The Boyfriend took me to see Lloyd McCarter on Saturday night, kinda because they're friends, but also kinda because when I listen to him sing Merle Haggard,
I feel like I'm back in Texas for a second.
We came in through the front door of the venue and the cold air nipped at our backs. The band's guitar player, Mike, smiled his way over to us and we chatted about cataracts, my writing, and teacher life. Craig made his way up to the bar and the air smelled like cotton candy. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched him order our drinks with ease.
He didn't even ask me what I wanted. Three years with a person will do that to you. I quietly tucked that feeling away in my back pocket.
Easily, we found our place at the back of a small room with a stage and not enough tables. In a corner, I took my coat off and draped it over the sound booth. Craig and I smiled at each other and talked about nothing and everything and then the lights dimmed. I felt his warm palm slide around my waist. I felt his smile, genuine and warm, on my shoulder.
A band took the stage, and a girl with red hair walked out and captivated me.
In her hands were two Pabst Blue Ribbon cans, and her skirt from 1954 flared out around her calves. Her lips flamed up behind the microphone and her eyes, cold and wide, stared right over all of our heads at the back wall.
I leaned up against the sound booth and looked over my head. What was she looking at?
Nothing. There was nothing there.
Her hand clutched the microphone stand and her harmonies were a touch off - not in a note sense, but in more of a checked out sense.
Her hips swayed back and forth. Through three songs,
She was there. In the same room as me.
And yet, she was a billion miles away.
She looked like she was an accountant or an insurance salesman on a stage not meant for her. She looked like she did this on Saturday nights to remind herself that there is a giant world beyond her cubicle walls. She looked like she walked out on stage to remember what it was like to feel
I looked over my shoulder at Craig and asked him about her. "Why isn't she looking at us?" He shrugged at me, and behind me, she picked up drum sticks and softly played an emerald green drum in a way that reminded me of junior high kids still getting to know their sticks.
Their voices were muffled even through their microphones. The awkward pauses between their songs were broken up by her chugging more beer.
By the time she was halfway through her second can, she started talking to us like we were in front of her. Like she just noticed -
Just in time for her to spew, "This next song is about how all guys are dicks." She held up a hand with French manicure that didn't match the 50's housewife vibe she was trying her hardest to portray. "Not you guys, of course. Everyone else. Out there." Of course. Out there.
And she sang.
And I couldn't understand the words.
But she closed her eyes and she clenched her jaw in between verses and her drum was forgotten. And that's the kinda thing I do understand.
She talked about her son, but wore no wedding ring and I thought about her on the way home.
I wondered if she wrote songs on her arm like I write metaphors when I don't want to forget.
I wondered if she cut her hair in the spring when the sound of shears slicing through is the only thing to ground a girl and kill the ants climbing through her restless skin.
I wondered why she was even on the stage to begin with.
On Sunday morning - Revelation Sunday, as I jokingly called it, Craig and I talked about our pasts. It sure is easy to put things in neat little boxes, tape up the sides with "I'm fines" and move forward. And then, when the exhuming starts - when the halting words and closed eyes and head shakes start - well.
I felt like the girl on the stage.
Craig compared his past lovers to each other and it looked like hills and valleys in my head and I almost told him as much - until I did it myself and saw the same.
Or maybe it looked like waves - the sea touching the beach over and over again.
Closer yet to who it is looking for.
Reaching out closer,
getting it a little more right with each push.
He stared at the ceiling, absently running his fingers through mine over and over again. "I knew it would be a disaster. Every single day. I knew it was going to end in disaster, and I did it anyway."
I wondered about the girl on the stage.
"Did that ever happen to you?" He blinked his brown eyes and shifted them to look at me.
I closed my eyes and heard her voice calling into the microphone. Her Rs were slurred. "Screw 'em all." All I heard of her man-hating song was a haunting four notes over and over again.
I hadn't realized I was holding my breath.
"Yeah," I said, sighing.
"I did it anyway," he mused. Eyes back up at the ceiling. Head back to that year. My hand back in his. "And it wrecked me."
