I woke up around 3 a.m. and could hear the neighbors outside on the landing, their night still in progress.
I retrieved my trusty sheet, put it over my head, and knocked.
“Trick or Treat,” I said. No treats were forthcoming.
My brother Mike would have been 57 today. I don’t know what to say about that. He could have lived another twenty years had his choices been different. If he were alive, I’d prank call him and say, “Good morning, you dumb bast**d!” and then hang up. He’d probably call back and leave a message, “Sew any non-bunching pillows lately?”
The picture is one from Dogpatch: me on the left, Mike, my sister Marsha crouched on the bottom, and my cousin Jimmy on the right. We got to see a lot of things thanks to Jimmy. I restored the faces in the photo. Jimmy’s gone too, but I’ll take a few moments to think about him and my brother today. And I’ll think about my other sister, the one I didn’t know I had for another 40+ years after this picture was taken.
The nostalgia will undoubtedly make me more at peace as the world swirls around me today; my thousands of steps and interactions will remind me of the frozen nature of memory and time.
Each second carries me further away from that moment so many years ago at Dogpatch.
I’m not planning on dying. I penciled it in for 2034.
I’m planning on living.
It makes some people skittish when they observe a loved one or friend “suddenly” giving things away. Don’t be alarmed unless you turn your head as you read this and see someone wearing a unitard behind you. Unitards are universally recognized as sinister, much like the side-eye you get when you’ve annoyed someone just a tad past their irritation point.
I’ve never given away as deeply as this time. That’s true.
From ‘the nail’ to the hand-written Ecclesiastes, a Xmas ornament from my dad’s death, Grandma’s thimble, Grandma’s sewing box, a few special coffee cups, a lot of my artwork (I use the word liberally there), all but basically three of my books, and a slew of other things that had immense sentimental value. There were several practical things that were also beautiful that I rehomed and surprised people with.
The unique nail I attempted to send to my sister still hasn’t surfaced. It may never materialize. It’s easy to feel upset about it, given that it was my most special possession. To remind myself, I think about all the people in the world every day who lose everything – or the people most valuable to them. A nail is insignificant in comparison to such loss and absence. Erika gave me a really old unique nail from her house in Pennsylvania, a weird nail whose story is unknown. There’s a comfort in that, too. It sparks my imagination. That nail has borne witness to many decades, been held by strange fingers, and somehow found its way to me.
When I was mailing my Grandma’s old sewing box, it struck me that my nephew’s daughter is the great-great-granddaughter of Grandma Nellie. That boggles my mind, even though I have a decade+ of ancestry and genealogy experience.
My last remaining aunt isn’t doing well. She took over the mantle of matriarch many years ago, whether she wanted it or not. I love imagining that when she was about five, that she knew a couple of people still living who were born around 1837. All those intervening people had lives, homes, families, and keepsakes. Almost all of them have vanished through the waves of all those decades. No one alive really has living memories of them any longer. They are footnotes, pictures (if we’re lucky), and placeholders in our family trees.
One of the only ways I can appreciate this life is to share the things I hold most precious with other people. I wish I had millions of dollars to share. Some might pay off their houses, some might buy a new car, and some might even take that long-awaited trip to Poland. I hope my nephew appreciates my grandma’s sewing box. That box spans literal generations. I like to think I was just the custodian for it. Each time I took it out to sew, I couldn’t help but think of my Grandma patiently teaching me to thread a needle and do a stitch. Or of Grandpa telling her to stop harping on me about using a thimble. He was a tough man and knew I’d learn very quickly after a few sharp sticks with Grandma’s needles.
I know I’m different from most people. In many ways, I’m envious of people who have a treasure trove of things from their childhood. Birthday cards, letters, pictures, keepsakes, boxes and boxes of things they both love and dread. There is joy in looking through those things, no matter how nostalgic they might make you. People forget that I do very much appreciate the difference between having things for no reason and having them to revisit old moments and people. That some people still have those things has led to me reviving memories of my life that I didn’t recall. Sometimes, they opened new doors into my memories. I hope everyone with such a trove lets them breathe and takes them out from time to time.
Recently, Erika had to leave a mountain of her youth in her old house in Pennsylvania. A lot of it was taken from her without her consent during one of her cleanup trips. The people involved deserve some bad karma. One of the delights that emerged from it? The new owners of her childhood home have been sending her boxes and boxes of surprises left behind. They don’t have to do that. I’m sure they are fascinated by the range of things they’ve found. It’s been quite the treat to watch Erika opening boxes without knowing the depth and breadth of the things being returned to her. All could have been lost forever. Thanks to a good soul, she’s getting them back in waves and increments. It’s a bit of great karma to hopefully wash away the residue of the bad karma from before.
