“I Love You.” “Thank You.”

My divorce buddy signed his final divorce papers today.  It’s been a long time coming.  At least from the outside looking in.

My divorce buddy took this photograph of me.
My divorce buddy took this photograph of me.

I remember the day he called and told me that he and his wife were separating.  My then-husband and I made the same decision three weeks earlier.

I call him my divorce buddy because we walked through this thing – the dissolution of marriage – together.  Hand in hand.  On occasion, literally, but mostly figuratively.

A buddy, like in kindergarten, required for just about everything.  To walk down the hall, ride the bus, go to the bathroom.  I don’t know if it was because two are harder to lose track of than one, or that if one should stray, at least he or she wouldn’t be lost alone.

That’s what it felt like.  We weren’t lost alone.

We would talk on the phone nearly every night for hours. And on the nights we didn’t talk, we texted.  Until I came to Chicago that summer – 2012.  Something changed.  Seemingly everything.

There was a chasm.  One that hadn’t been there the night before when we talked for three hours when my red-eye from Sea-Tac was delayed.  I couldn’t get close no matter how hard I tried.

My Rabbi laid it out in simple terms.  We no longer had a phone and 2,500 or so miles between us.  We were standing face to face.  I had feelings.  And expectations – although I tried not to.

I don’t know what he had.  I often said I was not “in this” alone, but face to face, I was no longer sure.

And then, when separated by miles and a phone again, we seemed to fall back into a comfortable intimacy.  I spent two weeks in Rwanda that summer, and called him from Belgium, where I stopped for a few days before coming home.

My travel companions continued down the long airport corridor to their connecting flight home, while I found myself in baggage claim – orange hard case in hand.  I ran my credit card through the phone and dialed.  It was 2 a.m. in Chicago.  I knew he’d be up.

He sounded surprised and excited to hear from me.  I told him we had to talk quickly because I had no idea how much this call was going to cost but I had a feeling it would be a lot.  (It showed up as $65 on my credit card statement.  Worth every penny.)

In Brussels, with my friend Tim.  Not my divorce buddy.
In Brussels, with my friend Tim. Not my divorce buddy.

He gave me some practical instructions about Brussels — the airport, the train and the city — and I began to cry.  He was doing “that thing” that he does.  “That thing” I always loved about him.  Even when we were both married and I had a crush on him but he had such good boundaries that I never worried about it.

He made me feel safe.  I told him that.

And then I told him I had to go and blurted out quickly, “I love you,” and before I put down the receiver he said, “I love you too.”

He had said it just once before. The night he called me to tell me he was getting a divorce.  At the end of the conversation.  When I promised him he wouldn’t be alone.  That it just wasn’t possible…thinking but not saying, “You can be with me, silly.”  Instead, I said, “I love you, my friend.” And he said, “I love you, too.”

It wasn’t a romantic “I love you.” From either of us.  Either time.  Regardless of my feelings, in those moments, my expression was pure heart connection.  I believe his was too.

Tonight he told a group of us that he signed his final papers.  My eyes welled up, tears of empathy, of gratitude and of memory.

Later, I took him aside, and told him I was sorry.  That I understood.  That I knew.  That his “news” reminded me of what we had walked through together.   He nodded and wrapped his arms around me.

I leaned into his ear and whispered, “I love you.”  Silence.  And then he said, “Thank you.”

Awful.

I wanted to tell him I knew he loved me too.  But I didn’t.  I guess because it wasn’t necessary.  Because I already knew.

Because I’ve changed just a little.  I am no longer interested in proving myself as necessary.  Indispensable.

And because our situation has changed too.

Learning he has signed his final papers, that his divorce is nearly complete, feels like an ending.   (My divorce was final in September 2012.)  That we have fulfilled our obligation to one another.  That our karmic contract is complete.

I felt a little something break off.  It felt sad.  But also necessary, right and true.

I didn’t join him and the others for dinner.  I came home – alone – instead.  Also right.  True.

Our friendship isn’t over.  We’re just no longer lost together.  We can let go of one another’s hands.

