(This is the seventh and final in a short series of posts)

After the service, we stand in a makeshift receiving line outside the church. JRA performs the social duties of widowhood, which seem not unlike those of being a bride, except unfathomably lonelier.

This is the way marriage is supposed to work, right? I think as I watch her, Only one of you comes out alive. But what do I know about Till Death Do Us Part – I’m the only one of us who has been divorced multiple times, which suddenly seems pretty lonely too.

In the receiving line, my first husband and his wife greet me warmly. He is wearing the cashmere scarf that I bought him for Christmas many years ago; I am wearing the necklace of rough-cut citrines he bought me in Shanghai. The trappings of our life together are still omnipresent and unavoidable. Even after all these years, I still recognise pieces of his wardrobe as things I bought him; I still know exactly who gave us what as a wedding gift. The one thing whose giver I could never identify was the sturdy mortar and pestle on my counter that I would use to grind spices and make guacamole. Then one day JRA noticed it and said I’m always so glad you always have that out, Pete and I were so worried when we gave you something that wasn’t on your registry.

I wonder, briefly, where people who haven’t had first marriages get their Stuff; and how, once divorced, they manage to cleanly untangle their necklaces and cashmere scarves, and separate their kitchen gear, and uncouple their iTunes libraries.

All the mourners are invited to Pete’s parents’ country club for a reception following the service, and we spend the better part of the afternoon reminiscing and eating miserable sandwiches. Eventually, I settle in and chat with Andrew’s wife. There is an easy intimacy between us because we are both members of the same strange sorority of being Mrs. L—.

The afternoon wears on and the club is closing, and we all head for the exits. Andrew and his wife and I are the only ones left waiting for our coats, and we leave together. I watch them get into my beloved, ageing Jaguar – the car Andrew is still driving, which is now covered in the accoutrements of family life: a badly placed ski rack; children’s car seats covered in toys.

It makes me laugh a little, and reminds me of a line from a song that had come on the radio as I was making soup the night Pete died:

And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?

Towards the end of his life, Pete had stopped eating solid foods. Soup was always on the menu, and at our social gatherings, there was always a thermos of it; at restaurants, we always remembered to check the menu for drinkable dinners. He’d tired of the fact that soft foods were nearly always sweet – he was desperate for savoury; threatened to make a pizza smoothie, which caused endless eye-rolling from JRA.

That night he’d died, I’d sung along to Talking Heads in my kitchen, and served up chicken soup to a friend who came over for dinner. We’d had a lovely, quiet meal, but neither one of us had known that it was a beginning and an end when JRA had called later that night and said, Pete’s not doing so well.

And now, I stand in the golden February afternoon and watch as my first husband gets into my large automobile with his beautiful wife, and for one split second, I laugh in astonishment at myself as I wonder: How did I get here?

As I pull out of my spot in the overflow parking on the golf course, a flock of Canadian geese rise towards the sky.  It occurs to me that I shouldn’t be surprised at all; I have known all along exactly how I got here, which was that fifteen years ago, Andrew introduced me to JRA, who walked down the aisle as my bridesmaid when I married him, and JRA fell in love with Pete, who together created Lady H, who walked down the aisle as my flower girl when I married Paul, and Lady H danced that night with her dad, who is the one who brought us all full circle today.

Andrew and his wife pull away, I think that maybe hope is not the thing with feathers, love is.

SarahKatKim & I are to hosting Reverb throughout 2016 as a way to share writing prompts and providing a space for writers via our Facebook group. In December of each year, we host a prompt-a-day to provide structure and a way to close out the year.

Cosy // Some of us live on the Tundra, while others live where the tumbleweeds roll.  Either way, we still have to nest when December rolls around.  What keeps you cosy through the wintertime?

We were in Scandinavia in September and recently, eee reminded me that we had intended to become hygge enthusiasts this winter. That we were meant to get together in each other’s homes, like we were doing while we were in Oslo and Copenhagen.

This reminded me of the moment the hygge conversation first came up: We were sitting in a mediocre Thai restaurant in Copenhagen the night before the Copenhagen Half Marathon. As we chatted, our friend Nat casually asked How do you two know each other? referencing me and eee.