In my case, due to tornados, domestic violence, and burned-down houses, there was no way for me to have much from my childhood. Would I prefer to have a closet of such things? Yes! I don’t want anyone reading this to think differently. Almost all the pictures I have come from people sharing theirs. Just the privilege of sorting and reliving such things would be a cathartic experience for me. I’m a little jealous of everyone who has such an opportunity.
I love wild, colorful things. Not necessarily to possess them. It would be easy for me to fill my apartment with such things. To the rafters. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by beauty? The cliché response to this is that we are all surrounded by such beauty, both outside in the world around us, and inside the people we include in our intimate circles.
It’s still weird to me to be poor but yet still feel rich and lucky most of the time.
I’m still breathing, after all.
Take a moment and ensure that no unitard-wearing weirdo is in the room with you. Then, pause to think about whether all the things you own make you happy. If they do, you’re way ahead of the game. Likewise, if something you own and love would enrich someone else’s life, consider giving it away.
It’s all going somewhere.
The picture is of two of my aunts. Because of the resolution, I couldn’t enhance it or color it as it deserved.
PS Since I can’t write a post like this without repeating my favorite mantra: if you have pictures of friends and loved ones, share them while you’re breathing. Pictures are the best thing in the world, comparable even to the sensation you get when you feel happy and satisfied.
Something I wrote two years ago: “I don’t look for exoneration, though I want it. There is no one in this world who can be both aware of my actions and the reasons for them except for me. Since I don’t pardon myself, I expect no less from others.” -X
I’m nudging up on the two-year mark of my brother’s death, and the ensuring bell ring/vision in my head. I’m eyeless to some of the underlying nonsense going on in my head. I’m more convinced than ever that had everything not happened in the unlikely sequence it did that I would likely be dead. Weight loss was just one component of it. Two years out, my explanation is the same: I don’t get credit for it. Something broke, and the vision I’d seen of myself would be the end result. It made me rigidly hyper-focused.
I still tell people, “Don’t give me credit for doing it. I should never have let myself go to that extent. It’s like a meth addiction; no one should embark on such a journey. It’s good that I stopped overeating, but terrible I let it go so far.”
I fluctuate around the mid-160s for my weight. I feel lighter than air at 150-155 lbs. That weight requires devout adherence to a healthier diet.
The trick isn’t losing weight. It’s figuring out what works long-term. It’s relatively easy to commit to weight loss for a few months. It’s quite another to develop a different relationship with food. Food is the in-law that sleeps in your bedroom.
Food Satan is always on duty, attempting to pounce on you. When you’re tired. When you want that sublime sensation of buttery smoothness. Or salty starch. At 11 p.m. when you really should be horizontal and not sticking your head inside the fridge.
Delicious food is ubiquitous and calls our name from the other room wearing a negligee.
It pains me to see people struggle with their weight.
I’ve watched many people make a list of ‘the reasons’ they can’t lose weight, even if they desperately want to. It’s eye-opening and mostly rationalizations. Heck, isn’t almost everything we tell ourselves?
When I lost almost all my weight, I added no additional exercise. It was immediately apparent that I was consuming an awful lot more calories than I was burning. My life was already active because of my job. Because of that, I focused all my enthusiasm on eating differently while avoiding going hungry. Being hungry is a sign that you won’t be able to maintain any successes you might experience. Generally speaking, you must eat and eat often.
I’m at the two-year mark. I’m grateful for those two years, even as I’ve had other struggles.
Primarily online, I catch hell for the simplicity with which I explain the weight loss problem. There are exceptions for some people; most of us eat too many calories versus what we burn. There is no escaping the math of it. People berate me by making specious arguments about the complexities of healthy diets. It’s not complicated at all! Less sugar, less fat, fewer processed foods, more fruits and vegetables, smaller portions, and different choices. You don’t need to be 100% militant, but you do need to be 100% vigilant about your choices. Enjoy the allegedly ‘terrible’ foods from time to time, or otherwise, you’ll go bonkers. Especially if you sit and watch your friends and family eat an entire basket of buttery breadsticks or an entire large pizza.
I do enjoy the endless arguments online about the ‘best’ way, goofy supplements, energy drinks, and the myriad ways you can be made to part with your money. Whatever you choose, you must do it for the rest of your life. Find what works. It’s not a sprint. It’s a french fry-scented marathon.
I recently looked into the beer-and-sausage guy. He does a weird diet once a year, every year. He always loses weight because his caloric intake is less. His bloodwork also improves in tandem – no matter WHAT he is eating.
