Thursday, December 15, 2011

Steps 9 and 10: A Catch Up Blog

Wow, I gave you guys a heck of a break there, didn’t I? It was really unfortunate timing, too, because I introduced to you the idea of there being a guy in my life, insisted I was going to continue with the Project anyway, and then quite suddenly I stopped blogging. I appear another unfortunate sacrifice to the Co-Dependency Gods. “She was all gung-ho about being more independent… until she didn’t have to be anymore.”

The truth is that my independence has been undermined, but not by any relationship. Well, not any relationship with a man, that is. Back in early September, when the school year started, my custody arrangement with my kids changed. I went from having them week on-week off, to having them all the time except every other weekend. My free-time to do not only my writing but my laundry, my dishes, even shaving my damn legs, has been cut down to nothing. When I DO have time off from them, I use it catching up with those poor cast aside souls that are unfortunate enough to call me their friend (“Do I know you? You look vaguely familiar. I think you used to answer my texts some ages ago?”). I’m in a constant state of running from work to hockey practice to the dishwasher and back to work and it is exhausting. If I do ever get those spare moments all alone, I haven’t the mental capacity to write. My life has wrung me dry of all inspiration.

But here I am, finally insistent on putting words to the page. They must be somewhat spare, and hurried, but at least they will exist.

October 1st I made my trek to Portland. It’s a four hour drive from where I live and I made it with no music. The purpose of this wasn’t just to do it alone, it was to learn to enjoy my own company. If I stuffed earbuds in it would be the equivalent of forcing your kid to go play outside, but then letting him take his Gameboy. Besides, at that point I had a lot on my plate, a lot on my mind, and I needed the time to let my thoughts meander through some sort of unconscious resolution process. It took about an hour before my brain turned off mindless chatter mode. You know, that squirrel-like internal conversation that only gets as deep as “I wonder if I turned off the stove, when I get back I need to remember to wash my work slacks, I wonder if I need to take the cat to the vet?” An irritating buzz of useless words. I forced some deep breaths, I steadied my mind on a point ahead on the road, and I focused on the nothing.

I remember distinctly the first thought that spilled out of my brain when I allowed it free reign again. It won’t surprise you at all. It was, “See how broken you are? You’re so fucked up you have to force yourself through painstaking effort to be even somewhat normal. You’re driving 4 hours, alone, just to accomplish something everyone else can do without even trying. The moment you let your guard down, you’ll be back to nothing again.” I remember tightening my grip on the steering wheel, grinding my teeth a little, and saying aloud with a sigh: “Awesome.” There’s just something about knowing you have 7 more hours of grueling self hatred ahead of you that makes you want to drive into oncoming traffic, yanno?

I left the house feeling empowered and hopeful, but by the time I reached Portland I had been knocked down a few pegs by my internal dialog. I was quiet as I rolled into town and found a place to park. Half my mind was laying quietly in the corner, fatigued from the struggle and beaten into submission. The other half stood tall, a sinister smile on its face, the smoke from its cigar covering my brain in a haze of sadness I couldn’t seem to escape.

I so much want to tell you that I walked the beautiful city, and that the second half of the game brought the underdog of my happiness back from defeat and that I stood triumphant upon my return home. I want to tell you that, but I can’t. I walked that beautiful city for about 4 hours on a cloudy day. I had some locally made ice cream, I had seafood pasta for lunch at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant, I had some VooDoo Donuts. What I didn’t have was an epiphany that I was a-okay just the way I am. The drive home was long and arduous and when I pulled into my driveway I felt no greater than when I had set out. I didn’t mourn the time alone, I never felt lonely, so in that way it was a victory. I just felt… like a fuck up.

How do I explain this? Let’s try it this way: When I was pregnant, I gained 60 pounds with each of my kids. I had hovered at a size 10 and about 140 pounds since I was 18, but I ballooned to a size 22, weighing about 210. When my youngest was 6 months old, I hit the gym and starting watching what I ate and exercised portion control and it took me about 9 months to get back down to 150 pounds (which is where I hovered until my break up with Ben in April). I lost 60 pounds in 9 months, which sounds amazing, and it IS amazing. I earned being healthy and attractive, and that’s great. But at about month 4, when I had lost roughly 30 lbs but was still 30 lbs overweight? I was getting there, but I was still fat. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw the progress, but I still saw something I didn’t like. I was still unhealthy. My trip to Portland felt like a reminder that while I’m making great progress, and I’ve come a long way, I’m still a fuck up. I have to fix something, because it’s broken. I’m broken.


Two weeks later – it was a completely different story. On October 15th I made my way to Seattle, to Century Link field, and watched the Seattle Sounders FC defeat the San Jose Earthquakes in goalie Kasey Keller’s last regular season football match. I arrived well ahead of the game time at Occidental Park to walk with the hundreds of other people to the field. I indulged in all sorts of free goodies, including t-shirts and arm bands. I won a gift certificate to the team store and got a t-shirt and jacket to go with my scarves. When I got to my seat (it was a great seat, only 3 rows back from the field, just one section down from the Brougham End), I asked someone to take my picture. They were happy to oblige but asked if I was alone and why. I can’t remember if I really told them why or if I gave them a line about my boyfriend dumping me. All I know is I got a beer out of it. 

It was a record crowd that night. Almost 65,000 people made it to the field to watch Kasey make one astounding save after another, and to watch our boys come back from a sure defeat to a win in the last 20 minutes of the match. I credit Rosales. Drew Carey was there. I miss when he was fat.

Everyone was sucked into the excitement of the match. Screaming, jumping, chanting. I didn’t feel alone there, because I was just part of a collective voice that rang deafeningly through the stadium. I didn’t come with a date, but I felt for a little while like it was okay because I was a part of a whole.

