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The Zoo

It’s been a long time, so I suppose I should give some kind of update.

Mom’s birthday was on the 19th. We joke that it snows and/or ices over every year on her birthday. The inclement weather was two days early this year, but the stairs and walkways leading to my apartment were still blocks of ice all day long. That was rather annoying because I spent the day moving a bunch of my stuff down the road to the boy’s apartment.

I now reside in a two-bedroom apartment with four cats and a Betta fish, a place I’m starting to liken to a zoo, especially around feeding time. We were going to rent a house together, but we weren’t able to straighten out our leasing agreements with our apartment complex. We’ll be here at his place until his lease is up in July. It’s kind of a small space for all of us, but it will allow us to save more money between now and then, softening the blow of moving costs.

The cats are not yet best buds. Mine are in the back half of the apartment–our bed and bath. His are out in the rest of the apartment–computer/music room, living room, kitchen. They’re starting to stare at each other for longer periods of time before they break into hisses and growls, so I’m taking that as a positive sign and trying to be patient with everyone. I’m sure it’s a big adjustment.

The boy has been gone all week to Cleveland to record an EP with an awesome producer up there. It’s been going really well, and he’s pleased with what’s coming out of the studio. It’s been weird being here without him. I’ll be glad to have him home in a couple of days.

Oh, and I’m officially divorced, woo! That went through on the 4th. Hah, Jan 4th–my Independence Day.

All in all, I’d say things are going pretty well. I’m excited to start another phase of my life, another chapter. I have a good feeling about things. Time will tell, I’m sure, but for now, I’m happy to be where I am. Just ready for the boy to be home so I don’t eat all of these peanut-butter cookies by myself….

 

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Thanksgiving

Of course, just when I thought I had a handle on everything and that everything was going back to normal and boring, life threw me for another loop.

And boy, what a loop.
I still haven’t felt depressed. In fact, just the other day, I was talking about mom and found that I was able to remember her with love but without the grief. It was awesome to be able to think about her and be completely happy and thankful that she was my mother without the pain of loss running parallel. So that’s good.

The first curve ball was that I was denied my divorce. Seriously. How ridiculous. My case was thrown out because the manager of the retreat center where my ex-husband lives/works signed for the certified letter instead of my ex-husband himself. I had to start completely over. Serve new papers, pay more money, wait another 40 days after service, schedule court at 10 AM on a Friday. What a nightmare. I was so, so looking forward to having this done and getting my mother’s name back.

I can’t go to my gym anymore because of some stupid drama going on over there. The owner treated one of the trainers horribly, and I just can’t patronize that place after what happened. I’ve been trying to find a new place, but it’s been very hard. I haven’t worked out in like two weeks, and I feel awful.

I started working as the social media manager for my ex-boyfriend’s band, which was a blast until a whole bunch of band drama put an end to it. (Drama everywhere these past two weeks…is Mercury in retrograde again??)

And then my ex-boyfriend and I decided to try to give things another go.

Oh, and one of his best friends is here for an extended visit, so I got to meet him. It’s always interesting to meet your best friend’s best friend. I think it can tell you a lot about a person. These guys love each other like brothers. It’s sweet.

Anyway, I’m very glad it’s a short week and that there’s vacation at the end of the tunnel.

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Friendship

I’ve never been as depressed as I’ve been these past few weeks. But I told myself that at the end of this week, that would be over, that I’d get up and get on with my life. And lo and behold, I woke up Thursday morning not happy, per se, but not depressed anymore. The big hole of emptiness was gone.

Of course, life is never that easy…I woke up Friday morning with a horrible cold, so getting back to live (exercise, etc.) will have to wait a little longer. Blah.

We (me, dad, and mom’s brother) woke up in time for the sunrise on Wednesday, October 17th. Mom’s brother said a prayer of thanksgiving for mom’s life, and then we all went out onto the deck to scatter mom’s ashes. Dad wanted to keep some in the urn, and I still have some in a small metal heart here at home, so we didn’t scatter them all, but most are there off the side of the deck. It was a gorgeous sunrise. It’s a good place for mom’s ashes to be. It’s a good place for us to remember her being, even if she isn’t really there anymore.

