curiouser and curiouser

an attempt to define the un-definable

I hate Alice in Wonderland—too trippy—but there’s a scene that’s been replaying in my head these last few weeks. It’s the one where an oversized hookah-smoking caterpillar blows smoke rings around Alice as he asks, “Who…are…you?” 

I see myself staring up at the worm, as unsure as Alice as she responds, “I hardly know, sir!” 

They go in circles and she insists, “I can’t explain myself, sir, because I’m not myself, you know.” The worm is a poor listener, or high, so Alice grows frustrated. She absolutely has no idea who she is, and she cannot possibly come up with an answer to satisfy him. The best she has to offer is vague: “I can’t put it any more clearly, for it isn’t clear to me.” 

Similarly, I am at a loss for labels. So many of the ways I used to define myself have drifted away as quietly as smoke rings: 

Married. 

Republican. 

Believer in post-racial America.

Nurse.

Eye-roller at vegans.

Despiser of feminists.

Knower of life’s timelines. 

Things have changed, and now I am in place where things are less solid, more fluid. More nuanced, complex, and messy.

Status: Divorcée. A one-word title, but there’s nothing in the name that carries the weight of a life’s vocation as nicely as married. It feels a little fuzzier.

Absolutely not a Republican, but maybe not a Democrat? Maybe more of a centrist, or a Libertarian? Don’t come at me, it’s TBD, I just know that I’m not in favor of he-who-shall-not-be-named.

Occasional vegan. Turns out I care about the planet, though I still love cheese.

Feminist, though a pro-life one, though also one that isn’t sure what the most effective way to support mothers/family/society is.

Human trying to become anti-racist after a lifetime of disbelief. V flawed.

Writer? Blogger, casually. Student, definitely. Does that make me “a creative” (I imagine this means I’ll take up wearing berets and snapping in smoky clubs, so maybe not). 

Still a nurse, yes, but not a full-time one, and unsure of how well I love the work. Overall, displeased with the business of healthcare, and burned out from caring so hard in a world built more for money than people. 

Real estate agent—this one is new. In my previous timeline I always imagined I’d quit nursing to raise children and let my fancy husband make ze monies. No children and no husband makes me my own breadwinner, and I realized I should probably be in a career that I wasn’t planning to quit someday. While, in a perfect world, I simply become the next J.K. Rowling and float about writing best sellers, I think this real estate business might be the place where I have the time and space and flexibility to write, the money to eat-pray-love my way around the globe, and the chance to still serve my community. I believe in home, so why not make myself a part of it?

Where does all that leave me now? Dabbling in several careers, with a mishmash of political leanings, no romantic involvements and some kind of half-assed vegan habit?

I’m a little bit of everything and entirely nothing.

My primary concern: I have no idea how I will explain myself at parties. I can see it in my head— 

“What do you do?” 

*brain short circuits*

“NurseRealtorWriterStudent.” 

Nothing neat enough to put cutely. But, then again, why the need to define myself by what I do at all? Sure, it might be the easiest to say, and, yes, you learn something from knowing a person’s job. Like when I say nurse, you might hear caring. You might find me trustworthy, reliable, kind. On the other hand, if I get into my current crossroads, you’re more likely to see a huge mess. You’ll nod your head, bemused, unsure of a girl who can’t commit to any one thing.

I know the gist of what I’m after, of course, but there’s nothing easily knowable from something as simple as a title. What I really want is beauty. Creativity. Rhythm. Abundance. I want peace, and grace. Wholeness, health, and a life where I am content, doing what I was made to do, not on a five-year-plan, but in finding one right thing after the next right thing.

Maybe the whole mess of myself, the possibility and the journey and the flaws, the beauty and the wonder and the hope, what I do or what I don’t do, will be caught up in one phrase after all: a name. My name. Rebecca Joy. Maybe that’s all you’ll ever need to know—maybe I grow so grounded into myself that you can reach the heart of me just from hearing it whispered. If only Alice knew how to say hers.

poetic injustice

here’s some salt for that wound

You brought home a girl for Thanksgiving and she’s beautiful. Just like I thought she’d be; just the opposite of me. A petite angelic blonde.

