Another letter to my ex-husband.

Sometimes an idea for a post pops into my head. If the notion pays the rent and takes up residence, I feel compelled to write it out.photo-43

I have noticed for months that there is one post I wrote early in my blogging days which continues to get attention. It’s called “A letter to my ex-husband.” and it consistently receives 50-60 clicks a week. I think this is telling me that there are new “victims” every day who seek comfort and company on the internet. Hopefully, they are seeking to lose that feeling of being the victim. What I know is that most are in a great deal of emotional distress.

Then I start to wonder, “Should I revisit that post? Should I write an update?” I seldom return to old posts. It’s rather like a sixteen-year-old backtracking to read what she wrote in her diary as a twelve-year-old — naïve and poorly written.

Dear D,

I have just read and re-read the open letter I wrote to you back in November, 2010. I stand by what I wrote. If I were composing the same letter today I might not use the Pearl Harbor metaphor but I’m not sorry I used it then. That’s how I felt at the time. I hope my writing is somewhat improved since those days.

I’m happy to say that I no longer dwell on the difficulties of that period in our history. My life moves along with more happy times than not as I try to focus on those most important in my life — my family. I must admit, though, that I still miss your family. At the time, I felt as if I had suffered multiple amputations but those wounds have mostly healed.

I have come to realize the we have a history — you, your family and I. And I know now that it’s mine to keep. No one, no divorce, no would-be interloper can ever take that away from me. I’m free to remember the happy times, and sad, as I choose. I even have a couple of pictures of you on display in my house. There’s one of you and two cute little granddaughters, all of you wearing identical Harley Davidson t-shirts. There’s the one of you and me and H when she was baptized  in your grandmother’s christening gown. When someone who doesn’t know you sees the latter and asks me if that’s my ex, I always say, “Yes, it is. Wasn’t he a handsome fellow.”

As I was reading the old letter and starting to write this post, I remembered the disconcerting dizziness of feeling as if I were on a merry-go-round back when I first heard the infamous divorce announcement. My mind would get in a loop and I had a hard time escaping the negative and unhelpful self-conversations. I even dreamed about carousels and their eerie, hypnotic music. I would feel it slowing and think it was slow enough to step off. But, alas, I would stumble and fall in a teary puddle every time.

My son-in-law recently told me about going to a colleague’s office to discuss a work-related matter. Instead of addressing the issue at hand, she looked at him and stated, “My husband is having an affair.” He asked me why she had said that to him. They weren’t buddies or anything so why would she do that? My immediate response was, “That’s all she could think about.” In other words, she was on the merry-go-round. It takes a while to get off. I had to ask the same “What did I do wrong?” question over and over before I finally let it go as unanswerable.

You’d think one carnival ride would be metaphor enough for one in the throes of despair. Not for me. I went straight from the carousel to a giant roller coaster. And sometimes the two merged into a monstrous nightmare.photo-73 This new ride came along when I stopped asking hypothetical questions and started to figure out what I must do to take care of me. I allowed my anger at you and at my situation to spring into action.

Anger can be a wonderful resource and motivator. It enabled me to start taking care of important divorce-related issues. Things like feeding myself properly, getting enough sleep and starting to raise my consciousness about financial matters and finding the right attorney to help me with my decision-making.

During this period the roller coaster started going up fairly often and I would feel pretty good. Fear would strike and I would crash back down. In between there were loop-de-loops when I was upside down and inside out and didn’t know what I was doing. One wise person named John told me, “Some things just take time.” He was right. As I found my sense of humor again and enabled my positive attitude, I came through and am better for it. I truly hope you are too.

Life is good as I remember our happy times together.

Fondly, Pat

 

 

Christmas, 2013.

Another Christmas has come and gone and I think I’m doing okay.photo  It’s been seven years since D asked for a divorce.  This is the sixth Christmas I’ve spent as a woman alone.  Someone commented recently on my blogger friend’s post that there’s a great deal of difference between being alone and being lonely.  I’m a bit of an expert on the topic because I’ve been both.

I’m happy to report that this year, except for a couple of brief hours on Christmas Eve afternoon, I was merely alone, not lonely.  The lonely times are becoming shorter and shorter as I learn that being alone can be a blessing if I choose to make it so.

I think it’s all about acceptance of what is.  My mantra has become “It is what it is.”  I can often shrug off troubles by photo-4repeating this simple truism a time or two.  I admit it doesn’t work all the time but it helps.  I’ve learned to do when I start to feel lonely.

Paul Newman once said that he was able to deal with his son’s death only by doing for others.  His words gave me fresh perspective about how I was living my life.  I’ve become more conscious of others, especially around Christmas. I’ve finally figured out that it doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as making toffee for friends and family.  (See photo above.)  Or taking a few seconds to text or email a friend who’s having a hard time.  Or a phone call. For me it’s taking a moment to think beyond myself and my concerns.