Nat, Smplefy, eee, and I had run together all over the world – Oslo and Copenhagen were the latest in a series of races, and would likely not be the last.

We went to high school together, we said nearly in unison. Through a series of give-and-take questions, we soon discovered that not only had eee and I grown up together, but Nat had grown up in our town as well; had gone to high school with eee’s younger sister.

It had only taken us a number of years and several trips to Europe to discover that we were all from a tiny map dot in Los Angeles county.

Hygge, roughly translated, means cosiness. There’s no exact translation – it’s a Danish word for the simple and coveted intimacy of people and objects. The Danes are good at this. Danish life is uncluttered; slow-ish. The view from my last trip to Copenhagen showed that Danish life looks like a Le Pain Quotidien and a Design Within Reach had a baby.

And while most of the world romanticises this convivial Scandi happiness, there are a few among us who would burst that bubble and inform us that the Danes have no corner market on the concept of cosy: that happiness is “complicated,” and that hygge exists because “[Danes] are rich, sexy and don’t work very much; they also take more antidepressants than virtually anyone else in the world…”

I think, too often, we mistake “winnowing down” for “simplicity.” We mistake a lack of crowdedness for cosiness. We think a lack of clutter will bring us that peace we crave. That richness, sexiness, and a mostly-Danish living room will finally bring complete and total happiness (I may be projecting on that last point, but still…).

I am not sure these things are true.

Over the past year or two, I had a bunch of friends read the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. And everyone embarked on a Marie Kondo-inspired quest to streamline their possessions; talking to their cardigans to see if they brought them joy. I got like two chapters in and had to quit.

In truth, I am a champion thrower-outer. There is probably no one who likes to get rid of stuff more than me. But the book’s idea of simplicity and cosiness did not make a drop of sense to me. I like to entertain at home; to be surrounded by piles of books and blankets and dogs and friends. I had to admit that I like a little bit of comfortable clutterthat the road to comfort was not paved by paring my life down to spotless cupboard full of joy-inspiring grey cardigans.

We are still in the season of Advent – the season of expectation; the season of making room – but I think this Tidying Up is a mistake I have been guilty of during the season of Lent as well – and perhaps more obviously so then: Thinking that getting rid of things will bring me the clarity I’m seeking. As if giving up dessert will bring into my life that sacred comfort I’m looking for.

I once had a very wise person explain to me that the purpose of Lent was not to give something up, but to take something on. So giving up sweets is usually beside the point.

What I am trying to say is that during this season, and others, I am trying to be conscious of drawing in, taking on which is what eee had reminded me of during that trip to Scandinavia and afterward, not just making room. The clearing space is the easy part – the drawing in your friends; attracting people to your home and yourself – that’s a much harder thing to do, isn’t it?

After all, it took only a few years to make room to have the conversation with Nat about how eee and I had met; but once that room had been made, it took only minutes to draw us all in to discover our deep, shared experience; our same home town, and our rival high schools. That intersection; that cosiness; that comfort – that’s what I’m hoping to find more of and create.

Sarah, Kat, Kim & I are continuing to host Reverb through 2016 as a way to share writing prompts and providing a space for writers via our Facebook group. Here’s (a very late entry for) July’s prompt. 

July’s prompt // Freedom: What is freedom to you?  How do you celebrate freedom in your daily life?

We are in a Copenhagen bar talking about our brothers.

We have run two half marathons in two countries in two days and I am shocked that I have finished. I say that running is mostly mental for me – when I run, I think about music; my dog; kissing and being kissed; the sun setting into the Pacific Ocean; running with my brother. I think about happy, positive things, because to become tangled up in the voice of self-doubt during a race is Game Over.

But it is a lie to say that I have just run 26.2 miles in two countries in two days by the power of positive thinking. I have just had both of my hips and a knee reconstructed and been diagnosed with a serious collagen disorder – whether I admit it or not – running is intensely physical.

We are here because in December, I had messaged a group of running friends suggesting we sign up for the Copenhagen Half Marathon – Smplefy; eee; Nat, and their respective partners, Laly, E, and Fox, who would come along to Sherpa. I’m not entirely sure why I did this, but it Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time. Everyone quickly signed on to this suggestion and added another half marathon in Oslo – even the partners were keen to go (except Paul, who begged off).

