Category Archives: Divorce

Manbatical: too much of a good thing?

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My manbatical ( a sabbatical from relationships ) is turning out to be too much of a good thing because even though I have been enjoying this time to myself, I hope I am staying away from relationships for the right reasons…not fear.

This sabbatical isn’t supposed to be simply an unplugging from the world of romantic relationships, it is supposed to be a time to heighten self-awareness and actively examine my attitudes and presumptions about my role in them…except so far, it has just been a lazy excuse I give to dissuade guys from getting too close:

“Yo, can I get your number?”

“Sorry, manbatical”

:\  <confused face>

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The Ex pulled out of the Navy, came back around and wanted to give “us” another chance… I agreed.

But about 48 hours later realized I was terrified and called it all off.  I realized it isn’t just being with him that was terrifying… but  its the whole concept of a relationship that freaks me out.  (The only exception would be my secret crush who doesn’t return the adoration… of course)

This is interesting because in the past I have been lucky enough to date great people– for the most part- who were respectful, interesting, and overall good partners…

All these princes and I marry the toad…go figure

Clearly, my outlook on relationships has to evolve  before I  think seriously about getting into anything new…I have always held the belief that what happens in a relationship is a slow but steady molding  into someone’s life… like the kneading of two balls of play dough.

Say you are combining yellow and blue play dough,  it is rare that you will always get a perfectly balanced green.  Depending on the couple, or even just the time in their lives, that play dough will either have more yellow or more blue…with this comes the realization that in just about every serious relationship I had, my ball of dough was the one that gets swallowed up.  If I was yellow and my partner was blue, our relationship would be mostly blue.

For several reasons… I have always been the one that was ready and willing to bend towards that other person’s life goals while setting mine aside.

The worse part about it was that I was doing it unconsciously…. just now as I was reading what I wrote I noticed a problem a paragraph above:  “molding into someone’s life”… that’s not how I want it to be… it should read “molding two lives together”      AArgh!

This is why I am terrified of being in a relationship and making the same mistakes.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am all about making mistakes… just different ones for once would be refreshing.

If I ever have another “I need more help around the house” conversation, I swear my head might blow off.

I dont want my hard won freedom and sense of self to be compromised…I don’t want my yellow to get swallowed up by blue.

I recognize that in order for me to feel ready for a relationship, I need to drastically change what I expect out of myself and others- so that when I do meet that special someone, I will feel confident that the energy, heart, and spirit I am investing are gonna mold into an nice, evenly mixed Green… like the couple below 🙂

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Timing is Everything

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Yes I only have one semester left, but I decided to take a semester leave of absence from my MFA program.  Even though I had considered this option pretty much every semester since I started, I managed to eek it out and be okay with what I was producing…until now.

Timing is everything…

The same week I got my acceptance letter into my creative writing program was the same week my husband  “broke up” with me…(now, I put that in quotes because it was really more of a desertion…not a break up.  “Breaking”  denotes an action, whereas this was very clearly a refusal of action…The opposite of love after all is indifference.

At the time I decided to fully fling myself  into the graduate program and just plow through it, believing that it was my only saving grace during a time when staying still was seriously damaging.   I figured the program was exactly what I needed to put distance between a defining break-up (ehh…I’ld rather call  it “the wake up call”) and a new me.

Except studying creative writing is not the same as studying say…. engineering…The personal is very intimately connected to the very act of writing… and tapping into my creativity, though cathartic when feeling blue… did prove to be a bit difficult while bouncing back and forth to family court,  drafting up yet another cover letter to get myself back to work, or following up with my ex-husband to give me a weekly schedule of days/times he could spend with our son…

I am proud to say I no longer provide the services of a doormat secretary and feel pretty confident my son will be fine whether or not his Dad is “busy”

I quickly realized that what I have to learn isn’t only how to balance life with creative writing… which can be a  challenge in its own right, it is more the learning how to move passed  that “wait, why am I sitting on this computer for hours on rare child-free and sunny Saturday when I could be out...?” Taking in the sun on a park bench…

So for a while I tried combining the two… I would take a trusty notepad out to draft scenes on while taking in the sun on a park bench…or would reward myself after devoting several hours on completing a submission with a night out with friends…

Although writing was healing…my .20$ wing night at Cuban Revolution with my gal pals was coming in a close second…

But this semester things have been much different.  I am finally working full time, and time wise  I have found it nearly impossible to devote 5 hour chunks of time on banging out a short story. …and there has been an unfortunate reduction in  20 cent wing consumption as well… which is just bad for moral.

Since I work full time, I don’t see my son all day and the only thing I want to do when I get home is hang out with him. Not my keyboard and that depressing blank white space on my monitor… Besides, after sitting at a desk most of my day, I find it difficult to sit down for more than a half hour at home which any fiction writer will tell you, is not enough.

I am sad to say that this semester I started breaking the cardinal rule of writing:  sit your ass down and write.

