summer love lost

“I don’t think I miss him anymore.”

The words are out of my mouth in therapy the day before my flight takes off, but then I’m here, in the state we grew up in. I swallow my words; it’s all back. This is a joke, right? I mean, I still thought about him every day, but it was fading to more of the odd passing thing. Not this nagging headache.

Damn. He is everywhere. He’s here in the way the roads twist through the quiet woods, the way the headlights reflect off the leaves, brights turned up the whole way home because no one else is on the road. I see him in the stars, the way they splash across the sky in a dance of quiet faithfulness, and I’m back to nights breathing fresh air after hours lost kissing. 

I feel him in the breeze; chilly sweater-weather in the cool northern summer night. One of those nights he took me to the top of the hill by his house, hopping fences and lending me his sweatshirt so we could watch the hours pass by with the crickets. There was a shooting star that night- I was convinced it was a sign. 

I think of the night after prom, swimming in the pool with friends, mixing drinks, crawling into bed at dawn in his old football t-shirt. I think of rides in the truck with my feet on the dash, walks through the woods in the thick humidity. I think of the initials we carved in the bench near the swamp; I think of the sunset we went back for after we were married. It was still just as beautiful. 

There was the sweet innocence of hand-holding, shy first kisses and kayaking. He let me tie my boat to his, and I didn’t mind sitting behind him and watching the way his arms moved. There was Rita’s and Friendly’s and all the silly places you go on dates when you’re young. Summers were always full of each other- me home for a few months, him home for a week or two. It was like stolen time. I soaked him in until I wished I could just melt right into his skin and he stuck to me like the bonfire smoke in my hair. 

How did that become this?

And when does this end? He is still here, burned into every memory of this state, the air and the sky and the trees. Why? And worse than that, why is he in all my favorite songs, my best memories, moments where I grew up? Moments with my family? Why is he in all the movies I love, songs I know by heart, foods I eat, games I play? Why is he everywhere? Every damn thing is his.

I’m not sure what to do here and I wish I knew when it would end. I want to be free. I want to be done. But then I think of the way he kissed me that first night and those summer stars and something about how kind he used to be leaves me lost. I still have trouble knitting these pieces of him into the fabric of what we became. It hardly fits, like a gold thread of magic through a forgotten gray quilt. 

I guess I could thank him for that, for the little bit of magic we stole in our summers. Something about that young romance seems hopelessly lovely… What an unwelcome trick time plays. It’s as if we finally learned the ending: Cinderella doesn’t keep her prince, and the enchanted forest is nothing but a tangle of poison ivy. Probably full of ticks, too, knowing that part of town.

I’d like to think that Cinderella will be perfectly happy anyway, maybe involved with someone a little more consistently lovely. A nice cobbler’s boy or baker or something. Maybe no one, and that could be okay for her too. I guess we’ll see.

a year of celibacy

Not exactly the most exciting anniversary in the world, but interesting, yes? In the absence of being naked with anyone but my GYN, I’ve been on a very educational journey.

For starters, I’ve learned some lessons in self-worth. The binge-eating misery of divorce (college/grad school/night shift) has re-shaped my body. While I am on my way towards healing my relationship with food, I am also finding that the size of my jeans should not correlate with how confident I allow myself to feel. I don’t need to lose weight to be happy, and whatever that number says, or doesn’t say, I deserve to take care of myself. If that means I don’t even know what I weigh, then that’s great too. 

Either way, I deserve to feel beautiful. And I deserve to buy some damn bras that actually fit.

Speaking of undergarments, the next time I let anyone else take off this fancy-ass bra things are going to go a little differently.

Next time, I will not allow myself to feel manipulated into doing anything I’m not comfortable doing. This is good bedroom behavior, but, not surprising, also applicable to daily life. I am not to be taken advantage of.

Some other tidbits I’m going to keep in the back pocket of my high-rise jeans:

Crying after sex means that things are no bueno. RED FLAG.

Sex should not be selfish. At my most open, most vulnerable, and most intimate, I should not be left feeling used.

I am worth the work. I am worth the time. I am worth the effort. Sex is good and it should feel like it!

Also good: being a woman. Women are homes. Soft places to land and safe places to hide, built on strong, durable, brave, unbreakable bones.

We don’t just exist to be attractive, and our femininity is not defined by our desirability. I am still a woman if no one sees me, wants me, or validates me. 

Of course, on the other hand, women are inherently beautiful. Beauty is good and our bodies are good. We are worth celebrating and uplifting and appreciating. This does not allow for casual use and degradation. Also to be avoided: gossip and comparison. Two very reliable thieves of joy.

Anyway, here I am, a year untouched, living in a body I’m finally growing to love. I’m grateful for this year of alone-ness in my skin, and I’m grateful for this Creator of mine Who was kind enough to take as much time on me as He did sunsets and oceans and wine. Maybe more.