I parked under the Alaskan Way viaduct, and if you know anything about Seattle then you know that place is creeptastic after dark. You might as well just wear a mug me sign if you’re going to be down there alone. I walked by a few bars, with people flooding in and out of their doors. Just before I would turn the corner to begin my trek under the viaduct, I stopped and spoke to 2 large, burly gentlemen waiting to get into one of them. They seemed jovial enough. They were smiling and seemed pretty harmless. I asked if they would be so kind as to walk me to my car. I admit I felt odd, but they agreed without skipping a beat. “Yah, absolutely!” they said and we began on our way. We exchanged names, where we were from, talked about how incredible the game had been, how glad we were to be a part of Kasey’s tribute. As we approached my car, I pointed it out from a distance and one of them said, “Oh, I’m glad we walked you down.” when they saw the creepy homeless guy camped out not 10 feet from it. They walked me right to the door and didn’t step foot away until I had buckled up and started the engine. I thanked them tremendously and was safely on my way.

A hardcore, independent feminist might see what I did as weakness. I’m not being independent, I’m still relying on a man, right? I disagree. Those men were resources, weapons if you will. It was a boulder that I was physically unable to move on my own. Those men were the stick, and the fulcrum; the tools I needed to get the job done considering my very real limitations. I didn’t need to be in a relationship to be safe, I just needed to be smart about it. Not being in a relationship, after all, doesn’t mean being entirely alone. We still have family, and friends. We still have support systems. I enjoyed being put in a situation in which I had to take what I was given – a single ticket to a football game – and turn it into fun night without that socially lubricating alcohol that is known as a date. I’m not Bear Grylls, dropped in the middle of nowhere with but a pair of hiking shoes and a penchant for eating grubs. I am similar though. I was dropped in the middle of an inherently social situation with but a green and blue scarf and a penchant for drawing people in – a gift of gab if you will.

There’s something to be said for the confidence it gives you to know you can take what you are given and make something great with it. The Italians call it “l’arte d’arrangiarsi”: the art of making something out of nothing. I’ll remember that I walked into that night with nothing, and from the nothing I made something worth remembering. That’s what the Project is about, right? Taking a life that can sometimes feel empty, and without that ingredient of “love”, making it full, making it substantial, making it a life that was worth living.


Two weeks after that game, Chris came to visit for the first time. After 10 days, he went back home. We are in love, definitely. However, he is still (for now) 5,000 miles away. The Project continues. I have more to post. I will return.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Interlude: Admitting Defeat

I should be blogging my trip to Portland. I took it. Eventually I’ll get it on the page. But for the last couple of weeks something’s been eating at me and I’ve had a hell of a time trying to articulate it, and I think I finally can, so I’d like to just put it out there.

One of the reasons I started the Project as a purely anonymous pursuit was that I didn’t want to be getting comments from the peanut gallery that is my real life. The people I see on a daily or weekly basis and have a constant line of communication with. However, the more encouragement I got when discussing outside of the blog what I was doing, the more I thought it would be okay. I opened it up to a few people. I’m happy to say that while I don’t have a huge number of readers, that the readers I don’t know outweigh the ones I do, but it is still true that my closest friends read along with my attempts here.

These friends have also been along for the developing relationship between myself and the man I spoke about here. Chris lives in London, 4,772 miles from where I live. I met him online quite by accident.

That’s right, I said “relationship”.

The peanut gallery has had a lot of things to say about what I’m doing, about both Chris and the Project. The reason I publicized the blog was to develop a sense of accountability for my actions, so I welcome the feedback, but now I’m stuck in a conundrum of sorts, and it’s creating an internal conflict that is keeping me up at night.

You see, I am trapped on the one side by people who tease me for thinking of Chris as a relationship. I’ve never met Chris in person, he lives thousands of miles away, and he and I have grown very, very close. It can’t be *real*, of course, it can’t be substantial. How could it be? We’ve never been in the same room together. All we have is our hours of days of weeks of months of video-chats, our emails, our letters, the packages we’ve sent; and all of it can be discounted because the rest of it can boiled down to the simplest of terms: if there is no physical relationship, there is no relationship. Eyebrows raised, heads shaken. We’re ridiculous nerds.

More often than not, I am simply humored in regards to him, as though I am a teenager and he is a passing phase that I’ll grow out of in a couple of months when a “real” relationship comes along. I’ve heard it all. That he just seems romantic and exciting because he’s from another country, has an accent, and when that wears off so will my feelings. That everyone *seems* to have a lot in common in the beginning, and that I’m over-exaggerating the connection because I’m so desperate to be paired. And despite the many times I’ve rejected men with money, even while struggling and on welfare, because I knew I would never fall in love with them and be intimately connected with them, it has been insinuated that I just want to hurry up and settle down because I’m sick of being broke. I’m not here to argue against these points, and I won’t plead my case. You either trust my judgment or you don’t. All I’m doing is bringing you to my next point:

I find it ironic to be trapped on the other side by the same people who are implying that our relationship isn’t “real” reminding me that being in a relationship means that I’ve failed yet again. The relationship isn’t real, but none-the-less it constitutes a failure.

Well, I’d agree with that second bit. I have failed. The point of the Project was one thing: stay single for 6 months. I didn’t do this.

I don’t know how long I managed it, really. I remember reaching 3 months and saying out loud to myself “This is the longest I have been single since I was fifteen years old.” I was proud. To be honest, I’ve been proud of myself quite a bit, even once my relationship with Chris became more serious, because I still felt like I was making progress. Something happened recently that wiped that smug pride off of my face, though.

