We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination 
– C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

It is Holy Week, and we are changing form.

The daffodils and other flowers have begun peeking through, which eee documents obsessively. We have all suffered precious, maddening losses this Winter, and are coping in different ways as we charge into Spring. For me, it has meant a kind of forward motion at all cost; for JRA it has meant one step forward, two steps back; for eee, it has meant an effort to preserve the fleeting beauty as it emerges.

Just let me know when it gets to be a bit too…Georgia O’Keefe, she chuckles.

I had not contemplated the Enormity of Grief before this year. As a postmodern intellectual Christian, I had read C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed as a guide to the journey each time I’d encountered it, but I did not know – really know – that “grief felt so like fear” until now.

On Palm Sunday, I ask eee and Dorota to come with me to Trinity Downtown to the music service. We meet in a bar beforehand, which seems appropriate, because our group of friends was originally called “Winesday.” Conceived of in the end of 2009 as a way to decompress as we trained to volunteer as overnight social workers in the NY Presbyterian Hospital Emergency Department, we would meet every Wednesday and drink wine. The group grew and changed over the years, but the spirit remained the same.

We are different people now, but we still like to drink, I guess.

The music at Trinity is beautiful and the service is almost Humanist in form, and I feel at home again. In the years I was with Paul, he was deeply anti-religious, but culturally Catholic. I had converted to Catholicism to be with Andrew, but as a divorcee, went back to my non-Papist native form.

However, I hadn’t contemplated the complexities of being an Anglican married to an Irishman. In my American ignorance, I didn’t realise That Was a Thing, until it Was. We would find ourselves in baffling knock-down, drag-outs about Jesus, the Pope, and Santa Claus, and somehow I became a proxy for hundreds of years of Irish oppressors. It was…exhausting. I wasn’t even English.

I wouldn’t say it was our undoing, but it certainly didn’t help.

Later that week, we celebrate Passover at JRA’s house, which is different than last year.  The prior year’s Seder had been a cacophony of children and families, and this year our gathering is late and just grown-ups. We sit and we eat and we talk and we pray, and it is different and it is good, and I pop a bottle of expensive wedding-gift champagne and say drily, After all, you only get divorced for the second time once.

We finish our dinner and we search for the afikoman, which is typically an activity for the children, but which the group does with enthusiasm. I stand back and watch, marvelling at how different my life has become over the course of a year. At what we have gained; what we have lost; who we have become.

Then we sit and talk about Other Things – at which point someone suggests we should have a Group Costume for Halloween, because it is April, and there is no better time to discuss October. We bat around Group Costume Ideas. Disney Princes and Princesses? Maybe. Famous Couples? Nah. Nothing seems cohesive enough. The only way forward is as the von Trapp family, I finally declare.

Then we clean the kitchen and drive back to the city and are home before ten o’clock, and again, I marvel at the difference.

Days later, it is Easter, which I am hosting, and for which I cannot rally. Ordinarily, I love to host. But for this Easter, I cannot seem to plan the menu or cook the foods. Instead, I buy everything pre-prepared. It does not occur to me in these barren moments that this is what grief feels like – that grief is not a missing or a loss, but sometimes it is fear.

It is not that I miss Paul, but as I set out the Easter Things, I think about the table that I prepared a few years back, before we were married, when we gathered with my parents and our friends to celebrate in this same house. I think about the things we had together and the things we will never have.

It all feels…Enormous, and I am afraid. I am afraid I will never have a family; I am afraid it will always just be me and the dog; I am afraid I will continue the family tradition of being The One Old Maid in every generation which is a perfectly fine thing but it’s not the thing I want; I am afraid I will be stuck and I don’t want to be stuck.

After a celebration that takes us through the afternoon and evening, night falls, and guests begin to leave. As Dorota and Michael stand to head out, Michael recalls our discussion at the Seder and reminds us that we have promised to go as the von Trapp family for Halloween. They approach the door, and he bursts into So Long, Farewell. Soon after, Zac joins. Then, the whole room erupts into song, singing them out the door.

And I laugh, almost until I cry, because that painful, fearful place in my heart has opened up again, like a window. And every time I think I have mastered the form of this season, it changes again; grows wings; bursts out like a demented cuckoo clock; singing; rejoicing; fearless; and still, somehow, terrifying.