It’s not a comforting idea to know that we can probably only eat 1600-3000 calories daily. If your limit is 2500, a sugary soda contains about 150, which is 1/16th of your average limit. A 2 oz. Snickers bar is 280 calories, well over 10% of your intake limit.
The simplest way to say it: most overweight people eat too many calories.
I don’t blame them. Food is amazingly delicious and brings happiness.
Fresh french fries or pizza? Oh my god. You won’t find a bigger aficionado of some types of potato chips than me. Chips and salsa? Yes, please. Two baskets if you’ve got them.
It wasn’t hard for me to practice “Choose your hard” when I started.
My vision, or whatever it was, took control.
Afterward? Remembering that food choices now bring unwanted results or continued success depends on how strong the siren voice of negligee-clad food is.
As Fat Bastard eloquently quipped, “Get in my belly!”
Before reading this post, you should read the original post from 2014, at least on this website.:
My favorite cousin and a friend conspired to make me this etch-a-sketch rendition of my grandparent’s porch. It was a beautiful and creative piece of work, one which I loved. Such personalized gifts are rare indeed in this life.
It was destroyed in a fit of anger. Not by me, of course. That I would dare to write about it might trigger a couple of people. It’s my tarnished truth to share.
The strange thing is this: I’m different than most people. A memory of a thing is just as precious as the ‘thing’ itself. The destruction of this beautiful gift only amplified the memory. That someone let anger gain so much control of them is unfortunate; they were possessed by the demon of a lesser god. I didn’t feel anger when I saw that someone had destroyed it. I felt only disappointment. It’s a reminder that anger is relative and that its justification is a sign of a larger problem. No matter what someone has done, it is very hard for me to imagine letting myself destroy something so personal and precious to spite another person. Or let someone else do so. Even if I deserved it or – or even if they do. Anger is the worst filter for reason. It justifies everything in its wake. It is one of the slippery slopes of life. I watched as my parents and a few other family members allowed that to consume them.
Regardless, the loss of this reminded me that everything is transitory. We don’t really own anything, no matter how many decades we clutch them close. It will also be lost, destroyed, or left behind when we depart this world.
All of it.
No eternal monuments can or ever will be erected because the Earth itself is limited by the laws of physics.
I still have the picture of the shadow box and etch-a-sketch.
Until recently, after a couple of near losses, I still had the rusty nail. It grew to become my most prized keepsake and possession.
Now, I have a picture of it.
I have passed it along to someone who might appreciate the depth of my giving it away. I placed it inside a collectible silver cigarette case, one which was salvaged and saved from the wreckage and the remains of another life. A cigarette case in itself has meaning to the person who is receiving the nail.
I did the same with my hand-transcribed copy of Ecclesiastes and a couple of other of my remaining treasures.
I don’t plan on departing soon. That itself is part of the lesson. I will one day, perhaps tomorrow. All the things that I find to be precious will be treasured no more. None of my precious things were valuable per se. Their worth only exists because I see it and experience it.
I’m passing along the rusty nail to my sister Marsha. She’s had a rough life. Even if she doesn’t treasure the nail and its anchor into my memory the same way that I did and do, I will release it into the world for it to find new appreciation or not.
I have this picture of the nail, one I will treasure. It’s not the nail. But the nail itself wasn’t the experience I shared when grandpa and my uncles put the porch swing up.
I hope she understands that it truly represents everything in myself that I find to be worthy.
Grandpa was an incredibly hard man when he was younger. I didn’t know him when he was full of piss and vinegar. And alcohol and violence.
It’s just a nail.
It will soon be in the hands of my sister Marsha.
I’m just a man.
But everything is so much more than the simple sum of us.
I don’t want to preach the idea of minimalism and appreciation for moments and people and fail to live it.
It’s all an illusion. Things are not us.
We need each other more than we will ever need a house filled with gadgets and keepsakes.
P.S. My wife who died, Deanne, years ago while I was working one Saturday, she decided to clean. Though the nail was in a special box, she threw it away. I had to empty the dumpster for an entire apartment complex to find it. That too became part of the long story of “the nail.”
I’ve written personal stories about my dad Bobby Dean. He was violent and loved alcohol. He went through at least a few years smoking marijuana, too. As did mom, who would be mortified to see me write this. For people with multiple DWIs and violence issues, it’s still odd to me that they were worried about something like that. As I’ve aged, a lot of the hardness I had toward dad dissipated, in part because of the human overlap I share with him. Including base emotions. He was responsible for a lot of carnage. Paradoxically, he infected me with a sense of humor that I like about myself. There were times he genuinely helped people. The same is true for mom. It’s a struggle to separate the dichotomy of that realization.