I’ll start by saying that my boss is a terrible judge of appropriateness. A carrier rep came in recently and despite having told my boss on multiple occasions not to discuss the Project, or in fact my personal relationships (he’s fallen into the trap of “not shutting the hell up” twice previously) with anyone, he did so anyway. The rep went on to agree with my boss that I was in fact “in a relationship”, and that I had in fact failed at the Project and may as well abandon it. Neither stopped for a moment to consider that perhaps I would be sensitive about any of it; that perhaps I would be hurt by the implication that I had yet again failed miserably.  In fact they got a good laugh out of it, while I tried to smile politely and take it in good humor. The rep even went so far as to ask me how sexuality factored into my online delusion – what was I showing this guy during our video-chats, anyway? Harharhar. It’s all a joke.

I went home that night and cried. I told Chris what had happened and shook my head in defeat. I told him that our relationship, one of love, support, tenderness and understanding, was just another miserable failure on my part. I was just repeating the same patterns, falling into the same traps. I had somehow ended up not only in another relationship, but in a relationship whose only ending can be marriage if he is to live in the same country as me. I had not only gone back to what I was comfortable with, I was going to take it further and faster than any relationship in my past. It screamed rebound, didn’t it?

It had all made sense as it was happening. I hadn’t gone searching for Chris, he had simply appeared. I hadn’t been seeking out a relationship, I had slowly and somehow effortless just woken up in one. At some point, with no suddenness whatsoever, I had woken up one day in love. I didn’t ask for it, I didn’t aspire to it. I had met a person with like interests who I wanted to talk to. I talked to him more, uncovered more about him that I could understand and relate to. One day I realized I missed him when he wasn’t there, and the next day he was the first thing I thought of when I woke up. I didn’t *try* to fall in love with him, I didn’t set out to be in love. After days and weeks and hours and hours of long conversations and communications and face to face talks long into the night, I was staring into the face not of a stranger on another continent, but of a kindred soul that I could no longer imagine not having in my life. Do with that what you will, I suppose.

 You can imagine Chris’ reaction to being told that a relationship he held so close was naught but a failure. I can’t imagine the hurt I inflicted by suggesting that to him. The poor thing, in his hurt, did nothing but try to comfort *me*, which looking back on it is horrible. Trying to remind me that our relationship is sweet, and special, and loving; that it is in fact real despite naysayers voicing to the contrary. How difficult that must have been considering there had to be some voice of doubt planted in his mind at that point – am I just another in a long line of her mistakes? Is the way she feels for me just another grasp at not being alone anymore?

Perhaps the Project is just a farce now. It probably is. After all, the whole point was for me to stay single for just 6 short months, and I didn’t do it. I fell short. I don’t know how far I made it because I’m not really sure what day it was that I realized I was in love with Chris. I’m not sure when we rounded that corner from friends to sweethearts. In the end, it doesn’t matter, does it? I didn’t achieve what I set out to achieve. The rest is just grasping at straws – at weak rationalizations.

Still, I believe I’ve gained a lot from the Project none-the-less. I’ve come so far since June. I don’t even notice the time I’m alone in my house anymore. I don’t notice my being alone at restaurants. I don’t wrestle with my independence the way that I once did. I feel a value in myself that I didn’t really have a grasp on before. I’m going to keep doing the Steps, even if they’re a lie, because even if I’ve failed in the war, I believe I can still win some of these battles.

I publicized the Project to gain some accountability, but it didn’t really work. I didn’t follow through, and now the feedback I’m getting is to call it a loss and I don’t think I’ll listen to that either. I don’t think I’ll quit. And I don’t think I’ll call it a loss, for that matter. I gained a lot in the journey, even if I never reached the destination. I am still building my ship, even if I already have a passenger. I hope he stays with me through the storms, but if he doesn’t, my ship will still be strong. It is my ship, and I am its captain.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Interlude: A “Single” Caveat

Dinner was going fine. The stir-fry wasn’t the best meal I’d ever made, but it was edible. The sugar snap peas were still crisp, the chicken was a bit bland but still moist. The rice was perfect. We were talking about our day. I looked over to see my son with his face buried in his plate, eating it like a dog.
“James, use your fork. You can’t just eat by shoving your face into your plate, that’s rude.” It was said calmly, almost in passing because I knew he knew it wasn’t okay, and was positive he’d giggle and just stop. His actual reaction caught me off guard.
“FINE!” He yelled, throwing his fork down with force, tossing the food that was still stuck to it across the table. He then kicked the table leg, and sat back just as forcefully, crossing his arms in anger. For a moment my mouth hung agape. What had just happened?
“Woah! What was that? You know you can’t eat like an animal, are you seriously going to throw a fit when I ask you to stop?” I was incredulous but still calm.
I said fine!” He said, this time with a tone of absolute venom. He spat the words at me. I was in awe. He had been perfectly normal since I’d picked him up at daycare an hour before.
He was sent to the corner to consider how he should and should not speak to his mother, especially after she made a reasonable request such as “Don’t eat like a barnyard animal” and while there he proceeded to hit and kick the walls around him. When I told him to stop he yelled at me because “This is stupid!”
How did my evening disintegrate so quickly? I fought almost 3 hours worth of traffic today, worked an 8 ½ hour day in which I barely took time to eat lunch, came home and put away the dishes while helping with homework and making dinner. I didn’t sleep enough last night, and I’m struggling with a lot of my own stresses (such as custody and child support problems with Rich, fights with friends brought on by senseless gossip, and suddenly my mouth has decided to fall apart and I’m in a bunch of stupid pain because of it). I need a break. I need to sit and read, cuddle with my kiddos, maybe zone out on some television for the first time in I don’t know how many months. Instead I’m fighting a battle I can’t even understand against a young man who couldn’t wrap his head around what I’m dealing with even if I told him about it – which I wouldn’t. I’m exhausted. I don’t have the emotional or mental resources necessary to cope with him… and yet I have no choice.
As many dinners as I go to, or movies as I attend, no matter how comfortable I get with being on my own, there will never come a day that I won’t feel lonely while dealing with this. An evening like this is the very poster child for why single moms are desperate, co-dependent settlers. Eager to grasp onto anyone that will take them, no matter how ill fitting they might be for them, or for the task at hand. Nights like tonight are why my mom stayed with my step-dad long after the alcoholism took him over and he began to treat her daughter like a punching bag. I can separate myself from that desperation. I can feel a line within myself that I couldn’t feel before. I know the line is there because Ben came to me and asked me back, dripping promises of how well he’d treat my babies off his lips like so much honey, and I didn’t fall prey. I knew better. The line within me had been drawn and I knew I could do better. On one side is a life of mediocrity, settling for “at least I’m not scrambling anymore”. On the other side is striving, even if struggling, for a life of genuine happiness by holding out for something real for me AND my kids.
Knowing where the line is makes me feel stronger. Please don’t mistake what I’m saying here. The Project has caused me to go through massive shifts in my understanding of who I am and what I want. I feel like I’ve built a pretty strong foundation for myself in the last few months. I have a heavier grip on what I’m capable of.
Still… raising babies on my own? This will never be a Step. I cannot imagine going through a night like tonight and not feeling Lonely. I’m weary. I need a hug, and my hair petted. I need someone to do the dinner dishes while I sit with James and talk to him about why I wasn’t going to be able to allow that behavior in my house. I need to be tucked into bed early. Nights like tonight, I don’t feel like I’m doing justice to my role as Mom. I wonder if I’m doing right by these kids at all. Say what you will about it being my circumstances, about me doing the best in a shitty situation, about kids being resilient. Parenthood isn’t supposed to be a solitary pursuit.
For as far as I’ve come, tonight I’m Lonely.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Step 8: Slaying Dragons

