between Kat and me. I needed the full 3,000 for good measure.

I ran as far from Alexandria as I could get without dropping into the Pacific.

I didn’t remember the good things about Virginia until the day I moved to Oregon. Because I already had friends and a church there, I ditched my stuff at my house and went to the church to socialize as we were stuffing envelopes for some campaign or another. This annoying blonde woman was wearing a George Mason University sweatshirt, the college down the street from Kathleen’s office…. because of course she was.

Eventually, the blonde wasn’t so annoying. I married her…. and had to make my peace with Virginia because her parents’ house was about 30 miles from my old one… because of course it was.

Dana and I talked about moving to Virginia sporadically over the years, Dana worrying that her parents were older than mine and would therefore, need more help. So, moving back to the DC area has been a faint spot on my radar for over a decade. By 2012, it was in the three to five year plan.

Three years, almost to the day, I arrived in Maryland alone. In the beginning, it was a severe emotional handicap. I had imagined everything about DC from our viewpoint, not mine. I couldn’t even cross the Potomac without wincing in pain, so I just didn’t. Dana didn’t have many stories about DC, because she lived far enough out that she didn’t come downtown much. So, I reasoned that DC and Maryland were my area. Anything across the river belonged to Dana and Kat. It was neat and tidy until I went and made a friend…. in Alexandria.

Walking around Old Town brought it all back. I felt joy, but it was quickly drowned in tears. Everything was familiar and, in turn, scary because of the reason it was familiar. I saw the tapas restaurant where Kathleen took me for my birthday on September 10th, 2001, where I ate bad mussels and projectile vomited so much that I had to call in sick to work the next morning, the only reason I heard the plane hit. In fact, I saw all our old hangouts… or the buildings where they used to be, anyway.

What I realized is that looking for the familiar was bringing up emotions for which I was not prepared. Up until reality hit, I’d been genuinely excited. “Alex” had felt like home when I was dreaming about it. I didn’t recognize myself in its reflection anymore. I just saw shards of a twenty-something yuppie douchebag.

Luckily, my cousin Nathan also lives in Alexandria, so after about a year, the desensitization process was complete. The only reason it took that long is that I didn’t have a reason to cross the river very often. It was easier to meet both Dan and Nathan halfway.

Over the years, though, I’ve been coming to Alexandria more and more, because context and I have both changed. It’s not where I used to live. It’s where Dan lives now…. and get this… she lives on Leslie Avenue.

The real plot twist, though, is in fact just character development. I walk everywhere I go unless it’s what I consider “too far” and take the bus or train. I spend less in a week than I used to spend on some days. I am just not impressed with clothes, cars, fancy restaurants, any of it. The Washington of my twenties was a pretty soulless place, because I was not tapped into activism on social justice issues. I was driven to be upwardly mobile without any other purpose but serving myself.

The me of 2001 would have laughed and called me a hippy. The me of now wouldn’t spend time on a retort.

The Omelet

Dear Mom,

Today my fountain pen runneth over, which is just a metaphor that sounds incredibly messy. These kinds of days are so hard, because I can only imagine your response instead of getting one for real. Though I’ve shed no tears, I am feeling the weight of grief in every muscle. It’s comforting to have an editor that would know exactly what my news means, but even though she’s a mother herself, she’s not mine. I am positive she’s proud of me, but she won’t have that over-the-top, lump in her throat excitement you would have especially for me.

You see, I got an e-mail yesterday that not only made me happy, it validated me. You’ve known I was a writer since grade 5, when I turned in an essay that Mrs. Wommack fawned over about adult illiteracy called I Forgot My Reading Glasses… In fact, I would venture to say that you’ve known I was a writer far longer than I have. Though I was made a professional writer long ago by my readers here, I’ve never had anything to add to my resumé. Now, I do. Here is the e-mail I got yesterday from the International Association of Professional Writers & Editors:

Dear Leslie,

Thank you for submitting your application. Upon further review, we have determined that your sample meets our quality standards and are pleased to inform you that your application has been accepted.

Name Redacted

The air changed in the room with one word.

Accepted.

It is an honor I share with everyone who believed in me before I did. I cleaned up my marriage article to make it more suitable for publication, and that’s what got me in… So bittersweet because it’s basically all the advice I didn’t take for myself. I figured that if it was retweeted by celebrities, it must have something going for it. As it turns out, I was right. Speaking more specifically to “bittersweet,” I share credit where credit is due; Dana is owed so much more from me than she got, one of the reasons I became successful in the first place. The sweet part is that even though I gave up nearly everything, I suppose it had to be done to find myself… finally, someone who has self-esteem and can be proud of her accomplishments… getting away from the tape Dana helped reinforce that said you’ll never amount to anything.

So, perhaps it’s a good thing I didn’t take my own advice about staying together, because it was a total deal-breaker of a conversation. Not believing in your partner is the death knell of a relationship. If I couldn’t achieve with her, I’m glad I achieved without her, even though it would have been nice to not only share credit with her to her face, but to prove her wrong… and not in an I told you so sort of way. It’s an I’m so glad you were wrong on this one, because it was really cramping my style because I believed you feeling.