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Artist Date 45: The (Sometimes) Kindness of Strangers

This woman is wearing a knit hat, striped in colors of the Rastafarian flag.  It was a gift from a woman in Australia, while she was in Australia.  A woman who fed this woman lunch and beers but accepted no payment.  Her listening to the stories she was regaled with was payment enough.

kindness of strangersPlus, she would need it while camping in the outback.

She flew to Australia following the demise of a relationship.  Seems it is what she does.  Camping in the Outback.  Hiking in Wales.  Meditating on a mountain outside of Tokyo.

She is standing on a small stage in Rogers Park talking about it.  Coming clean, as it were.

Artist Date 45.

My friend Clover will also be reading and performing a piece .  It is about her mother.  About art school and being a performer.  About helping a man across the street who has fallen and everyone around him just keeps moving as if this hasn’t happened and the universe calls upon her to play the part of his angel.

There is a third.  Eric.  Who will talk about his need to go to a place where his father had been.  The father he didn’t know.  And then he did.  But who he never really knew.  And is now dead.

But right now I’m watching Jennifer.  I know her name because I looked it up in the program, which is black and white.  Folded but not stapled.  And reads, “The Kindness of Strangers: A Festival of Storytelling.”

And then, “A 3-week rotating mix of more than 30 storytellers weaving tales of connecting, or not, with strangers.”  The words encircled by drawings, like a globe – buildings, a boat and a lighthouse, water.

I want to be this woman with a knit hat and a beer-stained hiking map, marked up by pub patrons who laugh each time she says the word “garbage.”  This woman who takes off on serious adventures – by herself – when love goes south.  When the re-bound from the break up proves not to be the antidote to her pain.  Who is standing on this tiny stage telling her story.

I want to be that brave.  To travel alone.  Even though I’ve done it – albeit briefly — and my experience is that solo travel is most satisfying when it is connected to purpose.  And people.  Like my volunteer trips to Rwanda and the South of France.

I want a rebound.  Even though it has been suggested I don’t date.  Even though I have probably been divorced too long for anything to be called a rebound.  And my short-lived dalliances, both emotional and physical, have been painful to the extreme.

Even though my experience of being alone this past year has brought me closer to myself.  My craft.  My writing.  The very thing that might put me on stage.

Clover.  Very likely telling a story.  Just not on stage.
Clover. Very likely telling a story. Just not on stage.

I am comparing my insides to someones outsides once again.  Devaluing my own experience when confronted with someone seemingly doing what I think I’d like to do.  What I think I should do.

I well up listening to her.  While the details are different, I recognize the story as my own.

I see pieces of my story in Eric’s too.  Reconnecting with a parent who was physically absent for so many years.  His through desertion.  Mine through adoption.  Losing them again.  And what is left.  For him, a ring.  For me, a pair of opera glasses and a too-big mink coat, her name embroidered on the inside, hanging in my closet.

But I do not see myself in Clover’s story.

I’m not even looking, let alone comparing.  It is not that I am not interested.  I am.  I am teary, ass-glued-to-the-seat, riveted.

Maybe it is because I know her story.  Her stories.  She has trusted me with them over the years.

Her mother selling her art work, without her consent, as payment to her therapist.  Lying down in the street in downtown Chicago when the light is turned red.  A classroom performance piece.  The ants that crossed in front of her mattress, on the floor, in the basement of her mother’s friend’s house, in the toniest part of upstate New York.

And I have trusted her with mine.  They are less the same.  But our feelings, and our responses, match perfectly.  This is where we found our “me too’s.”

Like I am just now doing with Jennifer.  With Eric.  Connecting with strangers – who may or may not become more than that.  (Turns out, I have danced with Eric’s girlfriend on and off for years.  I’m pretty sure I’ll see both of them again.)  The place of beginning.

Artist Date 44: You Are Really More West African

Mary is coming toward me but I can’t place her. In fact, I don’t yet recall that this is her name.

I scan through my mental Rolodex as quickly as I can trying to match a face, a name, an experience.  I come up blank other than to know that she is familiar, and we are at my synagogue, so I figure I must know her from here.