A dragon from Meridian Park
How it took me this long to write this entry, I’ll never know. The same day that I went to Tutta Bella for my dinner alone, I also did this step, but I’m just now writing it. Who knows? Rich changed the custody arrangement with the kids for the 4th time in 2 years, and I have them full time now. This leaves grievous little time for writing. Or anything, for that matter.

As I said, I left Tutta Bella with but a taste awakened in me for ice cream. There was a simple and fast solution: just a few blocks away was one of the best ice cream places in the entirety of the world, Molly Moon’s Ice Cream. Molly Moon’s touts a lot of wonderful things. In addition to using only natural, organic ingredients in their ice cream, they also use only recycled, compostable materials in all of their bowls, cups AND spoons. I went to the original location in Wallingford (there are 4 in Seattle now), and waited in what is always a long line out the door of the tiny hole in the wall shop. Touting seasonal flavors such as huckleberry, they also had a chalkboard covered in their year round flavors which include not only stand-bys such as Vanilla Bean, Theo Chocolate and Strawberry, but also Starburst, Salted Caramel, Balsamic Strawberry, Honey Lavendar, and Ginger to name a few. My best friend had, instead of a wedding cake, an assortment of Molly Moon’s ice cream with a sundae bar. It’s THAT good. I opted for a large scoop of my favorite, Salted Caramel, and set out. 

Several blocks away is a park I call the Storybook Park (it is actually called Meridian Park, and it was introduced to me by my friend Katie who I’ll speak about shortly. She was married there last summer). The playground area is themed with decorations from classic fairytales like Snow White, while also having quotes from books such as The Secret Garden and Where the Wild Things Are carved into walls here and there. It’s a sweet park with plenty of benches. The sun was beginning to set as I got there, so I found my bench, sat down with my ice cream and watched the sky begin to change colors. Despite the coming dark, there were a lot of children there still. It was still warm. I had been sitting quietly in my thoughts for about 10 minutes when a little girl came running up to my bench and stared at me. I smiled and said hello. She smiled back and just stared for a bit. I wasn’t uncomfortable, this is just what kids do. I stared back. She was wearing pink pajamas with white polka dots. They were the zippered, one-piece pajamas. They probably had feet on them, but I couldn’t see because she was wearing red galoshes with polka dots of all different colors. The pajamas were filthy from playing in the wood chips.

“Are you having ice cream?” she asked. I nodded.
“I am, this is my dessert.”
“Did you get it at Molly Moon?”
“I did, have you been there?”
“Yes, I get honey lavender.”
“That’s a very adventurous flavor. Do you get to go there a lot?”
She nodded. “In the summer we do, but not in the winter because then it’s cold.”
“Yes, winter is more for hot chocolate and warm cider, isn’t it?” She nodded again. “You must like polka dots. You have them on your outfit and your shoes.”
“They aren’t shoes, they’re galoshes.”
“That’s true, they are galoshes.”
“Why are you sitting here by yourself?”

I paused for a bit longer than I should have, but she seemed happy to wait. She was leaned against the bench very near to me now, wiggling a bit but not impatient. The answer I gave surprised me a little:

“Because sometimes it’s better to do things by yourself than to do them with someone you don’t want to be around just so you won’t be alone.”

I’m not really sure where that came from, I’ll be honest. If it sounds well thought out at all, let me assure you that it wasn’t. 

She nodded, though I’m not sure she understood. I expected her to take off back to the playground after such a confusing, cryptic answer to a somewhat straight forward question, but she didn’t. She climbed up onto the bench and sat beside me. I looked around for her parent, caught the eye of her dad, who was pushing a sibling on a swing, and we nodded at one another in that parent language in which a single nod means “Is she bothering you?” and the returned nod means “No, she’s fine.” Her feet were dangling off the edge. We sat in silence for a bit, she and I. The sun set was turning the sky rich shades of orange and pink now. The sun itself was beneath the tree line now, but I imagined that could I see it it would have been that deep, hot pink color I love so much. I turned again to my temporary companion.