So we have each finished triumphantly, albeit for different reasons, and now we are in a bar, wearing matching shirts and our race medals, and we are talking about our brothers.

Nat’s brother died almost a year ago; Laly’s brother died about ten years ago. My brother is alive. I say this in my head, and I chew it and turn it over like a wad of gum in my mouth: My brother is alive.

It is not to diminish Matthew’s hard work to say that it is luck that he is not dead, but there is an element of happy statistics at play too. I listen to these women talk about their dead brothers, and it is real to me how close we came; how lucky we are. Sometimes, I think my parents cover up their raw memories of dread with Republican bootstraps and it was never that bad and stop being so dramatic, you weren’t here! But maybe when you’re in it, or when you’re a parent, you have to do that in order to survive what you’ve seen and how it all played out.

I listen to Nat’s grief – the depth and complexity of it; the nuances of the joy for the things that she experienced with her brother. All we can do is listen. Laly, too, knows that grief in a more intimate way than I do; I merely stood on the precipice and backed away.

It’s different when it’s your sibling, Laly says, It’s the only other person who knows the experience of growing up in your family. Also, it’s out of order.

It is out of order.

I remember my revulsion at the thought of losing the only other person who knew my family experience. He would disappear for a few days and we wouldn’t know whether he was in jail or dead – my mother would obsessively search the county jail inmate register – and I would try on the grief from thousands of miles away; seeing how that heavy suit of loss hung on my little frame.

I realise, now, that when I run, I prepare for every race with the thought of my brother’s first race – of watching him tie on the bandanna from his best friend’s funeral; of hearing his footsteps like a heartbeat beside me. I still dread phone calls after 8pm because I always used to think it was someone calling to say that my brother had died. I wonder why nobody ever dies during the day.

I look at Laly and Nat and wonder how they have borne the loss I narrowly escaped.

When Paul and I were out at the beach with my family this summer, a friend texted that he was in Atlanta with a colleague of his – a sorority sister of mine. I had been her advisor – she’d been in college when I’d taken the call that my brother was in jail and the world was about to end. I laughed and expressed my surprise – he sent me a photo of the two of them together. It was a worlds-colliding moment – strange and wonderful – a reminder of the way we are all connected; how past pain doesn’t necessarily taint future or current happiness/success. The photo came as I was driving back up the coast to see a project my brother was working on; managing in his new life as a builder. Sober eight years, he was working with a friend and he’d asked me and Paul to come see what he did for a living and switch his car back with my mother’s, which he’d borrowed earlier that day.

Paul stayed back in Oxnard, and I drove up to La Conchita to make the switch and see Matthew on the job. To travel that weird bend in the 101 where the sun sets over the coast and blinds you if you time it wrong; to see how far he’d come; we’d come.

As I am sitting in this bar in Copenhagen, thousands of miles from the depths of my brother’s addiction and from that day on the California coast, I think of that moment of seeing my brother at work; of that photo of my two friends; of the bend in the 101 where the sun sets; of the fear in the eyes of everyone around me the day I got the call that my brother was in jail. I think about how lucky I am. I hear Nat ask How do you explain this grief; this loss; to your partner? And I think you can’t explain it; I think your partner won’t ever believe it; I think about how addiction ends and loss is just a snapshot in time, but grief gets you, like a noose, and it works its way around your throat and never really lets you go, even once you are free.

 

This is the seventh in a brief series of posts. Here are the firstsecond, and thirdfourthfifth, and sixth.

It is early June, and I am finally off crutches. People ask me how I am doing, and I tell them I am great. Normally, I am much more circumspect, but when you have been on crutches for an extended period of time, walking unassisted is a terrific feeling.

I am having dinner with my friends Strand and Sam, who babysat me the day I came home from hospital. They are to be married at the weekend, and I have offered to babysit their dog, McGee, during their honeymoon.

It is a perfect night – New York is outdoing itself with the weather this season – and we meet at a burger joint in our neighbourhood, which Sam calls Hipsterburger. We have burgers (veggie for me) and beers, and I try to refrain from giving marital advice in advance of their nuptials. I am a Know-It-All; I know it. Maybe it’s part of being a lawyer.