One of the many children I met in Kigali...introduced by Mary.
One of many children I met in Kigali, introduced by Mary.

She puts her arms around me and asks how I am.  I tell her I am well and she says that I look it.  Her response is genuine.  Like she has taken a few minutes to take me in.  All of me.  Like she’s seen me before.  And she has.  Even though I cannot remember where.

She begins talking about the speakers I am here to hear.  Dr. Naasson Munyandamutsa and his wife Donatilla Mukumana.  That she has been traveling with them.  Out West, where Naasson received the Barbara Chester Award from the Hopi Foundation, for his work with torture victims.  And now here, to Evanston.  To my synagogue.  My more head-y than usual Artist Date – Number 44.

Finally, I humbly admit I cannot remember her name.  It is Mary.  I tell her mine is Lesley.  She hadn’t remembered either.  Just my face.  She has seen my face.

In Rwanda.  Her name shakes something loose.  The pieces fall into place.

Mary is one of the founders of WE-ACTx – an organization supporting women and children with HIV and AIDS in Rwanda.  We met in the summer of 2012 when I traveled there with my Rabbi and members of my synagogue, the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation.

rwanda filling rxOn the ground, we filled prescription packets, painted walls, built a library.  But mostly, we witnessed.  The people.  Their lives.  The help they required.  And the heroic, albeit shoe-string, assistance that was being provided.

It was an antidote, a balm, to the crazy, or at the very least, unsettled, that was my life at that time.

Smack dab in the middle of my divorce.  Neither in nor out.  I was living in Seattle, with my soon-to-be ex-husband, sleeping on the fold-out couch in the office.  I had decided I would decide in Kigali where to go next.  If I would stay in Seattle.  Move back to Chicago.  Or San Francisco.

Or go somewhere else entirely – like Kigali.  Where it was suggested more than once, by residents, by ex-patriots and by several of those on my trip, that perhaps I should consider staying.

All of this comes flooding back to me as Mary is speaking to me.

Patrick.  His greeting to me each time we met: "Liora, you should stay."
Patrick’s greeting each time we met: “Liora, you should stay.”

The bindi I wore every day – the jeweled accoutrement pasted between my eyes that I had taken to wearing.  The mark of a married women in Indian culture.  My own private, not-even-conscious, barrier between me and the world.  A secret “Don’t-even-fucking-think-of-it.”  Even though it was all I was fucking thinking about. Fucking.  Because I wasn’t.

The name I claimed – Liora, my Hebrew name.  It means “my light.”  There were two Lesley—s on the trip and it just seemed easier.  For everyone except my Rabbi, who knew me as Lesley.

The words, “It’s ok.  It was a long time coming,” that flew out of my mouth regularly.  Every time I spoke of my impending divorce, which was a lot.  It was my story, as we each told our stories to one another – 12 of us over 12 or so days in sub-Saharan Africa.

It seems a lifetime ago.

Nights under my mosquito net talking with my roommate – who, just a few months later, would begin walking through her own divorce – talking about the day.  Blogging by the light of my computer after she had gone to bed.

rwanda dance posseDancing with a professional troupe in a “cultural village” (read: Tourist Destination) near the Ugandan border.  Dancing on the hot concrete at the WE-ACTx compound and on the lawn outside of the hotel in the evening – a party thrown just for us, complete with a DJ, BBQ, and a movie – Gorillas in the Mist – shown on a screen outside, just like in Chicago during summertime in the parks.

I am jostled back into today as Mary introduces Naasson and Donatilla.

They are sitting at a table, each with a laptop computer in front of them.  His, a MAC Airbook.  Hers, an HP, like mine.

They talk about their work with rape.  With depression and suicide.  Their voices are sweet, slightly lilting.  Easy on the ear.  Their faces express nothing of the pain of their work.  Of what they, and those around them, have experienced.  It is typical for people from this part of Africa, and they speak to it – the shrouded emotional life of Rwandans.

There are only five psychiatrists in all of Rwanda.

