I Will Always Be … A Tashlich Tale

tashlich creek
The “almost” stream in Carpenter’s Woods.

2012. I am standing at the shore of Lake Michigan – the Chicago side. I am wearing my signature orange peep-toe wedges, a tweed dress that hangs on my 12-pounds-thinner-than-usual body, and throwing torn up pieces of bread into the water.

It is Rosh Hashanah, the birthday of the world, and the bread is part of a Jewish New Year custom called tashlich — the emptying of one’s pockets into moving water, a symbolic casting away of one’s sins. Rabbis of generations past frowned upon the practice, fearing people would not do the hard work of the Days of Awe – of self-examination and making of amends – if they engaged in this ritual, that they would forget that the practice was mere metaphor and would count on the casting to absolve them of their misdeeds.

But I am not casting away sins. (I don’t really believe in them.) Instead, I am casting off an identity, a role I’ve played … as partner and wife. For in this moment I intuitively know that I am now divorced. I can feel it in my bones.

My husband and I have filed dissolution of marriage paperwork in a county that does not require a court appearance, sending off an envelope containing a divorce agreement, our signatures and a notary stamp four weeks earlier. I know that the clerk in this small county signs divorce papers on Mondays. It is Monday.

I move towards my rabbi. “I think I’m divorced,” I say.

“Well, you are pretty intuitive,” he replies.

“I’m going to cast away my Mrs.”

He nods and smiles at me sadly; and I return to the lake, flinging stale bits of challah into the still waters and mumbling something about Dr.’s wife and Mrs. Robertson – a name I never took.

When I return home that afternoon, I call our mediator who checks a database and affirms, “Yes, you are divorced.”

2019. I am still talking about this, writing about this.

Sunday night, erev Rosh Hashanah. A different rabbi asks us to turn to the person nearest us and share what we would like to let go of and what we would like to make room for in the Jewish Year 5780. I turn to my left and tell another rabbinical student that I would like to let go of my ex-husband, my marriage and my divorce as part of my narrative, and that I would like to make room for love.

I am still talking about it.

Tuesday afternoon, I am co-leading a tashlich ritual at a creek just off of campus at the University of Delaware. I tell the story of 2012 — sans peep-toe wedges and dress hanging from my frame — and invite the small group gathered to consider if there is a piece of their identity that no longer fits. Perhaps a role in a romantic relationship or in their family of origin or at work. Maybe a character attribute or behavior they are known for and no longer wish to be.

I ask them to share this with someone near them, either before or after emptying the contents of their pockets – the contents of their hearts – and to consider that in casting off, they might create space for something new … as in my case, when I traded in the role of wife for ex-pat in 2015 and rabbinical student in 2019. I am still talking about it.

I step away to do my own casting off … except I can’t. There is too much chatter around me and there is nowhere to go to let go. So I hold on, until today, when I duck into Carpenter’s Woods, just a few blocks from my house.

I scramble down a dirt and stone path to a clearing where a small, wooden footbridge hovers over an “almost” stream. I don’t have any bread. My pockets are empty. I bend down and pick up a couple of fallen leaves, fold them — once and then again — and rip them into pieces.

As I drop the bits of leaves into the pooled water, I whisper something about letting go of my insistence that my 15-year relationship have no place in my current narrative, my expectation that I should no longer have anything to say about it or him or us. Nothing about letting go of this “former identity.” Nothing about creating space for the universe to rush in.

My words surprise me.

I will always be Lee’s ex-wife. Just as I will always be a massage therapist and a writer — whether or not I get paid for it. Just as I will always have lived in Spain and San Francisco, Oakland, Chicago, Seattle and Detroit – even if I don’t now. And even with all of those pieces of my identity firmly intact, there has always been room for “something new” — for a year of teaching in Madrid, for rabbinical school, and for a few juicy romances.

I have no shame in telling those other parts of my life, no expectations that I should be “done” with them, nor any desire to be. I wonder if the same could be true of my marriage and divorce.

Just then, the wooden footbridge begins to bounce. A man and his brown and white-speckled dog cross my path, signaling my ritual is nearly complete.