“Are you going to go to school in September?” She looked about right for Kindergarten. As I figured, she nodded. She had long, curly blonde hair. She pushed some of it out of her face, which was dirty from playing too. Everything about this kid made me smile. 

“I’m going to be in Kindergarten.” She reiterated. 

“Are you excited?” I asked. Again, she nodded. “Were you in pre-school last year?” She nodded again, then launched into a story about a boy in her class who was evidently quite rude as one time when she was on the playground with him she was playing with another girl and the boy came up and pushed her down for no reason at all and when she told the teacher the teacher did nothing, which seems really unfair to me. I communicated as much to her. She nodded, pleased with my empathy.

“I have to go slide down the slide now.” She said. I giggled a little and thanked her for her company as she ran away. I was finishing my ice cream now anyway. The dusk was casting a shadow over the grass and trees and people were beginning to leave. Soon I was alone and dusk was turning to dark. My empty cup sat beside me on the bench, my hands buried deep in the kangaroo pocket of my hoodie. I continued to watch where not long ago the sun had been setting the sky on fire. 

A little over a year ago, it must have been about May, my friend Katie and I had sat on this bench together and had ice cream from Molly Moon’s. Ben and I were new, and Katie was a very old friend of ours from high school, and she was one of the first people I had told that we were beginning to see one another. Her reaction that day on the bench was a gasp of pleasure, not only that we were together, but because the story was such a romantic one. People said that a lot, how Ben and I had this epic love story, a fairytale with this happy ending lurking so close around the corner. Ships passing in the night, love lingering over decades, etc. A hundred years seems to have passed since that day here with Katie, and the fairytale is long since over. To my left, a wrought iron fence adorned with apples (perhaps poisoned?) and dragons. To my right, the iron likeness of a candy house perched atop a stone pillar. I, and people like Katie, had turned Ben into my knight on a white horse, whether he wanted to play that part or not. When the illusion shattered, I suffered not just the broken heart, but the shattering of an entire love story that I had allowed to be woven in my mind. When we’re young, we are all princesses waiting to be rescued. How wonderful it seemed to be living that as truth, to have someone who wants to carry you away from it all and protect you from the dragons of life. 

I allowed myself to forget something very important: I’m not a princess, and this isn’t a fairy tale. I’m a 32 year old woman with two kids living in a duplex next to the highway, and this is real life with all its beautiful ugliness. No one is going to rescue me from anything, and I can’t even rescue myself. All we can do is live each day as it is, fight to succeed but learn to stand up and move on when we fail. I can live in the simple pleasure that while I spent that night alone, at least I didn’t spend it with someone I didn’t want to be with or who didn’t deserve to be with me. That is its own shining armor, I suppose. A heavy shield between myself and the lonely, distressed damsel I used to be. 

That’s not to say that love stories don’t exist, that they don’t unravel before your very eyes and cast light onto a future that stretches far into the distance. It’s only to say that I will remain anchored in reality, anchored to what I truly am, so that come what may I will have my feet planted in a foundation in which I’ll always be okay. Charming princes may come and go, and I do hope for that happily ever after, but I will ever be aware that at a moment’s notice, by heartbreak or death, life could rob me of him. I should always be prepared to happily spend a long sunset at the park alone with my favorite ice cream.
Saying it like that, it doesn’t sound like such a terrible ending does it? “And she and the ice cream lived happily ever after”?

*Sigh* Now my mouth is watering.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Step Seven: Fooding

I didn’t know until about 3 months ago that there was such a thing as a “foodie”. Have you guys heard of this? People who just love the hell out of food. They seek out good food, they learn to make good food. They see food as a kind of art, but in my opinion, food is better than art. Food affects more senses than art can. I mean, you can see art, obviously. Sometimes you can touch art, sometimes you can even smell it – paint and clay, they have a smell to them that permeates the senses. These added senses are why we art lovers yearn to go to the museum and could never be completely satisfied by just looking at pictures of a sculpture or painting online or in a book. If you classify music as art (which I do), then of course you can hear it too. But food can be beautiful, and you can smell it, and get your fingers dirty in it, sometimes you can hear it cooking, but above all you do one thing with food you can’t do with art – you can consume it. You can taste it, and it fills not only your senses, and it feeds not only your soul, it fills your stomach and nourishes your body. Food is better than art because you can experience it on every possible base level, and then it literally becomes a part of you. Of your skin, of your hair, of your fingernails and blood. 

In case you can’t tell from all this, I am evidently a foodie. So I wasn’t terribly intimidated by the prospect of going to dinner alone. I mean, when I first laid out the Steps all those months ago, it seemed somewhat ridiculous. Of all the Steps, dinner alone has come second only to going dancing alone as the Sep most commented on by others. “I could never do that alone.” “You’re so brave, isn’t that going to be weird?” But months have passed, and the Steps have come quickly, and it wasn’t so scary to me when I went on Monday. In fact, I’ll admit… some of the Steps sound downright boring to me now that I’ve tasted more uncomfortable fodder. Riding the bus just doesn’t seem all that impressive anymore. It doesn’t seem scary or awkward. I’m not saying I’m not going to do it – it’s a Step and I have to take it. I’m just saying… I’m not sure what I’m going to write about it when I’m done. I’ll probably write more about the weirdos on the bus than my actual reaction to any of it, because I don’t think my reaction will be all that formidable. 

And I have to say that of the 2 (that’s right, I said two) steps I tackled on Monday, neither was difficult. Not the way I had expected them to be. 

