|I sent her with soup and made a litmus-test joke. She had them clean and waiting for me. I'd forgotten them. They're home now.|
"Hearts will billow when the dream, dream comes and it comes in to me"
-- Trey Anastasio,
Kansas City International Airport
Somehow three months have slipped by since my last post.
A lot has happened since then so it’s not been on account of laziness or disinterest. I mean, it’s mostly business as usual with the regular-life stuff: work is work, the kids are still sweet and good and busy, the house is, well, standing, I suppose. I’ve been editing a manuscript for a writer who plans to self-publish. My rec’-league hockey team is off to maybe its best start ever. The Blues are playing well and the Chiefs have a shot at clinching their fourth-straight division title this weekend. I’ve finally gotten consistent again with swimming a few times a week and while that’s great, I still need to ramp up the discipline to make three lifts a week happen. Baby steps, I guess.
My sister Megan was in town last month with her three girls and many of us got to meet Addy, her latest addition, for the first time. We hosted a birthday dinner for her mom at my house; that and the clan’s complete week in town were a real joy. Advent is upon us and I hosted our neighborhood’s first Sunday gathering of the season this week, which was also really fantastic. Thanksgiving came and went and was, for the first time in many years, not full of mayhem and exhaustion, which meant I’m feeling a little less Grinchy about the looming nuttiness that the rest of December will bring.
The yard looks decent, we’ve at least started on Christmas decorations, and my car has not yet croaked. My girl continues to excel at gymnastics, my boy’s finally getting his first unofficial taste of putting pucks in a net, and our dog -- even though we received some troubling health news this week -- is still as sweet as the Phish jams are long. And speaking of, I’m on the cusp of boarding a flight to South Carolina, where I’ll convene with an old friend for a trio of weekend shows. We’ll party a little and golf even less, and, in the words of Jimmy Buffet, “Come Monday” I’ll embark on a journey up to Virginia, where I’ll spend a couple days with another buddy (and his two daughters) before making my way back to Charleston for the return flights home. Life is, as they say, pretty good. I’ve got a lot for which I’m thankful.
The purpose of this post, though, I think, is to examine where my head has been for 90 days, and the short answer is in love. It’s never just that simple, of course, but it’s the simplest of truths.
Before I bite into that, though, I’ve got to backpedal a bit.
If you frequently put your eyes on my infrequent words, you might recall a post from this summer in which I put considerable energy in to wishing my former better half the best in her next life. The bottom fell out of our marriage about 20 months ago, and the state of our union leading in to that window had been less than great. The actual falling out of said bottom? Also less than great. And so much has happened since. So many conversations, arguments, texts, phone calls, meetings, moves, shifts, appointments, tears, frustrations, emotions, etc. A really full ride, to say the least.
Here we are, though, approaching the two-year mark, both re-partnered, both seemingly happy.
We’re doing a fair job at co-parenting and our kids seem to be handling things well for the most part.
Nashville International Airport
That ride has seen a number of phases from my perspective, some clearer than others, some a mix of hot, messy garbage. Shock, I suppose, was the initial one. Its end and the beginning of the next is probably cemented in fuzziness. Sorrow was likely second, and from there it’s cloudy at best. I know anger was in there. Waiting feels like it was its own chapter. Confusion, questioning, more shock, more anger, (along with a number of other things) swirled a few months together into one, and somehow, in some way, I landed on resolve. I certainly didn’t know it at the time and I certainly didn’t know what, exactly, I was resolving to do, but via the luxury of hindsight I think it was survive, take care of my kids, and check back in periodically on that survival thing. And this almost gets us to current, which can be summarized as an assortment of different flavors of fatigue. The most recent taste has involved a reckoning in which I finally had the same experience enough times to realize that the behavior exhibited by the mother of my children should cease to be a surprise to me, and maybe should’ve ceased a few times ago.
To get us entirely current, though, we must travel in to the world of shame, unfortunately.