How magnificent. 

possibly a touch of depression

These are the things I am trying to tell myself right now.

It’s okay if you don’t have it in you. 

It’s okay if you don’t have the energy to work out right now. If you can’t bike or lift or run, at least you can walk. That’s okay too. It’s okay to be gentle. It’s okay if you don’t feel like praying. If you can’t think of anything to journal. It’s okay if you you don’t feel like writing or talking to going anywhere. It’s okay when you get irritable. If you don’t feel as interested or as happy or as confident, that’s okay too. It’s okay if you need to take a nap. 

It’s not normal to wake up every morning and feel like your throat is closing because you have to do laundry/walk the dog/go to work/live your life. It’s okay to not want to feel like that anymore. Other people don’t have to live with that, and it is just too much damn work to keep up with. 

Also, it’s okay if you don’t get to the laundry/the dog/the work/etc., etc. 

It’s okay if you just ate a whole bag of chips. You aren’t bad, or ugly, or fat, or unlovable. It’s okay if you got a little drunker than you planned. It’s okay that you thought about hurting yourself but you opted for a whole box of cereal instead. Not great, but probably the better option. 

It’s okay if you need to take meds. It’s okay to want to feel like yourself again. You aren’t bad. You are good. God is good. He’s somewhere out there, helping you muddle through the fog. Also, it’s okay if you don’t know what choosing joy looks like right now. Maybe it’s just something less exuberant right now, like quiet peace. More like the rhythm of a lake than the roaring of the ocean. That’s okay. It’s all still wet.

Stop trying to go shopping to make yourself feel better/feel anything. Clothes aren’t fixing you. Makeup isn’t, bathing suits aren’t, bags aren’t, and food isn’t either. Food isn’t your only friend and isn’t the only thing that will make you feel good. 

Go lay in the sun. It’s warm. It doesn’t ask anything back. Just rest. Be held. 

Mostly, it’s okay to want to feel better, but it’s okay to sometimes not be okay. 

going public

This account was set to private until last week. I’ve been typing away for months in hiding, getting my story down and out, processing, waffling somewhere between snotty tears and girl-power anthems. I knew I wanted to let this all breathe in the open someday, but I was planning to let it wait. I was scared.

Even here, after all this time, I was scared of him. 

I was scared he’d find this and read it all and be absolutely enraged. How dare I say this or say that, report this, talk about that. Interpret it this way, feel that way. No one was supposed to know, this was supposed to be private, it was personal, this was between husband and wife. I was afraid he’d be furious.

The thing is, though, he’s already furious.

The other thing- I already left.

I realized now was the time for me to let my story see a little daylight; it was time to stop being afraid of him. I couldn’t lose his affection any more than I already had, and I needed to stop giving him power over me. I stand on my own now because I choose to, and he doesn’t get a say here anymore.

I’m not trying to be hateful or take anyone down. I’m just trying to tell my story. And he doesn’t get to tell me how I do that anymore.

Of course, regardless of his opinion, telling a story of my own left me open to the frightening opinions of others. I was pretty damn afraid someone could hear it and tell me that I was crazy.

I was afraid that I could lay it out there: the moments, the facts, the feelings – and someone could look at the body of it all and tell me that I made it up. That I interpreted everything very, very poorly, and completely took it all out of context. That what I felt was wrong. I imagined it all. I was wrong to leave, I was wrong to believe what I did, I was insane to have the standards I did or the faith I had. He never really made me feel small, he never really ignored me, I must have been dreaming. I was stupid, I was being a typical woman, I was being overdramatic.

But I suppose that’s the point of overcoming any kind of abuse. I used to laugh when people claimed to own ‘their truth’ – it felt like a very millennial catch-phrase – but now I understand. You can’t cope with the reality of what happened if you don’t believe it yourself. Abusers are the ones who convince you it wasn’t real. Abusers tell you you’re crazy and completely in the wrong. So in the end, everyone might have a different version of this story, but I’m not going to believe the version where I am insane anymore. I have a claim to truth now, and I will not let that be silenced.

Aside from all that, there is still the problem of being seen. I was (am) afraid of that too.

Naturally, for all my fear, it’s one of my deepest desires. Who doesn’t want to be fully seen, acknowledged, celebrated, loved?  After spending a lot of time being unrecognized, becoming unrecognizable, I started to believe that was it until I left the shitty vortex of my marriage and found my voice again somewhere safe. 

Unfortunately, since then, I’ve come to realize that honest story telling isn’t safe at all. In all creation through all of time- in music, art, poetry, writing, acting- there is vulnerability. Even here, I open myself up to judgment, misunderstanding, forgettability, and failure. Still, I walk forward, willing to speak up and let everyone turn away, again, leaving me unknown, again. This time is a little different, though, because this time I don’t put so much weight on someone else’s seeing. This time, I see myself.