That’s easier said than done when you’re in the middle of the pain of rejection.photo-2 You can’t figure out who you are, let alone what you should or want to do.  I cried for months. I’m glad that’s over. I’m ever so slowly learning to trust other people again.  But I step cautiously.

As usual this post has taken a different direction than I expected.  Sometimes I think my fingers divorce my brain.  Or maybe my fingers tell my brain what to think.  I’m not sure what happens.

I started out expecting to tell you Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanza and Happy New Year.  The photo below shows Santa riding past my house on the Pineville fire engine.  You can see his arm.  The rest of him is blocked by a weird-looking little green elf.  Only in the American South.  Made my day.photo-3

Changing perception.

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. ~ Viktor Franklchange

I was working at the Food Pantry the other day.  Well, several of us were sitting around talking because we had no clients, no one who was seeking food.  I hope the fact that we had no clients that day is a good thing, that it means no one in our neighborhood was hungry for at least a day.  That’s my optimistic view of the situation.

We volunteers have some good chats on slow days.  I try not to let my divorced status define who I am, but at the same time, I am very open to discussion of my situation just in case it might be helpful to someone who takes the time and trouble to ask questions.  I usually prefer to assume that the questions are sincere and not prying.

One of the women asked if I mind living alone.  I have to admit I hadn’t thought about it in a while until she asked.  (That’s a sure sign that I’m doing well, don’t you think?)  I considered the question for a moment and responded, “No, not really.  I do have a cat after all.”  I went on to tell her that I missed my husband horribly for a long time but I don’t anymore, that I have adjusted to what is, and am content.  She said, “That’s a really good thing — learning to be happy where you are with what you’ve got.”

I’ve thought a great deal about that statement.  It certainly sums up where I am today.

Back at the beginning of our separation, I read somewhere that it takes a year of recovery for every five years a couple is together.  At the time I had trouble wrapping my mind around that notion, thinking “I don’t have that much time.  Let’s just get on with it!”  I have learned, though, that it has proved pretty accurate in my case.  I wanted to hurry up the healing but I wasn’t able to.  Some things take time.

I no longer think too often about D and our marriage.  Oh sure, things pop up but I don’t dwell on the negatives much.  I have thought about my ex this week because he had a birthday a couple of days ago.  I considered sending him a happy birthday text but then I asked myself, “Why would I do that?”  I don’t hate him.  I don’t dislike him.  But I don’t like him very much either.  And I don’t owe him anything.  I guess I’m idling here in the middle and it’s a pretty good place to be.

Oh, okay.  Happy birthday, D.  Thirty years is a long time and old habits die hard.

People change and forget to tell each other. ~ Lillian Hellman

Rebuilding a life.

photo(44)There’s really no shortcut to forgetting someone.  You have to endure missing them every day until you don’t anymore. ~ Anon

Whenever a spouse is lost, whether to death or divorce, the partner left behind must build a new life.  The longer the relationship, the more difficult the rebuilding can be.

At the beginning of our separation and divorce journey, I read numerous articles and books about divorce.  It gave me something to do.  Some sources were excellent while others were a waste of time.  I devoured all of them trying to make sense of what was happening to me.  I read somewhere (I’ve no idea where.) that it takes one year of recovery for every five years of togetherness.  “Hmmmm,” I remember thinking.  “Surely they jest.  I don’t have that kind of time.  I’m in my sixties already.  I’m sure I can do it faster.”  Little did I know how ingrained my way of life and my reliance on my husband had become.

It wasn’t long before reality came calling.  Despite all my research, I could not for the life of me move it along any faster.  The fact that I am still writing about it is a small hint that I haven’t been able to expedite the process.  This past December 29 was the sixth anniversary of the D-Day announcement.  We were married for thirty years.  If I include the time we were together before the marriage, it’s a few years more than thirty.

How do I rebuild a life?  How do I go from being one of a pair of perfect (OK, not so perfect) yellow dandelions to a globe of fluff and still be sane and vital?photo(45)  I’ve asked myself these questions many times.  They are not rhetorical questions.  They are not philosophical per se.  Certainly I can and do philosophize about them, but I have truly sought practical answers and solutions these past six years.  In the grand scheme of life I don’t seem to have been very successful.

I’ve tried to do all the things the so-called experts have suggested.  I go to church, I volunteer, I have membership at a gym, I meet regularly with friends, I spend time with family — and then I go home alone.  Certainly there are worse things than being alone.  My sister and I were discussing last night the fact that we prefer no company to bad company.  D and I had become bad company for each other.

