Back to it…

It has been a long time since I wrote a blog post.

I had to stop writing for awhile, mainly because I was grieving.  Grieving and writing, for me, don’t go together.  I write, but its nothing to be consumed by readers. Its more of a primal scream that dissolves into a whimpering pity party.  It’s never a surprise party — at least to others.  Friends and family can see it coming for miles, and I can almost hear the chorus of, “Oh no, here she goes…”  Sometimes, probably every time, settling into a long rant of self-pity comes as a total shock to me.

I guess then it would be a shock party and not so much a surprise party.  A surprise party would involve balloons and maybe a cake; whereas, a shock party would probably have more of a SWAT team invasion/taser feel to it. When I am in the midst of it, I don’t seem to realize that grief becomes self indulgent pretty much after the primal screaming has stopped.  The quiet sobbing that rises up at unexpected times — or expected times like in the middle of the night when everyone else is asleep — if I am lucky.  When I am unlucky, its the quiet sobbing that happens when I am alone in the apartment.   I am not sure when the process ends.  I have heard people say, “when it runs its course.”  I am not sure I know what that means.  Who determines the course?  Is it like 18 holes of golf or more like the Iditarod?  Who gets to decide?

Well, the grieving is over.  The digesting of the grieving is over.  The healing has taken place and the moving on as well.  In fact, my life is so completely different than this time last year that it is hardly recognizable.  The slogging through the darkness is done.  The living is richer and brighter and stronger and better.

This is a purposefully general post by the way.  There’s no need to detail the grief.  Loss is loss whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual.  Pain is pain and from my experience it all feels pretty much the same.  It hurts.  Fortunately, I am one of the lucky ones in that relief from pain has come.  That is not always so for people.  I am one of the lucky ones right now.

I say lucky because I can’t say blessed even though I feel blessed for where I am and who is there with me, but blessed implies that I somehow am more deserving than those who are not blessed.  For some reason, I was given relief while others are still suffering.  That somehow I deserved relief more.  I don’t believe that is true.  I say lucky because there is no blame associated with luck.  Luck is a fickle friend it visits for awhile then disappears.  Everyone is lucky sometimes and sometimes everyone’s luck runs out.

I guess blessings for me come with realizations.  Maybe I am blessed because I realized something that I hadn’t known before.  When I was unlucky before, I slogged on.  I made it through when I wasn’t sure that I could.  I know that I can trudge forward, should my luck find shelter with someone else in the future.  I guess that is where the blessing happens.  Whether I am lucky or not, now I know I can survive.

Thanks for reading.

The Free Toaster

Friday, January 14, 2011

It hasn’t come yet, and let me say, I am disappointed.  Years ago a lesbian friend of mine told me that straight people thought that all gay people were out “recruiting” and if they turned one, they would get a free toaster.  Maybe it was a nebulous “they” that has me confused — was it “they”, the gay ones, turning the straight ones or was it the straight turned gay “they” to which she was referring?  If it was the latter and not the former, I haven’t gotten my toaster yet.  If it was the former and not the latter, my partner, someday wife, hasn’t gotten hers either.  It is a damned shame too because we need a toaster.  I am not good at broiling bread in the oven and she doesn’t cook.  We could use that toaster.

What a funny idea anyway.  I am on a mission to turn all of the blue eyed people into brown eyed people.  I hear there’s a free iron in it for me if I can.  I wish it were that easy — this turning people into something else business.  If it were possible, I would turn my husband into a homosexual and then he wouldn’t fight this divorce idea so much.  I would turn my sister into a lesbian just as a cruel joke — she loves men — her two previous and current husband will attest to that.  I would turn every evangelist and Bible thumping homophobe into lesbian or a homosexual just for kicks.

Mostly, I would do it so that they could know at least a little bit what it feels like — what I feel like every day.  They could know what it feels like to finally feel right in your own body, but suddenly thrust out of the “rightness” of the mainstream.  It is one thing to feel wrong in yourself but going with the flow along with everyone else.  They would know that enduring all of that wrongness inside isn’t worth fitting in on the outside.  When life is all wrong out in the world, you eventually get to return to the safety of your own home.  When life is all wrong on the inside, there is no escape.

When I first came out, I did it with a vengeance.  I told everyone.  I was so relieved.  I told strangers.  I would work it into a casual conversation.  For me it was a celebration.  I no longer felt like I was going to eventually die from all of the pain that I carried inside me.  I finally felt like I was going to live.  I had no idea how my life was changing.  I had no idea of the lives around me would erupt in turmoil just because I figured out the most central element to my being — my sexuality.

I have done a lot of shitty things in my life.  This is not one of them although you would think by the reaction of others that I was a serial killer or bank robber or dare I say worse.  I have always known that being different is no picnic, but I never really knew until I felt it in other people’s reactions.  I remember the first time I kissed my future wife in public.  We were walking on the boardwalk at the beach.  It was a Christmas lights festival and the whole town was out.  I was caught up in the excitement and kissed her right there in front of the bandstand.  In front of God, the townsfolk, the angel perched on the stable roof and everybody.  The angel did not fall off the roof.  My partner looked surprised (she has been out longer and endured much more prejudice than I have endured).  The old men on the boardwalk looked apoplectic, and suddenly I felt a little self conscious.  I hadn’t even thought about it when I kissed her.  It seemed like the most natural thing in the world.  I must say that there were a lot of people there and a lot of people didn’t even notice, but I became acutely aware of the ones who did.  I could almost feel the fire burning in their eyes as they glared at me — at us.

