Last week I received Contempt papers for not doing things His Way…meaning, I refuse to travel 20 hours 1 weekend a month so that he can have an hour and a half supervised visit. I had to pack up my entire house in two days so that I can leave it for the bank to take, saying good-bye to any equity or alimony it would have provided. We have lots going on with my family; my mother and my grandmother and every aunt and uncle on that side. Life is changing in big ways.

And I sit here and smile serenely, kicking the ass out of my to-do list, and smiling through it all. Why? Cuz being in love feels good and though I know this phase wears off eventually, I want to milk it for all it’s worth right now!

Then again…we’ve been in this phase since early August and there is really not any indication that it will slow down anytime very soon.

He’s wonderful. He just helped me move, gave selflessly, had a blast with my family…. I want to spend hours listing everything that I adore about him. I want to put his picture up everywhere. I like to smell his clothes when I sleep.  He texts me all day and we tell jokes and we laugh and then he cooks me lamb chops and we ride in his kayak and let the trickling water do most of the talking. Then we take over and converse long past midnight and then hold each other for hours. Then we sleep and make breakfast and giggle with my children.

How ever long it lasts, this wasn’t present in the “courting” days of my marriage. I never had this giddy high in a reciprocal way. It’s beautiful, intoxicating, lovely. It’s fun and hydrating and I just feel like singing.

That will probably look funny in court.

Today is the day. A year ago is when I left in the middle of the night. I have mixed feelings that depend if it is dark or light outside.

At night, with this cold snap, my body remembers what my mind has not dwelt upon. I shudder to remember his spit hitting my skin. I hear his voice with those terrible words condemning me, hating me. My head spins to catch movement out of the corner of my eye, involuntarily afraid. It takes deliberateness to continue walking forward through the night, reminding myself that I left in enough time. That we are safe. That we are free. That life is better. Once I’m inside, I sigh and thank God for wholeness, healing, and recovery.

In the day, I turn my face up to the white sunshine and smile. The days are golden; there’s a bounce in my step. My children laugh and our days Know Joy. I’m in love and my skin remembers being kissed in places that had never known another’s lips, so soft, like a prayer. It’s amazing that parts of me were virginal even after a long marriage: that’s what happens when one man refused to touch and another embraces the entirety. I frequently sigh in contentment, feeling a glow radiate from deep within me.

So many corners of life redeemed.

The acknowledgment of a year’s passing will not be anything notably significant. We will trick-or-treat and carve pumpkins. We will laugh. We will eat and share with neighbors. Children will run off their sugar-highs in cool grass under starlight and sleep in peace. I will probably make long love to that miracle of a man and awaken to fresh coffee and a hot breakfast. My parents will relax. It will be what we never had: Normal. That is more profound than a thousand sentimental ceremonies could ever be. Quietly I will add a bead to the chain I’ve been building, the moon count, the notches of healing that I’ve traced.

It feels like relief, a long walk through open space and fields, arms raised and face smiling, unafraid. I feel a small urge to dance in bare feet.

Here’s what I know to be true: when one has buried their child there is never again any loss that is consuming. The knowledge that loss is survivable reigns and lends a certain amount of perspective. That said, I really tried not to let you go. You are a house with more history than I. An old place that I cleaned and cared for and painted. A  lawn I mowed, a garden I grew. For a long time this year you were tangible hope because I left you and everything in you in the dead of night and you were still there.  I was almost shot trying to bring my children back to you. I left and you were abandoned and you stood as a wooden monument in the valley that some things lasted longer than circumstance. As long as you nestled there, I felt hope that I’d get you back, that I’d get some part of myself back. Maybe I’d still have a chance to live where I could breathe the best and savor the seasons and have my own home. And then it was granted and you became tangible redemption. What had been locked was now open. I rocked on the porch and breathed prayers of gratitude for the soft wood beneath my feet and the smell of my flowers blooming. Returned To Me, you were. But it was only partial.

The thing is with brutes like him, the kind that pushes their wives down the stairs and follows her around with a stick of firewood in his hands; the kind that turns the yard into a graveyard of animals except for the one he left out to rot and the kind that Prays After Beating also knows how to push in the passive sense. He decided no one would get you and so it will be. Twelve months later I’m broken from trying and can’t keep it on and so he will have his way one more time. You will sit amid long grasses. Your windows will stay cold and ghosts will grow. Someday maybe an auction will be had and your history will continue, because you will last longer than this circumstance.

I hope it will be a family that will love you. Maybe they will finish the project I left undone. Maybe they will have a Christmas tree and hang a porch swing. Old Alice could come by and tell tales of her childhood there. And maybe someday I’ll have another house again as well. My things are still floating; they will leave you and find new temporary places, like me. My mother says, “this came to pass not to stay”. I want something to stay. It would be nice to have something as permanent as you, Old Blue House; some nest in the valley with home lights.