And I took some pictures of the site before I left. Turns out there are some green beans growing there. Who knew? 🙂

It was so funny, when mom’s brother got into town and met us for dinner, he came into the bar where dad and I were waiting and sat down, then started talking…and then he looked at me and said, “And here I am, talking, when I’m just lookin’ at you and thinkin’ about how much you look like your mother.”

“Funny,” I said, “because that’s exactly what I was thinking about you.”

I’m sad that when my mom’s brother is gone, my mom’s stories are gone, too. No one will ever know her like he did. No one will ever know her like I did, either, sure, but he knew her as she was growing up. No one can replace that.

I have an old friend from writing class who has recently begun writing me letters. I always looked up to him as a sort of mentor. I mentioned in one of my responses that I’d been having trouble writing about mom, that it was still too soon for me. He said his mother passed away five years ago, and it was still too soon for him, too. That made me feel a little better. I wish I could write about everything that’s happened. So many of us have experienced loss, and I know that the only thing that can make any of us feel better is the understanding that we’re not alone. If I could write everything down, maybe I could help someone else like my friends have helped me.

And speaking of friends, and the title of this post, I have to say that my ex has been instrumental in getting me through the past few weeks. He was there for me in ways I never expected. If I ever had any doubts about whether or not he cared for me, or about how much he cared for me, they’ve all been erased. He let me take all of my sorrow, grief, and anger out on him, and he was nothing but supportive. I’m both amazed and grateful.

I switched therapists (not sure if I’ve said)…my most recent therapist always made me feel like I was just there as a paying client, like she didn’t really care about me, and that just wouldn’t do. I switched to an RPCV whom I met at a pot luck about a month ago. She’s an older lady, and she’s extremely kind. She’s also the first person who didn’t immediately say that my ex is a selfish asshole and that I should cease all contact with him. She actually helped me see that our relationship wasn’t as one-sided as both of us had thought, but that we gave in different ways: me, more of my material goods, and him, more of his quality time and attention. Neither is worth more. If anything, really, time and attention means more, right? But I’m glad there was finally a different perspective.

Life is a funny place. I think that I’m in a good position to move on and figure out new ways to make a difference in the world. Once this cold is gone, anyway. I’m lucky that my depression didn’t last any longer than it did. I know that not everyone is as lucky. I feel for those people, I honestly do. Real depression is no joke. But no one can save you from it but yourself.

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Ashes to Ashes

Well, here we are. Down at the beach to leave some of mom’s ashes in the place she loved the most.

Being depressed is no fun at all. Really, just none. I don’t want to see people. I don’t want to have to smile if I don’t feel like it. I don’t want to have to talk about mundane things. I just want to stay in bed and forget that there’s anything going on outside of the door of my bedroom. I’ve even been struggling to spend time with dad, and that’s never been the case (well, maybe when I was younger, but I blame that on hormones).

Mom’s brother is coming in tonight. We’re all going to dinner. Then we’re going to wake up early, before the neighbors, to say a little something and scatter some ashes. And then, I hope (REALLY hope) that I can get back to life. And even if I don’t feel like it, I’m only allowing myself to continue on this depression spiral for a few more days. Next week, I’m done with it, whether the rest of me wants to be or not.

It’s so pretty down here…just gorgeous weather. If it were any other time, I’d be renting a bike to go riding or walking on the beach. Honestly, the fact that I’m waking up and typing is a good thing, I think.

I appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers during this time. It’s sad that this one event–mom’s passing–has made such an impact on my life, but it is as it is.

And it’s strange, but the person I feel the worst for is mom’s dog. I wonder if she still thinks mom is still coming home, if she still expects her to show up. I read all about cats when I got separated, and everyone seems to think cats have about a six-month memory…after that, they don’t remember you if you’re gone. I wonder about this dog. Mom was retired when she got her, so they spent a LOT of time together. I know the dog knew mom was sick. I don’t know if she knew mom passed. I do know she was depressed for a long time and that she does the best when she’s in an environment mom has never graced (such as dad’s new place in Florida). It’s interesting. And sad. At least I can logic my way through things. I don’t like the dog, but I do feel bad for her.

