Tag Archives: divorce

The Rainbow

The most popular girl in our seventh grade class was Lissa. She wasn’t all that
pretty, at least I didn’t think so. But I wasn’t one to talk. The special thing about her was that she was just incredibly engaging. Everyone wanted to be around
her, to have her sit at their table during lunch. 

Lissa’s birthday party was the talk of the cafeteria on this particular day. I heard that the invitations were selective, not like the normal “everyone in the class gets one” invites that we had grown up with. I heard she was handing them out herself. I also heard that they were on glittery Lisa Frank stationary, with cute, brightly colored animals all over them. God, I wanted that invitation. I viewed it as a ticket to…something. I wasn’t sure what exactly. Fitting in? Knowing that I really had friends? I was always trying to figure out what I was missing and how to make up for it rather than trying to fit where I actually fit as I was. 

I stared at my red segmented lunch tray as Lissa passed the invitations out at our table. She gave one to everyone—everyone that is except for me. I stared at my gloppy middle school cafeteria slop and tried to figure out what I’d done to not be the recipient of the rainbow colored door to the rest of my life. 
I rarely ate lunch in the cafeteria after that day; I hid in the bathrooms or in a teacher’s classroom whenever I could get away with it. Alone. That day with Lissa was the day where I stopped really trying to connect with my friends on a genuine level. Where I let myself drift away from the herd because I realized I’d never be like them; where I stopped being seen. 

The thing about B is that he saw me. I think that’s what drew me to him really. He had this power in the beginning to make me the center of his everything, and his gaze was that rainbow I had been missing. At least I thought that he saw me. His rainbow held all the things I thought I had to be. Girlfriend, wife. Mother. Perfect. Beautiful. 

One of the last times I saw him before he went away, in a crowded aisle in the local Target a month or two after we filed for divorce, I found myself remembering my first kiss. Not with him. It was a boy named Adam, in the local teen coffeehouse in front of the Coke machine. Adam was running down the steps wearing a green puffer jacket that smelled like pot, intent on getting to the sofas where his friends were. I don’t know why I did it, but I reached out and grabbed him by the collar and laid one on him. “Wow,” was all he said. I felt nothing, but Adam told me later he felt everything. 

I realized in Target that I couldn’t remember a single kiss with B in any clarity, while my three second Coke machine relationship has a lasting mark. My first memory on that vein of myself with B is his hand down my pants on the local baseball diamond. There was only me and him, a possession, an ownership. He saw me as a thing. I desperately wanted to see him as that rainbow. 

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Death

Our marriage began with a death.

Sunday night, a lot of years ago. October, maybe? I was on my way back to Wisconsin from Indiana, where I had been helping chaperone a herd of teenagers at a Christian youth event in the Thunderdome, when his mother told me he had a surprise waiting at my apartment. My apartment where he was not allowed to be.

“Did you give him my key?” I couldn’t keep the scorn out of my voice. “I don’t want him in my house.” There was a lot I didn’t say. Were there blankets on the couch. I’m pretty sure I left blankets on the couch. You know he’s going to want to do things, right? That he won’t want to hear no? You know there’s a reason I took his key away? I blinked without continuing out loud.

Her reply seemed strange at the time. “You seem ungrateful. You should be grateful. You will be.”

I arrived home to baked chicken, handmade potatoes, and cheese covered broccoli, one of the only veggies I actually enjoyed eating. He had cooked me all of my favorite things, covered my cheap gray card table in a fancy red table cloth adorned with two silver candle holders with pine green candles. We watched Amityville Horror on the couch, under the blanket of course even though the apartment was easily in the 70s, and then he proposed to me with very little fanfare. I said yes with equally little fanfare. The proposal was nothing like the movies. After he left, I went to feed my betta fish, Bob, and found him belly up in his tank. Dead.