I lean over to my Rabbi.  “It’s a good thing I didn’t stay there, “I whisper, remembering he was one of the ones who encouraged me to consider staying – perhaps his own “road-not-traveled.”

“Yes, you are more West African,” he whispers back.  We laugh.  Even though I don’t quite know what it means.  But I like it.

I like it because I “study” West African dance.  Spending Sunday mornings barefoot, moving in lines across a wood floor, supported and surrounded by a posse of drummers and other dancers.  Leaping.  Learning to shake my hips like a not-locked-up-up-tight American woman.

My heart seemingly bursting through my skin.

I don’t know anything about West Africans – other than what I experience from my dance teacher and some of the drummers.  But I know that I am emotionally “raw.”  And not just now.  That I am “wild” in comparison to Rwandans.  And to many Americans.

I like the idea of a place where people live like this.  A land of “misfit toys,” like in the animated holiday special, Rudolph’s Shiny New Year.  Where everyone’s heart is seemingly bursting through their skin.  Spilling out with love.  With pain.  With life.

A Birthday Story: Celebrating What Is

It is four something in the morning.  I woke up at the same ungodly hour yesterday – my 44th birthday.

I have always loved birthdays.

My birthday didn't begin with laughter...it ended with it.
My birthday didn’t begin with laughter…it ended with it.

I’m a big celebrator in general.  Ask any of my Weight Watchers members.  I love to clap and give out Bravo! Stickers for behavior changes.  Those subtle little miracles.

“Where else do you go that they clap for you?” I ask.

Well, 12-Step meetings.  But I don’t bring that up as it isn’t germane.

Birthdays are like that.  It seems the whole world is clapping, rooting for you, that day.  Mostly.

This year I awoke feeling a little less clap-y.  A little less celebratory.

I’d been aware of a low-grade sadness tugging at me for a few days.  Aware this was my first birthday since my birth mother died.

We found one another in October of my 40th year.

Ours was not always an easy relationship.  Some days I think she would have jumped in my skin if she could have, while I took a more tentative approach to our relationship.  Timing.  Expectations.  Boundaries.  Those were our lessons.  And we were one another’s teachers.

She sent me flowers when I turned 40.  A card the following year.  And then phone calls the next two.  She wasn’t well and it was difficult for her to get out – both physically and emotionally.  This year there would be no flowers, no card, no call.  I felt sad.

Like I did when her name was read at the memorial service on Yom Kippur.  Like I did when I returned from Ireland last month and felt like calling and for the first time realized I couldn’t.  I find myself surprised by the sadness, although I’m not sure why.  It makes perfect sense – at least on a cellular level.

So there was that.

And there was the aloneness of being not-so-suddenly, but-still, single.

My ex was a great gift giver.

Birthday and anniversary mornings I would find a card on the bed, slipped into place when I got up to shower.  A gift would come later.  Usually something I had spied and mentioned in passing months earlier.  Something I had forgotten about until I saw it again.  A hand-carved wooden jewelry box.  Strands of smoky quartz and hand-colored pearls.

2013-10-20 20.19.35
Kristin. Who reminds me of the love in my life when I cannot see it.

He gave me a watch when I turned 42 – my last birthday with him.  I had been wearing the same Seiko tank since I was 14, gift from my Aunt Betty.  She had lost hers.  Found it.  And gave the original to me.

I replaced the band and battery several dozen times over the years.  Until the crystal broke and a jeweler told me it couldn’t be fixed.

I didn’t like the watch he bought me.  I don’t know if I would have liked anything he bought me at that time.  He had recently asked me for a divorce – and then recanted the next day – but it was there.  The truth about our relationship.  It was over.  We just hadn’t cut the cord yet.

He was hurt and offended that I didn’t like his gift, but offered to take me shopping so I could pick out something else, anyway.  I couldn’t do it.  I kept the watch.  I am still wearing it.

When I woke up early yesterday, I noticed the absence of a card.  Of a body in my bed.  Specifically, my ex’s.  I do not crave him being there – but I was used to it.  To him, for so long.