Anyway, tomorrow’s the big day. I’ll be glad when it’s over. I need to get back to taking care of myself instead of trying to take care of someone who has left us. I don’t have any regrets. I wish I’d done some things differently, but I couldn’t have…I’m only human. I did the best I could, I loved the best I could, and I’m honored that I got to help usher mom into the next phase of her existence. That doesn’t stop me from being sad, though.

I love you, mom. Last year at this time, I would have been preparing my meals for the week and cleaning house so I could get back to being with you. I’d told work that I would be working from your house for the duration of your illness. Turned out it was just a day. And I knew as soon as I arrived that morning. I could see it in your eyes. I’m sorry you had to suffer so. But I’m glad we had so long to say goodbye. I hope that the next time I come here to the beach, I will be happy that you will meet me and not so sad that I have to leave you.

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Confession

Okay.

I’ll admit it.

I’m depressed.

I thought I was depressed once when I was a teenager. I had this blinding moment of clarity wherein I realized that all of my “friends” were fake and that no one really knew who I was. I then immediately lost my faith (I happened to be at a church camp at the time) and did nothing but say I was depressed and cry for a couple of months.

I don’t think I was depressed then, though. This is different.

The best way I’ve been able to explain how I feel now is to say that it’s like there’s this inner core of me that is dead. It has no feelings, no motivation, no purpose, no esteem. It’s just dead weight. It’s like The Nothing in The Neverending Story. And then there’s this outer bit of me that knows I have to go on with life: get outside, exercise, go to work, see people, eat. I just don’t want to.

For the past three weeks, it’s been extremely difficult to get out of bed. I like my bed. It’s comfortable. I don’t have to smile at my bed. I don’t have to answer my bed’s questions. I don’t have to pretend to my bed that I’m a functioning human being. I can just curl up with my body pillow, huddle for warmth under my blanket, and stay safe and unmolested by the world outside my front door.

I’ve been working from home a lot. I’m super lucky to have such a flexible job. I have been making myself go to the gym, where I get a hug from my trainer before she kicks my ass. And I’m being very open about it and telling all of my friends that I’m depressed. I’m not keeping it a secret.

I don’t need to be comforted. I don’t need anyone to tell me it’s going to be okay or that it will pass. I just need to be allowed to be. And I’d prefer to do that being in my wonderful, marvelous bed.

I mentioned some of this to dad tonight, and he told me we didn’t have to go through with our plans for next week (to take mom’s ashes to the beach). I think he missed the point. I need to go to the beach and be with my mother. I need to go through with the ritual of letting her go, which means nothing to her at this point, but a lot to me. I know that after next week, things will pick up again and I’ll get back to some kind of normal routine.

The most unexpected side-effect of this depression is that I understand my ex-boyfriend in a way that I never have before. He deals with this type of feeling all the time. He has his whole life. I am lucky in that I understand what’s going on and that these feelings are temporary. People have been telling him that “it will pass” and “everything will be okay” his entire life, but it hasn’t and they aren’t. I understand things better now…for example, I’ve gotten upset with him before when I’ve reached out for reassurance or comfort and he wasn’t able to provide it. But now I get it: you can’t provide comfort to someone when you aren’t comforted yourself. I tried to explain this to him, and here’s how he paraphrased it:

you used to get upset because I couldn’t or didn’t know what to say to make you feel better when shit was shitty, but since now you’re feeling shitty you know that it’s hard to make others not feel shitty when they’re feeling shitty

And that’s pretty much it. But there’s a bit more…like sometimes the best thing you can do to help someone is to let them know that they are understood and that they are not alone. And I think that’s what he always tried to do. I interpreted that as him not caring and not trying, but empathy might just be the best way he can care for someone else, the most that he can do for someone.

Misery loves company, eh?

So here it is: I’m depressed. That’s not a bad thing or a good thing, it’s just a thing. I know why I feel this way. I also know it will end at some point. And I think I have enough strength left in me to pretend that I’m okay until I am actually okay again, though I’d really rather just stay in bed.

I have a very nice bed.

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Insanity

Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again while expecting different results.