Standing near the bonfire made me think of toasters in a whole new way — especially when being burned at the stake vaguely crosses your mind as a possible ending to an otherwise pleasant evening.  Little did I know that a simple affectionate kiss between two women, no matter how innocent, can turn your whole life upside down.  I am slowly learning what a risk it can be to be a lesbian in a small southern city, but that’s another story for another time….  

The Contents of the Backpack.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Over the last several months, my backpack has gotten heavier and heavier.  I usually have a book and some extra medicine and of course my purse (I am a purse carrying lesbian).  Later, I added a tooth brush, my makeup (would that would make me a lipstick lesbian?), some “smellant” repellant… these things alone are light, but cumulatively they would cost me extra on a flight to anywhere.   Then there’s my coffee cup and water bottle each has its own mesh side pouch, and they swing and sway with each step I take like saddle bags on a pack mule.  Later, I added the extra set of clothes  and then the pajamas.  Then I put in the valuables and keepsakes — the things I was afraid would disappear from the house in my absence.  I looked like a walking tinker’s wagon except instead of fixing things along my way, I was tearing them down – me included.

I think there is a lot of tearing down that one has to do when searching for one’s authentic self.  I told my counselor once that I wished I could be a Vulcan, like Spock on Star Trek, no emotion just pure sensible logic.  I would be set.  I might even understand the eleven uses of the comma that in 42 years and two master’s degrees later still somehow escape me.  I used to tear myself down with the constant berating I would give myself.  If I treated my friends the way I treated myself, I would probably be in jail.  Self-hatred is a common hobby among women I think, but my skills are professional.  My drinking was to drown that inner voice that told me how ugly and stupid and useless I was, but that inner tyrant is a good swimmer with a good microphone.   At first, my sobriety only amplified that voice – loud and shrill and mean.

I found out that that my depression was anger turned inward and my anxiety was self-centered fear.  If the Universe did revolve around me in my angry self-centeredness, then I was a black hole where misery stood still and festered.  I am not that person anymore.  That tyrant may not be dead, but she is in a vegetative state.  I do not mourn her loss.   

I know that as I have gotten older I have had to mourn death.  I have mourned the death s of two grandmothers, the deaths of classmates, the deaths of old lovers but it has been in sobriety the last few years that I have begun to mourn other deaths.   I have finally mourned the death of that person I thought I would become.  I thought I would have been successful by now, but professional and financial success has eluded me.  I had the luxury once of tasting what wealth might be like.  Years ago, my husband and I made nearly thirty thousand dollars in one month.   I immediately did the calculations in my head and assumed that by the end of the year we would be well on our way to being millionaires.  Security, luxury, ease would be ours.  I would be happy joyous and free, but that was not exactly the feeling I experienced.  I just wanted to drink more.  I wasn’t happier.  I wasn’t fulfilled.  I was just able to buy more expensive drinks.

That month of illusionary wealth left me in a “now what?” state of wondering.  The next month our business fell apart, and we were left owing thousands in taxes as we had neglected our quarterly responsibilities.  It took nearly seven years to pay off the taxes.

At least that was one hurdle I don’t have to lunge over.  I know what I would feel like without the burden of debt.  It left me realizing that it was the inside that needed comforting not the outside.  I wish money could buy happiness.  I would have had the best month ever.  For me, it can’t.  At least that is one shadow I don’t have to chase anymore.   I couldn’t pay off the inner tyrant to be silent and chasing money was only a distraction, so if I couldn’t buy her off, I would have to get rid of her in another way.

I also had to face the death of professional achievement.  As I mentioned, I have two master’s degrees yet have failed to put them to use.  I remember with my first degree thinking that once that was accomplished I would feel smarter and that would make me feel better.  When my diploma came in the mail all framed and matted with the gold school seal embedded in the mat, I remember feeling like an utter fraud.  So in all my wisdom, I thought maybe a different degree would do the trick. The very next semester, I was in another program at another school pursuing a new dream.

My husband was in the program to be an underwater archaeologist.  It looked like fun.  It seemed like an adventure, and I, being as learned as I am, had done a lot of research about marriage and education, and I decided that if we had the same degree, we would keep similar interests and thus maintain a rock solid marriage.  That didn’t work out either.  I guess I didn’t count on the alcoholism, the bi-polar II-disorder and the discovering I am gay.  I was looking outward and covering my –isms with distractions and alcohol – anything I thought would make me feel better not be better.

One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott wrote that, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”  That goes for self-forgiveness as well as forgiving others.  My marriage has failed maybe because our relationship didn’t growing in ways that we did.  I forgive us.  There are people in my life who are disappointed, angry, disgusted, devastated… and feelings I am sure I haven’t identified yet, but they feel these things because I am a lesbian.  I forgive us — them because they can’t yet accept who I am and me because I did not know who I am.

Self-discovery is an essential ingredient to a meaningful life, of that, I am convinced.  I had no idea how difficult and wonderfully painful a journey it is.  I am discovering that I am not such a terrible person after all.  This girl who was awkward and strange trying to do the straight thing is not all that awkward and strange as the lesbian God made me.

Although, I have this backpack with my stuff in it, it can only get so heavy as there is only so much room in it.  My stuff consists mostly of things I need to function properly in this society.  The other bits are pieces of my past and mementos of my history that are somehow also clues to my future.  They don’t have to be the baggage anymore, just items that fit in my backpack, and when my backpack gets too heavy, I can put it down, I can silence that inner tyrant and I can rest.

My Grandmother’s China

Thursday, February 17, 2011

When I was in my early twenties and just out of college, my grandmother flatly declared, “You might as well have the china. You will never find a man to suit you.  You will never get married.”