I rolled off my mattress and dropped to my knees in child’s pose – both a stretch and a prayer.   “modeh ani lefanecha.  Thank you G-d for returning my soul to me.”  I asked for several obsessions to be removed.  And then, still on my knees, I opened Facebook on my phone.  The messages had already begun to pour in.  Old neighbors.  Acquaintances from grade school.  Family – by origin and by choice.  From Africa.  And from just down the street.

I wrote. Meditated. Showered and went to work.  Weight Watchers.  It felt life affirming.  As did dance class.  I made lunch and took myself shopping at my favorite resale shop.  I bought a grey wool coat that ties at the waist.  It fits as if it were made for me.

I talked to a few friends on the phone.  Around five a girlfriend picked me up and we went to do what we do to make sure we don’t drink today.

I used to make a big “to do” out of my birthday.  Or at least try to.  Those expectations often left me feeling sad and frustrated.  I was unclear why.  But today was delightfully ordinary.

Indian sweets.
Indian sweets.

It ended with cheap eats at a large, bright Pakistani restaurant on Devon Avenue.  The kind with a menu posted on a TV screen.  Where you wait in line to order food and pick it up on a tray.  Where you eat with plastic utensils.

Where I feel conspicuously white.

There were eight of us.  Among them, my divorce buddy – the man I walked lock step with through the dissolution of our marriages.  And then watched my friendship with him dissolve.  I hadn’t invited him.  But there he was.  I was delighted.

“Of course he’s here,” Kristin said.  “He loves you.”

I decided to believe her.  And to believe in all the love around the table.  JB’s.  Tom’s.  Matt’s.

Rebecca’s.  Brian’s.  Kristin’s.

And to focus on it.  To focus on who was there, instead of who wasn’t.  The calls, texts, cards and Facebook greetings I did receive.  Instead of those I didn’t.  (Well, mostly.)

We took pictures and ate fried bits of goodness – both sweet and savory.  Drank lassis and tea with evaporated milk.

I came home and ate the last of my sweets.  I felt a little overly-sugared.  Overly stimulated.

And I fell into bed.  Alone.  Sated.  Full.

Doing It Again. Confessions of a Reluctant Doula.

I vowed I would never do this again.

And yet, the words tumbled out of my mouth.  At the same time both jumbled and awkward, certain and clear.  Clover reflected them back to me.

With Clover, on one of our many gelato/sorbet dates this summer.
With Clover, on one of our many gelato/sorbet dates.

“Are you saying you want to be my doula?”

“Um…yes.  I guess.”

Pause.  Smile.  Squint.  Think.  Nod.  Nod again, excitedly.

“Yes.  Yes, I do.  If you will have me.”

She stood up from her chair — her pregnant belly announcing itself to all those around us – and threw her arms around me.   Both our eyes wet with tears.

Just a few months earlier, she had told me she was pregnant.

Sitting on the marble wall outside of the Sulzer Library.  It was summer and we had just polished off our cups from Paciugo – sorbet for her, gelato for me.  I was talking about boys.  None of it new or terribly important.

And when I stopped, she was talking about babies.  Specifically, her baby.

Later that night, we danced in the street to a band from West Africa.  And when she was tired I walked her home, suddenly terribly protective.  I called her Lil Mama – what a boy from South Carolina used to affectionately call me – and told her I would support her in any way I could.

So it shouldn’t have surprised either of us when I offered to be her doula.

Except that I am not certified as a doula.  Greek for “a woman who serves.”

I am a pre-natal massage therapist and instructor.  A friend.  Terribly interested in the miracles our bodies engender.

And I’ve done this once before.  A little more than six years ago, for my oldest and dearest friend Julie.

My then-husband and I were preparing to move from California for his medical residency.  In the two months leading up to our departure, we would travel to Chicago to look for a home, and to Oklahoma for my ex-boyfriend’s wedding.

Julie asked that I consider a third trip – to Detroit, for the birth of her son.  She wanted me to be her doula.

I was in an underground parking lot when I received her call.

