My Still Unmade Bed

I know this is a long one, but seems memoir is…so here is my write something funny assignment. Class is almost over so hang in with me. And sorry about last weeks lack of a post. It is a another long story..

The stillness of the house made the morning sun feel like a my friend, who in their presence, I naturally slow down and breath deeper. This was one of the weekends I had to myself while Jena stayed with her dad. I was beginning to relish these periodic weekends alone as I became more comfortable in my own company, hearing less from my inner demon that would tell me, with great certainty, that I would never make it on my own. That I would never find anyone to share my life with.  He–yes it’s a male voice–would not stop there. He (me) would expound on why I would spend the rest of my life alone, using a tone of voice that convinced me he knew what he was talking about. The inner criticism who begin with, “you are too picky, you aren’t picky enough, you are too much, too needy, too tall, too scared, too injured, you don’t know how to love,” and end with, “you are a mess, my dear!”

So, in the absence of my nasty self, I planned this staycation retreat weekend. I considered traveling to a bed and breakfast, somewhere lovely with a Victorian four poster, canopied, quilted bed, serving gourmet breakfasts and quiet fields to roam. But my financially frugal inner accountant pursed his–are they all male voices?–lips together, folded his arms firmly across his chest and admonished, “Think again sweetie, you are staying right here, you can’t afford it.” So I stayed home.

I needed time to consider, reflect, renew, and figure a few things out; like what I am going to do with the rest of my life. I let my friends know my plans, that way when they didn’t hear from me or I didn’t answer the phone they wouldn’t think I had fallen into that deep, dark pit I frequently mentioned. I told my daughter the same, but assured her if she really needed me, she could call my cell phone. I shopped for food I love, shrimp with homemade cocktail sauce, fresh asparagus and a great bottle of wine. I picked up the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, a story about a divorced woman redesigning her life.

I was well prepared for my weekend retreat to begin.

I woke leisurely, feeling grateful that I could take this luxurious time out. I was also thankful to be waking alone in the previous marital bed. I knew when I decided to marry, Unknown23-years-ago, I would miss sleeping alone. I always loved that sense of freedom and privacy of being in my own bed, wrapped in the covers, with no one else to consider. I moved slowly, allowing my body to wake as I made my way downstairs to the kitchen to make that first great cup of coffee. As I waited for it to brew, I decided to cover the microwave clock so I could ignore its bright red face insisting on the time. I wanted to hear the voice of my own internal clock this weekend.  After all, isn’t that what a retreat weekend is all about?

As I blindfolded the clock there was a knock on the kitchen door. I turned around, to see my neighbor Kyle standing on the other side of the french doors. Kyle and his family owned a weekend home up the street. I hadn’t known they would be here this weekend. I momentarily resented his intrusion to my quiet movements, but cajoled myself saying, “be nice and there is no escape, he knows you are home.” I opened the door. We did a neighborly shoulder only hug hello. I was still in my morning sweats.

I liked Kyle. I liked his wife and kids too. Our families got together often when they visited. Kyle explained he was here to do some work on their house, Laura and the kids decided to stay home. He said he was on a run and decided to stop in to see how I was fairing after the separation. How thoughtful I mused. We caught up on the kids, his and Laura’s trip to Italy, and my pathetic current circumstance. Even though I had planned to be alone and contemplative, I was comforted that someone had checked in on me.  I was also certain he wouldn’t be staying long.

We finished our coffee — I offered only one cup — and got up off the kitchen stool to rinse my mug in the sink. Kyle came up behind me, presumably to rinse his too, but instead wrapped his arms around my waist pulling me tightly into the front of his body. I tried hard not to feel anything I knew I wasn’t supposed to be feeling. I was speechless. My brain and my mouth were not engaged.

As he held me, he lamented his concerns for his son who had recently started college and was struggling socially and scholastically. Since my ears were working, I listened to what he was saying, while still trying to make sense of his physical contact. It had been a long time since I had needed to decipher another mans intentions. Obviously too long. I naively concluded Kyle must be very upset about his son and be in need of a friendly hug. Nothing else made sense. After all, he was married and our families were friends. I assured myself by he meant nothing by it. As he released me I fell tipsy to one side. I was off balance.