I realize that that’s a loaded word that we’re putting a lot of energy towards in terms of either trying to prevent behaviors that cause people to feel it or teaching people that experiencing it is entirely okay and normal, and on some level, common.
Here’s the thing, though: The kind of shame I experienced in the beginning of all of this was embarrassing on a micro level. People can be shitty. They can do things that are selfish and blind and hurtful, but things happen and things like repair and forgiveness exist, etc., etc. The details associated with that kind of shame were things I was able to work through by processing things both alone and with the help of friends and loved ones.
The kind of shame I’m experiencing now, though, is macro. It’s one big, giant brush stroke, a circling cyclone that envelops everything, a massive scarlet letter. And it all boils down to my involvement, my willingness, my choice to marry the kind of person I married. And I’m sure folks will either think or say, Relax, man…it’s okay…people change. And that’s accurate; of course they do, but man…the body of work that hosts the signature of my soon-to-be former spouse in the lower right corner is a really hideous display of nasty selfishness that bares a tattoo’s permanence.
I know the burden I’ve tabbed here and choosing to be with that kind of person isn’t a weight I’ll carry long, but it’s pretty intense right now. It’s pretty, well, shameful. And the purpose of putting all of this in writing does not bring with it the intention of trashing or making my former partner look bad. I’ve never wanted to do that and I doubt I ever will, but I’m also entitled to flesh some of this out for myself and this has been my vehicle for some time. So here we are.
Anyway, as I was kind of explaining to my current partner last night, I wound up awake one day, surveying the land if you will, realizing that I was not only going to do the survival thing, I was going to put my best dad foot forward and figure the rest out as I went. And I was really going to be okay with being single. I was going to put my kids and their wants and needs mostly first, and forge a partnership with all that that life entailed. And once I’d gotten pretty darn comfortable with having those training wheels off, someone entered my life. Or re-entered it to be precise.
And that situation has been a wildly intense experience.
The initial connection was fun. And cute in a way. Then there was a secondary peg put in the board. And a third. Then finally a fourth. Our long-distance correspondence slowly grew to a daily thing and that became a several-times-a-day thing until a visit was finally scheduled. And it was really great. Really great. By the time the second visit was scheduled things were really humming along, and by the third (a couple of weekends ago), it had become irreconcilably clear that we were a thing. A legitimate, covetable thing shrouded in connection, emotion, investment, and compassion.
And that brings me completely current, which is to say that I know no more today than I did 20 months ago, save for the fact that I can identify things from the immediate past and feel immeasurably grateful for the way things are now. It’s taken me a minute to land on that last piece because I struggled for a minute to step outside of myself and recognize that it wasn’t a punishment or a dose of unfortunate to connect with this person now. Rather, it was a blessing. Of the truest, most-literal sense. In short, being with someone as wonderful and evocative…
…as my ladyfriend has opened my eyes to the reality that my previous experiences have prepared me for today. They’ve illuminated for me what being a good partner is really all about. They’ve awakened me to the simple fact that I am worth loving, that I am a respect-worthy man and father, that I have value, that our time on this journey is short and that if someone actually cares about you and you actually care about them then your togetherness can be magical. Your togetherness can genuinely be rooted in servitude, warmth, and pleasure.
In service one can invest one’s self in doing for the other, and one can do so without losing one’s self or the children under your care. One can make a part of one’s self devoted to serving the other person, and the shapes and forms that said service can take stimulate the spirit, the mind, and the heart; it’s the very essence of willful, non-begrudging support. In warmth one feels the service reciprocity. One feels an actual coziness that doesn’t come from a blanket or an embrace. One takes comfort in knowing that those boots of solitude have been retired to the cellar, where they’ll gather dust and transform into an icon of a former self. And in pleasure -- the limitless flavors of life’s pleasures -- one finds different doses of euphoria from the many joys of life: hurdling roadblocks and finding a pace that resonates in successes, trying new foods and seeing new places, participating in both teachings and learnings, caring about others both inside and outside of your circles, remaining mindful of the beauty behind the various forms of connection you share with your partner.