It had always been her intention to give her china to the grandchild who married last. We always knew that the last one to marry (in later years it was refined to the last one to marry for the first time) would get “The China.”  I am four years younger than the next youngest cousin, so by age alone, I was probably the most likely candidate, but I don’t think any of us were holding off nuptials in order to win the prize.

However, as each relative fell one by one to wedded bliss, someone would inevitably say, “Well, it looks like you aren’t going to get the china.”

I had only seen the china a few times in my life.  My father had only dined on the china once in his life to his recollection.  We had heard about the china more than we had seen it.  Who would get it, how she got it and how it doubled in the thirties.  My grandmother lived in coal country in Pennsylvania.  There we a lot of immigrants there and she was surrounded by diversity.   As with many families in the 1930s, her neighbor, Russian immigrant who attended the Eastern Orthodox Church, met with hard times and reluctantly had to part with her china, which miraculously was the same pattern as my grandmother’s.

I could only imagine the Shashlyk and Pelmeni and Borsht that had once covered those plates.  I close my eyes and almost taste the Borsht (which I learned to make and consequently love). I sometimes look at the stacks of dishes in my china cabinet and wonder which ones would have held Russian fare.     Because of the Russian lady’s misfortune; my grandmother’s china became service for 16.  She also acquired all the accouterments of table ware that go along with fine dining and civilized living.  If the Queen or Governor or president of the mine came to dinner,  she could set an elegant table.

Did I mention that my grandmother didn’t cook?  When she made her declaration and passed the china to me, it was in pristine condition – it still is.  In keeping with family tradition, I have never used it.

After doing some research, I found out that the china was made in 1921, and it’s Noritake.  The pattern name is Sheridan.  It has a delicate pattern of little flowers with a light blue checked border and a gold rim.  It is definitely not microwave safe, and I wouldn’t dare put it in the dishwasher.  It is very dainty and delicate – a fitting pattern for my grandmother.

They say men look like their dogs; well maybe women resemble their china patterns.   She was delicate and dainty at 5 foot nothing and maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet.  Until she started to speak, then she seemed a lot bigger.  She was pretty feisty with a big attitude.  She was fond of saying, “lips that touch wine will never touch mine.”  Little did she know that when the men in the family gathered in the trailer, they were not catching up on each other’s lives but hiding out and drinking beer.    

She was a teetotaler and coincidently, she liked tea.  She had a tea cup collection – china cups and their matching saucers were a prominent display on her china cabinet.   That is not where she kept “the china”.  It was buried far back in the kitchen cabinets in the place no one could ever reach.  It was safe from everyday selection or accidental use.  It the china came out it was completely intentional.

After I gained possession of the china, I threatened once to bring it out for Thanksgiving dinner when my parents drove the 394 miles to stay with us for the holiday.  My father said he had never eaten turkey off of those plates and wasn’t about to start now.  That day I vowed to myself that I would keep the family tradition; I would never cover those delicate flowers with mashed potatoes and gravy.  In fact, to this day, I have never eaten off of those plates.

I started thinking about the china and what it meant to me and my past just the other day.  I have been obsessing over it lately wondering if I would have to sell it to survive this separation and inevitable divorce.   The china had nothing to do with my marriage.  In fact, my grandmother never met my husband.  As far as she knew, she was right about me until the day she died.   She died safe in the knowledge that I would never marry.

I was thinking of this the other day as I packed the dishes in a cat food bucket.  It seemed the safest way to transport those dishes from the house to the apartment.  It occurred to me that my grandmother may have been acknowledging something in me way back then that I never truly knew but warily suspected was there.

You see my grandmother’s best friend’s daughter is a lesbian.  She and her partner of nearly 40 years were “roommates” as far as my grandmother was concerned.  She had known these women for many years; they took her on their vacations with them to their cabin on the lake during the summers.  They would play cards at night and traverse the lake in a paddle boat by day.  One of my favorite pictures is of my grandmother, her friend and the “friends” is of them sitting in the paddle boat, wearing big brimmed hats and large sunglasses. They all had happy, carefree smiles.  She loved those women dearly.  In fact, the daughter and her brother are both ministers, and they both preached my grandmother’s funeral.  They loved my grandmother too.

I suspect the gift of the china was a way of giving me what she thought I would never have.  In her world, a lesbian couldn’t marry her “friend”, so there would be no occasion for china.  Maybe that was her way of giving me what she knew no one else would.  Maybe she knew long before I ever did.  Maybe she saw in me what she had seen in her best friend’s daughter.   Maybe…  Of course, I will never know in this lifetime, but I do know this, when I marry my wife to be, because somewhere in my world that is possible.  When we marry, we will be eating on that china after the wedding.  I may have to do some convincing to serve Russian food at the reception, but we are going to break that family tradition.

We are going to break a lot of family traditions… but that is another story for another time.

And silence fell over the blog …

Friday, March 11, 2011

I haven’t been very insightful lately thus no blog from me.  The process of divorce is very difficult.  It is easy to get swept away with emotion.  I stood by friends and family during their ugly divorces.  I tried to be faithful to them throughout the process.  I went through to some degree the ups and downs, triumphs and setbacks, righteous indignations, depression, fear … .  It is funny to see who will reciprocate and who will not.  It is interesting to see the mettle of those close to you.  You learn the character of others.  You learn whose love is unconditional and whose is not.

Lately, I feel stripped down to just bare feeling.  I know now why forgiveness is essential when you are hurt.  If you can’t forgive or won’t forgive, your hurt leads you to uncharacteristic actions and you begin to do mean things to others because you feel justified.  Then you start to do mean things because it becomes a habit of being.  I see why forgiveness is essential.  I am observing that those who won’t forgive start to become asses.

