“I Am Safe; It’s Only Change”

“I am safe; it’s only change.”

The words tumble out of a book I recently unearthed, one I began reading together with a friend last year in Spain but never finished. Written on a card, I assume acting as a bookmark, decorated with gorgeous greens and oranges, purples, pinks and blues. Flowers and faces.

It is one of a deck, a gift from my friend Michelle — given to me when I left Seattle for Chicago in 2012, following my divorce. A few years later, I tucked them into one of two suitcases that accompanied me on a year-long sojourn to Spain.

I’ve pulled them out from time to time when I needed inspiration. In writing. In life. But this time I didn’t go looking for it. It found me.

Riding the 9 Ashland bus on my way to work, the card slides out. I smile, thinking of Michelle, and of the changes I am twisting against, and turn it over.

“Safe and Change …

“If you have drawn this card, some kind of change is afoot. It is, after all, the only constant thing! With change comes fear and questions and the ground becomes shaky with uncertainty. This card is a reminder that change would not be happening unless somehow the timing was right. Although it may be edgy and challenging, the universe intends to keep you safe. Courage does not exist in the absence of fear. And faith cannot exist without ‘not knowing.’ Remember that the true unsafety lies in not changing.”

I wonder if the artist could have envisioned the state of our nation when she wrote this. That I, and so many other Americans, would feel sucker punched in the gut every day following the inauguration of our 45th president — watching the principles this country was built upon summarily dismantled. Our country run by a handful of wealthy, straight white men who seem bent on growing their interests alone. Fearful of waking up and no longer recognizing the place we’ve called home. The place I deliberately returned to when my student visa was up for renewal.

I’ve never been so emotionally effected by politics in my life. Perhaps this is good. Perhaps this is the change. The shift my friend Rachel says she is trying to lean into. She mentions it following my post of a Mahatmas Gandhi quote on Facebook – poached from another friend’s newsfeed.

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall, always.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

The words are like a balm.

Within hours, nearly 100 people have clicked “like” or “love.”

My heart swells and glows yellow, as it sometimes does. I am reminded of the power of hope and of community, and of the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “ … That where there are shadows, I may bring light.”

That night, I decide to limit my news sources to a chosen few. Since then, I’ve begun to feel a little more peace …

Which leaves room to twist against the other shifts and changes in my life … but only if I choose to.

 

 

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I Held On To My Own Hand

Carrie and Petrofsky -- BEFORE he let go of her hand.
Carrie and Petrofsky — BEFORE he let go of her hand.

There’s a wonderful scene in the second to last episode of Sex and the City —  where the camera zooms in and in slow motion Aleksandr Petrofsky lets go of Carrie Bradshaw’s hand, the one he had asked her for a few hours earlier in a moment of anxiety and doubt.

“Promise me you will not let go,” a nervous Petrofsky says, fiddling with his cufflinks as he dresses for his art show opening.

Carrie nods, forgoing the party held in her honor — perhaps the first and only experience of and for herself in the City of Light.

Upon entering the gallery, Petrofsky’s fear is quickly assuaged by applause. Forgetting his words, he releases Carrie’s hand, ultimately releasing her.

I am telling this story to the man lying next to me on the futon.

We are making out like teenagers. Except that I never did this when I was a teenager. It is sweet. Tender. New. My whole body is humming.

I feel his weight on top of me and suddenly feel small, pressed down, vulnerable. My body is no longer humming. In fact, I am slipping out of it. “He will move soon and do something else,” I think. “It is fine.”

But it is not fine.

There is nothing aggressive or threatening about this gesture. He is not too heavy on top of me. In fact, I crave his nearness, and yet I am triggered by it.

I don’t know why. I don’t really care. I only know that I desperately want to return to the place where my body hums.

And I intuitively know the only way back is through — through my mouth, my voice, my truth.

I ask him to move. Kindly. Gently. Assuring him he has done nothing wrong, because he hasn’t. Assuring him that this is “my stuff.”

He rolls on to his side, kisses my forehead and strokes my cheek, and asks me what I need from him.

“Nothing,” I say. And it is true. I have exactly what I need. I have myself.

And in this seemingly insignificant moment I see the hundreds of times I have told myself everything was “fine” when it was not — saying nothing. Enduring, hoping, praying something would change, but not recognizing my role in changing it. In sex. In love. In work. In friendship. In family.