Five years later, I was in my OBs office for my 37 week pregnancy appointment, without him, making small talk with a nervous handed nurse with hints of lemon on her breath about a mission trip I’d been on at seventeen to build houses in Jamaica. Her hands shook because of the things they wouldn’t show me on the backward facing monitors, the test results that told them my son was dead, the results that, once confirmed, I could trace back to near precisely the minute it had happened–me sitting at my desk on my last day of work as a merchandising manager, eating cheese poppers from Pizza Hut and entering theft numbers into the computer while giving zero fucks about accuracy because I knew I would never return.

Our marriage ended with a death. But had it ever been living?

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The Beginning

 

We met when I was nineteen or so. His fingers stretched over the strings of his guitar like no musician I had ever seen; his tongue glanced across his lips as he concentrated on the beat. I didn’t notice him, not at first. A bit of a diva, I was more interested in holding a microphone and singing with the church band than I was in looking for a relationship. He gave the appearance of caring more about his music than the people around him, just like his mother who played piano beside him. I’m not sure he ever looked my way. I only looked his way because his mother was our leader.

Actually, it was his sister who noticed me first. She was desperate for a best friend, and I was just lonely because I never really hung out with people. One night after rehearsal I went over to her house for dinner with her and her family. He was there, of course, with his mother and father and brother. His mother suggested that we rent a movie, and he drove us to the video store on the corner between the Shell gas station and the liquor store. I wandered the aisles as he laughed and horsed around with his siblings. They wanted me to pick something to watch, but my only real knowledge of them was that they were deeply religious. We rented something silly, something from the line of Beethoven movies with the giant St. Bernard.

It was more fun to hang out at his house than mine; I was renting a small room from a coworker at that point with a closet and a computer desk and a murphy bed that folded up into the wall during the day. It was so much fun, in fact, that when his sister invited me to move in with them while we saved to get our own apartment together, I said yes. I don’t remember how it happened, whether it was before or after I moved in, but he asked his sister for permission to take me out on a date. It was very important, he told me later, to ask for her permission, because she had claimed me first. I remember thinking that was an odd choice of phrase–“Claimed me”–but it made sense. She and I were friends before he even knew me, and if things didn’t work out between us, she would lose a friend. I remember that she was like me. Different. A little off the beaten path. A little lacking in friends. But at the time when he asked me to dinner just the two of us, she didn’t matter. I said yes. I wanted more than anything to be a part of their idyllic Christian family.

Our after dinner first date activity was going to see “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” He didn’t tell me then, but he had never read the books or seen the previous movies and picked it for our date because he knew I would like it. I, who had never had a real dating relationship or any kind, automatically assumed that meant he loved me. One more dinner and a movie, and I agreed to go steady. At nineteen, I’m not sure I knew what that meant, the level of commitment I was making. I was certain no other boy would ever love me, and I knew that I was supposed to get married, so I made a commitment for the first boy who asked.

No normal boy my age had ever looked at me. The only date I ever went on was during high school, to the junior prom, and it was the worst night I’d ever had in school. When he looked at me at dinner that night, long strands of spaghetti twirling around his fork and a smudge of marinara sauce on his right cheek, it was like I was being seen, really, seen, for the first time. His gaze was flooded with the possibility of a future that as a young child I had never imagined I would have–a boyfriend, marriage, babies, true love. It is hard now to remember the good times, much easier to remember the bad; the bad is what sticks the most, what hurts the most. I think I thought that because he paid attention to me and wanted to spend time with me that he loved me. I must have believed he was the only one who would ever want to be with me; I must have stayed because I was certain there was no other man who would love me.

His sister got engaged and married shortly after, so it was natural for us to get married too. It all seemed so ordinary, a natural progression of events. At J.C. Penney’s, where we had our wedding registry, there were scanner guns for couples to tour the store and capture the barcodes of merchandise for their lists. He wanted expensive things–the best couch, the biggest television, the softest bed. I was more interested in the smaller things–a matching set of dishes, a blender, towels for the bathroom. Big, loud, and perfect, versus small, quiet, and necessary were our personalities in a nutshell. We were nothing alike.