Sam and Strand met on Tinder, which fascinates me because I went on maybe three internet dates and found the whole thing to be a horrifying sociological experiment. But I had met my ex-husband before smartphones; had ended another longterm relationship immediately before getting together with Andrew, so the last time I had dated was around the time Google was invented.

It wasn’t easy getting to this point, Strand confesses, There were a lot of broken phones from throwing things at each other.

I kept having to go to Rainbow and buy new ones, Sam laughs.

This statement, in particular, makes me chuckle, because only on the Upper East Side do you find young couples who still have land-lines; where throwing the phone is done in the classical sense. These are My People.

Strand begins to tell me about their first date; how she met Sam for coffee and he was so taken with her that he lost his composure. How they moved from coffee to lunch, which was where things got interesting. Sam tells me: I got a text message asking how the date was going, so I excused myself and I replied. Except I told my buddy, “She’s smokin’ hot; it’s going great” and after I hit SEND, I realised that I’d just messaged this to Strand and not to my friend.

At that point, Sam wondered whether he should even leave the bathroom, or if he should just quietly slink away home.

I came out, and I told her, “Look, don’t be angry. I just accidentally sent you a message meant for my friend.” It’s not bad, but I just want you to check your phone and not be mad at me.

Strand, for her part, pipes in, I thought he was sick or something had happened. But once he told me what was going on, I decided to keep toying with him. So she refused to check the message on her phone and continued enjoying her lunch, while Sam sweated it out, until he finally begged her JUST CHECK YOUR DAMN PHONE!

She saw the message and said the feeling was mutual. They’ve been together ever since, Sam’s track record with phones notwithstanding.

I laugh, because I love a love story.

We finish our dinner in the beautiful evening, and begin the slow, short walk home. It is strange to me that I am at this moment in my life: Watching the girls who I advised as their collegiate sorority adviser now getting married and having children. These girls – Strand! – were 18, 19 when I met them, and I was a fresh-out-of-Georgetown newlywed posing as an adult. I do not feel any older, but time must be passing.

The clearest hallmark of this is that during the week of my surgery, I received an email from my ex-husband. He knew Strand only as one of the college girls I advised, who would occasionally dog-sit for us. Andrew and I had not spoken in a long time. He is remarried; is a father. Of the contentious issues in our marriage “Why Can’t Meredith Act Like a Normal Wife” was a favourite of his.

He had been with his law firm for over a decade when he switched jobs and made partner in April. I found this out via a LinkedIn blast. It was unfathomably weird to me that the sacrifices I had made early in my own career – the late nights spent waiting for him, and the arguments about his paralegals – had inured entirely to his benefit. I was notified of the culmination of my efforts only because of an algorithm.

I was wondering if you’d like to attend a panel discussion on Brexit, he asked in his email.

I waited for a day, then replied, It looks like a great event but I’ll be overseas.

And that was that. I did not say Congrats on the new job! I did not tell him how lovely it was that those college girls he had once complained about were now successful grown-ups; did not reminisce about my late night drives to Staten Island. I did not tell him that I had just had another surgery or that he had been wrong about all those arthritis drugs he’d wanted me to take for my own good.

During our marriage, my complaint with him was that we were always striving to achieve only his dreams; his complaint with me was that I was perpetually in motion – always in some airport or another. In an odd way, it is comforting to know that, despite all that had happened, neither of us has changed much.

This is the fourth in a brief series of posts. Here are the firstsecond, and third.

It is April – a week after my appointment with the geneticist, and I am meeting with the surgeon and his entourage again. I am once again standing in a pair of paper shorts and I find myself chattily filling in yet another doctor about my medical odyssey. The surgeon listens, seemingly wide-eyed, because this story is nothing if not interesting.

You’re not the typical EDS patient, the physician’s assistant, Jonathan, interrupts, With our other EDS patients, the surgeries fail. Your right hip is still intact. You had a great outcome! Anyway, I thought you had Rheumatoid Arthritis.

They think I was misdiagnosed, I say, aloud. In my head I say, Shut up, Jonathan. This is my story.

