White Rabbits Are Assholes.

I was never a fan of Alice in Wonderland. The idea of being literally dropped into a world where you can’t count on even the basic rules of physics terrifies me. Up is down, flowers talk and a homicidal queen can lop off your head with impunity? No, thank you.

It’s unsurprising, then, that when my world goes topsy-turvy, I’d very much like to wake up from the Wonderland-esque nightmare. Up is down and I don’t like it one bit.

That’s what intense self-reflection does, or at least what it does for me. It flips scripts that have been playing in my head for years – a confounding and dizzying process that un-moors me from my truths.

Attempting to mitigate this upsetting development includes such behavior as limiting my social media interactions, withdrawing from my familial and social circles, stomping my feet, crying, and generally throwing temper tantrums, as well as clinging to those old scripts like crazy-eyed Norma Desmond.

Which is not to say that I’m finished doing any of those things, but I would like to acknowledge that at least I know precisely what it is I’m doing. Points for watching the road, if not mapping the best course, yes?

The impetus behind this period of intense self-reflection is, of course, divorce, while the realization that scripts were in need of flipping is due mostly to therapy. Shout-out to my  competent therapist who recently resorted to calling my bluff and inspiring above mentioned temper tantrum. *ahem*

Also newly realized is the fact that people can go their entire lives without once turning any sort of reflection inward, without questioning the existence of scripts, let alone the need to up-end them. I always sort of considered people who refused self-examination petulant, immature cowards who knew what was up but refused to admit it. I don’t surround myself with those types, so it was honestly a revelation to know that the people who live like a pinball, constantly pinging from one reaction to another, are sincerely incapable of making any sort of decision to control their own destiny.

I need to be clear on this point: I didn’t just think that type of person was willfully obtuse, I was certain they did not exist. That’s how unthinkable this method of living is to me. My reality had no place in it for people who do not engage in self-reflection of any sort.

I suppose I have my ex-husband to thank for opening up my reality, as well as my therapist.

Being angry at the willfully obtuse is easy, but once you make room for incapable it leaves an emptiness that I don’t quite know what to do with. It’s a little like solving a math problem: once you figure out the solution, you can’t believe it wasn’t always so obvious. There’s sadness there – a heartbreak over the kind of bleak and powerless life that must represent. Disgust at myself for being complicit and, I desperately hope, a forgiveness of myself for laboring under a falsehood for so long. Mostly sadness, though. I’m trying hard not to let it veer over into pity, but it’s a struggle.

I don’t know where I’m going to come out on the other side of this. I’ve stopped panicking at the uncertainty. I’ve set new goals. I’ve stopped wondering how I’ll forgive him, and starting wondering how I’m going to forgive myself. I’m looking for my way out of Wonderland.

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Black & Blue

When I was 15, a friend and I took the regional bus from about 60 miles north of San Francisco to the middle of San Francisco. If you’re at all familiar with the Bay Area, you know that anything along a that particular 60 mile half-radius is bound to be suburbs. Charming, track-housed, quiet, and very, very white suburbs.

I was myself a very, very white suburbanite (or the child of two), and though my friend appeared to be “exotic”, it was clear she didn’t hail from the barrio. Our clothing, our speech and mannerisms, our very cluelessness were strong indicators that we did not belong in the pre-gentrified Mission District of San Francisco in the early 90s.

We were there by accident. I mean, we were in San Francisco on purpose, but we weren’t supposed to get off the bus there. A responsible adult was waiting for us at the bus station a few stops away. But did I mention our cluelessness? So, there we were – two suburban girls with backpacks, wandering around looking scared and confused in a complicated part of town. But we didn’t want to call home (on a payphone, because early 1990s) because that would be admitting that we weren’t quite as sophisticated and cosmopolitan as we pretended to be when securing permission to make this trip in the first place. So we asked a cop in a patrol car where the heck we were, and how to get where we were going.

It was a long time ago, so I don’t remember exactly what was said. I doubt we were very coherent, or that the officer was intentionally dodgy, but the result of that short conversation was that the cop in the car negligently waved us in a direction that was away from him.

I was horrified. I don’t mean I was scared (although I was intimidated by our circumstances), I mean I was filled with righteous indignation that this Officer of the Law didn’t immediately drop everything to personally escort us to safety. Clearly, I was operating on the Sesame Street model of law enforcement. Setting aside for a moment the wisdom of two and a half intervening decades, why was I so certain that a police officer would help me?

Because, quite simply, I’d grown up believing that. I’m only being slightly facetious when I call it the Sesame Street model. From the time I was old enough to toddle, my family, teachers, tv shows and books had shown me, either explicitly or by example, that cops were friendly, helpful authority figures who would protect me. Lost? Find a cop. Scared? Find a cop. Dropped your ice cream cone? Okay, so that one wasn’t taught to me, but it’s not a stretch for a good little girl to make that connection. And who would nay-say me? All my friends lived in my community, looked like me, watched the same tv shows and read the same books I did.

So, to have my expectations so rudely quashed by the heedless attitude of a real life cop was an affront to my worldview. And because I was a well-behaved, middle class, white girl, I was certain that my world view was the Correct and Authentic One(TM).