Yesterday during my layover I had a pretty remarkable experience wherein I found a long narrow table upon which I positioned my laptop. Bags underneath, devices charging, I began writing and before long this woman approached the space next to where I stood. I glanced up from my document and my eyes went right back to the screen. Then I looked at her again. She had brownish-blond, wavy-to-curly hair pulled up in a pony tail of sorts atop her head. She had glasses on her face and AirPods in her ears. In her left hand was her phone; in her right a plastic cup full of draft beer. Probably a craft lager of sorts. A semi-bulky backpack hung from her shoulders, and strapped to the outside of this bag was…a pretty snazzy-looking skateboard. This made me inspect the lower half of her, which revealed some kind of high-waisted mom jeans and some high-top, maroonish-pink Vans. All told, her look was a fascinating one, mom jeans notwithstanding.
I smiled inside a little, thinking that she was, perhaps, headed to the same shows I was and, in fact, dressed to a less-than-usual version of the quote/unquote part. What transpired next proved me wrong as she ungeared, set up a laptop and placed an impressive number of calls to schedule intakes for therapists at treatment facilities. When the airline desk person announced that there was something amiss with our flight, this skateboard gal asked me for a briefing once she was done with her current call. She barely rolled her eyes at the news and went back to her business. And before our new gate was announced, I spent a chunk of time on the phone with my ladyfriend and almost felt compelled to tell her how I’d appreciated the presentation of this person, not in an attraction-based way. Just appreciation.
Kirkwood, MO Amtrak depot
I didn’t, though, for two reasons: 1) I really enjoyed the content of my conversation with her, which is nothing new, generally speaking, but for specific reasons, she elaborated on some personal-health details that she’d been quasi-reluctant to share much of in the immediately preceding days, and once they’d been shared, we both delighted in the comic nature of them and I, on a personal level, found myself admiring her on a higher level, not only because of the share, but because she’d let her guard down a touch, and because they were truly funny; 2) I didn’t want her to think I was crushing because, well, I wasn’t.
I should pause to say that the tail-end of this week away from life took an interesting turn, and the short of it is that I should be about halfway back to Charleston in my buddy’s car right now. I should be returning from a brief visit to Virginia to see a friend and his daughters for a couple of days, but it didn’t turn out that way. When I booked the trip, the idea of being on the east coast for a few days left me with the certain notion that I should trek up to Virginia and visit my friend, as I’ve never visited him in any of the places -- Fulton, MO, Bangor, ME, Newfoundland, CAN -- he’s lived since high school. This was the opportunity to do just that. At booking time, I Googled the distance between the cities and my optimistic self deemed it doable, especially since my Charleston buddy offered to loan me a car for the drive.
What I didn’t take into consideration was that eight hours each way is really a haul. That is, it’d’ve been a blink of the eye in my 20s, but today -- as age 45 looms -- it’s an entirely different animal. I also didn’t factor in that I’d need to be back in Charleston by 1:00 to leave the car at my buddy’s house then Uber to the airport to be on time for my flight, which means I also didn’t consider what time I’d have to depart Virginia, which means I also didn’t consider how little time I’d actually be there before having to turn around and make the eight-hour trek again. Add to the mix that my Charleston buddy’s car availability changed considerably between booking and arrival, and, in short, the whole thing gave me a bit of anxiety before I even left my home in Kansas City.
By the time the morning of my should-be departure for Virginia arrived, I was not feeling good about it at all. Instead of something I should’ve been really looking forward to, it’d become a thing I was borderline loathing, all of which was rooted in anxiety, all of which was making my scope on the visit seem very minimal. I’d shared these thoughts with my ladyfriend and she jokingly suggested I look in to changing my flight and come to spend a couple of days with her in St. Louis instead. Turns out the airline wanted three whole dollars for that transaction and so it was decided.