I went to Tutta Bella in the Wallingford district of Seattle. Tutta Bella does amazing authentic pizza and calzones. They also do pasta and salads. If you’re in the area, well worth the stop. There are 4 in the area to choose from. I walked to reception with confidence. As had happened at the sushi place, the hostess stared blankly at me, searching for the polite way to say “How many?” when it was obvious there was probably only 1. As with the last hostess, I saved her the trouble by piping up “Just me!” with a hearty smile. I had been hung over the day before, I had barely eaten, so I was starving and excited. I was seated right away. There was only one of me, so they didn’t waste a table with a view on me. I got stuck next to a pillar with an electrical outlet next to my seat. That was okay, I wasn’t here to be pampered. I was here for food. The waiter approached and I had already downed my entire glass of water. Have I mentioned I was hungover? I was still dehydrated and that water tasted like rainbows and happiness. You could see he was just as uneasy as the hostess had been. He wanted to ask if I was waiting for someone, but wasn’t sure how. I saved him as I had his predecessor, “I think I’m ready to order already!” I said. He smiled and nodded. He wasn’t sure how to handle me. I’m sure he was partly irritated that I was rudely taking up a table for two (there were no tables for one, oddly) with only myself, cutting the bill and therefore his tip, cleanly in half. I stuck with my delicious water, then ordered the Salerno salad to start. Romaine lettuce, soft balls of mozzarella, halved cherry tomatoes, thin pairings of fennel, fresh basil and seedless slices of cucumber tossed in a yummy Dijon vinaigrette. The salads only come in a size for two, so the serving was massive. I smiled when they served it, nodded at a dash of milled pepper, then began. The sun was shining on my little plate of salad as I began, bringing out the rich greens, reds and whites. The vinaigrette was pungent and tart, adding a bite to the sweetness of the tomatoes and mingling with the mild taste of the mozzarella. I smiled with every bite, I savored it, I closed my eyes and focused on the flavors on my tongue. All things I couldn’t have done with company. I would have been eating this food in hurried bites between large helpings of conversation. Which is all well and good, but this salad was really amazing and I was glad there was no one there to shut up. 

There was a lengthy wait between when I finished my salad and when my pizza arrived. It was tempting to lean heavily on my phone to entertain me: Tweeting, Facebooking, checking e-mail and texting. I opted instead to open up to the room around me. To the lights hanging from the ceiling, the chattering of conversations, the crying of babies, the laughter. I wasn’t with someone, but I was still here. I was still a part of the collective breath of that place, part of what made that room alive right then. Perhaps I was quieter and more still than the rest, but I was no less substantial than the baby happily gumming a chunk of pizza crust, or the man in his 40’s gesturing wildly as he spoke. The sun came through the window, beginning to cast that deeper, more golden color that precedes the impending twilight, and it warmed my face. I was alone but I was not unhappy. I was Alone… but I was not Lonely.

The pizza I ordered arrived at last: the Prosciutto E Porcini. As the name implies, the main toppings are prosciutto and porcini mushrooms. It had no sauce, just a generous glaze of olive oil, along with healthy helpings of mozzarella and basil. The crust is rustic; thin and chewy. The lacy sheets of prosciutto and fat slices of mushroom were tossed haphazardly around the crust, making each bite different from the last. I slowly, methodically, and with a contentment I can’t describe, made my way through every slice of that 14” pizza.  I smiled, I laughed, I got my fingers into it. I could feel the color going back into my cheeks. I could feel myself filling out. I loved the way my stomach felt – full and happy. People at other tables had been watching me since I had sat down, perhaps wondering why I was alone, wondering where my date was, wondering why I was smiling at no one for no reason at all. I didn’t even notice them now. I let this food fill my senses. I let this food be the art that it is. I let it nourish my body and my heart the way only really good food can. I washed it down with water and serenity. I must have looked like Buddha with as much peace as I felt. 

When the waiter came back, his response was a very genuine, “Wow!” Yes, I ate the whole pizza. I asked him for a box for the rest of my salad and without wasting breath on a separate sentence I asked him for a scoop of Nutella flavored gelato. I wasn’t going to be as big a tip as his larger tables, so I didn’t see much of that waiter. To some extent I understood, but at the same time it was a little disappointing to be a second class citizen because I was there on my own. I was literally not “worth” as much to him because of it. I didn’t let this damper my spirits at all as I slowly savored each bite of the gelato. It was nothing to write home about, really. Nice flavor, but not as creamy as I had expected, and the serving was much too small for my liking. Americanized gelato = glorified ice cream. Meh. 

Before I left, only one moment struck me with any sort of sadness. It was like the gentlest pressing of a bruise with my mind’s thumb. As I stood to leave, I glanced for a moment an empty table across the room. It was but a month before Ben left that I sat there with him over a pizza we shared, on our way to a wedding. Things felt like they were going well then. We were in good spirits, hopeful, happy. He had held my hand over the table and thanked me for my patience with his ambivalence about my children. He promised me that he was coming round, that he looked forward to that time when we would all be under one roof. He told me he knew it was slow going, but that he was happy – really happy. “I’m not going anywhere.” He had said. I glanced only briefly at the chair where he had sat. I wondered at that moment. I wondered at how far I had come from that day. As quickly as the moment came, it passed.

I walked out of that restaurant and into a warm day that was preparing to settle into night. The air felt good on my face, my body was at peace, and my mind followed suit. I was not caged. My life is not a cage. I put my face toward the sun and the shadows fell behind me. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Step 6: Conversations with God

This last weekend my intent was to put a serious dent in the Project. This did not happen. In part because getting motivated was absolutely out of the question for some reason, but also because it was not hot but incredibly muggy and many of the activities I was considering doing would have had me hiking or riding a smelly bus or train in a puddle of my own sweat and I may never know why that didn’t sound super fun.

I did go out to eat by myself again, though, and each time it gets easier and more natural. I enjoy it, actually. I think I’ll keep doing it after I’m coupled as well. I did manage to tick at least one thing off my list: I went to church.

I want to preface this blog entry by saying this: I have been procrastinating on putting this up. I have been purposely avoiding it for 3 days. Embarking on it is a little nerve wracking for me and as I prepare to put the words on the page, my palms are sweating. Wish me luck, will you?