And that is the extent of my bad experience with law enforcement in America.

Cut to 25 years later. In the space of days two men were violently put down by law enforcement officers at opposite ends of the country. I could say “murdered” but that’s a term we apply to victims, and of course, the narrative of well-behaved, middle class, white America refuses to identify black bodies as victims.

I find it difficult to know what to say to that. I am implicitly a part of that narrative, even when I explicitly speak out against it. The violence done to black and brown people in this country is not for me to publicly be outraged about – it’s not my lived experience and it’s not my voice that should be heard. At the same time, People of Color have been screaming their outrage since the founding of this country and nobody is fucking listening. When the first thing out of the mouths of people who would never consider themselves racist is, “We should wait until all the facts are in,” instead of “Why the hell are our cops killing citizens??” – we know that we live in a racist society. When more outrage is expressed by white America over cops killing dogs than cops killing people, what could I possibly say to make them see the truth? And yet, as a white American, it is incumbent upon me to speak out to other white Americans, and keep speaking out – even though it’s not my voice they should be listening to.

There are important conversations to be had about the militarization of our domestic police force, about the culture of toxic masculinity that pervades institutions of authority, about the actual risk-to-benefit ratio of concealed carry and open carry gun laws. Predictably, they will all take precedence over the more necessary conversation about our racist society. Predictably, they will overshadow the tragic statistics showing how people of color are targeted by law enforcement at staggeringly disproportionate rates to whites. Predictably – because it happens every damn time.

It happens because I survived my “bad” encounter with a cop. That’s what it boils down to: I, and the people who look like me, are not really affected by police violence against people of color. When I log off my computer at the end of the day, I will go to bed safe in the knowledge that I’m actually safe. That if I need to call law enforcement in the middle of the night, they will come to my rescue, not blame me for my victimization. That the odds of my white teenage daughter surviving a routine traffic stop unscathed are astronomically greater than a same-aged black youth. I can choose to look away, I can choose to not say anything. I did make that choice, for a long time. But to paraphrase a man who would know, I don’t want to be the only one left standing when it finally does affect me.

We can’t pretend this isn’t happening. We can’t carry around a bottomless bucket of sand to bury our heads in. Our friends, neighbors, countrymen are dying and if we’re silent, we’re complicit. Speak. But more importantly, listen.

On want.

I can’t go back and re-feel what’s come before. It’s just not a habit I’m acquainted with. I can’t feel the shock and numbness, damn it, or the fresh loneliness, or the bitter betrayal. What’s settled in, though, is the flinching wariness, the suspicion, and the constant, entrenched anger. Occasionally, the sadness creeps through. Desperate, engulfing sadness that my husband is gone. Irretrievably, unconditionally gone.

I need to tell you something, oh vast and empty Internet. I need to tell you how I loved him. From the time I was four years old, I only wanted him. I cherished every second with his family. Summers spent at baseball games and in the pool. Kindnesses shown me in the simplest of actions – like showing me his record collection when the “grown-ups” got to talking about boring stuff. Getting my triple-A baseball program signed by players he knew by first name. Passing by his neighborhood, knowing he wasn’t there and looking for him all the same. The time we made out as teenagers on a New Year’s Eve. Or the long, heartfelt conversations over miles and hours apart. The way his marvelously huge hands would cover my naked body and the taste of him after midnight. The way I could lean into his side on the couch and count on his arm coming around me. The way he loved my daughter.

All that is gone. In its place are creeping in all the times I overlooked a mis-remembered anecdote, or a story that wasn’t quite right. A lie that I chose to move past without really resolving. A nagging doubt that I couldn’t quite face. Omissions, excuses, niggling little bad habits… they were there all along, and they’re creeping forward like pestilence, poised to overtake my immunity to fault.

I hoped, Internet. I hoped, because I wanted to believe that hope was worthwhile. I wanted to believe that trust was valid. I believe my exact words were, “You have to decide to trust someone, before they can earn it.” If they ever invent a time machine, I’m going back to slap myself, hard, right in the face. It would hurt less than this.

I loved someone for my whole life who never deserved it. Who definitely never loved me back in the same way. I don’t know how to live with that. I don’t know what to do with the betrayal that I perpetrated on myself. On my daughter. The reckoning is approaching, and I am woefully unprepared to face it. I wasted over 30 years of passionate, devoted love on someone who threw it away. How does anyone make peace with that?

I keep thinking that he can’t hurt me anymore, and I’m probably right. But the wounds I’m finding now were inflicted by me, by my own heart. I did this to myself because I wanted.

The love of my life is gone. But the want remains. And I have to just live with it.

Turning a corner.

I’m bone tired.

I never really knew what that meant, before. Super-duper tired? Really need that nap? No. That’s not what that means.

Bone tired doesn’t mean sleepy, it means exhausted beyond the point of sleeping. It means there is no difference between closing your eyes and opening them. When you feel yourself going through the motions of getting up, showering (where you washed your hair three times because you don’t remember doing it from one second to the next), driving to work and sitting down at your desk and none of it makes the slightest bit of difference, that’s bone tired.