I get teary with the realization that I have never advocated for myself in this way before. I tell him this and the Carrie-Petrofsky story.

“I feel like I have held on to my own hand,” I say.

A few nights later we are again lying on the futon, under the front window that faces a church.

I am wearing decidedly less clothing than I was the previous time we were together. I feel myself slipping out of my body again.

“I want my pants back on,” I blurt out.

“Too fast?” He asks. “Too fast,” I reply.

“Yes, for me too,” he says, helping me slip back into my skinny corduroys. Zipping them, I almost immediately slip back into my body — reveling in all of the sensations created by my new partner.

I think of all of the times I have had sex when I didn’t want to. Because I thought I should. Because I thought it was expected. Because I had wanted it but changed my mind and didn’t really believe I was allowed to, that I could. Turns out — I can.

“I held on to my own hand again,” I tell him, grinning.

He smiles back, his hands tracing the seams of my corduroy jeans, kissing me like the teenager I never was.

And I feel my body humming again.

Choosing To Be A Lesbian Alcoholist

Patsy and I in Israel, nearly 20 years ago.
Patsy and I in Israel, nearly 20 years ago.

 

The last time I saw Patsy was at my wedding – nearly 13 years ago.  She officiated, combining Jewish, Hindu, Native American and British elements into a ceremony that spoke to both of our hearts and sensibilities.

I spoke to her yesterday for the first time in more years that I can count – not quite 13, but far too long.

We talked about Mickey – her mom – who had just died and what that felt like for her.  About meeting in Israel on a press trip nearly 20 years ago.  And so much of what had happened in the in between.  Things we caught in passing, in pithy Facebook posts and the occasional email.

She had no real sense of what had happened between my ex and me.  Or even that I had (happily) given up the fight with alcohol nearly seven years ago.

And because she had not been with me for every step, every man, every tear and nuance of the journey – she saw the story, my story, far differently than me.  Her reflections were, in a word, a revelation.

She had recently asked me in an email if there was “someone special” in my life.

It was the question I have come to expect. To brace myself for. To both love and despise – as it can feel both hopeful and humiliating, depending on the day, my mood and the current state of my heart.

I told her that I did not. That it hurt my heart to write that.

I told her about the suggestion that I not date for a year after my divorce. How that was pretty easy as no one was really asking. (Which is not exactly true. More to the point would be, no one I was interested in was asking.) And how that year had come and gone.

I told her I had met some extraordinary men, experienced some wonderful emotional intimacy and some wonderful romance.  But none had been truly available for one reason or another.

I told her I am online, like every other schlub, although it is not how I imagine meeting someone. And to keep me and my big, juicy, open heart in her thoughts and manifestations.

It was “my story.” The one I tell myself. The one I tell here.

Yesterday, she helped me tell the next chapter. It had a decidedly different feel.

I told her about the “romantic friendship” with my spiritual-traveling twin. About the man nearly 13 years my junior, who has been dancing around me (and me, him) for some months, and our breakfast date that morning. And about a similar dance I have been doing with a man who looks a lot like Daniel Day Lewis – my ex’s doppelganger.

I told her about the friend who continues to tell me, “I’m still interested.” How my feelings remain platonic. And that I have no desire to try to “make them” otherwise.

And I told her about a new man – the chef – who I actually did meet online. We’ve had just a few dates, and my feelings feel “right sized.” He is easy to talk to and I have fun spending time with him. I find him attractive and I like how he kisses.

“I think you are very genuine,” he blurted across the table a few nights ago. I like that too. Because it is kind and observant, but mostly because it is true.

Patsy replied, “You ARE dating a lot of men right now. You are having fun. You just haven’t settled on one.”

It was true. It IS true. It sounds different from “I am still not in a relationship,” even though the actual details are the same. And it feels different.

She added that in the nearly 20 years she has known me, that I have always had men in my orbit. Always. That I have always been attractive to men. Always.

This was news. I had not seen it that way.

Seems I have spent the past 30-plus years mostly noticing the time in between. The times of breakup and/or longing. And believing that everyone else was constantly in relationship – meaningful relationship – and wondering why I was not.

She reminded me of the other chef. The one I dated before my ex-husband.

And I recalled the hotel bartender in Israel who suggested I show him the pictures in my room. When I replied, “I think you’ve seen all the pictures in all of these rooms,” he asked if I was a lesbian. Earlier he had asked if I was “an alcoholist,” as I turned down a drink.  Close enough.