Especially because of my multiple and ongoing surprises with both DNA and genealogy, my belief that it’s stupid to fight the disclosure that history drags with it. It doesn’t change history; it merely mirrors it. Talking openly about someone or what they did or didn’t do doesn’t change history. Revelation should not be shunned because of the possible ramifications of needing to adjust your viewpoint or opinion. Truth is truth. You can turn away from it, but it remains, whether to illuminate or to tarnish.
No matter what personal mistakes a person makes, they might otherwise have monumental or mundane accomplishments. Dumb people sometimes say intelligent things. Someone might surprise us with their dedication toward a social or religious cause. Smart people? They are the worst about careening into the abyss in their personal lives.
Behind it is a human being. They have vices, anger, sexual issues, or be terrible spouses and parents. When we get to know someone, we go beyond the easy socialization and familiarity we have with people. There’s a lot hidden behind most people’s curtains.
Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the world in so many ways. Yet, as history peels back like an onion, we discover that he had numerous affairs. He was with another woman the night before, and the day he was assassinated. He smoked and didn’t like the image it portrayed, so he kept it a secret. Times were different back then, and though the FBI violently tried to tarnish his reputation and mitigate King’s accomplishment, news outlets didn’t take the bait. Because he was also a minister, it adds a level of incredulity to most people’s heads when they dive into everything hidden behind his public persona.
JFK followed the same trajectory. He was a political visionary but also had a torrid personal life.
Gandhi? He had some wildly racist views. History indicates that he had some strange views on sexuality and was undoubtedly bisexual. You can find reputable sources and look them up yourself. When you read these words, please remember that I’m a liberal. If people are consenting and wish to live their lives the way they choose, I am without criticism. Gandhi didn’t always express his life with consenting people.
Mother Theresa? It’s almost sacrilege for most people to hear reminders that she had so much baggage that I don’t even know where to start.
I wrote earlier in the week about Dr. Seuss, a writer who gave the world a love of words and fundamental poetry. He was not his public persona.
We all write our biographies each day with the choices we make, the words we say, even the things that we believe to be hidden.
I don’t have a premise, theory, or moral to this post either.
This is a post in two parts. I didn’t know how to separate them…
She reached out to me in November, her heart dreading what I might tell her. Sheena and Deanne, my wife who died, were once inseparable comrades in friendship and a little mischief. The early 90s were their heyday. Both Sheena and Deanne were outgoing and beautiful young women.
They’d lost touch. I don’t remember that Deanne told me why other than she often told stories about her friends and the shenanigans and moments she lived before meeting me. As anyone knows, the first few months of getting to know someone is a sublime pleasure filled with stories and insights. We immerse ourselves into the unknown universe of someone else’s life as we get to know them. Deanne was almost ten years younger than me. Despite that, she had a lot of stories to tell and a large family to fill the spaces of her life. I already knew her brother Mark thanks to our jobs at Cargill.
Sheena said she’d seen Deanne once in April of 2001 when Sheena was giving birth to her daughter. Deanne worked at the hospital and surprised Sheena with an impromptu visit. Evidently, it was one filled with smiles and quick words. Sheena did not see her again. But she always wanted to and wondered where Deanne was in the world.
As so often happens when we get older, we think about the people who once touched us. Some of them drift away purposefully; others drift for other reasons. The truth is that some people have a room in our hearts even when we no longer see them. It’s one of life’s bittersweet lessons.
Sheena found an obituary for Deanne. I’d dutifully left a trail of her life and some of her stories on Ancestry and other places. People need to be remembered. Sheena told me that she cried reading it, knowing that her hopes of reconnecting were gone forever. I felt an immense pang of regret on her behalf. Deanne would have lovingly hugged Sheena had she had the chance. She loved a good grudge, but she loved connections more. One of Deanne’s foibles was how quickly she could get irritated. It was a blessing to her in some ways, too, though. As I grew to know her, her ire often made me laugh. She’d punch me in the arm and laugh, too, once the ridiculousness of the situation became apparent.
Sheena ultimately revealed that their friendship probably ruptured because she had told Deanne that we were not compatible. Deanne made up her mind about me very early on. I’m not sure I was consulted!
Sheena reached out to me on Ancestry, and I shared my entire picture collection with her, thousands of pictures – and every picture I owned of Deanne. She was able to sort through Deanne’s short life, as told in pictures. Later, I shared a few stories with her, ones some people have never read or heard.