In reality, this story of mine just exists somewhere small, but it’s my somewhere small. I’m going to own it now. My story is part of a larger story, and I’m going to tell it without being afraid. Try like hell, anyway. 

Part of me still is cautious, and human, and I’d like to stay on your good side, so I’m sorry if my story bothers you. I’m sorry if it offends or paints a picture of reality you never noticed on your own. I apologize if the details are too much or you don’t understand or you don’t believe me. 

You’re welcome to walk on by. 

Because sorry or not, scared or not, I’m ready to let this exist. 

were you there

There’s a song that gets pulled out at church around Good Friday every year that used to give me chills. It’s lyrics lead the congregation through Jesus’ Passion in an uncomplicated but profound way, personally asking each of us if we’ve walked the journey with our Christ: Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree? Laid Him in the tomb?

I heard it again last Sunday and it’s lyrics felt more personal than years before. I found myself in the same sort of sadness, but also somewhere new. It felt almost indignant. Don’t ask me where I was, Lord. Where were You? Were You there? Were you there on the nights I cried alone? Were You there for the panic attacks? For the abandonment? For the anger? For the confusion?

Were You there when I was coerced? When no didn’t mean no? When I was ignored? When I was the target of undeserved hatred? Were You there when I was made to feel less than wanted, less than beautiful, less than a woman? When the desires of my heart, the ones I begged You for, went unanswered, year after year?

Were You there when I had to hide my marriage from others, from myself? When I didn’t know how to explain the strange undercurrent of dread, dissatisfaction, loneliness? When I begged You to bring my husband back to me? Bring Your peace into our home?

When I trusted deeply and implicitly that everything would be okay-  were You listening or laughing? When I felt You tell me everything would turn out alright- is this heartbreak what You had in mind? When I prayed for him to know You and see me, did You know that would never come to be?

I think back to that pivotal morning I met with the priest. That day when we walked through the tortured turns of my marriage I was looking for advice, looking for someone to tell me again it would all be okay. Instead of something encouraging I could tuck into my pocket and casually take back home, he reassured me that, yes, it would all be alright, but no, things could not go on as they had. He said You wanted better for me, and I would need to be brave enough to step out into the world and away from my husband. It was the first time I was faced with someone confirming out loud a truth I had been hiding in my heart. I needed to leave.

Something settled over me when I finally faced that truth- a bittersweet mix of acceptance, relief, and dread. I knew what I needed, but, my gosh, the road ahead was going to be long. It was going to be brutal. Excruciating.

In the chapel afterwards all I felt was the Garden. The Garden Jesus wrestled His Heart in, begging God for the cup to pass. He saw what was ahead of Him and knew it would be Good, but oh, how terrible. The pain of a broken body and broken heart, rejection and suffering. It all lay ahead of Him, yet He still saw that the only way to the Glory of Resurrection was through Hell.

I was in my own small corner of that Garden that day. I was already exhausted and couldn’t fathom how I would be able to pull my heart into even more pieces than it had already been broken. A sense of real grief and no, I’m really not looking forward to this, let’s fast forward, let’s just not. It was easier to suffer in the silence and predictability of my life then rip it all apart completely.

When I walked out of the chapel, eyes swollen from tears, I found myself in the lush sweetness of a rose garden. A little slice of paradise. A little bit of beauty bordering my Gethsemane.

So maybe You were there. Maybe You meant it when You said it would all be okay. Maybe You were present and waiting to set me free the whole time. From abuse, from death, from sin, from fear.

It took me an awfully long time to get there, though, and I’m not sure why I found myself leaving a life I had prayed so hard to start. Why did we go this way? Why did we take this road? I wish I knew.

I’m trying to trust Your presence and grace. You’re writing a story for glory, a crown of roses from a crown of thorns. I’m trying to trust again with that same unwavering faith that You are real and You will heal. You will make paths straight and there will be life renewed. Life abundant.

I’d like to think that You are holding vigil while I hide in the darkness, in this small tomb of unknowing, and while I am waiting here You are sowing a garden. When these stones roll away there will be morning, and I will be met with new life.

Alleluia, Alleluia.

when you love the one you left

I still miss you. 

I’ve been having dreams where we’re together and I can’t quite remember why we were ever apart. We’re happy again until I wake up and I’m left feeling like I’ve been visited by your ghost and that old maybe-I’ll-let-the-shit-slide feeling starts to haunt me; the old feeling I used to use when I crammed everything else down. I did it because I liked you and it felt like too much to tackle anyway.

And because your eyes crinkled when you laughed. 