I pull my pockets inside out, say a prayer and begin my climb out.

 

From Mikveh to Madrid, Now … More

rocaberti-table
Dinner at the Rocaberti Castle. Food for the belly. Food for the soul.

Five days, 12 writers, 3 mentors, a genius staff who could both dream and deliver. Chefs who fed our hearts and our bellies. A castle, many missed photo opportunities and so much unbelievable talent.

I knew I was truly immersed in the moment when I received an email from my mother “just checking in” because she hadn’t seen me on Facebook in a while. (Sweet, right?)

It is only now, after leaving the “bubble” of the Rocaberti Writers Retreat, that I am able to begin reflecting on all that I experienced. All that I learned. All that happened. And all that has yet to happen.

In the cocoon of the castle, I was able to practice pitching “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” to mentors — three individuals steeped and successful in the business of movies, television and publishing — as I would for agent representation or a book deal.

I introduced my work as “Eat, Pray, Love” meets Dora the Explorer, and was immediately met with the challenge — “Why a cartoon character?”

Quite simply, because I could not think of a single happy ending for a solo female protagonist over the age of 12. Think”Ramona the Brave,” “Harriet the Spy,” and yes, Dora.

Our resident feature writer and producer, the one who had challenged me, was able to summon just one — Holly Hunter in the 1987 film “Broadcast News.” One.

In that moment I knew I was on to something. And yet, I already knew. Because of all I had experienced. All I had written. The support I had received via Go Fund Me. And the feedback from my retreat mentor — one on one — and from my colleagues in small group sessions.

In addition to learning about my own work, I received a practical education on next steps and the nuts of bolts of publishing. And opened my mind to the possibilities of film and television.

And now? More…

I’ve been asked to let go of my newspaper training and blogging terseness and to let the lushness of my language fill in the blanks. To tell the story of how I went from mikveh (the ritual bath used in a Jewish divorce) to Madrid. The experience of 52 Artist Dates and how they changed me … that when given a chance at the kind of love I had called out for, I ultimately chose myself.

Almost, But Not Quite

 

Muchas gracias to those who have supported my Go Fund Me campaign, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — a post-divorce narrative of how 52 Artist Dates healed my heart and pointed me in the direction of my dreams –- and my goal of manifesting blog into book deal. It is a joy to share three more of their stories and how they touched mine.


August 27

October 2015. Valencia.

I am enjoying my first solo holiday since moving to Madrid. A pre-birthday celebration.

I’ve rented a bike. Treated myself to a day at the beach — complete with lounge chair, umbrella, and a massage. And feasted on paella with the friend of a friend, and her family. (A real treat — as my air bnb host has informed me restaurants do not make fresh paella for one. Solo diners have to make do with a ration, cooked up earlier in the day — mostly for tourists who don’t know the difference. Remember … “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain.”)

It is my last evening here. I’m strolling the beautiful, winding streets when I hear … American! Not English, American.

My head spins around, as it does every time I hear my native “twang.” Except this time I am surprised by a familiar face.

It is Gail Mathis. We met just a few weeks earlier in Madrid. And now she is here, in Valencia.

And here, nearly a year later, supporting my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign.

Thank you, Gail! For your generous donation and for maintaining the connection of chance meetings and serendipity.

I regret I won’t see Gail when we both return to Spain this fall. Our itineraries don’t quite overlap. Plus, I’ll be at writers retreat — with the intention of manifesting a book deal for “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain.”

paella
I don’t have a single picture of Gail and me … so here’s the paella instead.

August 31

The Rocaberti Writers Retreat I will be attending this October in Girona, Spain is paid in full!!

Many thanks to Angie Hubbell for donating the EXACT amount needed to help me achieve this auspicious milestone.

Angie has been a co-creator in my life for as long as I have known her.

We finally met in 2007 (We’d shared a mutual friend and had heard about one another for close to 20 years.) when she hosted my then husband and I, visiting Chicago from California, in hopes of finding a home.