But back to that initial self-assessment…
The point I was trying to get at is that when you’re part of a relationship associated with mutual, permanent commitment, vows of reinforcement, a home, and children, you become -- on an individual level -- a piece of clothing. Maybe you’re the nicest business suit. Perhaps a flowery dress. Could be you’re a favorite pair of socks or a really comfortable jacket. All of these things get worn and laundered, perhaps folded or hung, and eventually put away. I think I, as a result of things, became a soiled, forgotten t-shirt. It’s possible that I hit the bottom of the hamper and, when dumped into a basket, fell behind the washing machine for innumerable months, eventually tallied as lost.
And then, one day, when another piece of laundry fell to my same, accidental landing place, I was found again, and upon retrieval, the sheer realness of my now-set-in stains and dust bunnies and hopeless wrinkles almost led to discard, but…something kept me in the mix. I was brushed off and snapped a few times like a locker-room towel. My stains were delicately brushed and I was set aside to soak in warm water before finally rejoining a to-be-laundered load. Maybe I stayed on and joined a second for an additional unsoiling. And maybe for the desired outcome of extra freshness that a dryer tumble with a Bounce sheet couldn’t reach, I was clothespinned and left to hang in the sun for a day. Then eventually put in that dryer to eliminate that starchy feel, to reinvigorate me with crispness, extra warmth.
At the end of things I found basket again, wound up folded, put back in the drawer, rejoined the rotation. I became well-liked again, but could never reobtain that “favorite” status, the result of an eyesore stain that spoke volumes to anyone that noticed it. That is, I’d made a choice to partner with someone that ultimately, over time and under the pressures of unhappiness, selected self above the collective unit. And that, in my own mind, made me look foolish. Second-hand. Second-class. Second (if even) choice.
Aboard the Missouri River Runner
In essence, if I chose a person like that for my partner, what does that say about me? And I think the answer now, today, is that that stain is just an image of a memory of one part of my life’s travels. It doesn’t define the wholeness of who I am, who I’ve been, or who I’ll become. It’s just one place I used to be and I have a mark to show for it.
So forever changed, but crisp, clean, and back in the rotation, nonetheless. Most days are just days. They’re pretty great in that you’re alive and in the drawer; every once in a while you get taken out and paraded around and your level of awareness regarding the world around you is heightened. This is where I had landed. I logged my drawer days, relished in my opportunities to be out and a part of the world. And I was fine with it. I was content. I was far from perfect, but I was making strides. To get all Mandalorian about it, I was really getting my “This is the way.” groove on.
There was always a silence, though. An unasked, cast-into-the-breeze silence that unknowingly pondered what reality would feel like if ever I were out there in the world on one of my days and a connection occurred. The thing, silent and unasked as it were, got very little attention, zero focus. These were the fleetingest of thoughts that maybe occurred in the shower, perhaps beneath the dull roar of the stove’s exhaust fan, while attention remained divvied between the meal-readying process and the next-room conversation between my children. Maybe on my evenings without them it rose to a muffled roar amidst the deafening silence of my home that I tried to fill with the sounds of music or a podcast or a televised hockey game. Always, though, regardless, the noise was stifled, regardless of stoutness or stature.
I think the reason for that is chained to fear and the fear is anchored by a terror that ultimately results in another hamper burying, another collection of seasons spent discarded behind the washing machine, and all of the hurt and tears and anger associated with the process that culminates in that towel-snapping sound, that warm-water soak, that day swaying pinned in the backyard breeze along with it. Those’re healing experiences. They’re attractive in the rearview, but they’re not things anyone’s necessarily pinning to their to-do bulletin board. And I don’t figure myself to be any kind of weird-world trailblazer in that regard, either. I certainly don’t want to find myself rejected again, or discarded, forgotten but wrapped in well wishes and hope-fors.