He was not quite six feet tall, the perfect height for my five and a half foot self to rest my head on his shoulder. He didn’t have an ounce of fat on him, and his lanky body was capped off with a spiky head of hair two shades lighter than mine in its natural state. He was always a pretty boy; he spent more time in the bathroom each day getting ready than I spent in front of the mirror all week and was always encouraging me to do more for my looks–curl my hair, put on makeup. I did what he wanted because I wanted him to love me back as much as I thought I loved him.

The thing is, I never knew what love was.

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Welcome to After the MFA

Honestly? I never thought about life after the MFA. It was a means to an end, and getting in was a goal to get me through a time in my life that I didn’t know how to muddle through on my own.

I remember the first conversation I had about graduate school:

  • Me: Tell me what to do to get into grad school.
  • T: Well, start by looking up programs. Figure out what you need, what you want, who will pay you. Don’t go if they don’t pay you.

I started looking in an almost passive manner. And then, after everything went to hell, I became more manic about it.

  • Me: (paraphrased) I need a thing. I have a hole and I need to fill it.
  • T: You can take time off if you want; the choice is yours. I’m behind you whatever you decide.
  • Me: (paraphrased) I need a thing.
  • T: Research graduate schools, and report back what you find.

So I did. Her advice worked. I was rejected by some schools; I was accepted by others. I read the books of all of the advisors of my possible programs, and I settled on The New School. I had all of these grand plans of what it would be like to be a writer after the MFA.

  1. write book
  2. publish book
  3. have glamorous writer job

After the MFA is none of these things.

  1. I’m a dog walker/trainer. As previously established, I love this and I’m great at it, but it’s not what I thought I’d do. I’m okay with it, and I’ll keep doing it, because it works great with writing. But, again. Not what I thought I’d do.
  2. I wrote a book. It’s being read by people. But, as my past endeavors have taught me, it’s not good enough. And it’s not ready. It will be soon though. Actually, I lied; it’s pretty great.
  3. Publish? Under my real name? Say WHAT? Publishing has the following issues:
    1. The book is all true.
    2. I still haven’t settled on the pen name issue.
    3. He’s out there, today.

It’s here, this thing in my life I never accounted for, this thing I knew would happen someday but I didn’t let myself think about. Grad school was a means to an end, but now it’s done.

Getting my MFA bought me time. Question is, was it enough to break away? Did I buy myself enough time; have I become the person that I want to be apart from him? I am 32 years old. Do I know who I am now, at least enough to be that person? My person?

Are my words enough? My book? Am I invisible? I want to be. Do I want to be?

Question: Am I enough?

Answer: Who we are is what comes out when things go bad. You can’t tell anything about a person when things are great. You only really know someone when everything’s gone to hell.

Answer: I have to be.

Welcome to after the MFA.

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She is Not Yours

I remember a girl. A very different girl from now. At 19, she had stringy brown hair to the middle of her back and hadn’t yet learned to smile, because she had been a grown up for much too long. She sat the the piano in your dark basement, hardly any lights on, and played a duet with you. She was looking for something, but she didn’t know what back then, 12 years before now. She lifted her hands off the black and white keys, turned to you, and said those fateful words:

“I’m going to marry your son some day.”

What she didn’t know then was that she would also be marrying you. Or maybe she did know. Maybe she knew all along.

They told her she would be the one to sink the marriage rowboat. Her baggage would weigh everything down, destroy everything, if she didn’t take proper care of it. There was no mention of his baggage; there was no mention of you. You would come with your own baggage, a shadow of unspoken pain and regret over the marriage of the boy and the girl while causing years of hurt on a different line of that from their relationship. Or maybe the same line; maybe he learned to cause pain from you.