After two days of real estate”touring,” we agreed on a condo we wanted to call our own. Problem was, we weren’t sure if we could afford to.

I still don’t know what kind of voodoo mathematics Angie did … all I recall is her scratching down some numbers on a margarita napkin, and showing us we could.

That same weekend our mortgage broker went AWOL. Again, Angie swooped in with a solution — connecting us with a friend of hers who brokered the deal with speed, kindness and grace.

We lived in that house for four years. Rented it for a few more. And sold it last July — days before I moved to Spain. It was the last piece tying my ex and I to one another.

I left for Madrid less than a week later, truly unencumbered. Truly free to inhabit my life. And to discover “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain.”

house-where-love-died
The house Angie helped manifest.

 


September 1

I feel a bit like a political fundraiser penning a “Thanks for your donation … but there’s still work to do” email.

Yesterday I gleefully posted that the Writers Retreat I will be attending in Girona is now paid in full. What I failed to mention is I am still about $1,500 from my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign goal — as was made apparent when a friend called this morning and exclaimed, “You met your goal!” Aww … “Well, a milestone piece of it,” I responded. (Detailed cost breakdown here.)

… but there’s still work to do.

Isn’t there always?

I am a firm believer that each person we meet changes our world in some way — large or small. I also believe that, if we’re lucky, a few people change the way we live in the world.

Christine Frazita is one of those people.

I showed up in her San Francisco office in the mid 1990s, not long after parting ways with my previous psychotherapist — the one who had briefly dated my then boyfriend. And neglected to tell me about it.

Christine’s couch provided both a literal and metaphoric soft place to land. And while she was, and is, kind beyond my personal understanding or ability … she also pushed me to work hard to change the way I saw the world and myself in it.

I remember telling Christine about that then-boyfriend. How he had lived in Paris for a couple of years. How I dreamed of doing something similar, but for a variety of reasons, didn’t believe I could.

Twenty years later, I not only believed I could. I did!

Muchas, muchas gracias, Christine! For your contribution to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign. And for your help in doing the heavy lifting that got me there.

durga-2

Christine sent me this sculpture of the Hindu Goddess Durga as a wedding gift. She remembered my religious studies professor at university had mentioned a Goddess particularly appropriate for and inside of me — Durga, Goddess of Power and Strength.


Want to know more about “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — how 52 Artist Dates saved my soul after divorce and landed me smack in the middle of my own life — or how to contribute to my Go Fund Me campaign? Click here.

So It Is Written

 

More words of thanks for those who have supported my Go Fund Me campaign, “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — a  happily-ever-after, after divorce story …  one that offers the possibility of joy without partnership –and my dream of manifesting blog into book deal.


29 July

Today I secured a freelance writing assignment … in the bridal space!

The universe has a sense of humor.

I was a little worried when I applied for the position as my most recent published work (Washington Post, XO Jane ) has been about divorce. I assured my new employer I would be delighted to write “from the other side” for a change.

Maybe I’m getting ready to pen “a new chapter?” Or perhaps it’s just a nod to my moniker as writer, a reminder that I have lived and can tell many tales. And that I am a fun and flexible storyteller … like my friend Tanya Gazdik.

Many thanks Tanya for your generous support of the “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign. And for your unyielding support of my writing for the past 25 years (Tanya was my first newspaper editor!) and my journey.

(The State News — where Tanya and I worked together.)

snews 2


31 July

Early memories of writing …

First grade.

Journals on lined paper. I told my teacher, Mrs. Blum, the words I wanted to say. She wrote them and I copied them on the line below. A sentence or two. Sometimes I would draw a picture … me in my pink ballet shoes. My mother saved all of these until I was 25 and she and my father sold my childhood home. I insisted they had to go. But first, we read each of them.

A book on Paul Revere. We glued wallpaper scraps onto cardboard to create the cover and stitched the binding by hand. “One if by land, and two if by sea …” I had a tough time drawing a horse.

Third grade.

Letters to my aunt in California. She owned a stationery store and sent beautiful cards and paper for me to write on. She was my first (and only) pen pal. I often wonder what I wrote. And marvel at her commitment to corresponding with an 8 year old.