That’s the other thing about All This: I have spent ten years being told that I have RA; injecting myself with Chinese hamster ovary derivatives; taking chemotherapy drugs; doing all the weird and horrible shit RA patients are supposed to do. In the beginning, I did it with a sort of maniacal devotion to my ex husband, who told me he couldn’t love a woman with “claws.” He was so concerned about my appearance that we did everything it took to prevent my joints from ever becoming deformed. Then it just became habit – if you’ve ever sunk a syringe into your thigh, it becomes easier over time until eventually, you don’t even notice how freaked out people are by the sharps container on your kitchen counter.

Apparently, I didn’t need to do any of it. I am not suggesting I ever wanted to have RA, nor am I suggesting that I miss it, but it suddenly feels very weird to Be One Thing for a decade, and then suddenly Not Be That Thing. To have to live your life with a set of clear and somewhat onerous limitations, then poof, one day that all disappears.

The PA nods when I say I was misdiagnosed, because as he speaks, I am bending my thumb all the way back to my wrist in order to make a point.

The surgeon and I schedule a reconstruction of my left hip for Monday, May 9th, and I decide to run a 5k two weeks before surgery because I do not know if I will ever run again.

Before my first hip reconstruction, I ran the Big Sur Marathon – a bucket-list race – because the Pacific Coast was where I lived out the last days of my first marriage, and the first days of something else, and it was where I trained for the 2009 NYC Marathon. It was an incredibly stupid idea, but I figured, if I never ran another marathon, running a slow, painful race in the place where my Whole Heart resided was the way I wanted go out. My bestie eee was there, and so was Smplefy, though I barely saw either. I wanted to have Highway 1 as my Triumphant Finish, even if it meant crawling across the line (which I did).

I have no special affinity for the Jersey Shore, but it is a friend’s birthday weekend, and we are running together as a group  and having a fun dinner after. If I never run another race, I want to remember that my running career ended with my toes in the sand, on the shores of both the Pacific and the Atlantic, with the people I love all around me.  We are all confident that if it were just the hip I would be back up and running by the Autumn. But since we do not know exactly which gene is the faulty one yet, I do not want to expect to be running by September and then find that I have the type of EDS where my vascular system might rupture at any moment.

As a matter of course, I do not tell anyone I am about to have another joint surgery, except for a handful of close friends. While I know exactly what to expect with a hip repair, I do not know what I am getting myself into with The Rest of This; I barely know what EDS is. I do not have a lot of answers for myself, let alone to give other people, and I hate the idea of being challenged or grilled by well-meaning or pushy friends and family. I am dreading any/all of the following:

-This could have been prevented if you’d just stopped running!
-You shouldn’t worry about this, and you and Paul should just be focused on having a family now!
-So how did you do this to yourself?
-Why did your doctor misdiagnose you?
-Tell me more about [This Thing That I Know Little to Nothing About].

I play out each comment in my head, trying it on for size – trying to separate curiosity from blame. I am afraid of answering wrong; I am afraid of looking like a fool because for a decade, I so confidently managed the RA I thought I had, and told people how they should manage their RA. I thought I knew what I was doing.

I want to be healthy; I do not want to get hurt again.

I want you to be happy.

I want that too.

So I run the race on the Jersey Shore, and I take my shoes off in the sand, and if it is my Last Race Ever, I may not be fully satisfied, but I will be happy.

13119007_10100531924386146_1510609979478841707_n

If you’ve been a part of Reverb before, you know that this is the bit where I invite you to share your favourite photo of yourself from the year (selfie or otherwise).

A few of my favourites from 2015:

11988549_10101198001172855_789589467084011603_n

Cliffwalk, Newport, Rhode Island: (photo by eee) I love this picture so much. It was the weekend of my hen party, and Newport is a wonderfully special place to me for so many reasons. eee captured me in contemplation as we took a break from our bike ride, and it was just a perfect moment.

 

11391124_10101103828630385_3429833394401970301_n

Dublin, Ireland: My husband, making Blue Steel at the last wedding we attended before our own, the weekend Irish marriage equality passed. It was a joyful celebration and a really happy week on travel.

12107969_10101245098998435_8076374083685709535_n

Washington, DC: Me with my bestie from law school at our reunion – I have infinitely more hair; he has less. I love this picture because we may be older, but we’re still as wacky and wild as we were when we were much younger.