Gone are the days where I feel like I torched my whole life, replaced by an overwhelming amount of emotion at breaking eggs to make an omelet.

Almost as overwhelming that I can’t see your face right now. Perhaps we can celebrate in my dreams.

Love,

Leslie

Boss Music

I don’t know what it is, but I am feeling heart-pounding, nauseous anxiety today. I just took 1mg of Klonopin and am waiting for it to kick in. I’ve gotten down to Klonopin prn rather than BID, 051f2a74996fd032410fb6966aa7b50038ff44-v5-wmbecause some days are much better than others. I do self check-ins a lot, running through the list of things that might be the root cause, and here, in no particular order, is what bothers me the most.

  • My mom just died three seconds ago instead of October 2016.
  • I did the right thing by getting a divorce, but what’s next? How do I find it?
  • I absolutely did the wrong thing by getting a divorce and the grief will never go away. Give up trying.
  • Argo and I called it quits because I did all the wrong things even though I didn’t want to and old programming ate my lunch and there will never be a bacon cheeseburger and it is absolutely all my fault and I will never stop being sad and I will never find a person I want to walk next to me on my journey more than her and I don’t want to hurt anyone else and OMFG I cannot even when does it stop and how do I get there quickly because it can’t keep gnawing at my soul every day? Do I just die sad about it? I probably will because I have to actually meet people to solve the problem and I don’t get out much and this is going to lead to everyone leaving me out of plans because it’s so likely I won’t come because I’m a terrible person that way. (Read this all in one shallow breath, very quickly, squishing all the words together with no spaces.)
  • Old programming.
  • I am a terrible person all the way around and therefore, pretty unlovable.
  • I abandoned Dana. I shouldn’t have been so quick to leave her in a relatively new city and I did it, anyway.
  • I have to make small talk with the grocery clerk.
  • I have to organize.
  • I will be alone for the rest of my life (when I’m not depressed, this is delicious).
  • Even though I’ve been told I have much to be proud of, I can’t take it in.
  • When is the part where I learn to deal with success so I don’t continue to torch everything to the ground when I find it? Burn it anyway!
  • When is my Jimmy Neutron hair going to finally grow out?
  • Nothing. Nothing is actually wrong. It’s just my brain telling me it is.

It is at this point that someone needs to tell me to calm the fuck down and slow my roll. Not every problem needs to be fixed in the next fifteen minutes. But if someone did tell me to calm down, it would make me even more anxious out of fear that I’m not capable.

I’m waiting for the drug to kick in because it will slow down the freight train. As of this very moment, fight, flight, and freeze are duking it out. My adrenaline is way too high and my heartbeat is racing. I wish I had some methylphenidate to take once my heart is back to normal, because unlike a normal brain, it will also make me take a step back and concentrate on solutions to one problem at a time instead of 57 channels screaming at me simultaneously, all of them going to 11 (why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?). I could go to the doctor, but I won’t.

I don’t need to be on that train all the time. It’s great in the moment, and over time is just bad juju. Maybe I just need to wait for the nine-year-old dealers to get out of school (that was a joke). Real Sudafed PE™ is an option, though. Some of the same effect and OTC.

OK, the first twinges of relief are washing over me, although my chest is still tight and I’m struggling to breathe all the way down.

I took the time to watch the Monty Python witch scene linked to above, and now my breathing and heart rate are getting back to normal. Time to drink another cup of coffee (the other main stimulant I use to s l o w  d o w n). Coffee is a lifeline because it’s cheap and effective.

Do not try this if you are not ADHD (I am not hyperactive, but the DSM doesn’t differentiate anymore). The amount it takes for me would keep you up for days. In me, however, it wouldn’t even slow down a desire to nap.

Speaking of stimulants, there’s a great documentary on Netflix called Take Your Pills. It covers everything from people taking it just to get an advantage to people who really need those drugs to function. I absolutely agree that it is over-prescribed, especially to children because it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between ADHD and six. But in cases where the disorder is real and it’s deep, they’re a lifeline.

medicated_for_your_protection_large_mugWhen I was on them, I learned enough coping mechanisms to stop them. Or, at least I think I did, which is why I sometimes put that problem in my pipe and smoke it. Endgame is always #nope. While your brain is steady, the rest of your body isn’t. Your appetite is suppressed to the point of nausea and it leads to your brain telling your body to eat your muscles for breakfast. It dismantles care of your teeth, just like street meth. I could go on, but those two are scary enough.

It is a continuing problem that sometimes I have to choose between mentally crazy and physically healthy.

The best medication for that is knowing I am not alone, even when I’m hearing the boss music.