We continued to talk as though this was normal contact for us. I half paid attention to what he was saying, the other half of my attention was listening to my now engaged inner banshee, who was screaming, “What the fuck was that?” This time it was a female voice, a rather outraged female voice.

I’d like to report it ended here. It didn’t. Kyle made it known, in several explicit ways-that even I didn’t miss-that he was at my service. Did I look like I needed to be serviced, I wondered? Was this what I got for ending my marriage…offers from other women’s husbands? Had I misread Kyle’s friendship all these years? I began to question my judgement. Maybe I shouldn’t have let him in. Should I kick him out? I felt like I didn’t know anything any more. I felt scared that maybe I was doomed to be alone, a woman with too many cats — my demon had returned.

I didn’t get mad, I didn’t take action, I was immobilized in my confusion and self doubt.  I couldn’t find my center. Kyle continued to sit on my kitchen stool, sipping the second cup he poured for himself, patiently waiting for me to take him up on his very generous offer.

My insides were tangled between introjects of “be nice” and “men are pigs.” Messages skillfully taught to me by the women in my family. These lessons, distilled in me to their purest form, made it virtually impossible for me to find my way on this retreat morning. This was not the first time I had been caught in the trap of my family’s mixed messages.

Suddenly and without conscious thought, something in me began to straighten. It took me a minute to register just what, but I am thrilled to say it was my backbone….my hackles were up and I was pissed. I grew 2 inches sitting on that stool. I found my voice and told Kyle he was a PIG.

Surprisingly, he didn’t agree. He explained he was not offering to do it just to do some of it. He went on to explain, if we didn’t fuck, he wasn’t technically cheating on Laura. What sophisticated rationale. He did, he explained, have a line he wouldn’t cross.

I began to find this all very funny in its absurdity. I began to recite his logic back to myself, making comic sense of it. Ohhhh, I told myself, my mistake. Why didn’t he make this clear from his first grope? In his world his wife won’t mind if we retire upstairs, to my still unmade bed, and roll around for a while. I was astonished at the sincerity with which he made his offer.

I told him I would accept his very thoughtful proposition. But…only if Laura agreed with his definition of faithful. My demon and banshee stood down; they knew I had this now.

I handed him the phone.

He rinsed his cup and left.

: )

waxseal2 

 

 

finding my FIERCENESS

Last weekend really took it out of me. You know...it…the stuffing, the feathers, the air. It wasn’t seeing mom; feeling her vulnerability and loneliness. It wasn’t feeling my own helplessness and sadness. No, what left my nervous system in a state of code orange was the encounter with my brother.

A lifetime of fear of his physical and verbal aggression lives in my cell tissue. I am undone every time I encounter his hostility toward me. I end up mad at myself for giving him such power. I fantasize my ability to square off with him, face to face, and with no quiver in my voice tell him, “Shut the fuck up.”

Instead, I have jello legs, my heart beats out of my chest, and I can’t breathe. I hate him and then myself for responding like a wimp…again. My body responds to the danger by shutting down when my head wants me to either take him out or run away…quickly. My head and my body are at odds with one another.

After my encounter, Tom and I headed back to our hotel, stopping on Hope Street (how appropriate) to browse in some of the cute shoppes we had driven by for the last two days. Tom went into the men’s shoppe, I found PB&J’s, a woman’s boutique. It seemed a bit high end for me, but touching the soft fabric soothed me, doing something mundane, like shopping, helped me feel normal.

Then I saw it. A coat. Not just any coat. A great coat. Hanging there, against a wall, so beautifully displayed in it’s isolated simplicity. I knew, as I walked toward it, hands outstretched like I was headed toward the Light, I did not need a new coat. Again my body and mind begged to differ. My feet walked toward the coat regardless of my recent decision to reline and revamp my favorite 10 year old alpaca overcoat.

“Oh, what the heIl,” I cajoled myself as I tried it on. In the mirror looking back at me I IMG_0917good enough to eat saffron satin lining sealed the deal. I felt carnivorous. “Don’t mess with me, I will eat you!”