My partner and I went to see the priest about how to wade through this difficult time with some self-respect and dignity.  He reinforced that being vindictive is a sure way to lose the respect of your children.   It is easy to fall into the trap of vindictiveness.  It is not so easy to be mindful enough to stay out of the trap.  The trap gets ever so enticing the first time you realize the locks have been changed, and you are literally locked out of the lives of your children.  It is hard not to want to be vindictive.  It is hard not to throw a brick through the front window.  But it is good not to.  It is really, really good not to do it.

I try to hold onto the idea that in the end love is the most important thing.  I will try to love those who aren’t acting very lovable right now.  I try to remember that because people don’t agree with me doesn’t mean that they are intrinsically bad or wrong.   When I am feeling defensive, it is easy to feel that they are bad or wrong.

For a long time I lived to try to please others.  It drove me crazy and made me sick.  Now, I try to be the person God made me.  I am much happier being an openly gay person.  I am happier not lying to myself.  Trying to make others happy is just one way of living a lie.  Being who you are will not make everyone happy.  Making everyone happy is clearly not being who you are.  Even Jesus pissed off a lot of people just by being who he was.  I guess if we are to strive to live a Christ-like life, then pissing people off comes with the territory.

My partner and I have acknowledged that we didn’t do things the right way and in the right order.  It seems to me that in asking for forgiveness we are not only trying to get it but also to accept it.  Even though we have asked and some have refused to grant it, we have still put that acknowledgement of doing the wrong thing at the wrong time out there.  We have said we are sorry.  We have done our part.

We have also forgiven ourselves and each other.  The priest welcomed us to the human race.  Even though we have hurt others, we have been honest about it.  We have tried to live rightly from here on out.  We fall away from love as many times as we return to it.   We try.  The upside of screwing up is that we know what it is like to need forgiveness.  There is no room for righteous indignation in a tarnished life.  There is only room for compassion and love even for those who don’t even know us but still choose to hate us.

I still find it incredulous that there are those people in the world who hate us because of who we love.  I still find it crazy that you can watch a thousand different ways to kill someone on prime time TV but show a woman kissing another woman and people start protesting the station.  I guess the only way for me to do this is to try to live openly and honestly and with dignity.  I will try to do the next right thing.  What I won’t do is wallow in my mistakes and failings though there are those who wish that I would.  Hair shirts do nothing for my complexion.   I suppose this is an inelegant and rambling entry, but some days are like that.

Anyway, its been a bad couple of weeks.  The details aren’t important.  It’s just been a bad time.  I continue to pray for healing for everyone.  As always, thanks for reading.

Today my oldest son turns ten, yesterday it felt like I lost him and his brother.

Friday, April 29, 2011

We had the hearing yesterday for temporary custody and child support.  It did not go as well as I had hoped.  We both share joint legal custody of our boys, so I do get to be a part of the decision making process for them.  My estranged husband got primary physical custody, and I get them every other weekend essentially and every other Wednesday for dinner.  Plus, he gets nearly one half month of my monthly pay for child support.  There are some other stipulations, but I will not go into those.  I will now see them less than I already did.  I cannot comment on what the court thinks, as I have no idea.  I do know that I asked my lawyer to do this with as little bloodshed as possible.  I think I erred.  I don’t think that was a stipulation on the side of the defense.  If my estranged needed public vindication, yesterday, he received it.  I guess this is what justice looks like.  I was the one to leave.  I was the one who left without taking the boys with me.  I left them because I didn’t want to cause them trauma.  For a separation to occur, someone has to leave, so that is what I did.

I was portrayed as a self centered, crazy, impulsive drunk by the other lawyer.  I never thought of myself as self-centered and selfish.  Maybe people who are don’t see themselves that way.  I know I am not crazy or a drunk.  Everything important to me wasn’t there in the facts yesterday.  Facts aren’t feelings … I hear it over and over and over again.  To me, feelings are very much a factor.  I grew up in a very unhappy home.  At least it seemed that way to me.  Others remember things differently, but the fact they all supported my estranged husband in this custody case gives credence to the type of support I felt growing up.  I always felt like we were dodging my father’s anger, and that my mother was weighed down with sadness and depression.  She had a lot of migraines.  She went to bed early a lot.  I remember a lot of evenings laying beside her in bed just to talk to her.  I remember many rides in the car with my father in uncomfortable silence.  I know they loved and still love me in their way, but I don’t think they knew how to express it to me, or I didn’t know how to receive it.

The last several years before I really got on top of this depression, I found myself sleeping a lot.  I found my estranged husband and I sitting in uncomfortable silence or arguing over money or lack of it.  We argued about not connecting.  We held onto our resentment of our growing apart.  I said yesterday that I wanted the boys to have two happy homes instead of one angry and sad home.  I still want that.  I still want happiness to come out of this through all this carnage.

None of that came out.  I want more for my children and oddly for my estranged husband.  I want more for myself.  I guess if needing to know who you are is selfish, then I am guilty of that.  I want to know who I am so that I can help my boys with the process of figuring out who they are.   The only way to have real connections is to be real in interactions.  None of this stuff comes out when you are on the stand.  Its all numbers and do you recall this or that…  what ever it is you are supposed to recall.  Even though you go over all of this with your lawyer, when you are on the stand after you just put your hand on the Bible, all you want to do is get it exactly right so that you are exactly truthful — at least that was my experience.