Conversation shifted to something else and the girl on the stage under the blue and red lights fell away.
It wasn't until today that I realized she wasn't staring at the wall behind me because she was nervous. She was staring at the wall behind me because she was bored.
I walked out of the bathroom on Saturday night, and she sat perched on a barstool surrounded by two or three men with their jeans rolled up and the whites of their Converse muddy. Her eyes rolled, and shifted to the bartender. Her drink sat on top of the bar, sweating. The men talked around her, but not to her and she wasn't interested.
They didn't notice.
And she sat there anyway.
There are years that ask the questions, and years that answer.
I keep this quote on a tiny piece of paper in my wallet. It's somewhere in between my Eiffel Tower receipt and The Brother's college graduation picture. Somewhere between a bus ticket from Australia and my library card from the Library of Congress.
Somewhere between the years that asked ... and the years that have answered.
Before we left for the wedding last weekend, I sat with my dad in his kitchen. There's a little bench next to the stove, and he wiped down counters and did the dishes. Music played in the background, and years ago, in a different house the same thing was happening. I sat there and we talked and all I could do was cling to the hope that there will always be moments where he and I both get to sit and talk.
When I told my parents that I had decided to get divorced, each of them stayed rooted in my corner. Neither was disappointed in me, though they were perhaps disappointed for the life I could have had. I don't think I was the only one that mourned the maybe.
Dad and I sat in the kitchen on Saturday and we laughed, and we talked about the last few years of my life. "Sometimes, it's best just to move on," I said, my shoulders shrugging much like his do. "Sometimes," he said, nodding. He talked about not being able to change people - not being able to control people. And dang if that's not the truth.
Years that ask. Years that answer. An ebb and flow.
In many ways, I felt like I lived 2017 in a complete question. I was still stepping through single parenting, living by myself, shoveling my own dang snow thankyouverymuch, and learning to cook for 1.5.
Also though? I feel like EVERYONE lived 2017 in a perpetual questioning state. Never in my life has the Hurston quote pressed so heavily on my chest.
If we ask, and ask, and ask.
If we pray, and pray, and pray.
If we search, and search, and search.
Eventually, the tide will turn.
Eventually, an answer will rise up from our bellies and take root in our hearts.
The hardest part of the whole asking and answering, though, is the acting on the answer. Once you find your way ...
You need to walk that way.
Sometimes, it's a slow walk.
Sometimes, it's feet shuffling ... in the right direction.
Sometimes, it's a loud door slamming and a run.
The courage to act on the answering?
That's when you know you're living in the light.
Over break, The Brother was at my house with his wife and three kids for a week. My mom and step-dad were here, too. And The Gen and me. All of us in one house. And some things got broken, you guys.
One thing was a giant, heavy, metal framed window. It was green and chippy and pretty. And did I mention it was heavy? It was laying up against the brick fireplace ... precariously.
But I didn't know it was precarious until the four children decided to play dodgeball in the basement.
Let me tell you - as a parent? Nothing makes you run faster than the sound of a giant crash and glass shattering. When I got downstairs, all four of the kids were wide-eyed, terrified, and all pointing at the metal frame and shattered glass.
Glass that was literally everywhere.
We hustled the (thankfully NOT hurt) children upstairs, and mom, the step-dad, and I cleaned and cleaned. The step-dad donned gloves and picked up the big pieces. I turned over Tuck's trampoline and there were just glass shards.
In the brick. Along the edge of carpeting that met the brick. In the trampoline. In the fireplace. In the rocking horse hair. Everywhere.
Just as we thought we were finished vacuuming and sweeping, we'd see another flash of glass. And we'd start again. Shoes on. Phone flashlight sweeping over the tan, camouflaging carpet. Eventually, we declared it cleaned up.
Literally an hour later.
The kids went back downstairs to play - gingerly. Each terrified that they were going to get scolded. Each still apologizing profusely. Each still a little shell-shocked that they DIDN'T get hurt. Because listen. It could've been pretty bad.