I pulled out my Visa and bought the coat. Thanks to an after Christmas sale it was 25% off. See…it was meant to be. Tom, who had wandered into the store to find me, foolishly asked if I thought the coat would be warm?

“Warm? Really? Who cares?” I responded. I left the store, my totem coat casually draped over my arm, embodying Audrey Hepburn’s understated glamour.

Yesterday, I shared my weekend with my dear women’s group. I cried with them as I told them about my terror. I admitted adrenaline was still running through my veins making me forgetful, easily startled and exhausted. They listened and loved me as only wonderful woman friends can. They soothed my self loathing by assuring me it was smart to trust my bodies reaction of terror when facing my brother’s disowned malevolence. They said when someone is being terrorized they are supposed to feel terrified. Feeling understood opened my airways.

As I prepared to leave, throwing my coat over my shoulders, they shared my excitement in buying such a powerful, sharp clawed cat coat to made me feel safer. Stronger. Fiercer. With cheetah speed to run faster.

RRRRROOOOAAAARRRRR

waxseal2

Mom’s Who Do To Much

The other day a coworker asked what I was doing for Thanksgiving.

nice gloves

 

“Cooking.”

 

She asked if I usually cook Thanksgiving. It struck me as an odd question. Who else would cook?…I am the mom…after all.

 

“Yes, I have cooked, give or take a year, for the past 27 years.”

 

Her eyes got big, “Wow, I never cook Thanksgiving.” Now I was intrigued. She is a mom too. How did she pulled that off?

 

She explained that the first time she cooked a turkey it wasn’t fully cooked when she served it, so her family didn’t want her to be responsible for the next years, or any year after thats’ holiday meal.

 

Brilliant. Why had’t I thought of that? I had, after all, accidentally burned the first shirt my then husband asked me to iron resulting in his never asking again. I had the paradigm. I saw how it worked. I didn’t take the hint.

 

Later that same day, when rescheduling a client, I offered a session the week of Thanksgiving. She declined explaining she will be too busy preparing for Thanksgiving. She was cooking.

 

I thought of the many Thanksgiving weeks that I worked in Pittsburgh while living in Chalk Hill. An hour and a half commute that I returned home from on Wednesday night around 6 or 7. I had made the stuffing, nut bread, and cranberry bread and shopped the weekend before so all that needed to be done to get dinner on the table in the next 20 hours was par boil, peel and make the white sauce for the creamed onions; peel, boil and mash the potatoes; prepare and boil the green beans to toss into the sautéed garlic and chopped shallots; whip the heavy cream into perfect decadence; put the leaf in the table and set it for 8-10 friends and family; panic because every year I seemed to forget the cornucopia themed paper napkins leaving me with Scott Every Days to design the Martha Stewart wannabe table; oh yeah, stuff and cook the turkey.

Apple and pumpkin pie was deliciously prepared by my then Husband. I never learned how to make pies, so he did. (Hint, hint.) Kathleen brought the sweet potato casserole. Heidi another dessert and/or vegetable.

 

This is what I expected of myself. And soon it became what my family expected also. I  trained them well. It never occurred to me that it was too much to do or that I could do less. Especially when working a full week. Out of town no less.

 

It is Thanksgiving again with Christmas right around the corner. And you know I am no easier on myself at Christmas. I usually begin asking myself, sometime the morning of December 26th, why I do this to myself year after year, concluding with my traditional New Years Resolution promising not do so much in the new year.

 

I do it for other reasons too. I do it for the sake of tradition, so my kids have endearing holiday memories, because my mom cooked Mama B’s cornbread stuffing and creamed onions, although she did not work outside of the home and the tension at the well set table of china and sterling usually made dinner a fast and furious event, because when all the preparations are complete and the people I love most in the world are sitting around the table, I feel sweetly and fully blessed.

 

Yesterday I was offering to teach Jena how to make her great grandmothers Alabama corn bread stuffing. (Perhaps unconsciously passing the torch…PLEASE.) Jena said she was planning on being one of those people that never learned to cook. (She does seem to date guys that love to cook.) I heard myself judgmentally ask,”How do you think that will be for your kids?” My question shamed her into retracting her statement saying she was only kidding.