I am also guilty of falling in love.  That also sounded very sorted and terrible at the pronouncements of the other lawyer.  It wasn’t sordid or terrible.  It is love.  As I have said in past blogs, we didn’t do things as we should have… that is what did come out in court, and it sounded different than it really was.  I am not ashamed of who I love.  I am guilty of wanting my boys to know her and to like her.  I want whomever my estranged falls in love with to be good to my boys and for them to love her as well.  That didn’t come out either.  Not really.  I guess I ring true to my Myers-Briggs INFP label.  (Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, Perceiving.)  My exact opposite is ESTJ (Extroversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judging).  I am perceiving that an ESTJ makes a good lawyer and an INFP not so much.

I have learned that not being orthodoxed costs.  I have learned that feelings are not really admissible in court.  I know that choosing to live authentically costs.  I pray that down the road my children will forgive me for what it cost, and that we will be able to be together more in the future.  I know that being real is better than being sad, angry, depressed and suicidal.  I know that being sober is better than being drunk.  I know that there are a lot of people who still love me, and know that I am a good mother.  I have tried to be the best mother I can be.  I know that being true to yourself has value.

Today I am regrouping.  The fight is not over.  I will be smarter (who am I kidding – the fact that I am actually posting another blog – yet another article of evidence used against me yesterday — indicates I will not be that much smarter).

I just hope that Rob Bell is right.  I hope that Love Wins.

As always, thanks for reading…

Jellyfish Jail

Now I know why Tolkien invented his own language for writing.  I wish I was savvy enough to do that.  I am doing well to make adequate use of my native language.  My partner, who has an eye for these things, constantly finds the little grammatical mistakes that hold me back.  Some people have an eye for that sort of thing.  I have come to accept my weaknesses with language, but I digress.  My point was going to be that if I had been able to write in my own special language, then Monday in court when reviewing the evidence of my estranged husband’s articles of evidence, I wouldn’t have had the utter shock of seeing my journal entries included as evidence.  I wouldn’t have seen the first fourth step I had written for AA from 2005 included as evidence — evidence of my crazy, substance abusing unfittness to be a mother.  I was incredulous.  I have worked hard to stay sober and those efforts are being used against me.  I guess all is fair … but it seems pretty smarmy to me.  Seeing the affidavit signed by my parents was shocking, and two of my good friends, and two other friends… It is very sad how this process becomes like bear baiting, people form a circle and break one direction or the other at the equator to watch the blood bath.  I guess it is a shedding of old friendships and a clinging to new ones, or steadfast ones.

Divorce is a stripping away process on many levels.  When you throw in infidelity (on both sides I might add in my own defense) and coming out, there is a whole other level for judgements to be made and sides to be chosen.  I had affidavits too.  Some said I was perfectly sane and sober, some said I am a good mother, some were more disparaging to him just as his were about me.  I am not sure if we are trying to convince the judge of our own fittness or if we are just casting blame in one direction or the other.  I have not said he is a bad father.  He has said I am a danger, unfit mentally and emotionally ill and a substance abuser.  I am not.  I am not any of those things.  He has even used this blog as evidence of my insanity, although altered and out of context but used and abused just the same.  If this is how the game of divorce is played, it has an dirty and viscous rule book.  I would rather not play this ugly game.

I would rather agree that we should work together to raise our sons.  I would rather agree that we need to go our separate ways so that we can find out what happiness is.  I would rather not tear our boys apart in an effort to be the most right or at least the least at fault.  In truth all I really want is my children out of this mess.  I want to have a relationship with them independent of this broken marriage, independent of his critical eye, independent of his home turf.  I want to teach my boys to love everyone.  I want them to know that being gay isn’t a target for hatred.  I am going to live as if that is true.  I want to take my boys to the beach.

My eldest and I went walking on the beach while his dad and little brother went to Aikido class.  We talked some and walked some and picked up seashells for his grandmother.  I stuffed the resentment I had for her at that moment.  I don’t want to interfer with his love for people who betrayed me.  Relationships are complex and confusing.  I want to catch people doing the right things and praise that instead of condemning the wrongs.  It is easier to find the wrong instead of looking for the right  — especially right now.  As we walked, we found a portuguese-man-of-war on the beach.  I have walked the beach a lot and have never seen one.  I would have to say it was beautiful.  Deadly and beautiful.  It was freshly washed up and its swim bladder was still inflated.  It was an irridescent blue and the sail waved in the breeze, for a moment, my son thought it was trying to get him.  Then he did what I imagine all of us do or think about doing when facing deadly danger, he poked it with a stick.  He very timidly and quickly jabbed the swim bladder with a stick and then threw the stick in he ocean as if whatever venom may have gotten on the stick would creep up it and sting him.  It was not an aggressive poke.  It was more of an inquisitive poke.  It was even a gentle jab, so gentle in fact, that it didn’t even deflate the sail.

My son is not an aggressive boy.  He has a kind heart.  He was in a quandary of what to do.  He thought we should scoop it up and throw it in the trash, but we didn’t have a shovel.  He wanted to send it back into the ocean, but again, we had no means of transporting it.  He wished there was a turtle around so it could have a tastey snack and solve our problem of a deadly creature washed up on the beach for some unsuspecting beachcomber or unleashed dog to step on it.  We stood there for a long time staring at the hydroid (a friend of mine told me that the man-of-war isn’t really a jellyfish but it is a colony of animal working together for survival) trying to figure out what to do.  Finally, my son thought that we should gather the stalks of beach grass and build a jellyfish jail around it.  That way it would be easily seen and thus avoided.  I thought that was a marvelous solution.  So that is what we did.  We put the hydroid in jellyfish jail.  We did what we could with what we had to work with.