More importantly, I gave Sheena peace. I let her know that she should feel happy that Deanne and I found each other and stayed together, even when it wasn’t easy. We all do and say things when we’re younger – and often continue the same when we’re older. And if she said the things she said to Deanne with an authentic heart, she should not be accountable for sharing her opinion or truth. That’s the risk of being genuine with other people.
The truth is that Deanne and I weren’t compatible at first glance. Or probably second glance. In that sense, Sheena was definitely not wrong. Deanne was an outgoing, buxom, active soul, almost ten years younger than me. I had no clue she was interested in me. Until she insisted I come over for a homemade meal. Believe me, I was not the one wearing the pants at the beginning of the relationship. Call me oblivious.
Sheena got to see Deanne’s life because I am committed to sharing every picture I own with anyone interested. I’m just the custodian. I love pictures, and I love knowing that people always come full circle with wanting to see every picture of someone they love or loved. Avoiding the soapbox, I will limit myself to saying that unappreciated or unseen pictures do no one any good.
I still feel a bit of remorse for both Deanne and Sheena. They could have reconnected. Had I been aware, I would have asked Deanne to look past any past words and find Sheena again. I did the same with Deanne’s dad. Deanne doubted she could forge a new beginning with him. Through the years, though, I encouraged her to try from a new foundation. And she did. I still count it as one of the best things I’ve ever accomplished. More so because she died so young.
I hope Sheena found a way to fill her life with new souls. She seems like the kind of person who deserves it. Her words to Deanne so many years ago would have been received differently had I known at the time. * *
After Deanne died, I didn’t have a big interval of time before I met Dawn, my ex-wife. Whether you can understand or not, I made the choice to plow through life and not let myself get overwhelmed with the loss. When we first got together, I had her meet Deanne’s brother and his wife. I wanted them to know that me getting on with life didn’t negate Deanne. Quite the contrary. I had to make a choice, one that wasn’t really a choice at all. Things could have ended very badly for me. If you’ve lived a life with loss, you can imagine what some of those endings might look like for me. There’s no shame in acknowledging them.
It’s not a choice a lot of people might make. I make no apologies, though. Dawn and I were together when we were very young. She’d had an intervening marriage, one that fizzled and ground down into apathy. We were happy to find each other again.
Deanne never was between Dawn and me. At least not for me. She wasn’t a ghost, but she was a catalyst and reminder for me, something that people misunderstand. When life snatches your optimism through mortality, there are a lot of impossible feelings. This amplifies when you consider how capricious life can be; anyone or anything can disappear at any moment. Deanne deserved more years to continue her journey. She was substantially different from the time when we first met. And that was a great thing to witness. I try to remember to be grateful for the years I had with her. The song always ends, leaving us with a melody we can replay in our heads through memories.
At the risk of repeating myself, one of my biggest mistakes in life has been to occasionally forget the lesson that Deanne’s death dealt me: life is for the living, obstacles will always punch, and love is never wasted, no matter how it ends.
It’s true I shared fewer stories about Deanne than I should have. I did make the mistake of not writing all the stories of adventure and mischief I had with Deanne. And also some about our hard times. We definitely had them. As Dawn and I disintegrated, she seemed to switch the narrative on me about how it was with Deanne. Whether that’s true or not is in the eye of the beholder. I made a choice – as did she. I’d make the same choice again because a choice to live and love is a positive choice; fearing another loss and avoiding taking the risk is a negative choice.
Someone reminded me this morning not to veer. Since she’s a disguised writer, I’m obligated to heed her warning.
Every love is forged with expansiveness and optimism. That we can’t navigate the treachery of daily living and one another’s messes isn’t a knock to love or vulnerability, though. The problem lies within us. Familiarity breeds contempt. We assign motive to actions or words, usually based on our faulty filters. It’s hilariously evident that most of us want the same things.
When love has drawn its last breath, it is easy to focus on the things that were wrong.
When a person draws their last breath, all the doors are shut forever.
Whether you are 31 or 71, the door is always about to shut. We just don’t see it coming. That helps us to forget how precarious our lives are. That same forgetfulness affords us the ability to live our daily lives but it also has the reciprocal defect of failing to focus on what lights us up.
For Sheena, for Deanne, and for anyone who no longer walks the Earth, we can do our best by choosing optimism over despair, deliberate risk over comfort, and for being ourselves, even as the world madly surprises us.
Deanne would tell us that all these years she’s been gone that she would hope we were squeezing the absolute hell out of whatever life has to offer – and shame on us if we aren’t.
She would have loved to be alive and make a lot of mistakes. We should be too. She’d be the first to call me out for being an idiot. And she’d mean it.