I was expecting it, honestly. I was ready for it to sting.

The news came with a call from my mother, late the other night. She found the pictures by accident and sent them to me; you were there in the frame with the blonde, posed sweetly in your childhood home. The home I grew up in with you, the home we lived the first weeks we were married, the home with our high school ghosts and long kisses and late nights and wine and dinners and the love of your family. This alone feels like a betrayal—how dare they love someone in my place, let her into walls they’d shared with me, tell her she’s beautiful, surround her with grace, forget to punish you for the love you withheld from me. 

But then it got worse. It was a punch straight to the bruise I thought I had healed. A dagger pushed slowly into the softest part of my heart. 

It’s poetic, really. How else could this have gone? The man I left when he swore he never wanted children now has a girlfriend with a child. This ending makes the least sense, so I suppose it is the way it must be. The writer in me appreciates it. The human in me is stunned.

You looked at me dead-eyed as I wept; you were certain. Never mind the house we’d bought with rooms for children or the timeline we’d sketched out. Children were not for you. Ever.

That’s what happened, you remember, even if the only thing you tell her now is that I was crazy.  I have to keep convincing myself that I wasn’t—which I suspect is a symptom of your pathology rather than mine, but I can’t seem to stop. I hope she doesn’t fall for it. I hope she’s level-headed. I hope she knows what she’s signed up for. As we all know, love should be entire, a knowledgeable yes to the good and the bad, though I suspect you are still burying me in half-truths. I can’t stand the thought of that, where my version of reality exists no where but in my head. 

I wonder what she knows. I hate to think of her with you, wandering through my house, touching my things, trying on my shower, my closets, my bed. Doing the things I never could do without even saying my name.

Did you tell her when you took her camping that I’d bought you that gear the winter you moved into the guest room? How I thought we could reconnect somewhere quiet, somewhere far away from the bars and friends who’d been keeping you out every night? When you walked through our house with her child in tow, when you picked up our dog and the tent and stored it all in your car, did you tell them I spent extra on the orange one because you took up so much room when you slept? Did you tell her you never found time to take me?

Did you tell her, when you brought her to Temecula, that I’d tried to book us a weekend there? That you’d been distant when you got back from Vegas, that I’d been desperate to draw you back, but that you told me no?

Do you tell her that the shirt you were wearing was a gift from my dad? That the blue hat was a gift from me? That your brunch-and-football dates aren’t special, that they were our dates first?

And does she know about the pregnancy tests? The ones I hid in the bathroom trash? The ones I took in grocery store stalls, too scared to bring them home? How afraid I was of how you’d treat me if you even sensed a breath of life?

Why did I have to live like that? Was the pain you inflicted meant only for me?

And why, how, do you get to keep living while I am still suffering? Do you feel nothing at all? 

If she keeps you around does that finally, actually, make me the crazy one? Did I make you up?

Whatever it is, I hope you talk about consent. I hope she never has to tell you no more than once, that she never feels discarded, that you never handle her too roughly or make her feel forgotten.

I hope you talk about the hole in our bedroom wall. I hope she asks about it on a Sunday, on the way to her church, and you tell her it was because I refused to worship you. I hope you let her practice her faith with the respect you could never find for me.

I hope you don’t make fun of her. No jokes about her size, her style, her feminine brain being less than a man’s. I hope you don’t groan, do I have to, when she puts on lingerie. 

I hope you’re never unfaithful. I hope you never lie.

I hope she never hurts. I’m gone, I’m glad I’m gone, but I still do.

I’ll always love the sliver of hope that existed deep inside you, and now she has that sliver. Part of me is jealous, part of me is broken, part of me wonders, distantly, why wasn’t it mine, until the better part of me peeks out and just hopes you treat her well. It tastes like injustice, for you to hand over to her what you denied me, but women were not made to be played with. Do better, if you’re capable of it. Godspeed.

a little feminism, a little catholicism

divorce does not make you a bad christian

Let’s clear something up.