 

As I retold this exchange to Tom I owned how sexist it was of me to assume holiday traditions will be her responsibility.

 

So how does a mom do it? Create tradition, if that is important to her, and not exhaust herself in the process? Ask for more help? Do less? Care less? It is a labor of love that can end in tired resentment.

 

I would love to hear your ideas. How do you do it?

 

And Happy Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s Not Polite to Stare

Yesterday as I drove down a residential city street, a man in a white pick up truck pulled out of his parking place headed in my direction. I noticed that instead of looking out of his windshield, as is suggested and preferable, he was intently peering out of his passenger side window at something on the sidewalk. As a result of his wayward stare his oversized truck was headed down the middle of the street-straight toward me.

 

“What are you looking at?” I yelled as I looked to the sidewalk. The answer. A sweet young girl walking down the sidewalk in her summer skirt and t-shirt. “Really?” I impotently yelled through closed windows, “You are old enough to be her dad-first of all, you are going run into me or another parked car-second of all, and have a little respect-third of all.” (Is there a third of all?)

 

This morning on my way to work while I waited at a stop light, another man in a pick up truck-what is it with men and pick ups-had his head stuck out of his window to ogle a girl walking past. When he couldn’t twist his neck any further he used his rear view mirror to lock on. I began yelling again, this time hoping to catch his eye letting him know I saw him being a lech.

I get the attraction. I look at men and women too. I am attracted for many reasons. I think they are beautiful. I like their outfit. I don’t like their outfit. I like their dog. There are many reasons to look at one another.  But when guys are looking only at boobs and butts, as if the woman is on the side walk is there for their pleasure, it is time to teach them some manners. I wanted to slap their faces.

 

When my daughter, Jena, turned 21 we took her out to celebrate. My son’s fiance was singing at a local club so it was a perfect celebration. As we sipped our drinks, Jena her first legal one, I perused the room. My eyes caught a 50-60 something year old man, slight build, polyester suit, talking with many different women. I noticed when the woman turned her back his eyes went straight to her rear end. When she turned back toward him it was her boobs he zeroed in on. I felt a hot flash coming on.

 

Then, to my surprise, he was next to me and walked right up to Jena. He stood way too close to her and said, “Don’t you look sparkly tonight.”

 

I couldn’t help myself. My body moved into action before my brain was even consulted. I put my body between Jena and this lounge lizard. After his gaze left my breasts to meet my eyes, I squared off with him, “I am her mother. You need to back off!”

 

“Oh mama bear. I was just telling her she is sparkly,” he said, his reptilian tongue striking the air between us. “Back off,” I growled, puffing myself up to stand a good bit taller than him.

 

He walked away.

 

The kids were amazed, both that I intimidated him to leave and that what he did bothered me. Perhaps you have to be in your 50’s and menopausal (make my day) to be intolerant of one more man’s bad manners. Maybe you have to be a mom of a young woman to feel the fury that moved my body between them. Regardless, Jena gave me a hug and thanked me. She got it..it’s impolite to stare. I had her back.

 

 

The story doesn’t end here…this creep circled back. He wound his way around the bar to where we stood. He stopped in front of my husband. “You have one uptight wife,” he pronounced.

 

Tom held his gaze, man to slime ball and like waving a fly away from your food said “Go away.”

 

He did.

Comparing Yourself to Others Never Ends Well

Spending the week in Shangri-La was rejuvenating. The view from every deck and window, including the window next to the toilet

looking to the right off of the deck

in my bathroom, overlooked marsh lined channels leading out to the ocean where fishing boats dotted the water early each morning. The house was comfortably elegant with dark wood wainscoting, hard wood floors, comfy furniture and an eclectic smattering of master pieces hung with distinction next to Debbie’s quirky sense of decorating humor. This included schools of fish, made of different metals, clay, and wood, swimming mostly in the same direction, except for a few free thinking swimmers going the opposite way, arranged on two adjoining walls in a bathroom, jars of wonderful old marbles, interesting woven baskets holding porcupine quills, clay sculptures with imaginative faces…you get the idea. When I wasn’t admiring the view, or lost in conversation with my dear friends, I was amused by the subtle humor tucked into little nooks just waiting to be noticed.