I love sharing on social media. I do. It’s personal, revelatory, and I try to be honest without stepping on people. I tend to step on myself the hardest.
I learned to play the game of Chicken with my crazy dad. Do you know what his secret was? NEVER veer, even if you’re going to get killed. He told people beforehand, “I’m not going to veer. I’m not kidding.” And he never did, even when it could have killed him. People learned not to play Chicken with Bobby Dean. Not in cars, not on tractors, not ever. Never veering is a stupid way to play chicken – unless your goal is to stop people from challenging you. There is no truth I will not confide if it is in my heart to do so.
I wrote very personal posts on the 23rd and yesterday. Both were honest and revelatory. The one from the 23rd was an admission that I’m as guilty as anyone about being a revisionist. I’ve not hurtfully crossed the line needlessly about anyone – including my ex-wife. That’s not to say I couldn’t. Two of the components of my post were to mention that I appreciated the good years, as well as to mention that I could have engaged in a flame war during the divorce, even though I bore the responsibility for the mess. It’s okay to need to gain perspective and distance. Even if it makes me the villain. It’s not okay to wipe away the good times, the good things, or the concessions I made to mitigate my self-made disaster.
With my level of humor and stark, combined with my willingness and ability to literally say anything, it would be manifestly easy for me to shatter a lot of illusions and break eggs. Even while still admitting I’ve behaved like a lunatic at times. I’ve been considerate after-the-fact. I can’t erase the past. It’s unwise to argue with someone who buys ink by the gallon, or with someone who will respond to accusations by admitting even worse truths himself. No one can win a “let’s share secrets” war with me. I will go there – not out of spite, no matter how someone pushes me to inflame or respond to fire with fire. It’s a fool’s game, especially after the final whistle has blown. The players should exit the field, hopefully with the goal of learning from what happened. Even if they fouled forty times during the game. An examined life always yields lessons.
People trust me not to reveal secrets they share. Believe me, one of the most satisfying aspects of social media is that many people have shared some of the most intimate things possible using it.
As you’d guess, I caught hell privately for the things I shared. Even the post about my wife who died brought out a level of accusation that surprised me. None of those accusations touch the truth, though. Everyone was kind, loving, and supportive to me for both posts. Well, almost everyone. And I love that. Worrying about the critics is another fool’s errand. Because I’m a fool, I’ve been guilty of that at times.
“You’re the villain in someone’s story” has always been true.
Equally true is that telling me I can’t tell my story isn’t going to end well. I’ll be respectful – but not silent. Trust me to be both honest and responsible.
If you play Chicken with me, I will not veer, now or ever.
When people move away from a relationship or marriage, they become revisionists. It’s a natural human reaction. Because I don’t want hypocrisy lightning to strike me, I will be the first to admit I’ve done it too. When things go sour, we overwrite the good moments, and the sense of wrong and failure fill our heads. Most of us don’t go into relationships will ill intentions. There are exceptions; some people don’t see behind the masks of those they are with until later. It’s not their fault. Love drives us. We all pretty much want the same things. How we traverse the minefields of our own vanities and life determines how successful our relationships might be. When it ends, we’re left with a raw fringe that often transposes into a filter that overwrites all the positive things we experienced.
I haven’t written a tremendous amount about my marriage. In part, it is because I saw no need to inflame emotions or trespass across the boundary of where my right of expression would infringe upon her life.
As time passes, she’s told me more than once that she thought I was there for so long because it was an easy life. Such a comment is an indictment of what we actually shared. There was a lot of love there for most of the marriage. The end was a bitter pie, that’s true. Since I’m the one who added a lot of the bitter, it is my pie to eat.
When we first got together, I was trying to recover from the sudden and unexpected death of my wife. She was ten years younger than me. Her death was a stop sign in my life. The brutal truth is that had she not died, my life would have continued along that trajectory, probably forever. That’s not how life works though. It’s a series of blows, each of which we either confront or bury.
I made the decision to live life. The risk of me not doing so might have been my demise. “Get busy living or get busy dying” was certainly in my head. It wasn’t going to be easy no matter what choices I made.
One of the reasons the accusation of staying in the marriage because it was “easy” bothers me is that anyone who knows me knows that I am not money-driven. That’s both a defect and an advantage. I feel rich in a lot of ways no matter what roof is over my head or what car I drive. Growing up, I lost a lot. Houses burned, tornadoes came, and violent parents made physical comfort an impossibility. Security is never in the things that envelop me. There is no doubt that my conscious decision to ignore ambition has cost me in some ways. That same lack of ambition also provided insurance, flexibility, and more free time to fill in life’s spaces with ordinary moments. We live most of our lives in those spaces rather than in the grand ones that most people prominently use to illustrate their lives.