Every fiber in my being wanted to say no.  It wasn’t practical.  It was expensive.  I felt overwhelmed.

The words that flew out of my mouth were, “Of course.”

Before the birth, with Julie.
Before the birth, with Julie.

I arrived a few weeks later – three days before her due date, and departing four days after.  It was spring.  No one thought my schedule and the baby’s would sync.  We gave it to the universe.

We spent our days on long walks.  Visiting her mother.  Talking – about everything and nothing.  Like we always do.

I massaged her legs while she sat on the exam table in a flowered gown, waiting for the obstetrician.  And pressed acupressure points on her hands and feet – “downward elevators” in Chinese medicine.

We ate a late breakfast following a trip to the gym – her last before becoming a mother.  Julie wanted to use the elliptical machine.  (She swears this is what started her labor.)  She ate little of her French toast.   Her stomach pushed so far up into her ribs, it left little room for food.

Around 11 p.m. that night I got the call.  It was time.

I met Julie at the hospital door.  Steve parked the car.

We walked the hospital floors for an hour, until she was dilated enough to be admitted.

Once in her room, we talked and laughed and napped over the next many hours.  Somewhere there are photographs of me wrapped up in blankets, looking like a woman from the old country.

Her husband fed me crackers and peanut butter.  I watched Julie instinctively comfort herself.  She labored many hours, insisting on a vaginal birth – even though the doctor on call wanted to perform a C-section.

Thankfully, the labor nurses supported her choice.

At their urging, I held up one her legs and counted her contractions out loud until hoarse.  Jaron’s head emerged.  Then his shoulder.  And then the rest of him – slipping out quickly like a fish.

I saw him first and looked at Julie with wet eyes, nodding.  I didn’t have any words.

Jaron was placed under a heat lamp, like a Big Mac, while the doctor tended to Julie, and the nurse made notes.   He looked wise, terribly nonplussed by this abrupt move from his inner world out.

“You’ve done this before,” I said.

Right after the birth.  My first time as a doula.
Right after the birth. With Jaron.

They say babies don’t smile right away, but I am certain he did, as he reached into the air.  “Playing with the angels,” Julie said, referring to the idea in mystic Judaism that babies are born so pure they can see angels.  A lovely idea.

I returned to the hospital the next day.  Julie was eating a cold grilled cheese and French fries – seemingly already accustomed to the realities of motherhood.

She told me I should do this work professionally.  “Never,” I replied.

A few years later her niece asked me to come to New York to be her doula.  I was flattered, but politely declined.

I didn’t want to be on call.  Couldn’t imagine putting a price to the work.  Wasn’t willing to sleep on a fold-out chair for just anyone.  Just her.

I was grateful for the experience.  To be invited so intimately into my friend’s life.  But I had no desire to repeat it.

Until I did.

Clover had just gone public with her pregnancy on Facebook.

As we ate perhaps our last gelato and sorbet of the season, I intuitively knew that I would be there.  Sleeping on a fold-out chair, eating crackers and peanut butter, a blanket wrapped around my head like a babushka.  Serving the miracle.

Artist Date 43: It Never Occured To Me I Was Good

I used to hate Harry.  Not him personally.  Just dancing with him.

And not exactly hate.  More like fear.  Dread.

It’s not like that anymore.   It hasn’t been for a while.  But that came later.  Much, much later.

andersonvilleSo it was a pleasant and still somewhat unexpected surprise to find myself pedaling to the Andersonville Arts Weekend, specifically to see his work – Artist Date 43.

Harry is like my friend J, who I have written about before (as have other bloggers – cursing his talent).  An artist savant.  J made Mission-style bedroom furniture his first go at woodworking.  He didn’t even know what Mission-style was.

I imagine it is like that for Harry too – that his fingertips simply release the art locked up in the canvas, the stone or metal.

I am not this kind of artist.

Consider my recent foray into clay, my first in more than 25 years.

I enrolled in a first-time potter class at Lil Street Art Center.  Bought my bucket and toolkit.  Attended all of the five, three-hour sessions.  Came in on the weekends to practice.  And never came close to mastering centering.