So as I stare out the window of this train and watch the bare trees that line the Missouri river pass by on this beautiful, warm, December day, I find myself entranced by not only the tranquilly uplifting M.C. 900-foot Jesus track “Bill’s Dream,” I find myself wondering whether or not it’s foolish to be afraid of love. I find myself amazed at how the literal hundreds of indicators that I am in a safe space can be brushed from the platform of insecurity with one swift broom sweep, leaving me tumbling in a world of cold, shivering tears with no way home to love and care for my kids, the very something that kept me in the mix.
And that, then, is the current hurdle. The getting out of my own way is the only thing preventing me from taking a massive risk that involves embracing vulnerability and nakedness, a bold discarding of everything I went through (and still experience on some level) that was part of the sure-thing aftermath. Soaking in the hurdle, though, puts things out of chronology, though, and we worked this hard to get to current, so work through the current we must.
That three months slipped by since my last post isn’t really a somehow. It’s not a mystery or a surprise. It’s a little bit of a misallocation of head space and that misallocation has transpired because my heart has held the reins for a number of weeks now. Twenty of them to be a few ticks off from precise. Yes. As I said, I’ve been in love, which feels insanely good, and, as might’ve been presumed, frightening as fuck. There’s so much to want to consume yet so much to unpack.
There are, of course, all of the stages that anyone that’s ever been in love knows well: the feelers, the varying degrees of affirmation and caution, the building and advancement that leads to sharing, and the ultimate arrival at connection. There’s the high-stakes test of the physical realm and once you’ve traversed that there’s the weeks-, if not months-long recompartmentalizing and mental-space shifting associated with making actual space -- in all of its forms -- for another person in your life. And this of course has to be a two-way endeavor. So I haven’t been anywhere, so to speak. I’ve been (mostly) in the same exact physical space I’ve been in since that marital bottom fell out. Emotionally, however, I’ve been all over the map.
There’s the baggage of being a reject that I bring to the mix, and with that comes a largely different set of life experiences. There’s physical distance that has been both a challenge and an element of grounding, something necessary (in my mind) to not only allow but to force this thing to grow at a healthy, organic pace. There are three children of different ages and there are an innumerable set of beyond-embrace-worthy challenges that comes with each of them. There are homes and vehicles and schools and careers and families and goals and hundreds of other small things that must be considered, but those are all easily navigable when compared to the most important thing of all: feelings.
And I am of course referring to mine, but they are only one burner on this industrial range that we may be trying to fit in to a residential kitchen; the rest hold equal importance and in some senses more. I suppose the way to tackle them all, though, is by age.
Her daughter will turn five next year and might be the most malleable in the entire mix. She is a sweet, loving girl with a flair for fun and fashion and she brings to the mix an enchanting sense of humor. Her constant in this sea of change would be her mother, who has towed the line for her since birth and been her everything. She would benefit from having others under her roof that would certainly love her, but it obviously wouldn’t be anywhere near that cut/dry. She would be removed from what she has known and loved and that includes (but is not limited to) family, friends, her home, and her school. She would also have to adjust from me being a friend that she occasionally sees and likes (possibly even loves) to someone in her space full-time, someone that’s not just fun anymore, but someone that guides her and occasionally takes her places, but also disciplines her. Or at the very least becomes a permanent support regarding the manner in which her mother raises her.
My son turned six a couple of months ago, and he might be the biggest question-mark of the mix. He’s been a textbook Tasmanian Devil his whole life, molded by his relentless energy, the love of both of his parents, and the tutelage of his older sister. Only in recent months has his independent side taken its first big strides. He could totally assimilate to this theoretical scenario or he could crumble and become a resident in the state of perpetual need and redirection. It could be argued that he is on the cusp of accepting his mother and his father in different homes and having different personal lives that both aim for the best for him and his sister. This wrench could unravel any progress he’s made and lean him in a preferential direction toward one parent or the other.