You painted the girl as someone she wasn’t, so much and so brightly that it became reality in her circumstance. You made her less than. Not good enough. You told her who to be: A good Christian wife. Supportive. Kind. A hard worker. A listener. A right arm to your son, and a left as well when he metaphorically cut both arms off. You told her to be perfect. You built her up. Then you tore her down.

You told her she had failed; you told her she was none of the things she was supposed to be. When she finally left your son, you contacted everyone she was connected to. Told them not to trust her. Told them she would fail. Always. Fail. Again and again. And for quite a while, the girl did fail. For years, she has watched. Waited. Looking for something. For you. When you showed up at work; when you tried to FaceTime; when you stalked her online, she knew. Every three days like clockwork, her profile notified her you were there, still looking. She was afraid of you.

But here’s the thing.

She’s not a failure. She is everything she is supposed to be; she is NONE of the things you pinned on her. She tells herself a new story now, her own story, apart from you and apart from him. She is strong and powerful and loved. She is supportive, but not submissive. She works hard, but she works for herself. She is brave, and she is reaching out to shape her own destiny. She is her own person, making her own decisions.

She is not yours.

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No More

This is the last anniversary I will remember. Or, at least, I plan to try.

I am told that, on this day, I need to say goodbye to you. And so, I shall. I do not remember the first day we met; I wonder if that’s some sort of sign. I just remember knowing you. I watched you from across the stage, playing the guitar while I taught people to sing the alto lines. I’m not sure why I was watching, but I was. I don’t remember the first time we spoke. I don’t remember much about that time at all.

My first kiss came when I was seventeen years old. I was working as a volunteer at a church coffeehouse in my hometown, where kids went every Friday night in an attempt to hide from the real world. My job involved roaming the floor and making sure people stayed out of trouble, checking the bathrooms to shoo out underage smokers, and occasionally brewing coffee. That night, however, I was trying to be seen. I wanted someone to notice me. Anyone. And Adam walked by. He put his hand on my shoulder, I drew him in towards the Coke machine, and I kissed him. I didn’t care about him.

“Whoa,” he cried as I pulled away. “I mean, yay. But what was that for?”

I tightened my fingers in his hair and kissed him again. He leaned into it this time, his lips responding to mine and his tongue finding its way into my mouth. We only separated when the kids around us started wolf-whistling. His eyes searched mine, inquisitive, but the blood rushed to my face and I looked away. I want to see if I could still feel. Apparently, I could.

I remember all of the details of this night vividly. But. I do not remember our first kiss.

When I was a kid, I did not believe I would ever get married. There were a lot of reasons for that. One, I wasn’t interested. Two, there wasn’t really anybody out there. Three, I didn’t believe anyone would ever ask me. And then someone did. I firmly believed that there would never be anybody else. I knew it wasn’t a good fit, but I thought I didn’t have a choice. I got on the first ship that sailed by, because I believed there would never be another.

I remember leaving you. Many times. I knew how uncertain I was, yet I went with it anyway; I kept coming back to you. And while I’m sorry for that, I’m also not. The path I took got me where I am now, and while I wish many of the things that had happened along the way had never happened, I wouldn’t be where I am had I not taken the path I had. The time we had together is forever tarnished, the bad outweighing the good tenfold. I remember all of the bad things you said, the lessons you taught me, the idea that I wasn’t worth anything. I remember these things, but not the good milestones. Not the things I should remember. You played on the internal dialogues I had previously created; I let you do it. I was wrong, but so were you.

Marriage does not equate to ownership, and all rights of any kind were dissolved the day those vows went ignored. You can’t make up for what happened. You may think you have stripped me of something, and maybe you did. But you also gave me a gift. I am stronger now. Powerful. Connected. Brave. This is what you are up against. I am stronger on my own now than I ever was with you, with anyone.