Or even getting the hang of it.  Which is problematic as centering – which is exactly what it sounds like, getting the clay centered on the wheel — is pretty much essential for anything of beauty to emerge.

I didn’t have much more success with trimming – cleaning up or “editing” my pots.  Ditto for slab work or glazing.

I left the class with a few sad pieces I have scattered around my house – doing utilitarian duty.  A tray I lean spoons on when cooking.  A tiny bowl with salt in it, sitting on top of the stove.  Another sitting on the window sill of my shower, filled with stones and glass I collected at the beach.

2013-10-17 22.48.20A cylinder glazed white, where my sponge lives.

I realized this work would be work if I wanted to be any good at it.  Or even just better.  Like dance.

While dancing always felt natural to me – at clubs and at parties – moving across the floor in a structured class was something else entirely.  Which is probably why I avoided it for so long.  For fear of not knowing what I am doing.  Looking “stupid.”  Not in control.

The take away from my early years regarding art, music and sports was that talent was innate.  Period.  There was no talk of practice.  Learning a craft.  Or of doing for sheer joy.

I learned those lessons late.  First, from my step-mother, who began painting in her 60s.  I recall her early efforts – shared with me in cards and notes.  Then seeing her work, in her home studio, years later.  Whimsical watercolors of cows on oversized paper.  Framed.  I wanted them for my wall.

I learned them again, a few years later, in dance class.  I have a visceral memory of my instructor Idy going right and me moving left.  Him reaching up, and I, down.

“Like this, Lesley,” he would say.  I swore I was doing the same, but clearly I wasn’t.  Again and again.  Looking at one another in the mirror.  Me giggling.  Them him.  Until I fell on the floor in a heap.

Learning to laugh at myself.  To feel the drums.  My bare feet on the floor.  The joy and wonder of my body leaping.  Contorting.  Flying.

That is, until I met Harry.  He was, and is, what I call a teacher’s teacher.  Reaching for rightness.  What is correct.  He filled in when Idy traveled.  I hated it.

Walking into the studio and seeing him, my heart would sink.  Frustrated by his seemingly constant corrections, I would bite my bottom lip to hold back tears.

One January, when Idy returned to Senegal, Harry led the entire session.  Driven by my frail ego and fear of being found out as a “dance fraud,” I did not enroll in class.  It was the first time I would not dance on a Sunday in more than a year.

I missed it.

I talked to my friend Lisa at length about it.  She suggested I pray.  For the resentment to be removed? To be right sized?  To be teachable?  I don’t recall her exact directions.  I just remember, being desperate.  Praying.  And things changing.

I found I could dance with Harry.  And I could even enjoy it.

Especially when I nailed a step, or a series of steps.  He would stand in front of me clapping his hands shouting, “Yes! Yes!”  I was both thrilled and embarrassed at the same time, grinning ear to ear.  Then losing my footing.  And laughing.  I knew he wasn’t lying.

Or when he had me demonstrate a step, moving across the floor, with the other dancers following.  Because I “had it.”  This happened just once.

Truth told, I developed a little crush on Harry.  The safe kind.  I was pretty sure he was married and had been for a long time.

I found out for certain on Sunday, meeting his wife – who showed me his jewelry.  Rings with enormous oversized stones – too big for my tiny hands.  A copper and silver band that made my fingers look long.  A snaking chain of tiny stones, each marked with a symbol.  I wrapped it around my neck again and again until there wasn’t anymore.  Heavy.

2013-10-13 16.19.58We talked about dance and artistry.  About marriage.  And giving one another space to grow.

I saw Harry a bit later that afternoon, showing his paintings and sculpture at a different location.  He waved to me from inside the store as I was approaching.  And once inside he introduced me to his daughter and told me about his work.  His inspiration.  His process.  I listened.

And then I told him how I used to feel about dancing with him.  And how today I love it.  That I am a better dancer because of him.

His response floored me.

He told me he can’t stand idly by when someone is so close.

It had never occurred to me that I was close.  That he pushed me because I was good.  Not because I was bad.  That if I were hopeless, he wouldn’t have bothered at all.