I guess that is what we do even in ugly moments of life like divorce.  We do with what we have to work with even if it is out of context, out of history or out of character.  I think we just grab whatever validation we have at desperate times even if it is tearing someone else down.  I am just trying to understand the uncomprehensable.  Maybe I will get it when I look back, and we all survived it.  I hope so anyway.

Give a man a fish, and invariably, he will find a shark’s tooth in it.


The other day I was able to take my boys to the beach.  Their friends weren’t at home, it was a beautiful day, and with my entrance into their father’s domain, an uncomfortable pall had already settled over the house.

On a whim, I said to the boys, “Let’s go to the beach.”

They almost beat me to the car.  It turns out, whims are expensive.  Lack of planning tends to cost more.  When we neared the beach access, I realized my mouth was dry and pasty.  My stomach was grumbling too.  The boys were parched and famished.   We stopped at a convenience market and got some water, soda and snacks.

Apparently, once you cross the bridge to the island, there is a tariff of some sort on paradise.  I think it is called the “you forgot to plan the trip the beach, stupid” tax.  Everything costs more on the island even though technically, the bridge that connects it to the mainland kind of negates its islandness.  It doesn’t matter.  There is one way on and one way off and if you forgot the potato chips, well it’s your dumb luck.

We were like abandoned lion cubs on the Serengeti, or baby polar bears on drifting ice, or strangers from the hinterland without sunscreen.  In reality, we were refugees fleeing our uncomfortable limbo for the afternoon.  Now, I know why on June 1st there’s a mad rush on bottled water, batteries and playing cards – survival gear for hurricane power outages.  If you haven’t stocked your hurricane kit by the opening day of hurricane season, you are behind in the game.

I made a note to self called “go to the grocery on the other side of the bridge.”  I looked at my boys already getting tan for the season and knew this would be an expensive mistake.  They looked back at me sensing my trepidation and seized the opportunity for sodas, chips, candy (which I tried to point out would be nasty as soon as the wind caked sand all over it’s sticky surface) and beef jerky.  Every adventure needs a little beef jerky.  We had ours.  My jaws still ache from chewing its salty, leathery goodness.  By the time we made it to the public access, we were well sated.

We had the best time walking the beach looking for shells, again, grandmother shells, but this time something amazing happened.  My oldest son, Blade and I finally cracked the code of finding fossilized sharks teeth.  A friend of mine once told me that once you see them, you will begin seeing them all over the beach.  You won’t be able to look down without seeing one.  In fact, not seeing them will be harder than seeing them.  I didn’t believe her as she is sometimes prone to hyperbole.

The boys and I had walked all the way from the access down to the retaining wall looking for specimens.  The wind kicked up, and soon we were in the middle of a stinging sand storm.  At that point, several things happened all at once.  It was like walking through that door you can never go back through.  My mind opened to the practicality of traditional Arabic dress and the reality of what actually happens when you exfoliate.  I shouted over the roar of the waves and the thunder of the wind to explain this to my sons.  They were underwhelmed.

My youngest, Chopper said, “Well, sometimes it’s painful to be beautiful.”  Then he jumped into the water where the numbing cold was more appealing than the stinging sand.

We knew that fossilized sharks teeth were black and shiny, there are lots of black bits of things in the ocean, and when they are wet, most of the time they are shiny.  We picked up broken pieces of shell and debated on their shark toothyness.  As hard as we tried to see the shark’s tooth in each fragment, invariably something would give it away until there was no denying its inner shellness.

We were determined to find teeth, but the biting sand was a distraction, and finally, as we approached our destination, Blade said, “Mommy, lets go back.”

Chopper said, “Let’s go to the pier.”

Blade agreed that the pier was a better choice than the beach, no sand, lots of pelicans, plus the allure of the gift shop glimmered in Blade’s eyes.  And even though it was tucked away, under the seat in my car, I could hear the faint whimper of my wallet.

I didn’t want to give up.  The previous day when my partner was on the beach; she had found some beautiful specimens.  My competitive drive kicked into overdrive, I couldn’t go home without at least one tooth (even if I had to buy one at the gift shop pier).  I was in quandary.  Do I appease my boys and turn us around or continue onward around the edge of the rocks?  I had this feeling that if we just kept going, we would find a pocket of shells in some shallow pool or convergence where the water eddied and swirled, depositing the motherlode.  We just had to stick with it.  (I think that I should stay out of Vegas for sure).

It occurred to me there are sometimes many paths to the same destination.  We could go back an alternate route.  We could circle behind the dunes, just above the do not enter signs that created the invisible shield between the law abiding and the turtle nests.  Behind the dunes we would be protected from the fierce wind, and though I felt my chances for shark’s teeth slipping away, I told myself, “Where there is sand; there is hope.”

Blade was skeptical.  Chopper thought anything that came between him and the sand pelting his bare legs was worth a try.  So up the shore we went.  We followed the rocks to the Gazebo; hobbled tender footed down the blacktop path and followed the trail carved between the dunes from others who had had similar revelations in the past. The wind died down from a gale to a breeze behind the dunes.  I could see why the live oak trees grew the way they did.  The leaves sloped up from the ocean-side, nearly touching the ground.  They formed these imaginary hills that were formed by shear determination to grow in spite of the wind into imaginary hills reaching up into the sky.  The live oaks had figured out how to grow in spite of their circumstances.

The car was still far away.  My back was beginning to hurt from walking hunched over.  And suddenly almost like seeing clearly for the first time once you get those first pair of glasses, I could see them.  They stood out like gleaming stars but in reverse.  They were black diamonds on a light canvas.  They were so obvious they almost floated above the sand.  I looked at Blade and Chopper.  I could tell my oldest could see it too.  Chopper ran from one sandy hillock to the next, sprinting from one safe place through the wind tunnels to the next.