I chose an evening with my new press-trip friends (among them, Patsy) over an overseas fling, and a good story to be certain. I chose to be the lesbian alcoholist.

And in that recalling, I saw myself as Patsy saw me. (And likely, many others.) Attractive. Discerning. At choice. I have always been at choice…in relationships. And now, in how tell my story.

 

 

Pretend Boyfriend

I tattooed my aspirations on my body lest I forget them.  Lest I again consider leaving myself.
I tattooed my aspirations on my body lest I forget them. Lest I again consider leaving myself.

“You want a relationship, right?”

The words tumbled out of my Rabbi’s mouth.  Innocuous.  More a statement than a question.  Nearly an afterthought as we wrapped up our monthly meeting.

“I…I think so,” I stammered.

We stared at one another.  There it was.  The truth.  It fell flat on the floor, spreading out in the space between us.  Consuming.  Shocking.

We’d spent an awful lot of time talking about relationships over the years.  Talking about my fathers – both of them, the biological one and the one who raised me, my Dad.  My husband – now my ex.  The smattering of men who had come in and out of my life since the dissolution of my marriage.

My Divorce Buddy.  The one I talked to each night, into the wee hours of the morning.  Half a country apart.  Both of us alone, in the dark, navigating our way through the sometimes messy endings of marriage.

The Southern Svengali.  Genius artist in a Johnny Cash t-shirt.  He guided me through Charleston and my last visit with my biological mother before she died.  Pressed his lips against mine and nothing more.  Called me “Lil Pearl” and taught me how to be a better artist.

And most recently, the man I have affectionately come to call Mr. 700 Miles – referring to the physical distance between us.  In our hearts…it is just inches.  But in our lives… oceans and continents apart.  He is clearly, plainly, 100 percent unavailable.

Separated, but not quite divorced.  ”Kinda dating” someone in his own zip code.  He is finding his own center – spiritually, emotionally, creatively – and his own truth.  Work I have already done.  Work I continue to do.

And yet, when we talk or Skype, there is a familiarity that speaks of karmic attachments and lives shared.  Quite simply, I am in love with his heart.

He is, what my friend Rainey calls, a pretend boyfriend.  They all are.

A "selfie," on the road with my Divorce Buddy.  He never wants to show up in pictures. Hm...
A “selfie,” on the road with my Divorce Buddy. He never wants to show up in pictures. Hm…

She uses the words in a matter-of-fact way that implies everyone has one.  Has had one.  Like a cell phone or email address.

Deep friendship.  Emotional intimacy.  Trust.

Companionship.  Connectedness.  A shared sense of not being alone even though you are – when you are one instead of two.

But without a physical dimension, or a commitment to anything more.

She assures me that she has had several over the years.  And that sometimes, pretend boyfriends become real boyfriends.  But mostly they are pretend.

This has been my experience too.  Although I am usually too blinded by hope to see it at the time.

Good for practice.  For reminding me of my loveliness.  What it feels like to be close.  And allowing me to believe in possibilities.

No good at all in moments when my bed feels cold and lonely.  When I want nothing more than to feel arms wrapped around me.

Downright disastrous when I bring expectations of a real relationship to it.

My friend Kerry called me out on my penchant for pretend boyfriends this past weekend.  He wanted to know what I was afraid of.  Why I wouldn’t try online dating.  Why I wouldn’t make myself available to someone who is available.

A gift from one of my pretend boyfriends.  He said that I fell out of his head and on to his sketchbook.
A gift from one of my pretend boyfriends. He said that I fell out of his head and on to his sketchbook.

I felt sick inside.

“I don’t want to be left,” I said quietly in a voice that did not seem my own.

Was I referring to my partner of 15 years “leaving me?”  My birth parents “leaving me?”

Or was it me leaving myself?  Pushing aside my art, my values and my aspirations for someone else.  Someone who never asked me to.  And for something else – a relationship.  Believing that alone I was somehow less valuable.

Earlier that day, I left a voicemail for one of my girlfriends.  “I want a real boyfriend.  Not a pretend one.  I just had to say that out loud,” I announced into the digital abyss.

And I do.  Someone who is here.  Who I can physically feel.  His lips over mine.  His breath on my neck.  His hands on my body.