My daughter will be nine in 10 days. She has been the parenting barometer for perhaps longer than should be documented. I mean, she’s a first, so there’s a lot of merit to that, but she’s also a barrel full of wildly intense feelings that must be considered with precision at every turn. Before any of this truly unfolds in any kind of tangible sense, she will have launched into her preteen years, which could be one of three things: navigable and normal, an utter trainwreck, or a complete wildcard leaving everyone guessing at every corner turn. Like her brother, she could possibly benefit from an additional source of love (or additional sources), but it’s probably up to me and her mother to cultivate a rich enough landscape for her to be open to that possibility. Then again, she might reject everything at all costs.
My ladyfriend might be the stablest of the whole lot. She’s been doing her own thing for the better part of two years. She might have the most to risk, however, by uprooting her and her daughter’s stability and reintegrating with us sordid lot of broken-family fragments. I suppose that’s not fair, though. We’re all a little broken and sordid and maybe high in the candidacy for the good-things-that-may-come department. She is for sure, a beautiful human being with a brilliant mind and a big heart. She has a great outlook and maybe the crispest life perspective I’ve come across in a long time. In fact, she sent me this in an e-mail message not long after I boarded the train:
“…wanted to share this with you:
‘You can’t fuck up anything that is meant for you. So stop being scared (ego/fear) what will happen. Trust your intuition and let your heart and soul guide you on this journey. I promise you, you can’t mess anything up that is meant for you.’
I read this the other day and it made so much sense -- bad grammar and all…
There have been so many moments where I have felt like I just have to have trust and faith in you and us…Once I started to consciously be aware that exactly where we are in our relationship is exactly where we are meant to be, I started to really let go of all the insecurities. I am learning to trust, at a new level, in every aspect with you and us. And for the first time in my life, I am learning to trust in our love because everything in me tells me not only that I should, but it is safe for me to do so.”
She’s also cute and funny and affectionate and seriously stokes my fire. And did I mention sweet?
There are x-factors to consider, too. Or perhaps more appropriately: ex-factors.
I have never met the father of my ladyfriend’s daughter, but I anticipate that he will not have a large role in the overall mix, having said some time ago that it would probably be best for her to find a substitute father for their child. And I barely know my kids’ mom’s boyfriend. He’s probably got the greatest amount to prove in terms of showing that there’s more substance to him than simple appearances. As far as my former partner is concerned, she has two challenges before her: a) continuing to do her best to be a good mother to our children while incorporating five new relationships into her life, and b) deciding what will actually make her happy in life.
As for my feelings, I suppose the very words of my ladyfriend carry the heaviest amount of weight and represent the truest stance of where I either am or should be. I suppose that getting myself there all boils down to deciding between everything being largely fine and mostly happy with me and my life and with my kids when I have them or being brave enough to surrender to the flow (as it were) and walk the path of this journey that not only leads to happiness, but already embodies it.
I don’t exactly know how to wrap this up, which is probably ridiculously fitting, and I don’t know what exactly the point of it was, save to put some thoughts on paper and to gauge where I maybe might be in the trying-to-understand-life scope. So we’ll see. I don’t ever shoot for a frequency of four posts per year, but you never know. Like the second half of that good ol’ Forrest Gump line, “…you never know what you’re gonna get.”
Turns out what I’m gonna get is a relationship with one of the most amazing women I’ve ever known. And it’s really a trip. It’s hard, I tell ya’. It’s hard to climb out of a swamp of feeling unloved and cast aside, clean yourself off, and find yourself inundated with what I can only label true love.
And if you think that felt goofy to read, it’s just as goofy to feel and to write. As in, it’s new and fresh and exciting and I keep waiting for that honeymoonish feel to wear off, but it just keeps getting stronger instead.
My ladyfriend is caring and compassionate. She’s clever and generous, thoughtful and kind. And she loves me. Like truly. Like so many things that have transpired in our relationship thus far, it took us a minute to get to the saying-it part, but it proved to be well worth the wait.
We’ve cultivated a lot of feelings for one another in a short period of time, but those feelings and our experiences have laid the groundwork for a lifetime together of loving one another and caring for one another and loving and caring for one another’s kids, too, which…well…it just doesn’t get any better than that.