All of my life, I have let other people dictate my actions. That’s not all on them; that’s on me too. I am horribly codependent. There are probably many reasons for this, but I don’t understand all of them. There are a lot of things in life that I do not understand, but one thing I am certain of is that I have given you much too much of my precious time. You made me feel unworthy of my own time, my own space, when I am anything but. I can’t devote anything more to you. In the spirit of that thought, it is time to let you go. Wherever you are, on this, what would have been our anniversary, I hope that you are thinking of me. I hope that you are sorry; I doubt that you are. You took a lot from me. I want to take what I can back.

In years past, I have burned our wedding invitation. Visited the church where we were married. Sat quietly by myself and done nothing. But I have never actually said goodbye. I thought I couldn’t let you go, but maybe letting go is not the physical thing I thought of it as. Maybe it is simply denying you anymore power.

Therefore, I am thinking of you today, but I vow to make every effort that this will be the last time. You get no more space in my head.

No more.

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Plan B (On Rejection)

The first A minus I ever got in an English class broke me.  I was in eighth grade.  I wrote a twenty-two page story called “Searching for Becca Fischer.”  My teacher faulted it for the little things; she thought that some of the characterizations went too quickly.  At the time, I cried.  I had spent a long time on that story.  I felt like I really knew who Becca was, like she was a part of me.  I still think about her sometimes; she was the first character of mine I really identified with.  So when I saw the A minus, my black and white brain interpreted it as a failure because I was so connected to the work.  I thought that, in rejecting Becca, my teacher was rejecting me.  I reread the story last night when I couldn’t sleep, and I realize now that my teacher was right.  The characterization is weak in places.  There’s a lot that I could do with the piece now that I’m a better writer.  But at the time, I was so connected to my work that all I saw was the failure that wasn’t even a failure at all.  It was an A minus.  A bloody A minus.  But it was a rejection all the same.

Fast forward fifteen years to court and my (now) ex’s stupid face.  After all the things we went through, the end was sudden.  Jarring.  It wasn’t the same sort of rejection, but it was a definite lack of acceptance.  Over the course of our marriage, he invalidated everything that I thought I was.  I tried to change for him, but I was never good enough.  I never made the cut in his eyes.  I could never be who he wanted me to be.  I had ten years of my life between high school and college that feel like a waste, like time that went by and has left me nothing but older.  

I got my first graduate school rejection yesterday, and it brought me right back to that day in my eighth grade classroom, right back to all the time spent in court.  I cried a little.  Ate froyo.  And then spent most of today being sad.  Because a large part of me feels like a failure.  I know that it’s only one rejection.  I know I still have seven schools out there, pondering my future for me.  But I’m still really bummed for a wide myriad of reasons.  One—it was a school I REALLY liked, and they didn’t like me back.  Two—it feels like my entire life is on hold because I can no longer plan for my future.  Three—it feels like I wasn’t good enough.  I talked to a professor today who pointed out to me (or maybe this came from my mouth) that the graduate school application process is really like a lottery.  A bunch of little balls get loaded into a bingo-like cage and some big-wig pulls them out and calls a number.  That number gets in.  The hundreds (thousands?) that don’t get drawn just stay in the little cage.  It paints a stark reality, this rejection letter I received.  A reality where my future is incredibly uncertain, a reality where I have worked my ass off but might still not get in anywhere, because my number might not be called.  I have done all of the right things, taken all the right courses, kept my grades up, become a TA, tutored, edited at the magazine…and I might not be right.  I might not fit.  That reality is very much in the forefront of my brain now, because I am accustomed to not getting what I want.  I have worked my ass off and it might all be for nothing.  There might not be an MFA in my future.  I might not be a writer.  That is so, so scary.

I think that, over the last year, I have put a good 99 percent of my eggs in the graduate school basket—and I’m scared now because I worry I put my hope into the wrong thing.  I had a gaping wound that I needed to fill and I filled it with this whole graduate school process.  What happens if that process doesn’t come to be?  Will I start to hemorrhage again?  Will I lose my place?  Did I fill myself with the wrong thing?  Is it possible I won’t be a writer?  I have carved an identity for myself within academia and this plan that I have made to go to graduate school.  I will have to reshape it if I don’t get in.  It seems like I am always reshaping.  I want to be the cause of that reshaping, just once.  I want to prove to myself that I can be successful without him.  In my head, I’ve made graduate school equivalent to success.  Now I’m worried I will be lost. 