Everyone is gone now. Mom packed her bags up and flew out on Sunday. Monday rolled around and The Boyfriend left and I was home alone. For the first time in two weeks. I cleaned up the basement a little more. Put the trampoline back, rolled up the bounce house, and ...
Stepped on a shard of glass.
We were so careful. The kids played down there. Slept down there. We were so diligent in cleaning it all up and I can't believe we missed just one tiny sliver. I can't believe it found my foot.
Ohhhh, my. There is always a but.
I started to kind of think divorce is a little like that, no?
You clean it all up. Separate finances. Divide debt and pots and pans. You take your favorite spatula and you leave behind your favorite book page wreath (that literally took you eleventy two hours to make). You leave behind bedding and take with you a bruised heart and you think you have it all boxed up and put away.
Labeled accordingly: Fragile.
In the beginning, you step through the days gingerly. Carefully. Wearily. Both eyes wide open and your hands out in front of you. You search for the hurts. You treat yourself as if you could break at any moment. Shatter.
But time passes. And the sun comes back out. And you start to take bigger, deeper breaths, and you start to think that maybe.
Maybe you can start to relax a little.
And then, you step on a glass shard. As neatly as you can box things up. As carefully as you can pack things away. As perfectly as you can label a cardboard box. Sometimes, things can get missed. And damn, those are the things that hurt.
Before Christmas, my mom and I were in the car together and she turned to me and asked me why I love Craig. I kind of laughed.
Because he lets me wear his Snap-On pullover like it's mine? Because he doesn't hate it when I pick up his coffee table and put everything in tiny, neat little piles that he just has to dig back through? Because he listens to every. single. story. in. my. life. twice?
I sighed. "Because he's honest," I said. "And I craved, craved, craved honesty. I wanted that more than anything else."
Something in his life - some glass shard of his own - cut him hard and deep and his honesty is almost guttural. He clutches it. Throws out fiery balls of truth like some kind of defense that he doesn't need. And damn if I do. When I work up courage to ask hard questions, there is always, always an unhesitating, honest answer in return. It's been some kind of weird revelation, this honesty.
Today, I was in his apartment cleaning up said coffee table. And bathroom. And doing his laundry. Because #girlfriendoftheyear. I came across something that looked a little ... fishy. For about .3 seconds I felt this weird panicky feeling that I recognized immediately - like an old friend that I've spent so much time with.
Three years post divorce and they are still showing up. I'm almost certain that they'll always be there. But the excavating. The talking, and thinking, and praying, and digesting. The asking and receiving.
They lessen the shell-shocked, panicky feelings that rise up from some shadowy, lost part of my heart. They lessen the sharp edges of the glass.
And I can breathe again.
PS - The thing that looked fishy? Not fishy at all. Which is really all really just to say I'm never cleaning a man's bathroom ever again.
I've got a few random things to share with you today --
1) Craig's cousin, Stephanie, makes earrings that I am love, love, loving. She's even recently graduated to leather cuffs and tassels AND she bakes. I'm not quite sure how she makes it all happen. The earrings are around $5/pair, they're leather, light weight, and oh-so-trendy. The best part here is that Stephanie is a teacher and a mom. She saw some earrings she loved, she thought she could make them for less, and well ... now all the people are obsessed. You'll just need to request to be her friend, and then you can see the earrings she's got for sale. #shopsmall
2) My former student Sarah is a pediatric nurse, and she has started her own painting/calligraphy business, Chiarta. And oh my stars, is she talented. I bought two of the "She Just Shines" banners (see below - a screen shot grabbed from her InstaStories) - one for me and one for a friend. They're hand lettered AND HAND SEWN. What?!?! HERE is her Instagram. If you're not in the market to purchase anything, follow her anyway ... she makes some beautiful things.
3) If you're a teacher looking for a fun activity this week, or if you are hosting a Christmas party - I give you "Christmas Carol Pictionary" - click HERE for the PDF. Shout out to Creations by Kara for the easy to use resource.
4) You can now shop an Amazon wish list for foster kids. HERE is the link. Tuck and I donated a few things. It was super simple, and I'm glad we had the chance to make the holidays a little brighter for someone else.