Someone to hold on to me.  And who I can hold on to.

Someone to eat with.  Sleep with.  Dance with.

A partner.  An equal.  Someone I can grow with.  Grow old with.

But I want me more.  The chance to be with myself.  To not leave again.

Yes, I want a real boyfriend.  I just don’t want one yet.

Waiting For This Moment, With No Idea What Comes Next

I am on the kitchen floor.  My back slides down the refrigerator and I collapse in a heap, sobbing.  I have been waiting for this moment.

Hiking in the Badlands.
Hiking in the Badlands. The difference of a few days.

A friend of mine often called from the kitchen floor when she was going through her divorce.  I thought somehow I had evaded this.  I was wrong.

I tell my friend Lisa this.  She is in Chicago.  I am in Seattle.  It is a year ago today.

I cannot put together simple thoughts.  I do not know what to put in the car.  I am leaving tomorrow.  My books are boxed and ready to be shipped when I have an address.  I have done nothing else.  Lisa tells me to wake Michael, my friend who has offered to help bring me home.

I lie down next to him in his bed, turning in on myself – into fetal position— and weep.  I want him to comfort me.  To wrap his arms around me.  He does not.  He tells me to put on a pot of coffee.  That we have work to do.

I have given away most of my clothing.  It is too big.  What remains I lie in a large Ziploc bag.  Michael attaches the vacuum hose to it and turns it on.  We are giddy watching my Calvin Klein dresses and still-too-large, but-I-wear-them-anyway,Old Navy jeans get shrink wrapped into clear, plastic pancakes.

He loads my belongings into the 12-year-old Civic, making good use of every available inch of space.  I just watch, as if this is “happening” to me.  I feel disconnected and numb.

Me and my cousin, Lois.
Me and my cousin, Lois.

When he is finished we climb the cement stairs outside of my house to the top of Queen Anne Hill.  My cousin Lois has invited us to come eat apples from her tree.  It is sunny and warm.  We sit in the backyard and talk while her dog, Tsipi chases the tennis ball Michael tosses to her.  He is the dog whisperer, much like my ex-husband, and she knows it.

Later, we meet Ernie and his dog, Cordelia – a tea-cup pinscher – at Molly Moon’s for ice cream.  One last cone – half honey-lavender, half salted caramel.  One last goodbye.

That night, I meet my ex in the bedroom that used to be ours.  That is his now and has been for a few months.  I forgot what a nice view it has.  And that the walls are still painfully bare.  I look at the duvet cover from Ikea.  I don’t remember when we bought it, just that we did – together.  There is cat fur on it.  Like there always is.

I say goodbye.  I don’t remember the words.  Only that I ask for his blessing for a relationship I’m not yet having, but hoping for, with a man we both know.  A man I have grown close to in the months since he asked me for a divorce.  “If that is what you want,” he says, referring to this man.

Michael is watching television on the couch.  I sit next to him and link my arm in his.  I rest my head on his shoulder.  There is a slow-motion battle scene on the screen.  Native Americans in traditional dress and men in cowboy hats.  It is another time.  Music.  An arrow goes through someone’s chest and he falls, slowly, slowly, slowly into the water.  It is dreamy and surreal.  The show.  This moment.  I still feel like I am watching all of it.

Tomorrow we will begin our journey home.

I don’t remember going to sleep.  Just waking up.  Meeting some friends one last time and taking photographs.  My friend J gives me a card, sharing his feelings for me.  I have suspected them.  He has kept me at arm’s length my entire year here.  It was “the right thing to do,” he says.

I stop at Macrina Bakery on the way home to pick up coffee and morning buns.  I mention I am going on the road and the barista gives me the drinks for free.  Michael is pulling together his things when I get home.  My ex is gone.

And in about an hour, I will be too.

I don’t yet know what lies ahead.  Just that I am going.  That I have chosen to go.

Making camp along the Missouri River.
Making camp along the Missouri River.

I don’t know that I will camp under a blue moon along the Missouri River.  Hike in the Badlands.  Or shoot a gun for the first time in my life.

I don’t know that I will bury my birth mom.  Fall head-over-heels in a crush that does just that.  That I will reclaim my rightful name as writer.

I don’t know that I will once again fill my house and my closet with someone else’s treasures.  That I will still be single one year later.  That my dream of becoming a Rabbi will fall away from me like molting feathers.