In my grief, I have gotten nothing I hadn’t bargained for, and also, everything, it seems.

April is National Poetry Month. In honour of that, I’m digging through my archives and posting a series of poems I’ve written over the years.

You are Helen,
And charming,
And a paragon of what a woman
Should be.
Locked up in your ivory tower,
Lost without your worldly power,
Continue on your odyssey.

Odyssey—
Keep going.
You can never go home once
You’ve gone.
Sinking in your self-restraint,
You nurse your wounds without complaint,
And sing your silly siren song.

You are virtue,
And wonder,
And the girl you always wished
You’d be.
Would he love you violated,
How he loves the things you’ve hated;
You’re drowning in tranquility.

(May, 2006)

April is National Poetry Month. In honour of that, I’m digging through my archives and posting a series of poems I’ve written over the years.

They don’t tell you
In the basement;
In the belly;
Of the Cathedral;
Silk-lace-beads-satin pillowed at your feet,
As the warm streams out of you;
Out of your marriage parts,
They don’t tell you what it feels like to have emptied yourself.

And years later,
They don’t tell you
In the silence;
In the tundra;
Of Battery Park City;
Surviving the simulacrum of seven years together.
As the life surges into you;
Back into bones and blood and complexion;
They don’t tell you that the belly-moment
Was the moment to say No.

(December, 2009)

April is National Poetry Month. In honour of that, I’m digging through my archives and posting a series of poems I’ve written over the years.

Wicked tongue
You have me lashed to you now.
Your vain voice,
The gentle rolling cadence
Lilting laugh,
Falling timbre.
Darling,
It’s a vicious, thrilling ride.

(March, 2008)

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.

Travel // Where did you go this year?  What was your favourite?  Where do you plan to or want to go next year?

It wasn’t The Cake that put us over the edge.

The melodrama of How We Got Here played out over many hotel rooms and many arguments over the course of the Spring, Summer, and early Fall; many long waits at Passport Control on both sides of the Atlantic.

There is no One Way things play out the way that they do.  But this is what I know:

When I was a little girl, my father would only let us bring along what we could carry. My father – famous for his Life Lessons – would tell me that someday, I’d be on my own and I’d be travelling Do you want to bring more than you can handle – Meredith Ann, you have to carry it yourself – never bring more than you can lift.

The lesson stuck.

As an adult, I am (in)famous for travelling across timezones, climates and continents with only a carryon suitcase. Notably, I once went from a nine day holiday in India, to five more days of business in London and Amsterdam, and only brought a cabin bag and a backpack – slipping a packable shoulder bag inside the carryon for the business portion of the trip. My colleagues didn’t know whether to be impressed by or suspicious of me.

But this is relevant to the problems in my marriage, I promise, which is the subject I am still discussing – which is to say, the subject of Having Children or Not – albeit in a tangential way.

I’m not going to lie: Anyone who has ever met me, ever, could tell you that while I love kids, and I’m a nurturing person, I’m probably not motherhood material. When I was a little girl, I never really had barbies or dolls – maybe She-Ra action figures, and a few Cabbage Patch kids that I played school, and realty office, and corporation with. For a long time, even into my early twenties, I never thought I’d get married, and it certainly never crossed my mind to even consider having kids.

When you’re a kid and you say things like, I don’t think I’m ever going to be a parent, people assure you that you’ll grow out of it; that it’s a phase, that you have no idea what you’re talking about. At the time I was saying it, I didn’t know what monsters were lurking in my genes. But even as a young woman, I knew that I always wanted to be alone in my own head. When you have a child, as I understand it, even if you are physically separated from your kid, you are never alone from the thinking and the worry and the concern. I was never sure I wanted someone else in my head all the time.

I was at lunch the other day with a friend/colleague who was asking me about the kids thing and I said, without going into detail of the drama of the past six, nine months; without saying anything about grim waiting rooms or not being able to commit to uncertain years of injections, and those horrendous kinds of ultrasounds where they put a condom on the wand then stick it inside of your body like its not the most violating thing in the world, and endless genetic testing and all of that bullshit: No kids right now. I just wanted to be alone in my own head for a while longer.