So…I might be insane.

I’ve been reading through my Peace Corps journals recently. I’m almost through one of five. I wrote everything down every single day. I wanted to remember everything: smells, sounds, people, conversations. I did a remarkable job. Reading through, I’ll hit a sentence that brings back an entire day’s worth of memories. Oh yeah, I remember that training session! And what that food tasted like! And how mad I was at the bitches smoking by the doors of our compound so we all had to smell their exhaust! And how it felt when that scorpion stung me!

My first reaction in reading through was pride in the person I was then, then sadness that I lost much of my confidence and center. When I went into the Peace Corps, I’d just finishing my stint in Boone with Johnny, my best friend. We were extremely close. He taught me more than perhaps anyone else I’ve ever met in my life, and I was in a very strong, Zen, centered place. I lost that while I was in the Peace Corps. Not that Johnny didn’t try to help me keep it: he wrote letters, which meant a lot as he hates to write, and he called me every week. If it hadn’t been for him and my parents, I don’t know if I would have made it through all two years.

Anyway, the main reason I wanted to go through this exercise was to find out why I ever even liked my ex-husband in the first place. At this point, I don’t remember at all. I remember how I felt around him when we were in Lesotho, but I don’t know why. I hope I wrote that down.

First, though, I have to make it through Katiso, subject of one of my published short stories. It’s been an interesting experience. I have this memory of Katiso and our relationship, and it has absolutely no correlation to what I wrote down in my journal. Even when I was writing down what was actually happening, I was totally making up things in my mind. There are a lot of “if only” statements: if only things were slightly different, they’d be perfect; if only he did this one thing differently, it’d be amazing; we’ll be perfect once these things are ironed out. It’s like I imagined our relationship even while we were together. And if that wasn’t scary enough, I could replace Katiso’s name with my most recent ex’s and the story would stay almost exactly the same.

No joke.

Almost exactly.

That frightens me.

So I called Johnny.

Full disclosure: not only is he my best friend, but he can see my future. He’s always had this ability, and sometimes I’ll purposefully go months without talking to him because I just don’t want to know. Everyone thinks it’d be great to be able to know your future, but it’s more annoying than anything else. Trust me. Because knowing your future does not give you the ability to change it.

I told him what I was thinking, and he said, well, I was just waiting for you to figure that out. (See why I sometimes avoid talking to him?)

I just don’t know what to do from here. Okay, I keep falling into these same types of relationships (and Katiso wasn’t the first–the first was a boy I met in high school who kept me under his thumb for an entire decade), so how do I stop? What is the lesson that I need to learn to be able to break the cycle? Johnny had some suggestions, but he can’t give me all the answers. Well, he could, but what would be the fun in that?

What I’d really like is to find someone who loves me for who I am and not what I can give to or do for him. I want someone who makes me feel special, who thinks of me often, who encourages me to grow into the best version of myself I can be. The only time I’ve ever had that in my life was with Johnny, and we were never romantically together. He managed to do all of that while just being my friend. And that’s why I have such a high standard of friendship. We bought each other flowers. We left each other cards. We cooked meals together, pretty much every single day. I moved down the street from him. We watched movies and cuddled together on the couch. We talked about deep, important things. We went on trips together. We knew everything about each other. It was like the perfect relationship, except it was just missing that final piece.

So I guess I’d like to find my Johnny. I suppose that’s my answer. I should stop settling for anything less.

 

Now, on an entirely different note, mom’s one-year anniversary is coming up October 17th. I’m sad and depressed, as could be expected. We’re going down to the beach to scatter her ashes, as she wanted. It’s going to be heart-wrenching.

I got a new tattoo on Tuesday. I wanted a filigree design on the inside of my left wrist that matches my modified wedding ring. I told my artist that I wanted to incorporate mom’s initials, SSS, into the design, but they didn’t have to be front and center. He came up with this design that has SSS in the middle of a filigree heart. It’s amazing. Every day, I love it more and it means more. It has a power that I didn’t imagine. I feel like it’s turning me into a different person. I’m sure it’s not the way mom would have chosen for me to remember her, but it’s exactly what I needed.