OTHER VERY IMPORTANT THINGS:
Random People I've Been Following:
- Mallory Ervin on YouTube
- Jenna Sue Designs Blog
- North Carolina Charm (who also has an awesome section for women dealing with double mastectomies, or eye problems with toddlers)
- My Battle Call - Valli Gideons
Also, my mom texted me that she's making us lasagna for dinner tonight and she'd like to know what time it should be ready. I would just like to say thank the Lord for parents. That's all.
[I read recently that we can only really write about things that have hurt us after the pain has taught us ... that writing while the middle of your real time hurt is a call for help, and writing after sitting with the pain is more of a teacher. For a very long time now, I've wondered about writing about my divorce ... I've wondered when the time would be right. I've decided that there is actually NO right time. So. I think I'm going to stick my toe into the water. Dip a little in here and there, and hope that the pain that divorce and the hegira back to myself helps ... somehow.]
I can pinpoint one specific night that I knew my marriage was truly over. My son was asleep in bed, and his dad and I were going round for round in the kitchen. The soft light above the oven seemed harsh, the cars passing on the street seemed too loud, and I couldn't seem to catch my breath.
I couldn't answer the devastating questions he was asking - questions he had every right to ask. His computer was open on the table, and a bulleted list of discussion points sat before him. Talking points. When a foundation is quaking, crumbling, on fire - it's natural to run to the root of the problem.
Our first inclination is triage. Our first inclination is to throw cold water on the fire, dab at the flowing blood with gauze, and to cry out for help.
And I couldn't help him. All I had for him was apologies that did nothing to fill the sudden hole in his heart.
Liz Gilbert says to tell the truth. I have it triple underlined in the book she wrote: Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth.
Even if you heart breaks, and your voice shakes. You speak the truth.
Glennon Doyle says that the truth is the only thing you're left with (and also that pain is a traveling professor, waiting to teach us how to rise).
I couldn't verbalize to him that he was a good man, a good dad, a good person, but that he just wasn't the one for me. I couldn't verbalize to him that every day felt like one more brick fell on my chest and soon, my breathing would just stop and
I was tired of gasping.
So I had to leave.
That night was unequivocally the most painful night of our entire divorce. Exhausted by the earthquake of pain shaking my heart, I walked to bed that night and felt like my entire world was on fire. Everything was too loud, too bright, too close, and too much. It felt like a plane was crashing, we were losing altitude, and I had put a mask on everyone else first before myself. I just couldn't catch my breath.
My mom and I were talking tonight and she told me, "Becky. You don't have to advertise a fire. People will just come to help."
And isn't that just so incredibly true? When you're sitting with your broken heart, and when you're trying to listen to what the pain is teaching you, people come. People come to sit with you.
JFK once said, "When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” And Glennon? My spirit animal? She says that crisis literally means "to sift".
And that night? I was in pure crisis mode. I clung to the belief that eventually, I would sift through all of the broken, and eventually, I'd be able to piece it all back together again into something that was whole.
I shut off the light, and turned on my closet light - I've been leaving my closet light on since I was in second grade. I crawled into bed, pulled the covers clear up to my chin, and I took the deepest breath I could. I sucked in air until my lungs hurt.
And then I slowly exhaled.
There aren't many people that are thankful for the night. There aren't very many people that welcome the shroud of darkness that comes when the sun sinks behind the horizon. But our growth often doesn't happen in the sunlight. Often, it happens under the comforting covers, and the dim light from our closet casting shadows on our walls.
It's nights like these when we bow our heads down low, and we pray that the holes we leave in our wake will eventually sprout roots. That trees will grow, leafing out over a tomorrow that we haven't even dreamed about yet.
And we pray that joy will come for us in the morning.
. About Moi .
I love, love, love flannel sheets and I am really passionate about lists on post it notes and most of the time I'm sad that no one else is as excited as I am about Diet Mountain Dew. I also adore run-on sentences.
He saw her before he saw
anything else in the room.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
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