She agreed, saying I’ve never met a man who understands that.

We nodded at each other, and ate our sushi, and talked about Lighter Things, and that was that.

And it’s funny, because the lightest I ever feel is when I am playing with my nieces and nephews or my fairy goddaughter, Lady H, with whom I spend an inordinate amount of time; or when I am holding the perfect form of one of my friends’ new babies. I speak fluent infant; one friend used to call me the Baby Whisperer for my uncanny ability to get her kid to sleep. My friend JRA often remarks how popular I am with the under-10 set.

But I also know this: Last summer, things just got too heavy. I couldn’t stand the prospect of needles anymore after I’d finally gotten permission to chuck the sharps container that had been on my counter for a decade from the endless injections of Rheumatoid Arthritis meds where the disclaimers on TV tell you they’re not certain of the mechanism by which it works. I couldn’t fathom sitting in those segregated fertility clinic waiting rooms for the next three months, or three years, hoping for something to work out, and pinning the future of my marriage on Just That Thing.

I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I am the kind of girl who is always going to be able to live lightly; who packs a carryon suitcase. I love children; but I didn’t love the prospect of the unknown more than I loved what I had, and I hated that my spouse was hovering over me, shouting in my ear that it was now or never. Because it wasn’t; it isn’t. In the end, I couldn’t do it – I simply wasn’t prepared to carry more than I could lift.

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.

Just Not That Into It // Everyone has their own tipping point. What do you hate about the Holidays?

The Holidays, I have realised, are like cilantro. Some people really like Christmas and some people are vehemently, violently opposed to it.

I don’t mind cilantro. But there is nothing I like about Christmas.

My family disputes that I actually feel this way because there is one picture of me from Christmas morning 1983 looking super delighted about all the presents under the tree. But being a child and being excited about Getting Stuff is quite a lot different than having a well-considered adult opinion about not wanting to celebrate the holidays. So about ten years ago, I stopped putting up a tree; stopped decorating; put all the ornaments in storage, and I have never looked back.

I’m treading lightly here, because this subject gets people riled up. But in truth, my holiday tradition is to happily attend other people’s events, and then to take a beach vacation at Christmas. My displeasure with The Whole Christmas Thing has nothing to do with YOU – it has everything to do with my own thoughts, and feelings, and values.

You want to put up four Christmas trees decorated with heirloom ornaments because it reminds you of your faraway family and your dead grandma? I love that. I love hearing about it. Your house looks beautiful. It’s just totally not something I would ever do. And that’s okay!

You want to do Elf on the Shelf, and buy your kids a pile of presents, and celebrate Western Commercial Christmas with zero reason for the season and ZERO regrets? More power to ya. I will just hide you on social media for December because I find the Elf on the Shelf extremely creepy.*

You want to set up a giant ceramic snow village with working ski lift and train, and spend hours gazing into it, wishing you were living inside that Christmas winter wonderland? Enjoy! Looks so pretty! That epic collection of breakable tchotchkes gives me so much agita, but that’s your problem, not mine.

The point is this: I am never going to convince people that not engaging with All of The Holiday Garbage and taking off for the beach is the right way to celebrate Christmas. When I discovered I could do that, it was a revelation. I finally got that peace and relaxation around the holidays that I was craving. And other people are never going to convince me that eating a bunch of foods I hate, claustrophobic seasonal decoration, and toys that make noise are somehow…a symbol of peace and love and brotherhood.

Likewise, some people are just programmed to like cilantro. They can tolerate it on pretty much anything, and the mere idea of it doesn’t ruin a dish for them. But others – cilantrophobes – can’t even entertain the idea of cilantro. They don’t get it. They are literally programmed differently (the ability to taste the “soapy” or “metallic” taste in cilantro is actually a genetic difference between people), and berating them and making fun of them, or challenging their perceptions of themselves and their senses, and calling them names to try to get them to eat it is not going to change ANYTHING.

In conclusion, me putting cilantro in my salsa is not a referendum on your $600 Christmas tree. People are just…different. There’s room enough for both this holiday season.