I’ve learned that the feeling of loss never gets easier to bear: you just learn to live with it. Compartmentalize it, someone told me last week. I had hoped it would become less acute, but I guess that’s not the way these things work. So I’ve compartmentalized it. It’s now on my wrist. I stare at it all day, every day.

Pain into beauty. Such is life. Or so we hope.

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I had another realization tonight. I’ve known for a while that many things that have happened to me in my life–choices I’ve made, relationships, key decisions–have mirrored those in my mother’s life. I spoke about that in my eulogy, about how all women eventually become their mothers. But what I’d failed to realize is how things would turn out if I decided to consciously follow in her footsteps.

I can’t follow them exactly, of course. I didn’t skip grades in school (in fact, it took me waaaaay too long to finish, but I went further than she did). I’m not a programmer, though I do work in the tech industry. I prefer to read books of substance, not trashy romance novels. I hate dogs. I will never have a dog. Ever.

Anyway, you get the idea.

Tonight, I went to a meeting of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). I knew mom belonged, and I knew her mom belonged, but I didn’t think either was very active. I do remember going to a DAR conference with mom when I was a kid. I think it was in Atlanta. I don’t remember much but a sea of gray-haired old ladies. I figured that’s what DAR was going to be: a bunch of old ladies. Not that I have anything against old ladies. Much to the contrary! I’m also a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, and those old(er) OES ladies I met in West Virginia were some of the kindest people I’ve ever met, and I’ll always care for them, and them for me. I’m still getting to know the ones here at my OES chapter in NC, but I’ve found them all to be very nice as well. It’s just that I’m 32, and I don’t know how many old-lady organizations I can belong to right now.

I was pleasantly surprised. Most of the women at this DAR chapter are my age, slightly younger, or slightly older. Most are working women or stay-at-home moms. One woman I sat next to had three piercings per ear and tattoos on her inner wrists, and we bonded immediately, of course. This is not my mom’s DAR. And they’re all very active in charity and community work, all centered around the DAR’s mission, which is to support American patriots, past and present. It was really cool. I’m looking forward to getting to know the ladies and getting more involved.

I had to stand up, along with the other newcomers, to introduce myself. I prepared by making a mental bullet-list of the highlights: separated and extremely excited to be starting my divorce process on Monday (everyone cheered), RPCV Lesotho, MA in PWE from WVU, editor at a well-known software company.

Then a very rare realization: I am awesome.

I’m an awesome person. I’ve done a lot of awesome things. I have a decent list of accomplishments. I think I’m a good person. I try to be kind, even though I often fail. I try to be generous and loving and giving. Even though I’m not always there for my friends, my friends are always there for me. That has to mean something. (Maybe that I’m a bad friend?!)

I should back up for a minute here. This is my first day back from vacation. I went out to CO for the wedding of a good Peace Corps buddy. The other RPCVs who were there weren’t ever close friends of mine, though we knew each other and got along just fine, but we all share a common thread that makes us family. I met a guy who was two weeks back from a long stint with US AID in Afghanistan. I had drinks with people who distributed malaria nets in Sudan (including the groom). I met nurses and non-profit workers. Almost everyone there was doing something that mattered. It made me feel a bit like a slacker because I’ve let my non-profit ball drop, but I think it’s about time to pick that up again.

Anyway, that experience–reconnecting with people who are LIVING and not just existing–reminded me of things that used to matter to me. Those things got lost in this past year of stress and grief and loss and, like my (occasionally) trusty GPS, recalculating.

If I can remember that I’m awesome, that I can do awesome things and make a difference in the world during the few years that I am blessed with the gift of existence (because, let’s face it, I’ll count myself very lucky if my life isn’t half over at this point–mom’s was at 32)…if I can remember all of that and get myself back to walking the trail mom blazed for me…well, that would be a good thing, I think.

Relevant post script: The whole time I was with the boy, he kept telling me that he wasn’t the right person for me. I can say a lot about him, but one thing I can’t say is that he ever lied to me about anything important. He was right about most things, actually. He called me magical, special, “why do you have to be so perfect?” And he said he wasn’t the right person for me. I should have listened to all of that. Because it’s true.

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