I have held you loosely and now will let you go. Soon the tears won’t come quite so quick and I’ll move on; that’s the way of life. Thank you for your gracious hospitality.

He breaks my stereotype.

He was a homeschooling father, a bookish type who threw the football in the yard and made cheesy eggs. That was on good days. On bad days he beat them for not getting their math problems right and berated me for not breathing right. We were never puritan enough for him.

But still…I am constantly amazed at how surprised I get when he fails to show up.

It was a fucked up year you know? Suicide attempts and police involvement and going into hiding and psycological evaluations. No contact for 8 months with his children and then only supervised. Very little child support, checks that bounce, and spotty appearance at that. And now phone calls that he fights vehemently to have and then fails to show up for, emails full of historical yammering and argument bait. He put so much effort into sounding right, into protecting his rights, into whatever ideal he thinks the world should support for him. And then, when an inch is granted, he backs completely away by a mile.

He’s brooding again and escalating. He’s goes on at length about what an excellent father he is and how he will soon be able to have daily involvement again. It’s a land of his own creation, this place where he spends his time; so far from reality it’s laughable sometimes only it’s not that funny. Our guard is back up, safety plans in place, because this is never a good sign.

Yesterday I high-tailed it to an unplanned therapy session. I needed some perspective on the barraging emails he’s been sending. It’s so freeing to hear, “refuse to read it. Scan it quickly and return it unread, with a statement that you need a succinct request”. It’s a good boundary to have. But it’s also the kind that infuriates him. I see how little he has moved on, how he is trying to “level”, how insecure he is. So pathetic.

I hate seeing this process play out on my children’s faces. One child has intestinal stress any time he has to speak to him. Another gets angry, the other aloof. And the baby gets hyper and says he misses Daddy over and over again.

It’s been good that I never fight with him anymore; he gets only the plainest replies specifying dates and times from me. For someone looking to interact over anything it must be frustrating. But my life is full and vibrant these days; I finished fighting him a long time ago. It’s not tempting to argue with him. It is, however, still very stressful knowing where he is in his cycle and knowing my kids are still vulnerable to it.

I wish there was an end in sight.

Sunday was the day wherein my ex-husband (and oh the joy I feel at being able to call him that!) asked me the first question about the kids in at least a year, if not longer.

The impetus went like this: they had a supervised visit with him a week before that went well because they didn’t have to travel far, weren’t disrupted from their routine, and he behaved. I’d sent an email encouraging that he choose that same time slot next time because they’d done so much better (and had a shorter recovery time) and he asked, “How did they do better? Explain.”

And so I sat and looked at my screen for a few moments taking it in. Of course, there is that command attached to the end…but I ignored it. He has not asked me, the custodial parent and these babies’ mother, a direct question about how or what they are doing in any kind of recent memory. I chose not to analyze and just answer. It went like this:

The ways they did better: the visit didn’t disrupt anything they had going or wanted to attend so they seemed more focused on your visit and enjoying seeing you. They had an easier time afterward (no physical symptoms because snack choices are better, not as much violence and anger, not as much confusion). They seemed to be more settled into this as a routine and bounced back to their normal, daily routine much easier, which was a big deal this time since school was the next day. Usually it takes them a day or two of major emotional upset to get back to normal and I have to clear the scheduling space to allow for that. This time, without major travel and fitting into a Sunday afternoon after church, was much, much easier on them.

If we try to schedule for a Saturday, they will have to miss much of the activities they’d like to be a part of and commit to and those activities are helping them quite a bit. It would only increase resentment. If you can manage Sunday afternoons, it seems to be a very good time slot for the kids.

And then I tacked on, “Thank you for asking. I appreciate it.”

What followed was a long, rambling, punctuation-less response on what a loving, excellent father he is, coupled with pleas and begging for me to stop restricting his access to them. He implied we should live nearby so he can see them every day and said he wants to have normal contact with them.

Then he said he can’t come see them twice a month. He ignored the reminder that email and phone contact are available. And he’s conveniently withholding child support for many months running.

This afternoon I sat thinking and remembering about why I live so far away now. Why I’m back in Hurricane-land trying to figure out how to finance a house I love in a state I can’t reside in, with four glorious seasons and herbs I lovingly planted and walls I painted. I wonder if he remembers that we don’t live there because last year he shot 23 of our animals and threatened to kill me with a chunk of firewood and then told the neighbors I was armed, dangerous, and trespassing on his property, meaning I was almost shot by the police when trying to go home.  I wonder at the level of his denial and how he could consider any close relationship with him, “normal”.

His begging falls on the deafest of ears. It will take a helluva court fight to make me put my children in his unsupervised vicinity ever again.