I feel like I need to make plans, somehow.  But without knowing where I will be next year, that’s hard. So, I’ve come up with an awesomely outrageous Plan B.  (The first of many, probably, since I have time to ponder before more letters come, but a plan I really like.)  I want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.  Really, I won’t have anything to lose—it would be the perfect time to do it.  I don’t have kids or a family.  I don’t have any stuff.  I just have me.  And it would be nice to wander into the wilderness for that length of time and just…be.  I’ve read all of Cheryl Strayed’s books:  Torch, Wild, and Tiny, Beautiful Things.  Her writing is amazing.  Yup, she was pretty dumb to wander into a hike of that magnitude with little training.  Yup, she was very lucky to survive.  But she did.  And not ONLY did she survive, she wrote a book about it.  And that book is amazing.  That book is the story of a woman who figured out how to conquer her shit because she grappled with it and won.  She beat her shit.  I want to beat mine. 

I will start with the tattoo:  “How wild it was, to let it be.”   

How I finish will be up to the graduate school application lottery.

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Failure

There is a voice inside my head that tells me that I’m not good enough.

That came from you.

Do more.

Work harder.

Be better.

You will never be good enough.

It’s funny really.  I’m not sure where it started.  Was it that day that I made the spaghetti?  That day that I worked for thirteen hours setting up fake ghosts and tombstones, that day that I came home and put the water on and the noodles in and then fell asleep on the couch?  The day that you just let them boil dry because “cooking was a woman’s job?”  When you woke me up by dumping the noodles on me?  Was that the first time?

You can’t even do what you’re supposed to do.

I waited all day for supper, and you messed up.  

A good wife wouldn’t fall asleep.

Or was it the day I got fired?  The day that I lost my job because the company had been bought out by foreign men who had no interest in a white female manager?  The day that I came home terrified to tell you because I knew you would think I was a failure?

You must be incompetent.  

Smart people don’t get fired.

You know I can’t work; I have a degree, I have to do this.

Was it the day that I wanted to turn the heat up because I was cold, and you told me no?  The day that you said I needed to make more and work more than I already was if I wanted to have the right to adjust the temperature?

You will never get a degree; you will never go to school.

You will never be anything at all.

You belong here, doing what you’re doing.

Or was it the day I forgot the Oreos for the Oreo dessert?  The day that you made me go back to the store?  Was it that day?

I can’t believe you’re so stupid.  

You need to go back; I certainly can’t.

This has to be perfect, and it just isn’t—you aren’t.

Was it any day?

I am sitting on the couch now, staring into space, a space that you used to occupy.  And I hear your voice inside my head.  It’s been a great couple of days, so it’s funny that I would hear you now.  But there you are.

You touch me with your eyes, your fingers.

I can feel you on me, smell your breath-garlic.

I can feel you.

And I hate you.

But since you’re here.

I have something to say to you.

Screw.  You.

You made me feel like I wasn’t good enough.  Like nothing I could ever do would be okay.  Like nothing I could ever say would make you happy.  You made me feel like I was a failure.  But I am not a failure.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  I have done more.  I have worked harder than you could ever understand.  I am better.  I am so much better than you.

And I cannot keep renting the space in my head to you.

This has to end.

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The Divide (Rough Draft)

When we were preparing to divorce, the husband went through the apartment that I was no longer living in and took pictures of every single major item that we owned.  He then put them into an itemized spreadsheet that included their original purchase amounts and their current estimated value, as well as a column for who wanted the item.  The idea was that we could pass it back and forth and negotiate digitally.  Neither of us wanted to see the other.  I, in particular, did not want to see him.