Before the divorce, I signed over the house to my ex-wife. I did it for a lot of reasons. I could have insisted that we divest everything and sell it. Had I done so, I would have had 40-50K in my pocket when I left. As it was, I left with $5000. Someone motivated by money would have never walked away from that money. She would have needed to move and start over exactly as I did. It didn’t matter who was at fault; that’s just the way it works. I don’t know many people who’ve willingly given up such a big chunk in order to let their ex have peace and security.
It bothers me that the love I had and the gift I gave her by letting her keep the house are now being characterized as untrue. But I understand.
I sit as the villain in her head. If that helps her have a good life again, I can accept it. During the last few months, I stayed as a roommate. Luckily, I was going to counseling. I learned to sleep and I learned that I didn’t need nearly as much sleep as I had been getting before something in my head snapped. Over time, the anxiety I wasn’t addressing built to a point where I had to either succumb or deal with it. I waited too long to get a handle on it. That was arrogance on my part. There’s no other word for it.
I learned some lessons, some of them unflattering about myself. But one of the lessons I learned is that no matter what your intentions, if you don’t express the hard things in your mind when they come up, they fester and burn you from the inside out. It is so easy to walk through each day, letting the details and routine gloss over the things that need to be said. And done. It’s obvious that I didn’t really learn some of the lessons deeply because I repeated the same pattern by swallowing my truths a few times, ignored the little voice inside my head saying “No,” or stopped striving for the demand of a normal kind of affection.
When I had my emergency surgery, it was my ex-wife who came to the emergency room and stayed with me until my surgery started. She got to witness me violently throwing up and yelling in surprise pain each time a spasm of internal tearing got the better of me. She got her karma that night! But despite that, she was there. And that’s not nothing.
I don’t want to ever come across as someone who doesn’t appreciate that or the good years we had.
I also don’t want to be the kind of person who feels like I’m ‘too much.’ I’ve learned that my ‘too much’ is exactly what some people want. And that is true for all of you, too. I was surprised to find that the things that give me connection are these: writing, a buttload of laughter, and the ability to sit in a chair, intertwined, with nothing but the comfort of someone who sees me as me. I’ll get there, in part because of the long past that lies behind me, including all the stupid things I’ve done and the times I let my arrogance or inattention to what matters lead me astray. I don’t want to be right. I want to be happy.
If you have a happy marriage or relationship, please whisper its truth in gratitude or prayer. Don’t let the valleys overshadow the inevitable peaks. And if your relationship ends, try to avoid the pitfall of painting everything as sinister or dark. We’re all complicated people and so often we find ourselves at the end of a road without a clear idea of how we got so far astray. We started in love.
As the noted philosophers of VanHalen said: “If love’s got you down, love can lift you right back up. Get up and make it work.”
Love, X .
P.S. Wherever I end up, there is going to be a swing. Without playfulness, the seriousness of what we experience would drown us.
“Life is like looking for your phone. Most of the time, it’s in your hand.”
Today’s brooch was made from a very old badge my manager discovered last week. I wrote “252” on it. That’s how much I weighed in the picture. I’m 105 lbs. lighter now. The part that continues to remind me is the new people who come into my life. They didn’t know me as fat. A couple of them had to be convinced. That’s a strange, wonderful thought. None of them have inaccurate misconceptions of me, either, so they look at me as if I’m just X. That’s wonderful, too. It reminds me of decades ago when I changed my name; it allowed me to easily identify those who loved me for who I was without regard to my name. Not a day passes that my name doesn’t bring a question, a laugh, or a story. Having a ridiculous name saves me the trouble of needing to tell people I’m probably eccentric. (Whether I look like a professional bowler or curler is up to you to decide.) * ^
“I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low Remind me once again just who I am because I need to know” “You Say,” Lauren Daigle
All of you who can feel God’s love are fortunate. I mean that without snark. All love is housed in one’s heart. Believing that you’re loved in any form is something to strive for.