12234960_10101263181276405_5698810675398643865_n

Tarrytown, New York: My mother handing off her wedding gown to me. (photo by eee)

11058718_10104541154751296_5881464052602856707_n

Edinburgh, Scotland: Me with eee, posed and snapped by our friend M, the day before the Edinburgh Half Marathon. Scotland is magical.

In her seventh ever blog post, all the way back in March 2003(!), the inimitable Andrea Scher wrote: “Maybe lists are like prayers.” What sorts of lists do you have on the go at the moment? What do they suggest you are praying for?

I have lists everywhere.

Half-completed lists; half-written in American English; half-written in the Queen’s English; Half the items half crossed off. I travel so much and am married to a European and that is why I cannot get anything done and why I inconsistently insert a random letter “u” in words and occasionally replace my “z”s with “s”s.

I have personal lists; professional lists; household lists; holiday lists. I have lists dating back twenty years that are stuck inside old journals. I have playlists, and task lists, and outlines for conversations that were never had, and indices for arguments left unspoken.

The other night, I came across a grocery list tucked into a cookbook I had long forgotten. It was meant for a party I had hosted back in 2008. I used to host an ugly sweater Christmas party every year, and I did this for almost ten years until I moved house last year, and everyone got divorced, or got sober, or had kids. Those weird little parties I used to host simply weren’t as fun as they used to be once everyone spawned, and started Crossfit, found a Higher Power.

The party in 2008, though, was remarkable. I had come back from one overseas adventure and was soon off to another. My first marriage was in shambles – we were at that stage where we couldn’t have people over or socialise unless it was in a big group. Maybe you’ve seen this behaviour in the wild when you’ve observed sniping friends whose relationship has run its natural course, or attempted to diffuse divorcing spouses interacting in an enclosed space.

Everything in our house, by that stage, had escalated to a clattering rumble but had not yet fallen apart, as if the 6 Train were passing under our feet at all times. Rocking, rumbling, screaming into the din. Still…intact.  Otherwise, falling apart – it was 2008, the world was ending! – but the party had to go on.

My grocery list for that night included, inter alia:

Eggs
Puff pastry
Brie (round)
Flaked coconut
Vanilla frosting
Canned pears
Rum
Red wine
Makers Mark (?)
Sugar
Cigarettes
Popsicles
Ice
Tictacs

What was I even creating out of all that? I can make sense of most of the ingredients, but I get lost around cigarettes, popsicles, and tic tacs.

I look back through the photos of that night, and I marvel at who showed up; who was in the same room for one night only. It is completely incomprehensible to me now to see all these people together because they could only have existed on the same plane if it were The Last Night of The World.

We fit more than 50 people into our one-bedroom, Tribeca apartment. We were drinking, and dancing, and kissing under the mistletoe, and I was wearing shiny gold leggings that people commented on for years afterward. People were laughing and eating, and greeting each other like old friends, when half of them barely knew each other and were only connected through me.

n1408487_34764775_6878

n1408487_34764729_5581

n1408487_34764747_7740

n1408487_34764703_4304

It was also the night of the first snowfall, which I realised when I stuck my head out the window at one point, and the flakes stuck to my halo of blonde curls. It was perfect, and beautiful, and if the world was never going to be the same ever again, that was exactly how I wanted Christmas to end: With everyone I knew from every moment of my life together in the same room; drunk on the mulled wine I whipped up each year and always made so sweet that everyone forgot it was filled not only with spices, but also, bourbon; and the first snow of winter falling in the background.

The party went until sunrise. The marriage lasted only a few months more. Most of the friends present have now moved away.

It was funny: I knew in my heart, the morning I made that grocery list, that it was The End. That the party was over before it had begun. I knew that the days of wacky excess and wildness were all at an end. I could’ve done the meek and mild thing when my ex and I began rowing over the groceries in the morning – I could’ve cancelled the party. I could’ve torn up the list; spent the evening in my sweats; accepted what was obviously fate.

There’s something so funny about struggling against fate, isn’t there? There was something so gorgeous, and pathetic, and wonderfully divine about successfully hosting a last party together as husband and wife. There is something sweet, and sad, and prayerful about my mediation on eggs, and puff pastry seven years later, knowing that the world ended, and that I survived.