Lately I’ve been spending my time with a real, live, grown-up of the romantic kind. The sort of man who shows up. Who pays. Who thinks ahead. Who owns his crap and strengths combined. Who has raised three impressive kids to adulthood. Who sentimentally saves baby shoes and pictures of their high chairs and the first fish they caught. And, to my marvelous enjoyment…..who asks questions.

So I’ve been thinking about questions and how the unloaded asking of them communicates respect and honor. And maybe questions, the honest and curious kind, are the first clue we have into someone’s character. Their presence or not, their frequency, their longevity. My ex-husband asked so few…didn’t even propose (it too was just sort of assumed, shame on me).

Questions are one of the first things I look for now.

Interesting play on words because I tend to equate moments of spiritual rebirth with settings of nature, almost virginal lush beauty. Instead, I found myself walking on pavement, looking up at buildings rather than trees, finding sunshine peek around city blocks, and in the middle of it all, having a hole in my soul sewed up. My Walden was New York City and in the midst, I refound my “happy”.

It’s private, so I won’t try to put into words the process of it’s reappearance. Besides, it was nothing so definite. The subtleties could have easily been dismissed or pushed aside but I knew I was open. I was purposeful in unlocking the door to let it in. I intentionally challenged fear after fear and stepped ahead…flying, speaking to strangers, looking at street people in the eye, and smiling for no apparent reason.

The result was walking on golden air, finding joy in the small things again, feeling exuberance over human connection of the smallest kind. I felt beautiful, felt loved by myself, felt I had something to offer and share.

Today I was listening to Alanis Morrisette’s music…she tends to articulate well my own emotional process, be it anger, grief, gratitude, introspection, justice. I feel a kindredness in her sharing, I stumbled over an older song of hers, “Thank You” and watched the video. The song challenges the idea that struggle makes us weak, blows gentle suggestion over it making us stronger and healthier. But I newly noticed two things about it today: the nudity in the video and the city setting.

I think the nudity is essential…the bareness, the vulnerability, the being stripped of any pretense or excuse. And that the birthing could happen in a city, full of noise and bustle and activity, touched the freshness of my own experience.

Last year I had a reoccurring dream that I’ve since painted. I dreamed it often for months and months before I left my marriage and the danger we were in. I left when I had nothing left I was afraid to lose save my children and my life. I knew in leaving it would all be gone…house, church, community, a whole known life. I was stripped bare of anything between death and life. I was starved, gaunt even, and yet responsible for the sustenance of those little lives. We walked through wilderness towards light we weren’t sure existed.

I call the painting, “The Leaving”. I don’t generally share my art work because I tend to not feel it’s meant for public consumption but rather for my own cathartic process. The only music I’ve ever heard that really captures what that dream was to me is this song by Alanis, because it gets it all…the pain, the hunger, the journey, the bottom, the salvation, the climb. I think the two of them will be linked in my mind always now and it seems right to post them together. And if I may, my apologies dear Alanis; your songs have stepped with me on my journey right from the first. You say it much better than I.

Here are the lyrics to the song:

How bout getting off of these antibiotics
How bout stopping eating when I’m full up
How bout them transparent dangling carrots
How bout that ever elusive kudo

Thank you India
Thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence

How bout me not blaming you for everything
How bout me enjoying the moment for once
How bout how good it feels to finally forgive you
How bout grieving it all one at a time

Thank you India
Thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence

The moment I let go of it was
The moment I got more than I could handle
The moment I jumped off of it was
The moment I touched down

How bout no longer being masochistic
How bout remembering your divinity
How bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out
How bout not equating death with stopping

Thank you India
Thank you providence
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you nothingness
Thank you clarity
Thank you thank you silence

Up there in the trees,

in that great canopy of Oaks shading everything,

flits a torn balloon,

some remembrance offering that didn’t make it to heaven.

That doesn’t happen over in the Jewish section,

where they lay small stones to mark

love and devotion and occasion,

instead of the floral kaleidescope of the gentiles.

The cleanness of that grief strikes me.

This many years and tears past,

I don’t grieve her in the garden her so much.

That happens at small, unexpected, breathy intersections

where the mundane collides with eternal.

You know…when folding laundry sorted

by child and pile and noticing the gap.

Or when driving and counting heads and

that feeling that never goes away that one is missing.

But the garden is just a place where it’s okay to cry.

About anything.

No looks. Just quiet respect and sometimes palpable despair

will cluster around the granite.

We never speak but we are bound

in the strangest of ways.

So I sat on the Thackerson Bench,

the groundmate’s family who paid more than I,

providing a slab to sit upon so

we’d both have a place to cry,

near the base of the tree,

near the names carved in bronze.