Being divorced does not make me a bad Catholic.

We no longer live in a time when women are meant to be white-knuckling it through years of misery for the sake of ‘offering it up.’ We are educated, independent, and now have the resources to pursue our callings in ways that generations before us did not have. There’s no need for us to settle for the facade of holiness when, in reality, our homes are flooded with backwater. 

That being said, you’re not doing anyone any favors, not even God, when you’re staying in a relationship just for the sake of what appears to be a straightforward Christian life. Better for God, and everyone else, to courageously move into the unknown. 

I’m not saying there is no such thing as objective right and wrong. I’m also not saying that love isn’t a sacrifice or active choice. I do believe that even the best of relationships face their challenges, and there will always be ‘offer it up’ days. Please stick around when the Cross is shared in love and the promise of Easter stands above you. 

For today, let’s consider those relationships built on such gravel they could hardly survive a breeze, let alone the storm of real life. These relationships are not going to make it anywhere healthy, no matter who says they hope it’ll work it out. They are plagued far beyond that run of the mill struggle straightened out in therapy. They are fundamentally unwell. 

I had a long, winding talk with a priest about this before I left my own marriage. He was honest, reminding me that God could always work a miracle, and I could stay and hope for the transformation of grace. He also told me that as a woman with intellect, I should feel free to make my decision based on the truth of what had been shown to me in the past and what was happening in the present. 

Based on the facts, our marriage was going nowhere, and had not been God’s plan for marriage from the start. According to this priest, and, I’m sure, Christ, I was made for more. I was made for joy, and freedom, and life. I needed to bravely look at what I believed to be true- all marriages are forever- and walk instead into foreign territory. I had to shift my framework, take a deeper look, and start a new life. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Whatever you believe, please don’t tell me you think I should be back with my husband because it says so in your Christian Marriage 101 textbook. I promise, nothing about what was going on there fit the Christian ideal. None of it was meeting the life-giving, holy-growing criteria of what a mutual marriage should be, and anyone thinking I should stick around for more of that is sick in the head.

Also, for the record, asking me if I discerned my relationship with my ex feels a little weird. Of course I did. I didn’t just wander into a marriage without serious consideration and prayer. I’m still sorting out why everything ended up the way it did, but assuming my lack of proper discernment is to blame for the dysfunction somehow makes it my fault everything sucked.

I did not wind up in this situation because I didn’t pray hard enough.

Basically, this is my long way of saying that staying in a place of decay just because it looks Christian is not always the right thing to do. And anyway, when was the last time we chose the Christian life because it looked good? We choose Christianity because it embraces what is actually good.

I can tell you that since I’ve left, I feel more like myself than I have in years. I am free. I don’t have to hide my faith anymore, and I don’t avoid going deeper into my relationship with God for fear of distancing myself from a husband who resented Him. I’m at a point in my life where I am free to take care of my soul, and I’d say that’s the holiest place to be. Not trapped in a life-sucking situation for the sake of what made me a good Catholic on paper. 

Let’s broaden our idea of what good Catholicism looks like. It’s not always going to be sweet domestic bliss, because life is not always like that. A lot of us don’t have that version of the dream, and even when we have something close, there’s something else lurking in our closets. There’s drugs and depression, scandal and abuse, broken families and loneliness and sin. 

That is the beauty of real, tangible Catholicism: it is for real, tangible people. We are dirty and hungry and walking a road through the valley of death. We are clinging to a God Who is merciful. He meets us, broken and poor, and invites us to a table with Him. He doesn’t ask us if we prayed hard enough or why the heck we are broken in the first place. He didn’t look at Mary Magdalene and ask her why did she became a prostitute, ridiculous and sinful woman. He got down in the dust with her and offered her a hand. 

Sometimes what is right doesn’t look the same as what we thought before. 

It’s time to shift the framework.