 

And to the left toward the ocean

Spending the week in Shangri-La also had a dark side, and mine showed up big time. I began comparing my life circumstances to that of my friends. I tormented myself with, “Where did I go wrong? What if I had gone to a better college?  Maybe followed a different career path.”

 

Then I moved into what I call Cinderella questions. These have to do with a man rescuing me. “Should I have married a rich man, someone who could have provided paradise?” And if so, “How come I didn’t?” My answers were not pretty. My inferiority was in full bloom. She straight-out informed me that I could never have landed a rich man. I am not good enough. Not smart enough. Not pretty enough. (I’ll end here if you don’t mind; this is depressing.)

 

I thought about my middle class family of origin and how I learned limits. How not to expect more than there was. How to be happy with what you had. These are lessons I respect but as I wandered the rooms of this magnificent home, I began to challenge them. What if I expected more? Wanted more? What if being dissatisfied led me to more? Would this be my house?

 

The onslaught of questions left me uncertain of me. I was knocked off my center. However I knew, from past encounters with my darkness, that these shadow sightings are often a good thing…in the end. I trusted if I could stay present to myself long enough, listened to my self judgements until they were hoarse and was honest about this predatory side of me, I would land back on my feet with a greater love and trust for myself. (At least that is what I told myself.)

 

This was risky business-listening to me compare myself to others. I noticed how comparing myself never ends well. When I compare myself to people who have more I feel less than and when I compare myself to people who have less I feel guilty. It is a lose/lose proposition.

 

Returning home to my no longer newlywed husband I find myself feeling satisfied as I look around my surroundings. I feel at home in our space. I love our 7’ x 9’ deck overlooking enough trees that one might think it is woods, but it’s not. I like the simplicity. I welcome the familiarity. And I adore the man I picked, and would pick all over again.

 

So perhaps in the end it is all good. Both Shangri-La and middle class are wonderful gifts to be fully enjoyed.

 

It is comparing yourself to others that limits what you can love, mainly in yourself.

Random Acts of Kindness

Anyone that lives in Pittsburgh knows that going for a walk involves hills. It is the good news and the bad. I love that I have a treadmill right outside my door and hate that there is no such thing as a leisurely walk that doesn’t involve sweating.

 

So it was this morning. The spring weather has me ditching the gym and heading out over the hilly terrain of Pittsburgh to get my heart rate up and, hopefully soon, my butt in a favorite pair of summer slacks. On my last leg of my route is a very steep hill. As I looked up from the bottom, I prepared myself mentally and physically for the climb. I found a favorite song on my ipad, jacked up the volume, dropped my focus into my hips, made sure my feet were fully meeting the sidewalk, took a deep breath and started up the hill. Whew, half way up I decided there was no shame in stopping against a railing to rest. As I rested I noticed the neighborhood, smelled a cigar-couldn’t find the culprit-and noticed two cars drive past me going down the hill.

 

I started the second stretch. I was tired and not sure I wanted to, or could, do it. I remembered going into labor with Jena, my second child. When I got into the full throes of labor I said (well shouted) to my husband, “I changed my mind, I don’t want to do this.” I fully expected him to say okay and we would go home. We didn’t.

 

The also remembered was when I was leaving my marriage. I would go to the gym and run (I am not a runner) on the treadmill. I would think I was going to die. I would tell myself that if I could survive 5 more minutes of running than I wouldn’t die leaving my marriage. I ran those 5 minutes. I didn’t die. I felt more confident, so I ran 5 more telling myself, “If I can run 5 more minutes without dying…” I ran 30 minutes this way and successfully ended my marriage.

 

So it was with me and this hill. If I could do this hill I could survive anything. And, since every alternative route home also involved a steep incline, there was no backing out. Halfway up the second stretch a women in a Honda CRV pulled up next to me and rolled down her window. I wasn’t sure I could talk to give her the directions she must be stopping to ask me. Then it occurred to me, wasn’t she one of the cars that just passed me? I stopped walking and looked in through the open window.