He saw me, right-sized.  Teachable.

(Video: Dancing with Harry)

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151412384026731&set=vb.554046730&type=3&theater

Cotton is the Proper Gift for a Was-A-Versary

Today is my wedding anniversary.

Twelve years ago today...
Twelve years ago today…

Except I’m no longer married.

What do you call an anniversary that is no longer?

Was-a-versary? Once-upon-a-time-a-versary?  Just plain shitty?

Are there traditional gifts for it like for a wedding anniversary?  Paper for the first year?

Yes, of course.  Divorce papers.

And cotton for the second?  According to the wedding website, The Nest, cotton represents durability and the ability to adapt.

Yes.  This is so.  Even on days when I feel really fragile.

I don’t remember this day last year.  The first.  Perhaps it was just too painful and my brain protected me, blocking it out.  Like it does, I am told, with the pain of childbirth – this “amnesia” being necessary for the perpetuation of the species.

The amnesia has cleared.  And this year I am more than present for the pain.

It hit me out of nowhere, or so it seemed – arriving Wednesday and continuing to linger like a low-grade cold that lasts all winter long.

I arrived home from my cousin’s wedding, the second in less than 30 days, and was riding my bike when I felt a rush of energy shoot through my body.  It centered in my heart and moved out to my extremities.  Coursing, over and again.  Sharp heat.

I pedaled as hard as I could – trying to force flush this poison from my system.  It didn’t budge.

My eyes welled up behind my oversized Old Navy sunglasses.  My nose flared and felt hot.  But I couldn’t quite squeak out a cry.

I needed more than a cry.  I needed a wail.

This is the feeling I used to drink over.

I should have seen it coming.  The weddings.  The short-lived sex with a boy 12 years my junior.  It was great fun, but as so often has been the case in my history, over practically before it began.  Over before I was done.

Tim, Master Cake Maker.
Tim — Friend, former roommate and wedding-cake baker.

He told me up front he was in no place for a relationship.  But “a little sex won’t kill me,” he said.  Funny, I told him it might kill me.  I knew that somehow my heart would hurt, but I couldn’t help myself.

And then I cut a cord that tethered my ex and I together.  I told him I could not be his best friend.

Our divorce was about as amicable as they get.  We lived together through it all.  Used a mediator.  Never went to court.  The whole thing was done in less than six months.

The night before I left Seattle we sat on his bed waxing nostalgic – remembering him calling me and asking me out for the first time, and me asking “Why?”

He said I was pretty and I had cool shoes.  And then he looked in my eyes and told me I was still pretty.  That I still had cool shoes.  The next morning, I was gone before he woke.

We were close for a while.  And then we weren’t.  I began to heal.  I leaned into the people about me.  Into my art, my writing, my dance.  He noticed the change in me.  In the dwindling frequency of our conversations and commented on it.

“I guess you need space,” he remarked.  I did.  But I was so afraid of losing him in my life that I asked for it in a wishy-washy sort of way.  Backpedaling often.

When he said it again, a week or so ago, I replied in the affirmative.  This time with a little more backbone, adding, “I cannot be your best friend.”  He immediately, expectedly, retreated.

On Wednesday, home from my travels, and the whirlwind that has been my life for the past few weeks, I felt the culmination of the days and of my experiences.  Grief.  Sadness.  It crashed over me like a wave, and all I could do was feel the incredible force of it.

It reminded me of body surfing in Punta Mita with my ex – the Pacific Ocean as warm as bath water.  I got caught by a rip tide and was thrust down into the sand beneath me, head first.  Terrifying.  I began to flail, unsure which way was up.  Until I remembered what I had been taught.

wedding toastDon’t fight.  Stay still.  That my body would naturally float to the surface.  And it did.

I never told my ex, or anyone else, about the experience.  Until now.

I’ve been back in the ocean many times since then.  The experience remains with me.  A shadow.  A teaching.  A reminder, like all of my experiences – especially the most recent ones –I am durable.  Adaptable.  Like cotton.