I looked at Blade and he looked at me.  Then we dashed.  It was like the pre-school Easter egg hunt where teachers just put the eggs on the lawn and the children race out to gather them in plain view.  I picked up gleaming fragments of the past and as my son filtered fists full of sand through his fingers.  We compared specimens and moved on to the next find.  By the time we had made it to the access ramp, Blade and I both had handfuls of shark teeth fragments, whole teeth, and later to find out, a fossilized stingray barb.  I didn’t want this visit to be over.

We had tried to show Chopper what we could plainly see, but each time we huddled around a tooth and tell him, “Look over here to see if you see anything.”

Each time he would scour the area with his eyes (sometimes placing his hand right on the tooth to balance himself on his hands and knees), he would exclaim, “What!  Where!  I don’t see it.  I just don’t see it!”

Blade looked disgusted.  I could tell his impatience was growing.  I could tell he wanted to scream at his little brother.  His frustration was building.

I could almost hear him shouting, “its right there!”

Before that happened, I touched Blade’s arm and said, “remember, just a few minutes ago we couldn’t see them either.  He will see them when he is supposed to see them.”

That seemed to assuage Blade’s irritation.

When we finally made it to the car, we put our treasures in a breath mint box for the boys to take home.  I didn’t take any with me.  I had nothing to show for our day — toothwise.

I thought, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.”  In my sons, I could see each part of the saying.  One day Chopper would see them too.  Until then, Blade and I could supply him with his fare.  It was a good day on the beach.  It was a good day to be the mom.  I could tell you about the pier, the gift shop and the pelicans, but that is a story for another time.

There WITH Grace Go I…

Yesterday was Lazarus Sunday, there was a lot of talk of resurrection.  The preshow to main event I suppose.  I suppose if you could perform one miracle, raising the dead should be expected from people around you.  Our Deacon gave the Homily yesterday, he is always very intriguing and yesterday’s was no different.  He talked about resurrection in our own lives.  He talked about personal tragedy and helplessness while someone he loved floundered in darkness.  He couldn’t save her, and in the end, she couldn’t save herself.  He talked about resurrection right now.  Not in the end of the world sense but in our own hearts.

I am all for the resurrection of my own heart, my own love, my own broken relationships, my own future with my partner.  She and I continually meet people we are compelled to apologize to for the way we ended our marriages, and the way we came together.  We acknowledged to each other that that will be something we will probably be doing for the rest of our lives.   That acknowledgment doesn’t make our apologies less sincere.  It just makes them our reality.

There are things in all of our lives that we continually apologize for.  It doesn’t undo the damage, but it doesn’t make us candidates for stoning either (at least in this culture – at least not yet).  It helps us acknowledge our humanity.  It gives us markers of comparison to the damage others do to us. It helps us grow compassion from the fertilizer of our own transgressions.  How can you forgive if you have never needed it yourself (speaking strictly from a human perspective)?

I am considerably less self righteous than I was in the past.  I could jump on that Julia Sugarbaker soap box with the best of them.  (That was a 1980s Designing Women reference for all you youngin’s).  I am not much of a jumper these days… not MUCH… I can still go off on homophobes and racists and men guilty of various offenses.   I suppose I am not as devastated by diatribes as I used to be.  That doesn’t mean I won’t put up boundaries to keep me safe.  It just means I am not prone to the hatred that I once was.

Last Sunday, two bike riders training for a triathlon were killed a few miles from my apartment.  The father and son started out their morning in pursuit of something they loved.  The father was dead at the scene and the son lingered for a few more days before he died.  Yesterday, my very good friend could have been killed on her scooter.   Her new scooter totaled, but she is alive and relatively unharmed.  Their days started one way and ended another, “There but for the Grace of God go I.”   That is something we say a lot in AA about slipping or those who never make it into recovery.  I have to think did those things happened when God blinked?  What makes me any more graced than they?  The “but” somehow implies they didn’t have God’s Grace… I can’t believe that.  I think maybe it should be, “There with the Grace of God go I.”

I have come to believe that Grace of the divine kind is internal.  I think it’s a way of seeing the world and our function in it.  If you see your internal self as a sanctuary of peace, then who could the external hardships really touch you? If your internal temple is a temple of shame, then your external paradise will still be a living hell.  Sure you can get run over by a drunk driver while pursuing something you love doing, but how cheapened would life be if you never pursued anything you love?  I personally don’t want to die in my bed at 100 if it means I can never truly live.  I think that the Grace is in the pursuit of living.  I think shame paralyzes us from the joy of really living.  Of course, really living means screwing up or not being able to prevent someone else’s screw up from changing your life completely.  Really living is a risk my couch is a very safe place but if you lay on it too long it makes your back hurt.

Before I put up my donate button, I thought about how doing so might affect what I write, the way I write, if I write, what I will think of those who read it but, don’t, won’t, can’t or don’t think about donating to my cause.  Will I be cynical, skeptical, so utterly grateful I will turn in to a sycophant?  Will I be bitter and angry because the whole world didn’t put me in the category of the survivors in Japan, the Middle East, Afghanistan, those who are victims of slavery, of sexual abuse and there is so much suffering to even mention?  Will I be afraid that people will think less of me because I asked for help from friends, strangers, everyone?  Will I feel like an internet panderer?  Will people know I am in need?

Those are only some of the things I thought about before I put up my request.  Asking for help changes you in some ways.  In a way it is a resurrection on your vulnerabilities.  It’s like the dog lying down to show its vulnerable underbelly.  It doesn’t make it less of a dog; merely a dog who knows when to submit.  There’s a better way of saying that… .

