The Last of the Firsts

Dancing in Rwanda last July.
Dancing in Rwanda last July.

I thought that Passover was the last of the firsts…first holidays, birthdays, anniversaries without my ex-husband.

I was wrong.

I knew that July 4th was technically the last, but I didn’t think it would matter.  It wasn’t of special significance to either of us.

And yet, here I am in my pajamas, feeling it.  I’m sick.  Sore throat. Heavy eyes.  Headache.  Exhausted.  It came on fast and furious yesterday afternoon and by this morning had me down for the count.  No beach and BBQ to distract me.  I’m aware that yes, this holiday too, registers in the cycle of firsts.

Funny enough, we weren’t together for the 4th last year.  I was on my way to Rwanda, with a group from my synagogue in Chicago.  He was in Seattle, dating another woman.  We were pretty transparent about these things.  At times, painfully so.

But I was coming back to Seattle.  To the home we still shared with our cats Maude and Nin.  To “our life,” altered as it was.

It wasn’t until I left in August, arriving in Chicago the evening before Labor Day, when the cycle began.

Labor Day was a blur through tears.   Then his birthday.  Rosh Hashanah.  Yom Kippur.  Our wedding anniversary.  And my birthday.  In quick succession.

Our divorce was final on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

I didn’t have a dinner at my house as I usually do.  I didn’t yet have a house.

Instead, when I received the dissolution of marriage papers in the mail a few days later, I gathered a few friends in support.  We ate noodles together – never mentioning why we were there.

I broke the fast on Yom Kippur at a friend’s house.  She let me know that once invited, I am always invited.

I don’t recall his birthday or mine.  Or our anniversary.  What I remember are the beautiful gifts he gave me for many years.  A hand-carved wooden jewelry box.  A hand-colored pearl and smoky quartz necklace I had been coveting.  Things I mentioned in passing and had forgotten about, but that he made note of, and surprised me with.

Halloween passed without fanfare.

Then Thanksgiving hit hard.  I was invited to the home of a friend of a friend.  She also told me that once invited, always invited.

Thanksgiving was our “wandering” holiday, ever since we left California.  Up until then we spent it with my old roommate Tim, who hosted it Martha Stewart-style, complete with printed menus.

Once year we traveled to Chicago to be with Tim, when he lived here for about 10 months.  We called it “the year Tim worked a lot.”  We were in complete denial that he was gone.

Another time we shared breakfast with him and Steven, at IHOP.  We were on our way to London, for our honeymoon – just after 9/11.  The airport was spooky quiet.

We never had a Thanksgiving ritual in Chicago or Seattle.  We were always invited somewhere, but it was never the same.  The only constant was that we were together.

I celebrated my sober birthday in late November with a big soiree at my house.  He was noticeably absent.  Neither there to make pot after pot of coffee nor to help clean up.  I texted my South Carolina crush late that night, when everyone was gone and the last dish was in the rack, feeling palpably and frighteningly alone.  He had already gone to bed.

Making risotto.
Making risotto.

I was invited to spend Christmas Eve with some new friends.  Christmas Day I found myself at the table where I had spent Thanksgiving.  My ex and I spoke frequently over those 24 or so hours, remembering our Christmas Eve gatherings – a take-off on my cousin Wendy’s annual party on Christmas Day for Jews who have nothing to do.  I would make a big pot of mushroom risotto.  He would bake.  Christmas Day we would go to a movie.

We were both pretty heartsick.  Both of us broken-hearted by our forays into new romance.  We found comfort talking with one another.

New Year’s Eve I spent at a party at my friend Sheila’s house.  I didn’t make it until midnight.

The year before we were skiing at Steven’s Pass.  My ex rented a house that backed up to a river.  It had a loft bedroom, crazy fireplace and heated floors.  We sang karaoke and did jigsaw puzzles.  I brought the knitting needles, yarn and instruction manual he bought me for Hanukkah.  I never used them.

We bickered on the trails.  He was a cross-country skate skier.  I was not.  In our early years together I took a few lessons and  got moderately better.  But I never really got the hang of it.  We incorporated wine tasting into our ski weekends, drinking before or after.  Sometimes both.  It worked.  Until it didn’t.  When I didn’t drink anymore.

That last trip, I spent a few hours in the “lodge,” – an anonymous room where one could purchase chili, cookies wrapped in plastic film and powdered cocoa while the television blared.  I read Patti Smith’s Just Kids,  while he skied hard, the way he liked to.

This year on Valentine’s Day, I unearthed our last cards to one another.  They were sad.  We knew that our marriage was ending but hadn’t yet said the words.  I blogged about it.

By March it was over.  He asked me for a divorce at the end of that month, just before Passover.

I invited a handful of friends for a Seder in Seattle.  He joined us.  It didn’t seem unusual at the time.

This year I celebrated twice.  Once at my friend Mary Jo’s.  A second time in my apartment, looking out at the Catholic church across the street.  There were 12 of us.  Some of the usual suspects, friends I had made over the years in Chicago, as well as some new guests.  My Divorce Buddy, the one I used to spend hours on the phone with late into the evening, stayed to do dishes with me.  It didn’t feel so lonely.  Not until he asked me about one of my girlfriends.

Me and Ernie at the beach.
Me and Ernie at the beach.

Memorial Day I rode my bike to a BBQ and blogged about where I was the year before – with my friend Ernie, at the ocean, wringing my hands about making out with Mr. Thursday Night, worried it wouldn’t happen again.  It didn’t.

June 19 was the anniversary of our first date.  I know that because it’s my brother’s birthday.