My water had started that morning,

not shutting off, not building.

Just a steady Stream Of Me leaving

through swollen eyes that can not see the way ahead.

I’d refused to get up until

He gave me some kind of word.

I wouldn’t say his name for the longest time;

I tried his mother first.

Then, my saint, who has become

a new mother of sorts to me as well.

But then his name came out for

the first time in at least a year.

The dam had broken I guess.

A desperation possessing no more strength.

The pool beneath was smooth,

calm even.

Breathe.

In the stillness my eyes,

those red and aching windows,

glimpsed the ants.

They’ve always crawled near her grave,

persistently keeping ivy from growing.

I’ve hated them.

But that day there they were,

hauling the dead moth between the blades

of grass and dead leaves from the oaks above me,

frantically.

And I could see that no ant wastes time feeling

guilt or gloom that they need help.

The job lays before and they unite,

driven, intent, red.

Those ants kept getting the moth caught

in a circle of grass. One, two, three tries.

More circles. Maybe some talk. They chewed.

Each broke a section away and

onward they moved. The large

having been made small enough for

one to carry. And the moth

was gone.

I dried my face.

Took a breath.

I can’t be a hero.

But I can be an ant.

Onward.

I need your advice.

My ex is making accusations. I’m photographing the kids before each supervised visit, keeping up with reports from the supervisors, and being brief and matter-of-fact with him (not engaging in arguing).

What else do you recommend?

I was thinking of creating a PRIVATE blog site for the purpose of a journal/photo record of how things go. Can anyone think of a problem in doing that? The only viewers would be the doctor and my lawyer.  It would later serve as a body of evidence, should I need that defense.

Thoughts?

Tuesday was my birthday. I had a BLISSFUL day…never in my life can I remember a day filled with such love, coming from so many directions.  It truly is a day I will cherish for years, maybe forever.

But an odd thing happened between the cupcake shops a friend was taking me to for various tastings. Mr. Flavor the Month called.

Mind you, this guy is the one who wanted to scale friendship back to acquainences. I haven’t heard from him at all in four months. Meaning, we aren’t *that* well acquainted! The call went like this:

Him: “Hi! Do you know who this is?”

Me: “Um…your voice sounds familiar…this is a little embarrassing…give me a clue.”

Him: “Well…I’m a TN friend.”

Me: (wracking my brain cuz he really did sound familiar but didn’t recognize the number but I felt like I ought to know) “Oh…I knew that from your area code. Really, I’m sorry I can’t tell! Just tell me!”

Him: “Well another hint is that we have Capital Coffee in common”.

Me: “OH! Mr-I’m-too-self-absorbed-to-be-your-friend”!

Okay, okay…I didn’t say that. I said his name. But my jaw was dropping to because I could not figure out why in the world he would be calling on THAT particular day.

Him: “Well, I wanted to wish you a happy birthday.”

Me: “That’s so sweet! How did you remember today was the day?”

Him: “For some reason, it was in my calendar. I decided that everyone deserves to be remembered on their birthday, even if no one else makes it happy for them.”

Ugh….yeah. I don’t get “speechless” often but that one just about did it. He obviously expected to find me morose and depressed, alone and pathetic, with no birthday celebration. The friend next to me was loudly urging me to come on in for the cupcake selections and I laughed.

Mr. Flavor ought not to have worried. His greeting ranked just below the automated card my dentist sends out.

I was reminded of this over the past week. I have a very good, very special friend out of town who has been a sort of miracle in my life. And here I’ve been spending more time nurturing friendships, two of which could become dating partners if I were so inclined.

But I’m not.

Having an emotional, stressful week was draining. It was also a helpful reality check.  I don’t really want to co-habitate and let someone new come into my most vulnerable moments. I am very unsure I’ll ever enter another legal commitment again, and if I did, it would only be for the very sweetest, mystical communion.

It’s nice to spend time with someone and then come away. It’s nice to have a room of one’s own, even if it’s temporary housing in a camper. It’s necessary (yet still nice) to “just” have work and children to focus on, and the occasional management of parents.  Do I really need more right now? No.

So I’ve been wearing this ring on my right middle finger since November and I looked at it often this week: I am first “married” to me. I am committed to my health and wellbeing, safety and happiness. I am committed to the healing of my children and the space they need to acclimate to this new life.  I’m glad I have great friends along the way to unwrap and discover and enjoy. It’s fun having “men friends” (as I call them) and I’d like to quietly watch where that special friendship heads, with it’s protective layer of safety via physical distance for now.

But those boys should not forget: that I’m serious when I say I’m not interested in commitment right now. That I’m serious when I say I can’t imagine another wedding or legal document binding me to him. I’m married to me, my own best friend, my own soul mate.

I reserve the right to add to that, when the time is right.