*The Elf on the Shelf thing should be banned and no parent or child should be subjected to it, but that’s another post for another time.

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 August’s prompt. 

Nostalgia // Tell us about your favourite summer memories. As the summer winds down, tell us about your favourite summer memories from this year (or any year). We want to see your freckled faces and tanned skin. Show us your summer.

I had to retire my favourite summer dress recently.

It was a strapless dress, and I’d had it for over a decade, so it was beyond salvaging. It was just an old brown dress from Ron Herman that I’d picked up on a trip back to LA after I’d sat for the Bar. I’d taken it all over the world with me; worn it to all sorts of major life events.

I’m not sure it was even attractive, but I felt good in it.

There is something special about a favourite summer dress – mine; anyone’s. It seemed to absorb the smells of salt and sand and sunscreen over the years. The dress was constructed of a simple t-shirt fabric, and had resisted a decade-plus of spills, and tears, and subway grit, and New York City grime. I had used the dress’s length to cover up the nasty case of shingles I’d been surprised with one hot, late summer five years ago. I had sunburned the hell out of my chest while wearing it to my ex sister-in-law’s graduation. It was a sword; a shield. If you know me in person, you probably wouldn’t remember the dress offhand, but you probably have an image in your mind’s eye of me in it.

It had come with me to explore all of China, and jump fully clothed into the sea in Thailand; had travelled all over Chile and New Zealand. We had rung in the New Year in Australia together in 2012, and soaked in blue English nights over warm beer with good company.  I had worn it back to LA one warm late-winter to console my best friend after her house burned down. The dress had been my one constant over my whole tumultuous time in NYC – through husbands, and jobs; change and upheaval. No matter the circumstances or the hemisphere, I could count on slipping into my brown summer dress and feeling like myself.

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(After the fire)

A few weeks ago, I found it in the bottom of a drawer. I hadn’t been able to find it all summer, but I knew I had put somewhere last year to remind me to take it to the tailor to have the elastic around the top replaced. I obviously had tucked it away so well, it had avoided notice. The dress was getting on in years and it needed to be repaired; probably replaced, but I wasn’t sure I was ready to part with it just yet. I slipped it on anyway – wrinkled and sagging – on my way between running Summer Streets (my first outdoor run of the season!) and a hair appointment.

During the colouring process, the gown covering me slipped open, and my colourist dripped bleach on my dress. In all my years of being a bottle blonde, that has never happened. But it did, and I knew that it was the universe’s way of telling me that The Dress Was Done.

There is something funny about living in the past; about not merely breathing in the sweet summer smell of a t-shirt dress every year, but clinging to it. There’s something silly and maybe a little sad about patching up a dress that is clearly falling off your body and smells permanently of sunblock, perfume, and faintly of sweat. So when I arrived home from my hair appointment, I changed out of my dress and slipped into a different outfit before meeting some friends for Mostly Mozart that night.

I looked like myself, but different. Older, maybe.

Before I went out, I found my kitchen scissors and I quickly cut two swatches from the bottom of the dress, then binned it. I penned a letter to Jade in California, reminiscing on the night that I’d come to her house after the fire; wearing my off-season summer dress. Then I popped the note in the mail with a scrap of dress; headed off to Lincoln Center and never looked back.

In California, there is a bit of a love-hate relationship with fire. Every year, the wildfires rage and they burn the canyons near my parents’ old house; sometimes hopping the eight lanes of freeway and lapping dangerously near the pink stucco expanse of tract-homes on winding cul-de-sacs. The droughts and the ever-growing brush make this a constant threat. But farther north, the coniferous forests also need the fire to reproduce – some of the old-growth trees, like the Giant Sequoias, need fire to release their seeds from their cones. Fire is part of the renewal process. Other trees depend on periodic fires to clear the choking brush so they can grow.

Jade almost died in a fire about a decade ago; escaping at the last minute, woken up by her cat. A few years after, I dragged her into a brush fire in Yosemite Valley, deep into the Sequoia forests, to climb above the treeline; away from but still inside the inferno.

So it seemed like the right thing to do – to take the dress you wear to the water and you wore to the fire and send it back to where it came from in California.

Being a grown-up is funny, sometimes, isn’t it.

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