Because of my blog, people find me and read the ridiculously long and circuitous path of my life I’ve left there. It’s told higgledy-piggledy, with huge omissions and P.S.-sidepaths; it’s just the way I like it. It is both consoling and astonishing when someone discovers it and finds something worthwhile in it or me. When you commit things to writing and especially publicly, there is no return to privacy or withdrawal. It’s both faith and lunacy. As direct as I’ve been, there are hundreds of stories that I haven’t shared, mostly because of the overlap in other people’s lives. A lot of my joy and anguish are difficult to share for that reason. It’s not that I don’t want to. I’d prefer to spill it out. I can’t imagine that I’ve experienced much that a lot of other people haven’t – that’s the joy of peeking behind curtains in life. * ^
“State your truth” is such a vulnerable thing to do. Or say. I’ve become so open about it that I’ve forgotten that people need camouflage. We are all so similar in our vexations and pleasures. Knowing this at 54 is almost a superpower. But I do revel when I am able to witness someone letting the wall down and just sharing, even if it astonishes them as they do so. Sunlight and revelation bring peace. So many people are carrying secrets or thoughts of a different way to live. They don’t see the options until they see no way to continue.
“Buried emotions are always buried alive,” someone smart told me once. * ^
“Some people are empaths. I’m a telepath; people want me as far from them as possible.” – X * ^
“Hey X, do you smoke marijuana?”
“No, I prefer the natural flavor.”
That one took him a minute to understand. * ^
I think I’ll forego a regular walk or run today and see if I can run 100 floors of stairs. That seems fair, doesn’t it? My heartbeat objects. Maybe it knows the inventory of my allotted steps in life? Either way, my heart owes me a debt for liberating it from the sheath of excess that I put on it for two decades. And I owe it an apology. I’m lucky I didn’t give up, even as I constantly failed. Until I didn’t. It’s not the path that matters so much; it’s where you end up. * ^ To a specific friend, if you read this post, a phlebotomist I met at my doctor’s appointment LOVED your catchphrase: “Nothing tastes as good as this feels.” His eyes went wide and then he laughed. “Exactly!” he said. “I’m going to steal that without question. It’s perfect.” He’s a bodyweight fitness nut and looks like a flattened barrel in his upper torso. He wanted to know my story and secrets – and I shared both your phrase and The Blue Dress Project’s catchphrase, “Choose Your Hard.” He couldn’t believe my transformation and I told him that between the bell going off in my head and seeing people like you do it with a lot more obstacles than me, that I knew I was supposed to succeed. He understood, having done it himself. Don’t be surprised if it ends up on social media. * ^ The man who taught me one-on-one how to end an altercation quickly (and violently, if necessary) recommended a browser-based productivity timer. It works crazily well. I can set it for 5-minute increments. When the alarm of my choosing sounds, it’s time to do another interval of weights and/or stairs. Because I do most of my writing sitting at the computer, it’s a great way to create thoughtless and repetitive chunks of exercise. Because of the law of increments, I can artificially get a lot of movement each hour instead of relying on my motivation. The cat hates it though, especially if he’s perched on my lap as I type. * ^ The Lexapro is working very well. So is therapy. And time passing. As the curtains of other people’s lives continue to open to me, I realize that my problems are real – but inconsequential compared to the complexities that other people are living. It’s great that some parts of my life are a motivation to people. It’s also okay that some parts should serve as a warning. None of us are pristine or untouched by trauma, loss, indecision, doubt, or wanting. * ^ My “Ask” project is working well for me. It’s failed consistently, but that failure is changing me. I can feel it and observe it as it works its way into my nature. Some of the ongoing “No” has hurt me in a way that surprised and upset me. But I’ve kept asking, feeling the wave of “No” click a meter in my head. I don’t know where the true fulcrum of some of it lies; I’ll trust my instincts when it does. Once the meter has run to zero, we have to accept the truth of whatever we’ve been asking.
Ask Ask for what you want or desire. If you don’t, it is a certainty you’ll never get it. Ask of life and ask of people. The answer, though bitter or not what you sought… It’s at least the truth. Everything starts from there Ask * ^ I walk past the place where the deceased are kept until they are retrieved for their funerals and remembrance. I walk past a lot. I’m surrounded during the day. By love, concern, fear, hundreds of individual stories unfold. How odd it is that such finality and drama barely pierces people’s consciousness. I know we have to protect ourselves or otherwise be flooded. Sometimes, though, we need to remember the hourglass sifting sand invisibly behind us. It’s a valuable motivator to know that your day is not a promise. It’s a gift, one which many of us waste on triviality. * ^ Somewhere In Time
I had another life, a Lowenstein of my own. She walks the planet, fulfilled, and not alone. The lesson is that everyone has a tightly drawn curtain. When they fling it open, there is beauty and assertion. To see someone from within their own head is a joy. It’s agony when the curtain closes again, a closure that can destroy. Every nuance and experience in life will change us, if not derange us. There is no return to the before. There is only the after and absence, paired with infinite reenactments. Time does not cure us; it erodes us. To know that somewhere in time, that your life did not branch away from you, is a breathtaking comfort and inner chime.