Several years later, upon my graduation from university, she sent me a Waterman pen. A luxurious elegance celebrating my commitment to my craft.

Yesterday, I received her donation to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign, along with a note: “No gift needed. The gift will be knowing that you will fulfill your dream (and a book).”

Thank you to my “somewhat anonymous aunt” … for supporting me in every step of my writing journey.

“They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — a post-divorce confessional, offering a contentedly solo happily- ever-after ending — promises to be a bit juicier than my 8-year-old letters or retelling of the ride of Paul Revere … but hopefully, equally heartfelt and true.

(Photo taken the same year I wrote about Paul Revere.)

ballet


1 August

Around the time I was leaving Chicago — for the first time, in 2011 — my friend Lisa said to me in passing, “I think you’re going to write a book.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“Because I do.”

Lisa has an economy of words that I am in awe of. She is a careful listener. Has (clearly) good intuition, the patience of Job, and a big, shiny heart.

Many thanks Lisa for your generous donation to my “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” campaign, and for helping me tell the story of how 52 Artist Dates saved my soul, my sanity and my serenity after my divorce. How 52 Artist Dates gave my life creative structure, taught me how to really be okay with being alone and led me to a life I had only dreamed of. A life as a writer. A life lived overseas.

(Me and Lisa … before I left Chicago, the first time.)

 

me and lkc


Want to know more about “They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain” — how 52 Artist Dates saved my soul after divorce and landed me smack in the middle of my own life — or how to contribute to my Go Fund Me campaign? Click here.

Up To Date

me in segovia
Still on a solo adventure…

Up to Date.

The words are not lost on me.

I posited that this was what I needed to move forward in my writing … to tie up the past 3-plus months neatly, in context, with a bow (or a blog, or three). Tidy, clean, presentable.

And under this, tugs the idea that now that I am “up to date,” am I also “up to date?”

I’m not so sure.

In addition to writing little about my days here in Madrid, I’ve written precious little about the relationship I left in Chicago. Precious being the key word. Because it was. Because it still is. Because I wanted to, and still want to, honor his privacy…and mine.

And also because I was hopeful. Hopeful that even though we’d been doing the dance of “not long distance,” a nameless cha-cha of “I love you, but you live in another country so I don’t know exactly what we are but we certainly aren’t what we were” – that we would do long-distance. That I could have my romance and have my adventure too.

Not unlike my marriage. My marriage that ended for many reasons, among them perhaps that I often appeared more single than partnered. Not romantically or sexually single. But uncompromising. Independent. So when I moved to Chicago, and then Seattle, for my then-husband’s work, more than one friend expressed surprise…thinking I might opt to stay put and stay married.

It’s been painful to find love again and to leave it. Even though we both knew I was leaving from the moment we met. I don’t think either of us expected to tumble so head over heels over head for one another.

Upon seeing this, my friend S. – the master of turning things on their head just to get perspective — has more than once suggested I return to Chicago to “play things out, to see what happens.”

I explain that my lover never asked me to stay. That he has never asked me to come back.

“I didn’t ask you that,” he replies. “I said if you want to go find out about the two of you…then go.”

“I can’t,” I say.

“Why not?”

I pause.

Because I am here. Because I committed to being here. Because I always dreamed of living overseas and it was such a crazy, distant dream that I never imagined I’d do it. And yet here I am, doing it!

Even when it’s hard. Even when I’m not sure that I am here for any reason other than to say, “I tried it. I did it. I had the experience.”

Even though  Spain might not be my long-term home. Even though teaching English might not be my long-term career.

I made a commitment — a commitment to myself.

I tell him that I don’t know when I might have this opportunity again.

That I followed my ex-husband’s dream. That it was easier than thinking about my own. But that this is mine. A sometimes vague, not-fully formed but finally-owned fantasy.

“So stay,” S. says. “But it is your choice.”

It is my choice.

And I am reminded of making the very same choice a few months before I met D. Before I decided to move to Madrid…when teaching English overseas was still in the “maybe, just maybe” stage.