I’m not sure that I could comprehend any of it if I did know.  But I didn’t have to.

Over the years, my ex frequently said it would be my turn next.  One year later, I know that it surely is.

I Just Haven’t Met You Yet

walking in the worldI’ve been keeping a nightly gratitude list now for close to 10 years.  The practice was first suggested by my then spiritual-business teacher, Anne Sagendorph-Moon.

I would buy small, lovely journals and packages of 36 fine-point markers, and each night, in bed, write my list – a different color for each blessing in my life.

The practice has taken different shapes and forms over the years.  For the past few, I have done it on my computer, exchanging my list via e-mail with a friend in San Francisco.

So whenever a gratitude list is suggested as a part of any spiritual practice, in my head I tick it off as “Got it.”  “Done.”  Until yesterday.  When I had a *new* experience.

I am in week 2 of Walking in the World, Julia Cameron’s follow up to The Artist’s Way.  The book resonates deeply for me as walking and writing were the only things that made any sense during my divorce.  Either action had the power to ground me – almost immediately.  Still do.

My assignment yesterday was to take a 20-minute walk, with the intention of naming the blessings in my life with each foot fall.

Off I went, down Ainslie Street towards Winnemac Park – a few short blocks away from my home.  A place where I can duck into short paths, surrounded by tall, weedy plants, and feel like I am far away.  As I began walking, I began naming – to myself, my lips moving in the silence.

“I have a home.  I am in Chicago.  Japanese maples.”  It felt contrived, forced…but I kept muttering to myself anyway.  “My friend Julie.  Michigan blueberries.  I know how to be alone.”

I was flummoxed.  Was it really true?  Did I really know how to be alone?  Not just survive sans partner, all the while “wishin and hopin and dreamin,” but really know how to be alone and really be ok with it?  Even grateful for it?

Yes.  I think so.

This is not to say I wouldn’t like to meet a mate.  It’s a pretty universal desire, as my friend Mary Kate pointed out to me.  But it is how I live my life “in the in between” or “until that time” that determines my “ok-ness.”

I’ve been great with the action part, filling my life with dance, writing, friendship and family.  Travel.  Writing.  Recovery.  It’s the perception part that was kicking my ass.  Until it wasn’t.

I’m not sure what happened.  I used to think being alone meant I was a loser.  Unloveable.  Undesirable.  I suddenly don’t feel that way anymore.  I see my aloneness, to quote a good-bad Michael Buble song, as “I just haven’t met you yet.”

I remember being in my 20s.  My friend Carlos set me up with his business partner – a Jewish doctor.  He owned a great, stone cottage on a lake.  Good art work.   But we had little in common.  Little to talk about.  I wasn’t excited.  About him.  About us.

But I liked the idea of him.  Of us.  And I thought, “I can make this work.”

Thankfully I didn’t have to.  I got a job offer in San Francisco not long after we met.  The universe at work.

I recently had that thought again.  I met a man.  Nice looking.  Easy to talk to – especially about our divorces.  But that was where it ended.  We didn’t have much else to say.

As I was having those “this could work” fantasies, it hit me – why would I bother?

I know what it is like to meet someone and feel literally swept off my feet, equilibrium disrupted.  To wonder how it is we ever didn’t know one another.  To have so much to say to one another that we both wonder how we will ever get it all out…but delight in trying anyway.

This wasn’t it.

So I added to my list: Grateful to know what excited feels like.  To have experienced it.  To remember it.  To have faith that I will experience it again.

Grateful to know when I’m not excited.  And to know I would rather be alone than to settle.  To know how to be alone so that I am never beholden to anyone again.

And then…

I am grateful to know what great sex is like.  I am grateful to know what it feels like for someone to be wild about me.  To not be able to keep their mitts off of me.  Touching my hair, my face, my hands, my ass.  Kissing me in the middle of a crowded room because he “just had to.”

Thank you Mr. Sexy Photographer from Detroit.  Thank you short, horny, Jewish artist.  It was a long time ago.  But I remember.  And I have got to believe these weren’t limited-one-time exclusive offers either.

That is a new idea.  To believe in abundance in ALL things.  Including love.

I am grateful for that too.  And for the women who promised me I would arrive here one day.  The ones who cry when I share this with them.  They are abundance.  They are love.  I am loved.  And grateful for it.