It is expressed better in a song we sing at church or at Cursio (that is a retreat that Episcopalians like to go on – very uplifting and loving).  It’s called “The Servant Song” byRichard Gillard.   Some of the lyrics are:  “won’t you let me be your servant.  I will be like Christ to you.  Pray that I may I have the grace to let me be your servant too.”  I am doing the last part right now… or trying to do it.  I keep reminding myself that needing help doesn’t make me less of a person, just a person who knows when she is in need.

I am not the greatest or most noble charity on the planet not even in my own mind.  I can recommend lots of noble charities.  My favorites are Make Way Partners, (  That charity helps fight human trafficking and takes care of orphans in Sudan, Romania and other places.  The one Episcopalian ( charity is another favorite.  That one helps support the UN millennium goals to help end worldwide poverty and promote the rights of everyone.  Those are noble charities, and tax deductible.

It is funny what desperation does to you.  Right now my desperation centers on fund raising for my legal fund since I have no familial support or notable credit from which to borrow.  I have sold almost anything of value.  My act of desperation was also an act of faith putting out a request for help.  I thought it through before I acted.  My whole sense of good in the world isn’t riding on one dime of support.  My sense of self worth isn’t either.   It’s just a request for help, and those who feel it will and those who don’t or can’t won’t.   I asked something of our new director at work a few weeks ago.  I knew it was a long shot, and it was denied; however, she told me that she was glad that I had asked because so many people don’t ask, and you know what the answer will be when you don’t ask.  That was a Grace – full answer.

I guess that this moment is a resurrection of my humility.  My resurrection of knowing that, like others in need of something (and I believe that we all are), I am okay.  I guess resurrection is about Grace in one’s life.  So with that, “There with the Grace of God go I…”  Thanks for reading.

I am probably not going to get eaten…

Friday, April 22, 2011

The other day someone said that when people figure out that the diver isn’t going to get eaten by the shark, they stop watching the dive show.  Since I do a lot of those show dives where I work, I got a bit of a chill down my spine — not because I am afraid I will really get eaten by a shark, but that seeing me eaten alive is at least a minor motivation of some people to watch.

Just let me say that I am not afraid of our sharks.  I have become accustomed to them and know their body language pretty well.  I have been diving with these particular sharks some three-hundred times.  I have never felt threatened by them — not once.  I have been thumped by Permit fish, charged by grouper, the angel fish has bitten me as well as the trigger fish and the spade fish have pulled out my hair, but not once has a shark even looked at me with any interest.

The next time I dove, I did think about it, however.  I thought about people wanting to see me get eaten.  I climbed down the ladder into the acclimation tank and three sharks swam by me as they were making their loop around the tank.  A stingray had settled right under the ladder, so I took a giant step out and over so that I wouldn’t scare her, and just as I did, one of the sand bar sharks swerved out of my way so that we didn’t collide.  It didn’t seem interested in biting me.  It just wanted to get out of the way, and I was clearly in the way of its greater purpose — swimming to breathe.

It is funny how I used to be afraid of sharks.  When I stepped in the ocean, I was sure I was on the shark radar and on the list of what’s for dinner.  (Thank you Peter Benchly and Steven Speilberg).  The movie Jaws really put sharks in the hot seat and they have suffered mass annihilation for it.  I have realized that my fear was very self-centered.  I don’t think I register on shark radar. They have more important things to do than worry with the likes of me — like catching smaller prey that they recognize as food, and food that actually tastes good to them.

All my fears center in myself.  When fear controls me, there is no room for the presence of a higher power in my life.  Sometimes I trick myself out of fear with statistics.  For instance, “you are more likely to be struck by lightening than to be bitten by a shark;” or “if you have been bitten by a shark, it is nearly statistically impossible that you will ever be bitten again;” my favorite, however, is “Nearly 80 percent of all statistics are wrong.”   Though I know these statistics are probably more fiction than truth, they are tangible concrete things my mind can cling to — kind of like that buoy in the opening scene of Jaws.

When visitors view the sharks swimming by the windows of the tank, there is usually an exclamation of awe, fear, or trepidation but rarely a warm and fuzzy sort of response.  I hear visitors exclaim all the time about the puffer fish looking at them.  “Oh look, he is looking right at me,” most likely the puffer is looking at something colorful and shiny to chew on.  But they do appear to connect. They are cute yet alien and they “look right at you.”  Sharks don’t seem to acknowledge you at all.  I guess I focus more on the teeth than the eyes when looking at the sharks.  When I am in their presence, I seem to be just another obstacle to swim around.  When I am having a bad day or feeling very self-conscious, I forget that I am just another obstacle to maneuver around to most people.  On a bad day, I think everyone is looking at me, everyone is noticing all of my faults, but I know that is not true — somewhere deep down.  Like the sharks, most people swim with another purpose.

It occurred to me that if people want to see the diver get eaten, it is probably because they want to see something that will change their lives.  People talk about the dramatic events that they have witnessed and usually the description of the incident is followed by how it changed them.  How they were before and how they are now.  If it wasn’t for that dramatic incident, they would never have experienced the change.  For many, something good comes in spite of the bad.

I think we are all looking for that moment that changes us.  That moment where we learn a new truth, but what I sometimes forget is the change is on the inside, and it happened because I was ready for it to happen.  The external incident might be the trigger but the real change is inside.

I would like to think that that is what people want.  I hope that our fascination with the violent and grotesque is based on our need to see an inner truth about ourselves and not the inner organs of an unfortunate victim (or should I say survivor — that holds more optimism).  At least, I hope that is what we want because I trust my friends in the tank will leave all my parts just the way they are.