It is winter. Sunday morning. I am driving to work, leaving my friend P. at my apartment. He is visiting from Michigan.

P. is a shaman and a writer. He is funny and sweet and sexy. Flirtatious. But P. is not interested in me that way. We have discussed it.

Before I leave the house he traces the space between my eyebrows – my third eye — and kisses me there. Driving, I think, “It is too bad P. doesn’t like me that way…”

And in the silence of Sunday morning, sunlight bouncing off the snow, a voice, mine…but smarter than me, whispers, “His dream is to have a retreat center in Southwest Michigan. Yours is to live in Europe.”

And I realize, for perhaps the first time in my life, I have a dream bigger than love.

I am flummoxed.

And it seems I still do.

It all sounds very Ms. magazine-esque. Strong and empowered. And at moments it is. But at other times, a lot of the times, it feels incredibly lonely and stupid. And yet, the thought of returning to Chicago before my one-year visa has expired sounds more lonely, more stupid.

And I return to the question…am I “up to date?” Here? In Madrid? I see a friend of mine embark on her first Tinder date just weeks after announcing the end of her 20-plus year marriage and I’m pretty sure the answer is no.

Kudos to her. But I just haven’t been “up to” it.

Maybe because I haven’t wanted to let go of “us.” Maybe because it was, and we were, that good.

Maybe because I’m a little bit scared to open my heart again. Maybe because I am dubious about what is or is not out there.

Or maybe, just maybe, because I’m a little bit afraid of losing my dream again…the one bigger than love. So, for now, I’m holding on tight.

 

 

I Need A New Before

Possible new BEFORE photo.
Possible new BEFORE photo.

I’ve had the same Weight Watchers “Before” photo for nearly 12 years.

It is of me and my ex-husband, drinking wine at an outdoor cafe in the Fifth Arrondissement in Paris — the day after my 31st birthday.

My friend Nora calls it the perfect before photo, pointing to the visible roll at my belly, the buttons straining at my pre-reduction breasts, gaping fabric, and my somewhat distorted face.

I share this photograph with new Weight Watchers members as a way of creating rapport and earning credibility — as if to say “I’ve been there…I know” and also,  “this is possible” without uttering a word.

Some gasp. Others laugh uncomfortably. A few offer up kind words like, “You were still cute.” Occasionally I am asked, somewhat rhetorically, “This is you?” to which I reply “the other is my ex husband,” and sometimes add, “it is his ‘before’ photograph too.”

Last week I heard something different, something I hadn’t heard before — twice, from two different people.

“Are you still with him?”

I was taken aback. It seemed out of context, but also surprising, as for so many years, so many of the members knew him — or at least of him.

He was the one pushing the basket at Trader Joes. The bike racer turned massage therapist turned doctor who helped guide this girl who failed gym class into a reluctant athlete who dabbles in bike centuries and triathalons. The one who asked if I earned more activity points in the winter, as I surely burned more calories trying to keep warm. The reason I left California and then Chicago — choosing to flank him on his journey from medical school to residency to doctor.

But I rarely, if ever, mention him in Weight Watchers meetings anymore.

Thursday, after my lunchtime meetings closed, I shared the twice-asked, seemingly unusual question — “are you still with him?” — with my colleagues and added, “I think I need a new ‘before’ picture.”

They agreed.

Another possible BEFORE.
Another possible BEFORE.

It feels like more than a gentle nudge from the universe telling me to “move on” — to find another 35-pounds-heavier reminder of who I used to be, because offering up a photograph of the two of us more than half a dozen times each week is no longer serving me.

And so I wonder what else I might be doing that doesn’t contribute to my “moving on.”

There isn’t much of our past surrounding me — I left most of it with him in Seattle. A cooking pot, French coffee press and a three-season sleeping bag. My Italian road bike, a pair of snowshoes and a lithograph by an African artist called “Masks of the Healer #2.” It hangs over my dining room table, a sort of talisman watching me as I write.