I had a hard time draining our life together down to mere things.  The things that I chose to keep line one wall of a storage room.  I don’t even own a bed anymore.  For me, at the time, it was easier to roll over and let him have whatever he wanted than to risk dragging the process out.  Risk making him angry.  Risk going back.  I wanted to be as far away from him as possible.

However, on page 21 of the spreadsheet were the final two items—our son’s ashes and his memory box.  I didn’t know what to do about them.  When I left, I left quickly.  I hadn’t thought to take them.  When I did go back to the apartment to get the things I needed, they were already gone.   I wanted them, desperately.  I wanted to keep the ashes.  He wanted to scatter them.  I viewed scattering as throwing him out into the world.  As forgetting him.

I asked my then-therapist what she thought, and it was then she told me:  he was seeing someone in the same agency.  The same building.  The office.  Right.  Across.  The hall.  I felt betrayed somehow, like he had followed me on purpose.  “We could have a meeting with the four of us.  Discuss who gets the ashes, and the box and its contents.  Talk about who can have what.”  I must have made a face, because she continued, “I know that it sounds weird.  But if you can’t agree on it, the court will decide how the divide will work.  And that may not play out in your favor.  There are no guarantees as to the mood of the judge.”

I pictured that story in the Bible where the child gets cut in half because the two woman cannot agree who is really its mother.  I knew that I wouldn’t be brave enough to speak up in court.  I knew that I wouldn’t fight if it went that far.  I also knew that it was the one thing on the spreadsheet that he WOULD fight for.  I worried what he would do.

I agreed to the meeting.

I didn’t really want to go to the meeting when the day came, two weeks later.  I hadn’t seen him since the day I had left, and I had no desire to see him.  I wore long sleeves, intentionally.  There were some things that he didn’t need to know.

When A dropped me off at the office precisely at two, his car was already there.  When I went inside though, he was nowhere to be seen.  My therapist and I talked for a few minutes before there was a knock at the door.  The husband came in and sat on the opposite side of the couch I was on, and placed a pile of stuff in between us.  A pile that amounted to our son’s life.  I refused to look at him, even when he finally spoke to me.  I refused to give him the satisfaction of seeing my fear—fear of him, fear of losing our son.  Fear of myself.

We went through the box item by item, which wasn’t much.  Footprints, handprints, a lock of hair.  Outfits that he had been dressed in for pictures.  The pictures themselves.  Hospital bracelets.  A few things that I had asked for from the storage we had purchased for the baby things: a quilt that was handmade by my grandmother, an outfit handmade by my mother, and a Winnie the Pooh blanket that I had asked for.  It wasn’t the right blanket, but I didn’t want to see him again so I said nothing.  The only items I took were the ones he offered me.  I didn’t not speak up.  I stayed silent.  And then the ashes came out.

I focused on my shoes.  They were black and pink, a sort of plaid pattern.  I wanted those ashes, more than anything.  I was divided on the inside between my loyalty to the son I would never hold again and my fear.  I willed the words to come out of my mouth.  I tried to force myself to fight.  But instead, I said nothing.  I left the office with hardly anything except tears.  A lot of tears.

I don’t regret my decision to get out of the marriage.  But I do regret that I didn’t fight more for my son, that I let go of him (what feels like) much too easily.  I purchased a memorial brick, at a tree that was planted to remember dead children.  A solid reminder, it served as something that I could touch.  It was supposed to be a memorial just for me, but someone told the husband.  I couldn’t decide how I felt about that, about having to look over my shoulder every time I went to visit it.  I didn’t want to share, but it felt like the right thing to do.

The husband (then ex) emailed me much later to inform me that he had scattered the ashes.  Without asking me.  He didn’t tell me where, just that he had done it.  That our son was gone.

I broke inside.  It felt like I’d never had a chance to say goodbye.