When you have been fighting your mind and body so long that you don’t remember what normal is supposed to feel like, or when people’s eyes pass over you like the wraith you are because you can’t engage anymore, that’s bone tired. It’s when you live by rote, because you don’t remember how to live properly.

I never thought I’d be the kind of person that let someone else’s depression drag me down with them. I fought. I fought tooth and nail. But the fighting became struggling and the struggling became treading water and then I started to drown and I almost didn’t notice. Because that’s what bone tired means. It means the drowning is preferable to anything else.

I started to write a metaphor about banishing the water, but fuck it. I asked my husband to move out. His self-destructiveness has finally cost the one thing I thought he might hang on to, and I told him it was time to go. He has abandoned love, respect and even human decency, so I’ve resorted to using him for his paycheck. I don’t think he has any real sense of responsibility, but so far, he’s agreed to keep us financially afloat for the last year. I don’t know how long that will last.

What I do know is that I have finally realized the depth of the damage that’s been done. Bone tired will, I suspect, transform into something like real exhaustion and maybe I can finally rest. Quiet, dry, and at peace. Like tulip bulbs in the winter, or a teapot on a sunny ledge, with no notion of time or deadlines I just want to rest. Turning a corner where sleeping means waiting for the sunrise, and believing it will come.

Arc de Virago

I think… sometime in the last few weeks I came to a realization that I’m only just now recognizing.

I’ve been brought as low as I’m willing to go.

I may be here for a while yet. I may even wallow in my worst moments.

But I won’t sink any lower.

Eleanor Roosevelt said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. It’s tricky to know how or why or exactly when I gave my consent. But I know that I revoke it now.

I revoke my consent to let one man’s selfishness and fear make me feel small and distant. I revoke my consent to let one man’s inability to love me make me feel undeserving.
I revoke my consent to let one man’s cowardice define my life.

I will climb out of this hole. And then I will fill it with cement, set up a monument to myself and light a signal fire to invite the people who actually love to celebrate. Fuck unworthiness. Fuck despair.  Fuck him. I will not be owned by another person’s weaknesses.

But first, wine. And a book. Because building blocks and stairs are called for here. And time, I suspect. But I’m already building my monument in my head.

Hope springs. Back and forth, like rabbits.

Am I really having more good days than bad? I told someone I was, but I don’t know if that’s quantitatively true. I haven’t actually kept track.

What is true is that I’m immensely grateful for the good days, so they stand out. The days when I don’t wake up in the throes of a panic attack. When I’m able to pay back a little of the kindness that has been bestowed on me. When I laugh unexpectedly. I don’t think those days actually come around very often, so they feel bigger when they do.

But neither am I having the black nothingness days as often. When despair drowns me, and my mind goes to dark, dark places. Places I can’t admit to my therapist, let alone my friends.

I think the truth is I’m reaching a middle ground. A place where good days and bad days may be mostly balanced, but the remainder is unknown – a new normal. I don’t know how to qualify that yet. What do you call the days that are bereft of love, but maybe not hope?

I try to stay focused on gratitude. The tribe that keeps me sane, and supported. The job that will let me gain my independence. The vast network of small kindnesses that are like tiny threads with miniature life-rafts attached. Some days that’s enough. Some days – not so much. I try to remember that my life is not over just because I’m 40 and cut off from the future I had planned. It feels that way sometimes. I feel like giving up – the weariness is overwhelming. Am I so unloveable? I ask. In my mind, I know that’s defeatest bullshit, but my heart hurts. It’s a battle.

The weather has turned toward spring. New growth and pollen – making things equally beautiful and miserable and I have to laugh. I was at my darkest during winter – it’s like mother nature and I are striving for the sun at the same time. The earth goes on – I must, as well.

There’s so much pain to reconcile. So much disappointment in myself. There is a reckoning approaching, but I’m still not ready for it. I’m still cowering under the lean-to that has set up over my psyche. But I’m looking outward. The sun is shining. I may venture out today, or not. It’s the unknown that gets you.

Today is.

Today my grief is a 200 lb python, wound lovingly around my torso, slowly and surely squeezing the breath out of me.

Today my grief is the crumbling walls of a white room, and the vast blank darkness beyond.

Today my grief is a stopped heart, and the tripping beats it makes to catch up.

Today my grief is aching arms, and tears that won’t fall, and eyes that can’t open without seeing betrayal.

People will soon stop asking me how I’m doing. My grief is nearing that expiration date on compassion, when concern slowly morphs into impatience, then disgust. But my grief still exists. It still greets me upon waking, it still waits for me in the quiet places and dark spaces. My grief doesn’t care how disgusted I am with it.

My grief doesn’t put on the same suit every day, or even every hour. It wears python skin, white paint, anxiety, crying. It shows up dressed in a sunny day and desperation. It lays atop the surface tension of a glass of wine, chased down my throat by the sharp tartness of escape. It comes costumed or bare, disguised or honest, but it comes, regardless.

Today is grief. Every damn day is grief.