The ghost starts unraveling my day with memories of our sweeter life. And then I miss you more.

I miss rubbing your back while we fell asleep. I miss sitting in bed eating trail mix and laughing. I miss hearing you sing in the shower. I miss your wedding ring, slow dancing, your arms around me. 

Sometimes you made me feel wanted. Needed. Special. Loved.

I think about that night near the end of it all when I sat on the side of the guest bed. I had started making you sleep in there. You didn’t understand at first and it was a stab in my heart every time I had to remind you and remind myself that I was leaving you. We shouldn’t be in the same bed anymore. Please go stay in the other bed. Over and over I told you. 

Then that night you were in that bed and I was just out of the shower, sitting on the edge in a little nightgown and crying. 

What a strange crossroads. How easily I could have just put it all away and invited you back to our room. How much I wanted to. I wanted you back where I remembered you, back where you wanted me and we could love each other. Instead, I was there crying, and you were telling me I was doing this. 

I guess in a way you were right. I was doing this. I was the one that was leaving. I was the one walking away. And I guess I didn’t have to.

I wish I didn’t have to. Too long, though, I had forgiven and forgotten and pushed and shifted and smashed things under the rug. It would have been easier to let it go again, and again, and again, and fall back into the pattern of life where it was good and I was holding my breath for the moment it wouldn’t be good anymore. 

Instead I’m waking from dreams of you to April mornings in this new life of mine, and I drift back to those springs that built our old life.

It was the last spring of high school when we started dating. It was a season of milkshakes after school, hikes in melting snow, runs in the park when the sun set late. It was kayaking and kissing, talking and star-gazing, Malibu in Coke and long rides in your truck. You were quiet back then. You were the strong, football-playing guy who secretly just wanted to hold my hand. You were sweet and you listened and your sturdiness made me feel soft. 

We got engaged on a late May night four years later. You were driving me home from college when we stopped in a park where you bent down with the ring I’d picked out a month before. The crickets chirped their congratulations and we got lost on the way back home. 

Our wedding was the spring after that. It was beautiful. Somehow, still one of the most satisfying, full, lovely days of my life. There was joy and flowers, all the people I loved in one place, and so much dancing I ruined my dress. It was heaven. Our whole hopeful lives were ahead of us, and when we smashed cake into each other’s faces I didn’t mind a bit. I loved the way we could make each other laugh. And then our honeymoon was the loveliest, laziest, stickiest week in the jungle I will never forget. It was you and me, alone on the planet, soaking each other in with the sun. There were rocking chairs and seafood, walks and sunburns and as much sex as we could manage. We belonged to each other.

We bought our first house last March. You made a joke about being stuck with me when we signed for the 30-year mortgage. Not so funny now, I suppose. We had plans for that house, though, ideas for the deck and the porch. You built a workshop in the garage and I was beside myself with the joy of a functional washer-dryer. 

Your family came to visit that spring and the week we spent with them might have been our last good time. You were easy to be around with your family there. It was safe for me. I felt at home with them. We swam and played cards and enjoyed the breezy California bloom. There was a lemon tree the kids loved and wine for the rest of us.

It’s hard to come to terms with these two versions of our marriage- the one where you were sweet and strong, and the one where you were angry and absent. The times where I was seen and the times I was invisible. 

I used to walk into the future holding on to these Springs of the Past- the easy, bright days full of hope- until that night on the guest bed, when I sat and cried over the place I’d finally put you in. I knew I needed to let the bad come out from where I’d hidden it and let it be as real as the good. I knew I needed to choose a future where I didn’t have to hide secrets or live hurt. That night I had to hold our marriage in my hands and cry, because I knew that when I chose to walk away from the darkness, I would leave behind a little light too. 

It’d be easier to pretend it never existed so I could just hate you. Instead, I’m here, in this first spring in this new life of mine, and I’m realizing I really only said goodbye to the man that I left. I need to say goodbye to the man that I loved.

So, goodbye to you. 

Goodbye to the boy who walked with me in the woods and carved our names in the tree.

Goodbye to the writer of my love letters, to my prom date, to my football-watching, dog-walking friend.

Goodbye to your arms and the songs you sang me. Goodbye to your lips. Goodbye to my rocking chairs and your cigars and country-music summer nights. Goodbye bonfires and dancing. Goodbye car rides and long talks and sharing families.

Goodbye to the part of my heart I gave you. Goodbye to my hopes for our future. Goodbye to our imaginary children playing in their imaginary yard and the way I thought you’d look when you held our babies. Goodbye to Christmas mornings and Sunday coffee and Game Night. 

Goodbye to your laugh. Goodbye to your smile. Goodbye to those moments where you made me feel safe.

Goodbye, friend. I love you.

a little feminism, a little catholicism

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.