What is missing in my life, deep in my core, I think, is trust.  I can recognize now that it may have been time, under the circumstances, for the dissolution of the marriage.  But the trust issue still looms over me like a festering ominous storm cloud.  After so many years together, I had come to trust my spouse.  That was a giant leap for me, the child of an alcoholic.  I had learned early on that the only one I could trust to do for me what needed to be done was me.  If you want something done you must do it yourself rang through my head as regularly as the chiming of Big Ben.  Moving away from that notion to one of acceptance that there are people I can trust was huge.  I’m not sure I can do it again.

I have come a long way in the past six years.  I am no longer miserable, though I am often  lonely.  I am a people person and I would not have chosen this solitary life.  As I look out my window at the blue sky and sunshine after several days of gloomy weather, I find myself grinning like the Cheshire Cat. photo(46) Today, as the temperature warms the ground, dandelions will appear, and I will be reminded that a dandelion alone is a beautiful thing.  I shall stand tall today and remind myself that this dandelion has not gone to seed just yet.

Toffee’s swan song?

photo(31)As I stood stirring my bubbly caramel-colored mixture this afternoon, I think I had an epiphany.

I have made English toffee during the Christmas holidays for more years than I can remember.  Why?  That’s the question I asked as I did my mindless stirring.

Years ago I found a toffee recipe in a holiday magazine.  It looked good in the picture. The recipe was easy.  I decided to give it a go.  Delicious.  Yummy.  Much better than the packaged kind we’d had in the past.  The whole family begged for more.  The biggest fan of all was my then husband D.  Every year after that first one, he started asking around Thanksgiving when the toffee assembly line would start up again.

It dawned on me as I prepared the beloved sweet treat today that I was, on some level, still cooking it up for my ex.  That’s the thought that came to mind.  Could that possibly be the case?  I don’t like to admit it but I think it might be so.  Then I thought of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity:  Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  Stay with me now as I try to explain.

If you’ve been reading my blog since last Christmas or before, you are aware that the holiday season is particularly hard for me.  D always made a huge deal of Christmas.  (Too big I realize now.)  And suddenly he was gone.  So what did I do?  I went in the kitchen and I made that damn toffee as if he were still here.  Granted, I’m making it now for family and friends.  And it’s a nice thing to do for them.  I get lots of compliments from all who partake.  What I’m really doing, though, is trying to make Christmas like it used to be.  My version of insanity.

I have finished my confectionery habit for this year.  I have enough to give each daughter’s family a good supply for the holidays.  My quandary now is:  Do I give up making up toffee?  Or shall I continue to supply the family’s sweet tooth — with a new attitude?  Or shall I take a break for a year or so and see what happens?  I don’t know the answer but I’m glad I’ve recognized that I’ve been sabotaging my serenity during the holiday season.  Recognizing the problem is the first step toward solving it.

Hard Candy Christmas by Dolly Parton from “The Best Little Whore House in Texas”

What did I know and when did I know it?

photo(9)We had gone to Pennsylvania to a family wedding.  My husband was absent, remote, not present.  He was physically there, of course, but not emotionally.  This was years before he announced that he wanted a divorce.

We were strolling along the streets of the small town we were visiting.  I can’t remember exactly what had passed between us in the previous short span of time.  What I can remember is a brief dialogue we had as we walked.  Apparently I had not received the reply I expected to some comment or question.  I stopped, looked him in the eyes, with puzzlement in mine, and told him, “You act like someone who’s having an affair.”  In hindsight, I realize the look on his face said it all.  I continued with my accusation, “You are, aren’t you?”

At this point D did what he has always done best.  He put on his poor-pitiful-me look, donned his best salesman cloak and presented a spiel like I had never heard before, and hope I never hear again.  “No,” he insisted, “I’m not having an affair.”  I don’t remember the rest of what he said to convince me of his innocence, but I do remember my queen of denial kicking in to the extent that I felt the need to apologize to him for thinking and saying such vile things. And I did.  My jaw is gaping as I write and I have an enormous urge to kick my own ass.  What was I thinking?!

Here’s the thing, I had never accused him of infidelity.  I know I didn’t just blurt it out without some considerable forethought.  Why didn’t I trust my gut?  Why did I second guess my instincts?  Today, the answer is obvious: I didn’t want to know.  It didn’t seem so simple at the time, though.  Matters of the heart are complicated.

This story gets even better.  After we had established that D was not guilty, we shopped and window shopped at our leisure for quite some time.  I saw and admired a rather expensive watch.  He insisted on buying it for me.  I still wear it today.  A logical, thinking person would have recognized he was paying me for buying what he was selling that day–that he was a really good husband and he had done nothing wrong.  In retrospect, I think I did recognize his so-called generosity for what it was.

Today I’m neither sad nor happy.  I’m not angry.  I’m idling here in neutral, just remembering.