 

“Do you need a ride?” she asked with concern.

 

I instantly had a visual of how tragic I must have looked plodding up this incline and felt ashamed. Gratefully, as quickly as my shame reared its disabling head, it was replaced by how touched I felt by her kindness. She had turned around to check on me.

 

“Bless your heart,” I said between gulps of air, “but I am going to do this!”

 

“You go girl!” she responded.

 

I did. I conquered that hill, with her encouragement and kindness inspiring me all the way.

 

Encouragement and kindness. I think that is all we need.

 

Thank you, woman in the CRV.

More From the Couch

(I AM SENDING THIS AGAIN…BECAUSE MY OTHER OPPS DOESN’T LINK YOU TO THE POST…TECHNOLOGY AND I ARE WORKING HARD AT GETTING ALONG)

 

Many of you may remember I started this blog with the story of my couch. Did I deserve it or did I want it? My couch.

 

I am very sorry to report I have been unhappy with my couch since I got it a year and a half ago. The problem? It was the most uncomfortable couch I had ever sat on. Well, no, I take that back, I remember sitting on couches at fraternity parties that were equally as uncomfortable. When I sat on my coveted new couch my butt sunk 6 inches below my knees. It was like I was sitting in a hole. I had to hoist myself off the couch (no pun intended-but it is a good one) by rocking back and forth to gain momentum and then heave my butt forward on the up swing to get out. Not only did I feel ridiculous, it was embarrassing. I was so disappointed in my new couch. 

 

I tried very hard to like my expensive, beautiful couch. I assumed, as I often do “It must be me.” Continue reading

I AM NICE!

Many years ago-sounds a bit like the beginning of a fairy tale-the foundation of who I was, or thought I was, crumbled. I grabbled with the question, “Who am I?” I felt the enormity of the question, as well as, my terror of not knowing the answer or, worse yet, how to find the answer. My illusions had died and I didn’t have a replacement reality. I felt like a blank slate.

 

Because I am a visual person (that much I did know about myself) I envisioned my blank slate status as a big, yellow legal pad. With that image in mind, I drove to Staples, found a tablet and bought it. My plan was to notice myself and document who I met. I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed by the project and a lot scared at the blankness of the tablet before me. I also remember some excitement at the prospect of defining myself rather than being defined by others.

 

So, I took my pad with me where ever I went.

Continue reading

Everything I Need To Know I Learned in Drivers Ed

Well, maybe not everything. I learned some things on the play ground, some in the locker room and some under the bleachers. But, those are stories for another time.

 

Mr Anderson was my high school drivers education teacher. I remember having a crush on him. It was his calmness and concern for our safety that touched me. He felt like a protective dad. Since my father wasn’t, I took all Mr. Anderson had to offer.

 

He taught me, and my car mates, about becoming velocitized. (My computer tells me velocitized is not a word, as does my dictionary, but they are wrong. Just ask Mr. Anderson.) He explained to us, his newest batch of 16 year old drivers, that when you drive 50 mph for a period of time, your body adjusts to that rate of speed making you feel you are going slower than 50mph. So you increase your speed to 55. That feels fast for a while. Then it doesn’t. Now you speed up to 60…for a while…And on it goes until you hear yourself saying, “No officer, how fast was I going?”    

Continue reading

BUTT

I have been mad at my body lately. Maybe most of my life. I was too tall as a girl in the 60’s-so I slouched. My mom would instruct me to, “Stand up straight” then she’d exclaim, “You’re soooo tall.” Relatives would ask her what she fed me.

 

My mom was 5’2. I was 5’10” in middle school. After 20 years of marriage at age 42 I put on a pair of high heels. My husband said, “Oh, now I know why you don’t wear heels, you are really tall.” I didn’t put another pair on until we separated several years later.

 

I was also called “fatty Patti” by my brother and neighborhood kids. My mom countered with, “NO YOU ARE NOT!”, then refused my request for a piece of her freshly baked chocolate cake she. (My friends now call me Patricia, it doesn’t rhythm with fatty.) Continue reading