July 4.  An entire cycle completed.  Unless you count the first time we had sex, which I recall only because it is my cousin David’s birthday and we had drinks with him in San Francisco at the Latin American Club that night.  That will be later this month.  I don’t *think* it will rattle me as I’ve never marked the occasion before, just been aware of it.

The sun is going down.  It is noisy outside.  I am reminded of when we lived in Humboldt Park.  July 4 felt like a war zone.

I was invited to a BBQ tonight by a man I recently met.  He’s easy to talk to – open and forthright about his divorce.  He’s a good hugger.  Nice looking.  I don’t have any feelings about him.  But I’d like to get to know him better.

I sent him a text telling him I won’t make it tonight.

I made myself kale salad, roasted squash and corn on the cob.  I read, napped, wrote and napped some more.  I walked a few blocks to Paciaugo for gelato – campfire banana, orange-chocolate-saffron and rose – came home and put my pajamas back on.

It all seems right somehow, spending the last of my first alone.  Caring for myself.  Readying myself for a whole new cycle of experiences.

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New Ring. Old Questions. Remembering Mr. Thursday.

IMAG0652

I spent last Memorial Day weekend with my friend Ernie at his beach house in Westport, Washington.  It was cool and grey, not unlike the weather here today in Chicago.  Except that it was expected, as it is usually that way.

We cooked and talked and listened to the soundtrack from Saturday Night Fever over and over.  We napped and read and took long walks on the beach where we created a healing ritual: The Sacred Spiral.

It was a response to the shame both of us had known in relationships, coupled with Ernie’s own experiences dragging a large stick in wet sand in a circular pattern, ever-widening, until it touched the shore on one side, the tide on the other.

We did this in silence, often crossing over one another’s markings.  At the end, we each wrote a message in the sand.  Mine was, “God is Good.”   A reference to a conversation I had just a few days before.

I haven’t thought about that weekend in a while, until this past Thursday.  I was buying an enviro-sac, an overpriced bag that rolls up small and lives in one’s purse, ready for the impromptu shopping trip.  As I was paying for it, I spied a ring in the display case –long and wide with a big, blue stone set in the center.  The typewritten tag next to it read: 1970s cocktail ring. $16.

I slid it on.  My small hand appeared longer, elegant.

I had the immediate thought that with this on my left hand, I could now sell my wedding and engagement rings.  Different finger, but no matter.  It closed the space.

I bought it.

IMAG0246Walking home, I thought about where I was at this time last year, and suddenly remembered exactly where I was at this time last year, the Thursday before Memorial Day.

I was kissing a man who wasn’t my husband.

Not long after asking for a divorce, my husband casually remarked that we were “free agents.”  I was floored, but I chose not to fight it, or fight him.  The ending had already been written.  We were just uncomfortably in the middle, clumsily navigating our way there.

The kiss was clean.

We had known one another for a couple of months.  We’d been flirtatious.  He too was going through a divorce.  It felt obvious.  That evening, electric.

His lips over mine.  My face in his hands.  New.  Unfamiliar.  Searching.

He showed me the scar where his gall bladder was taken out.  He asked me about the scars on my breasts.

We took a walk in the woods, our arms linked, talking and kissing and talking and kissing.  His dog leading the way, turning back from time to time to make sure we were still following.

He told me his story and when he was done said, “Now you.”   He wanted to tell me who he was.  He wanted to know me.

I sat on his lap in the kitchen before leaving that night.  Words rumbling in my mouth, behind my face.  I wanted to say them but I was afraid they sounded silly.  I told him anyway.  I said, “God is good.”

He laughed, looked straight through me with his crinkly eyes and said, “God IS good.”  And he kissed me.

I took to referring to him as Mr. Thursday, because I wanted to respect his privacy.  At least, that’s what I told myself.  I think somewhere deep in me I knew that was all he would be –Mr. Thursday.  Mr.-Thursday-right-before-Memorial-Day-2012 to be exact, as we never connected in that way again.

I talked to Ernie about him that weekend.  How I somehow already knew this wasn’t going to go my way, even though I didn’t want to know it.

Thursday and I had agreed that neither of us were remotely interested in a relationship.  Looking back, I probably would have jumped at one, given the chance.  Anything to get out of my discomfort.  But I bravely told him I was on my way to Africa, and then back to Chicago.  That perhaps we could just enjoy one another’s company.  He agreed.

The next day I woke up with that sick sense of dread.  That what was true yesterday was no longer true today.

It was painful.  All those relationship questions that first bubbled up when I was 12 and Alan Wittenberg didn’t like me back were waiting for me – still unanswered.

“Why doesn’t he like me?” “Why did he change his mind?” “What if I were prettier, thinner, less emotional?”

And then, a more adult concern, “Why do I attach so quickly?”

I didn’t think I would have to address these questions again at this point in my life.  I felt like I had learned nothing.  Like I didn’t know the rules.  My divorce buddy in Chicago, my friend who was three weeks behind in my footsteps, assured me that none of us do.

I haven’t thought about Mr. Thursday in a long time.  My fixation with him was replaced by a fixation on another man, which was replaced by a fixation on another man.  And then that fixation was replaced by truth.  What is versus what I would have liked it to be.

I find myself in a place I’ve never been – I am not with a partner, pursuing a partner or lamenting the loss of a one.  It’s strange new territory.  There is no one I’m interested in.  My attention falls simply “on me.”

I called Ernie this weekend and reminded him of where we were a year ago.  About Westport.  About Mr. Thursday.  About seeing his ex on the beach with their dog, Cordelia, and his new partner.  About turning on our heels before they saw us.

Ernie said he and his ex can sit down and talk now – civilized – with no need to turn away.

God IS good.  So is my $16 ring.