Here’s a delightful, laid-back Christmas song for you, if you’re so inclined.  I heard it at my granddaughter’s recital this afternoon.  Jingle Bell Jamboree by Keb’ Mo’.

Cleaning windows, and other strange triggers.

I may have mentioned before that I’m not a fan of house cleaning.  Once in a while, though, I have to do a few basics.  Vacuum up cat hair.  (Tell me again why I love Lulu.)  Wash the toothpaste spatters from the bathroom mirror.  Clean an occasional window when it becomes so foggy I can hardly see out.

It was that last job that recently brought a tear to my eye.  It made me think of Jeanette, my dear friend, and the woman who kept my house spotless for several years.  There I stood trying to get the damn streaks out, wishing I were reading a book, lifting weights, going for a walk, standing on my head — anything but cleaning windows.

Not only do I miss J’s cleaning skills, but I miss her.  She was my friend from the time we first met, but I learned what her friendship really meant to me when D moved out.  She held my hands and hugged me and cried with me.  She loved me the very best that she could through the toughest time of my life.  I never had a better friend.  We still talk on the phone from time to time.  She stays constantly on the go, raising a young granddaughter all by herself.  She’s older than I am.  I don’t know how she does it.  But she does, without complaint.

And so I went from feeling pitiful for having to clean windows (How silly is that?), and missing Jeanette (not so silly), to singing my favorite window-cleaning song along with Van Morrison, both of us at high volume.  Sadness evaporates like Windex on a window pane when Van’s in the room.

This afternoon my grandson came over to help me with some chores around the house.  He’s very handy.  He repaired a light switch in the bathroom.  Now I don’t have to worry about the light suddenly coming on at three in the morning.  He programmed my thermostat so it would stop clicking on at odd times and making the downstairs too hot.  I probably could have done that one myself if the print in the instruction booklet wasn’t so small.  Once he had finished a few other minor odd jobs, he came in from the garage and inquired, “Grandma, are you ready for your tree?”

Until that moment I had been undecided.  I wrestle with the tree issue every year.  So far I haven’t figured out whether it’s sadder with or without it.  Spontaneously, I gave him my answer, “Yep, let’s bring it in.”  And so we did.

As he was putting the tree together, I reminded Grandson that he has helped me reconstruct the tree every year I’ve had it except the year I bought it.  That year I did it all by myself just to prove I could.  The memory brings back a flood of emotions that I tried hard not to show in Grandson’s presence.

It was my second Christmas alone, my first in this house.  I knew I couldn’t handle a real tree by myself.  We had always had the real thing in the past so buying a “fake” was a difficult decision.  But I knew it was the only practical thing to do so I headed off to Peppermint Forest in search of the perfect not-so-perfect Christmas tree.

I walked around the “forest” many times as I struggled to justify the prices on the tags of the best quality, prettiest trees.  I finally bit the bullet and chose my favorite, rationalizing that over a period of several years the price would become roughly the equivalent of having bought a real tree each of those years.  I stood in line, paid for the tree, and waited for the giant elves to load it into my car.

I got home with my precious purchase only to realize I might not be able to get it out of the car by myself.  I was able to pull the box to the garage floor, open it, and carry each piece/tier of the tree into the house.  As soon as I started to put the tiers together I realized the tree was too big for my room.  What was I to do?  What could I do?  I did what any not so sane person would do.  I sat on the floor and cried.  I’m talking BOO HOO crying.

Then I got tough again.  And I started putting those heavy, prickly branches back in that damn shrinking box.  By then I was crying angrily.  Angry at the world, and most especially at my ex.  This entire fiasco was his fault.

I know that fear often causes a surge of adrenaline, giving a spurt of strength that a person doesn’t normally have.  I did not know until that day that anger and frustration can have the same effect.  Now I know.  I put that box, tree and all, back in my car by myself, and drove back to the “tree farm”, despite the fact that they had a no-return policy.

I locked the tree in the car, took my receipt inside, waited in line again.  I had practiced my spiel as I drove.  In my calmest, steadiest voice I explained that I couldn’t use the tree and wanted to trade for one slightly smaller.  When the clerk hesitated, my voice stayed calm but my teary eyes betrayed me as I said, “I have never done this Christmas tree thing by myself.  I misjudged the size.  I’m asking if you would be so kind as to make an exception for me.”  By that time I had an audience which included three clerks, one a manager.  The manager stepped up to the plate and told me (and the rest of the gang), “Yes, ma’am, we will.”

I suppose I still feel the trauma of that experience each year when we bring out the holly and the ivy, and yes, the magnificent tree.  I’ve laughed and cried as I’ve written this piece.  I’m grateful for both, I think.  At least I’m no longer numb.  Feeling deeply is a good thing, isn’t it?