That having been said, onward.

I was raised Lutheran by my grandparents, who were active in my life. I don’t know how “Lutheran” is different from any other brand of Christian, but it is, evidently. They were devout Christians, and I went to church with them every time I spent the night at their house, which was every few weeks. I read the Bible enough to have favorite scriptures that I could recite. I don’t know that I ever fell in love with God, but I fell in love with religion. I fell in love with the power of faith and prayed earnestly with confidence that if I was a good person the Lord would protect me. I was a sheep and he was my Sheppard. I was raised this way from when my grandmother was “reborn”, when I was three.

When I was twelve I was raped. Rather brutally, I’m afraid. After this happened, I never again returned to service.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves” Matthew 10:16

Add to this the violent upbringing, the years of homelessness, and the ensuing depression and degrading relationships that resulted in one suicide attempt after another, and I’m sure you can imagine why perhaps I was not keen to be on speaking terms with God. He stayed on his side of the room, and I stayed on the other. We eyed one another awkwardly, but we never let on to anyone that we had known each other at one point. Most people had no idea that I knew he existed, and most people would assume from the life I was living that perhaps he had forgotten that I did as well. The death of my boyfriend, the miscarriages, the divorce. No, we were obviously mutually exclusive.

When I set upon the Project and decided to go with the “church step”, I hadn’t thought much of it. It would be a beautiful place, I intended to go to St. Mark’s in Seattle, which is huge, gorgeous, and overlooks the city. It also allows gay and lesbian ministries, of which I am a big fan. I thought I would sneak into mass on Sunday, listen to the choir, bow my head when it was time to pray as I have politely done at so many Christmas dinners, and be on my way. However, as the day got nearer, I got more antsy about it. I got more nervous. I lashed out at the idea of dressing up just to show up at God’s house – who does this guy think he is? I shouldn’t have to show up on schedule wearing literally my “Sunday best”. You’re God. Part of the burden of being you is that you have to take me as I come, right? You get to bear down on my life with no mercy, an Esau to the world’s many Jacobs, and you have to take whatever I have become as a result of that. This mind set should have foreshadowed what was to come. It did not. I decided not to go to Mass. I went after last Mass, when the pews were emptier. I had no idea the emotional deluge that was to unfold.

When I arrived at the church, my stomach churned. You’d think I was a witch or a Satanist the way I felt when I pulled up to park. I hesitated briefly before walking through the doors. A slight sigh of relief was uttered when I did not burst into flames upon entry. After some confusion, guilty shuffling, and uncertainty about whether this was “allowed”, I took the lead of some others seated among the pews, and I found a spot in a far back corner.

The church was vast and beautiful. I had never been in a place like this before. The Lutheran churches to which I was accustomed were small, contemporary things. Stepping into the expansive hall, you could hear the sounds of prayers still lingering in the air. The walls absolutely vibrated from the hymns sung so soon before I had arrived. Any venom I held before I swallowed into my belly and felt a great weight of religion sink upon me. Here I was. He saw me, I could tell. He was watching. He was waiting for me to make the first move.

I stared at the floor for a long time waiting for the words to come. I was sitting with my feet planted solidly about shoulder width apart. My elbows rested on my knees and I sat hunched with my hands hanging limply toward the ground. I must have looked exhausted. I carefully considered all the things I had lived through, the ways they had strengthened me and the ways they had made me scarred, jaded, self destructive and afraid. God was patient. When I finally raised my face toward the cross, tears were in my eyes and all I could muster was, “So… what happened there?”

I thought at first I must seem insane to the other people in the pews, and there were several. Even speaking as quietly as I was, I was speaking out loud. I wanted to make sure he could hear me though, I didn’t intend to repeat myself. My self-consciousness was but a flickered hesitation. Where else are you expected to mumble things across desperate lips than at church?

I’m guessing my conversation with God lasted about an hour. It may have been more, I doubt it was less. We talked about all of it, all the hardship, all the joy. Tears spilling over my war-torn face I thanked him for the grace of my children, I begged him to see how grateful I was for my blessings. I also begged him to explain the rest of it to me.

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Romans 9:15

For so many years I drown. What life did I live, in what ways did I stumble so young, that warranted that I should know no mercy? The ugliest joke of all seems to be that so bruised am I now that at even the kindest touch I wince. When happiness or comfort descends, I have no knowledge of how to approach it, or nourish it. I have only ever learned how to cope with pain. To even the best of people, the chain is always on the door to my heart.

Which brings us full circle to the Project. I manage somehow to, with one arm, push away the idea of being alone, while with the other arm drawing in one destructive relationship after another. I feel such a need to be in relationships, but I am so fractured that I am only comfortable in those that tear me down. So afraid have I been to be alone with myself, that I have settled for the hardship and emotional ruin of a heartbreaking relationship over the idea of not being in one at all. I fear abandonment at the same time that I fear being loved. This, to me, seems like a fucking joke. And that’s what I told God, out loud, among the creaking pews, chandeliers and boney rafters. Yes, I said “fucking” in church. If he didn’t like the word, he wouldn’t have made it.

I was thrown headfirst into stormy waters when I was just a baby. Every time the sea would calm and I’d begin to tread water, he’d bring another storm until I was at last too tired to swim. Sometimes I would just want to sink. Too many times I tried to drown, but couldn’t even manage to do that right. I’d surface, the waves would break upon me, I’d choke and flail blindly with no site of land. My whole life was the fucking storm. I’d cling to a man like he was a branch floating on the water. Never enough to keep me afloat. A big enough storm would break and he’d be swept away or snap. You don’t let me die, you don’t let me live. So, what? I’m sick of sinking, and floating aimlessly, or waiting for the next wave. Tears streamed down my face now, my pain and anger falling like rain at my feet. If anyone was at this church now, I didn’t know it. My chest ached, my mind flew. All the parts of me that still had faith in religion and the soul rose up from me and shone like a star. 20 years of hurt and confusion alight there, brilliant in its power and purity. Sobs begged to wrench free but I held them tenuously. I would not let a fracture be driven in what I was doing here. Toe to toe I looked God in the eye and I spoke from that deepest place in my heart, that box within a box held far within my keep. That scared child, covered in blood and fear was there, and I gave her courage and a voice.