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Poverty in Academia, Thy Name is Grad School

I read an excellent post this morning about being poor and surviving within academia.  Here’s a link to it:

http://tenureshewrote.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/succeeding-in-graduate-school-despite-poverty/ 

It’s funny, really.  I don’t think much about the fact that I’m poor except when I come across things like this.  This is probably because there are many people who are much more poor than I am.  But the truth is, I’m incredibly low income.  If I weren’t living in the place where I’m currently living, I probably would not be able to afford academia at all.  I’m clever about my life.  I purchase a meal plan, even though I’m a commuter, because it’s cheaper to eat the half off (and occasionally disgusting) food on campus than to buy food.  I get most of my clothes used.  I charge a LOT on credit cards.  I pretend I have more money than I actually do.  I pay all my bills, on time, and when I do, there’s no money left each month.  But I’m still here.

 

I survive on a small teacher’s salary combined with what I get from teaching private music lessons.  Let me tell you, that’s not a lot.  I undercharge for lessons because I’m too nice to raise my fee to something more in line with industry standards.  And soon I won’t be teaching, because money is tight within the company and there’s no room for me anymore.  It’s hard for me to admit that I can’t do something because I don’t really have enough money (that’s often, lately).  I feel like I’m fake a lot of the time; I don’t really fit because I’m different.  Because I came from somewhere different, I live in a world that doesn’t really feel like mine.  No one ever explained how college financially worked to me, really.  When I was graduating high school, I didn’t understand financial aid or grants or scholarships.  I didn’t know that there was money available to me from outside sources.  All I knew was that I had no money.  As a result, I skipped college.  I lived another life.  And now I’m back, and about to graduate and go to grad school.

 

I’ve struggled lately as to why the idea of grad school is terrifying to me, and I think this is a piece of that.  Apart from the emotions of leaving a life I have completely rebuilt and grown comfortable in, there is also the issue of my income to consider.  In just a few short months, there’s a good chance I will have to relocate for grad school (assuming I get in).  In so many ways, I’m not ready.  I can barely afford to live now, and I will have to pay to move to pay to live to pay to get a degree that will get me…something.  What precisely I’m not sure.  I want to write.  I could teach.  There’s quite a few possibilities, but none of them involve making money.  I will be low income forever.  There’s no miracle job at the end of my degree that will bring me millions, but I will love what I’m doing.  Is that okay?  Is that enough?

 

I own not much of my own after the dissolution of my marriage.  A book case and a dresser.  A television and a DVD player.  Miscellaneous books.  A few dishes.  I gave up pretty much all of my things in the divorce just to be out.  If I could do it over again, I would have used the information I had and fought him harder.  Kept more things.  Sold them now to pay for relocation.  But I didn’t.  I let him take pretty much everything.  Through the grace of friends, I somehow manage to function.  But what happens when I’m in a completely new place?  I can’t sleep on my shiny blue plates.  What if I get in and I can’t find somewhere to live that I can afford?  What if there’s, plain and simple, just no money to make this happen?  In that I wonder whether applying at all was a mistake.  What if I can’t afford to go?  No one is going to support me financially but me, and I don’t want a repeat of my high school graduation.  I don’t want a second break from academia.  I’m almost thirty.  There’s just not enough time.  

 

Poverty is a cycle.  To break out is difficult.  To improve one’s quality of living is very difficult.  I’m getting a degree, and now I will be paying it off.  I will be paying for years once graduate school is done.  Money will not exist for me.  In trying to better myself the only way I knew how, in trying to get a degree, I am, in effect, keeping myself in poverty.  When you come from poverty, you are poor because it’s what you know.  It takes a miracle to get out.  I will be paying to advance myself and then paying for paying for that advancement.  Money will go out but won’t come in.  Society doesn’t make it easy to break free from that.  

 

If I were still married, I would have some medium of money.  (Were I even here.)  But I’m not, and that’s a good thing.  So can I be happy, safe, and have money?  That remains to be seen.  

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