Splitting Up (But Not Together)

Last night I watched Ellen Degeneres’ new show, Splitting Up Together. She’s not in it, she’s the producer. So, I expected a comedy about a family struggling to keep it together despite divorcing and trading off kid care. Every week, mom and dad switch places. One lives in the house, one lives in the garage. I laughed a lot, and I will definitely keep watching. What I didn’t count on, however, is crying so hard I wanted to curl up into the fetal position and eat an entire package of Oreos™ while mainlining Diet Coke.™ For the record, I did not. It was This is Us-level stabbing into emotional wounds, but perhaps it’s for the best. It does feel amazingly cathartic.

As most of you know, I am estranged from my wife, and have been for years now, but we still have a domestic partnership in Oregon that says we aren’t. The recording of our entire relationship plays in my head constantly, and not because I ever want to reconcile. That part of my life is over, and I am looking forward to the chapters that are coming and excited I got a fresh start in a new city. That part is solid, and I don’t feel like I’m still in love with her, or pining, or any of those things. But I do feel empathy for her and all that went wrong, all the things I should have taken responsibility for and didn’t, and all the things I thought at the time were her fault and absolutely weren’t. I can’t live in regret, and most of the time, I don’t. What is true for me is that I am absolutely split myself. I don’t regret the actions I took to completely get away from her, because I know myself. I would have kept trying to make things work whether they were wanted or not for years upon years. I’m an empath. I feel my own and others’ pain so deeply that it’s like walking around with an open wound. But at least it’s clean. So, therefore, the split comes from wishing things could have been different and being utterly amazed at how they really are. Both of those things are true, and I can live with cognitive dissonance for the rest of my life if the past is any indication.

I can’t speak for Dana, but what I believe happened is that both of us took our eyes off the ball, because we had been taking care of each other for so long that it never occurred to either of us that something could happen that would make us not. That fact does not make us special. I think it’s universal for half the population. The television show just reminded me of it by playing Ben Folds’ The Luckiest while the husband reexamined something he’d done to wound his wife, realizing that he’d lost her even though she was right there. I’ve had that feeling since, oh, about fifteen seconds after we broke up. I know for certain that I might find someone else, or I might stay ridiculously happy as a single person, because either way, life is what I make it. That being said, there will never be another relationship like Dana’s and mine. It will be quite different, hopefully for the better, because I won’t settle for less. I think it’s okay to realize how incredible something was and love it without wishing time would go backward. I think it’s okay to think, wow. I really messed things up without wishing to make the amends necessary to put a relationship right. Sometimes, you just have to let relationships rest in peace, but rumination is necessary to keep from making the same mistake twice. I also treasure just about every memory I have with Dana, but don’t wish to make new ones.

Originally, I really hoped that our separation would be so good for us because it would ultimately lead us back to each other. Now, I think that what was meant to happen did. After some time had passed, I realized that there were fundamental issues we’d never solve, especially if I continued to write, and absolutely no amount of threatening me would have ever (EVER, not in my five dollar life. Die mad about it.) made me give up the relationship with Argo. I could redirect a lot of energy, but my boundary was don’t make me stop talking to her altogether. I am still continually proud that I stood up for myself, not an easy task for someone so Type B I’m the poster child.

I hardly have hard lines at all, but that was one of them. Just an absolute deal breaker. I wouldn’t let her isolate me from a life line, because at that time in my life, she was. Especially because she wasn’t geographically close to me, she could listen more objectively than anyone else in my life. Two things about that…. the first is that I loved her because she had no horse in the race. The second is that she was my safe place, not ours, but I am absolutely certain that she would have been had Dana put in the effort. She either didn’t or wouldn’t, a mystery that I can’t and won’t solve. I am sure it is my fault in a lot of ways, but in others, it’s a choice she made and I had nothing to do with it.

For me, it was like Stedman saying to Oprah, I will lose my shit perpetually if you don’t stop talking to Gayle…. maybe not a fair comparison because it’s not like Argo and I had ever taken a road trip, or even shaken hands, but letters go a long way (literally and figuratively). It’s not exactly logical, but it’s how I felt and I take nothing away from it. Logic is not emotion and vice versa. Trying to make it so (see what I did there?) has never worked in the history of the world.

I needed them both in different ways, as is how it should be. I never should have had to think about giving up one for the other, but Dana lost. You don’t get to say truly shitty things to me and then not give me a place to vent about it to get perspective, perhaps even realizing that it wasn’t that shitty, just a piece of reality that I needed to check. Argo was no stranger to calling me out on my bullshit, which is exactly why you need THAT friend in the first place. Who else would I have let get away with calling me a judgmental dickhead and laugh my ass off about it rather than sulking in a corner?

I know me. We’ve met.

Of course there were other issues that led to our demise, but I don’t want to talk about them, because they were problems that stemmed from what I believe was on Dana, and that isn’t mine to dissect.

What is mine is what I own, what I did to make things fall apart.

I can’t heal the split between us, I can only heal the split in me. But that won’t ever mean forgetting how much I absolutely adore Dana’s spirit, because my love for every one of my relationships is written in marble, and my anger is written in sand.

It has done me well to remember that……………..

I don’t get many things right the first time,
In fact, I am told that a lot.

I was The Luckiest.