With this Project I’m doing, I said to God in closing, I build a ship. It is not tall, or wide, or beautiful, but it is strong. It will carry me. It will not break upon the rocks. In this ship, even alone, I will not be cold or afraid, I will not be broken upon by the storm, but I will weather it there. If someone comes with me into my ship some day, then they can weather the waves with me as well, but if they leave, my ship will still be whole. It is not their ship. It is my ship, and I am building it myself. Give or take your mercy as you see fit, but if life is an ocean then I will cross it as a captain and not a castaway.

I am no one’s castaway.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Step Five: Going to the Movies

I didn’t expect this one to be as hard as it was. How difficult could it be, I thought, to just sit in the dark with a bunch of people that are too invested in what’s going on on the screen to notice that you even exist, let alone that you are not with anyone?

I tried to choose my movie wisely. Nothing scary, that would only remind me there was no one there to cling to when I wanted to hide my eyes. Nothing romantic, obviously, why would I want to poke a bruise? I considered a drama, but settled on the safest choice – a comedy. It was a movie I had wanted to see: The Change-Up, starring Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman.

First and foremost let me say that my favorite part of this step was not having to consult anyone else about any part of it. I went to watch whatever movie I wanted to watch – there was no compromise involved, there was no consulting. I went to the theater I wanted to go to, at whatever time I damn well pleased. I bought the treats I wanted and nothing more or less, and the soda was my choice and no one else’s. These details are small, but they aren’t really. This is what being alone is, for good or for bad: making your own decisions and then reaping the benefit or damnation of those choices.

I took a seat in the theater – not terribly crowded, I got a good seat. The commercials were on so I checked in on Facebook and answered a couple of emails. I turned off my phone, tucked it in my purse, and settled in. When the lights went down and the trailers started… that’s when I noticed I was alone. No one to steal my popcorn, but no buttery fingers to intertwine with my own. When a movie looked like shit, there was no one to whisper that to and have them nod. When a movie looked damn good, there was no one to say “Ooh, let’s see that!” and have them agree or shrug. 

The movie started and was immediately hilarious. I enjoyed the whole damn thing, actually. Laughed til I cried probably 8 times. I went in to it expecting it to be a 50/50 shot at being passable as a decent movie, but it surprised me. It was really funny, and poignant, and it felt honest. There were a couple of moments that felt forced, but in any comedy when you introduce sentimentality I think you risk that happening. Still, they did a much better job with it than I would have anticipated. I highly suggest it. Crass as hell, of course. You’ve been warned.

I noticed how weird it is to laugh out loud at something when you’re alone, but not alone. My laugh, particularly, is embarrassingly loud, and in addition to this I find things funny that I don’t think most people find funny because they are so black and dry. I laughed out loud at parts that no one else laughed at… and my laugh sounds like a goddamn foghorn in the quiet. But I’m used to being stared at for my laugh. Don’t make me laugh in a fancy restaurant unless you like attention. What caught me was how hard it was to watch the parts of it that were sentimental. And I don’t mean the romantic parts either. I mean the parts where Ryan Reynold’s character (or is it technically Jason Bateman’s? Just stay with me here) – your typical bachelor  – starts to feel what it is for his friend to be a father, and be loved and cared for and the ways that while the family life may be hard it is also vastly rewarding. There I was, tears in my eyes, and no outlet for it. No one to kiss on the cheek, no one whose hand I could squeeze, no shoulder to rest my head upon whimsically. Listen… it just kind of sucked, okay?

I’ll tell you what, I didn’t realize how fully I had converted movie going into a social activity over the years. I feel my movies, I live in them. There are so many small, intimate ways that you interact with the person you’re with. You share in the laughter, you share in the sadness, you soak in the emotions on the screen and you play them out in silent ways with your company. I had no partner for projection there. I mean, think about it, have you ever tried watching a movie with someone you aren’t really connecting with? You spend that 90 minutes stiff and inhibited, scaling back your expression and in turn your enjoyment of it. As quiet and personal as the movie watching experience may be, you want to share a movie, not just see it. You can’t directly interact, but you interact nonetheless, just in barely discernible ways. If anything, this step made me realize how very much watching a movie with someone tells us about who they are and what they’re like. It teaches us about how we connect to that person on a natural level. 

A theater isn’t just a dark place for youthful gropings. It’s not just a place to laugh or cry or sit on the edge of your seat. It is about reaching out for human connections, both with those on the screen and those beside us.
On the other hand, because I had no one to share with, and no one to project my emotions towards, I also had no one else to share my attentions. I could give my full focus toward the movie and just react to it. And the reaction was pure. I didn’t laugh harder because someone was laughing beside me, I didn’t stifle my laugh because the other person wasn’t laughing and wouldn’t get why that was so damn funny. I wasn’t self-conscious when things got sad and my eyes got teary, and I didn’t get weirded out by all the boobs. 

I did what the Project is about: I reacted to things on my own terms, and got an honest opinion from myself that wasn’t affected by anyone else. It’s not a huge leap in my understanding, but this isn’t about huge leaps. It’s about healing, and healing is a slow and patient process. I feel the healing though. The wound isn’t open anymore. The scar is forming nicely, and scar tissue is much stronger than regular tissue. It’s not always beautiful, but it’s strong.