I also removed him from my feed on Facebook after being “greeted” by a photograph of him, his girlfriend and his new cats on Christmas Day. It wasn’t the image of him and another woman that bothered me so much (I’d seen photographs of the two of them before.) It was the juxtaposition of him in his new life, wearing his old bathrobe — a plaid flannel, L.L Bean — that got to me.

And yet, I was still typing part of his name and social security number several times each week — using the combination as a secondary password. So yesterday at work, I changed it to something more me-centric.

But finding the right before picture is more challenging. We were together for 15 years, so he is in many of my photographs. (My mother’s too. She cut him out of the one on top of her bureau.) Also, I didn’t keep many photographs of me 35 pounds ago. I had ceased to be that woman.

And I’ve ceased to be that married one as well.

There are other befores. And there will be other afters.

Surprise! You’re Divorced!

From Tim Burton's 2010 Alice In Wonderland.
Considering the other side of the rabbit hole. From Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland.

I haven’t heard from my ex in more than a week.  This isn’t unusual, except I have reached out to him twice during this time — once to ask for medical advice (I forget he is not my doctor), a second time to ask if he might talk with a friend of mine about the later-in-life path to medical school — and that is unusual.

Except for when it isn’t.

We recently saw one other for the first time since I moved out of the house we shared in Seattle and returned to Chicago, more than two and a half years.

I cried when I saw his blue polar fleece stocking cap — the one that makes him look like a tall Smurf– bobbing above the crowd as he got off the train, across from our favorite Lebanese restaurant.  Again when we embraced.  And again when, looking up for the menu, I inquired “The usual?” to which he replied, laughing, “That is what I was going to say.”

And so it was over chicken schwarma, hummus and fattoush that he admitted that the times he hadn’t called me back — there weren’t many — he simply, emotionally, could not.

This may be one of those times.

At first, I didn’t think too much of it when I didn’t hear back from him.  It was Valentine’s Day weekend.  I thought, perhaps, he might be out of town with his girlfriend.  A thought followed by strong intuition — “He’s moving in with her.”  I said the words out loud, as usual, to no one in particular.  “He doesn’t want to tell me.”

Later that day, I saw an MLS listing for a bungalow on his Facebook page, forwarded by his girlfriend.

When I reached out to him a second time, a week later, and again did not hear back, I was fairly certain of my inner knowing.  And much to my surprise, I felt rattled and sad.

Not so much because he may or may not be buying a house with his girlfriend. (I still do not know for certain, nor is it really any of my business.)  But because, in that moment, I realized I had been holding on to an unspoken agreement we never made.  Something like, “We may be divorced but you and I are in this together.  Forever.”

I was shocked.  I had no idea.

I have often referred to mine as the “lucky divorce.”  (Which sounds like it should come with soup, egg roll and an almond cookie.)

For a long time we were one another’s “In Case of Emergency” person.  We left passwords unchanged, and nursed each other’s broken hearts in post-divorce attempts at romance.

I never had to hunt down my spousal support.  I knew the money would be in my account on the 15th of the month, the same way I knew he would always be there.  Until he wasn’t.

Perhaps my divorce wasn’t so “lucky” after all, as it seems more than possible that this underlying, unspoken (not even to myself) agreement may have kept me from truly seeking out another partnership, or at the very least, being open to one.

I shared all of this with my friend Robin.  She replied, “He’s not your husband anymore.”

Not exactly news.  And yet, on some deep, gut, primal level — it was.  And I finally “got it.”  So perhaps I can finally let go of it.

It reminds me of when I returned to an old boyfriend, many years after we had broken up, to make amends for where I had been wrong in that relationship.

“You wanted a partner, I wanted a parent,” I said.  (Not surprisingly, he was 17 years my senior.)  Tears streamed down his face as the words slipped past my lips.  He hugged me hard, harder than he ever had in the time we were together.

“Why are you crying,” I asked.

“Because I am.”

I nodded.

I understood.  I saw the truth.  I saw what he knew all along.  Finally.  It was as if I had slipped back through the rabbit hole and we were living in the same reality, more than 15 years after the end of our brief relationship.

At least this time it only took three years.