Not to mention this is an important semester, one that will set the foundation for the successful completion of my thesis ( a short story collection) and the development of my graduating seminar ( a 45 minute ‘class’ on a fiction writing topic that tickles my fancy)… and I wasn’t getting ANY where…

I realized I was doing myself a disservice by not having enough time or energy to devote to my writing program… and even though it will just be a semester off, it will make a huge difference… to my sleep, my short stories, and my son.

Because after all; timing is everything.

‘Where the Salt Water Ends’

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Unfortunately many of us become numb to our natural environment. Even I, who as a child searched for answers in the natural world around me, eventually tuned out.   In my early years, I found my refuge from a strange and quickly changing world at the edge of nature trails, at the top of cliffs overlooking the ocean, or at the end of wooded bike paths.  I prayed for inner peace, for an end to family feuding, for a sign.  It wasn’t long before I felt that the world made sense after all and I was able to return to my life, revived and hopeful. I don’t remember when I lost all of that but for a long time I did.  Was it when I got a car and I wasn’t forced to find shortcuts in the woods anymore? Was it as a college student when I ran along the roads instead of bike paths?  Or, was it after I became a mother and was too scared to wander too far off main roads with a small child?  Adulthood had severed the connection to a reliable source of comfort and I wasn’t even aware of it.

             In late March of 2010, Rhode Island was being pounded by relentless heavy rains that    would cause the infamous ‘100 year flood’ that destroyed homes and business.  Rivers were cresting at record breaking highs.  For those who lived near a body of water, the fast moving water destroyed everything, for those who didn’t,  they still had to worry about flooded basements and damaged property.  The news was crowded with images of people being pulled out of their homes onto rafts.  Even parts of interstate route 95 had to be shut down due to the unprecedented flooding.

                     That was also the exact time my marriage began falling apart.

The economic recession was bottoming out and so was my husband’s patience with the cutbacks and restrictions we had to make just to meet our basic needs.  I was an out of work teacher and he was a soon-to-be-laid off community organizer  (at least he was warned)  and we, like many people at the time were feeling the  pressure.  Despite the fact that our son just turned one, those days felt heavy…not celebratory.

Between the two of us, I assumed that our past experiences had prepared us well for having to make more with less.  After all, I was an immigrant raised by a single mother and he was an inner city success story, rising out of public housing and graduating from college.  I figured between the two of us, we had more than enough coping skills to get through this. I had no idea how different our perspectives really were.

I was looking on the bright side.   It was only temporary….  We might have been lacking in financial resources, but we had plenty of other resources.  Like perseverance, friends and family, and knowledge bases that would surely come in handy.  After all, we were both college educated, wasn’t there a rule out there that said we would find amazing jobs by now…?

how bout now….?

hmmmm….

He, on the other hand, was coming from the perspective of someone who only narrowly escaped the throws of  generational poverty. He often cited the downfalls of not having a father figure, he was taking on a heavier emotional burden than I anticipated.  To him, the thin line between making it and not making it, between rising above and falling deeper, was only getting thinner.  Our interactions became saturated with fear.

Patience was leaking  out of widening crevasses.  I was tired and exhausted from carrying the burden of all household tasks and baby care.  Having little to no interaction with adults left me feeling isolated and undervalued.  I never anticipated that the tough part about being a mother would have very little to do with the actual child, but with the rapidly changing world around me, friends who no longer felt comfortable in my stressed presence, a vastly different connection to myself and my partner.  The sheer physical exhaustion.

Feeling the pressure to make things work, I held much back.  I didn’t want to be another statistic, or worse, to have to repeat my mother’s fate as another single mother.  But all this mounting pressure was sure to burst eventually…

Day after day the rain continued to come down in sheets. I didn’t leave the house much, and living in a third floor apartment, it was easy to tune out the rising flood.  One day I decided to pick up my husband at work.   I was shocked to find my usual through street to the south side was shut down due to the flooding.  Atwells Avenue and the Woonasquatucket River were one.  Bridges and the surrounding side streets were shut down.  I pulled over to stare in awe.  How could this usually traffic congested part of town be so completely abandoned?  The silence was extraordinary.

Another stark contrast to my expectations.

One of the final days of the rain was marked with yet another argument, more suppressed frustration.  I left the house in tears and drove aimlessly through the city.  I found that once my tears started, I couldn’t stop.  I drove towards the river, vaguely recalling a once familiar source of comfort.   Soon I couldn’t tell the difference between my tears or the rain.

I noticed that I wasn’t alone. Curious city residents flocked to the swollen river to witness the water speeding downstream.  A crowd was gathering around the quickly disappearing banks, eager for a glimpse of nature’s power.  I overheard a passerby speaking to the crowd nearby,  “This is terrible for property damage, but for the river, this is great.”  Apparently all this water serves the river by loosening debris that had been settled on the riverbed for decades.  All this water…these endless tears…was in fact a good thing.

The rain eventually stopped and in time, the tears did too.

And the name of the river? ….Woonasquatucket?

It’s Algonquian for ‘where the salt water ends’.  How’s that for a sign…

The Beating Will Continue until Moral Improves

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While we were still married  he got into an accident with my car and broke off the left mirror (by hitting a parked car) after I just had it fixed…apparently ford focus’s have a poor design and easily lose their mirrors…I chalked that up to narrow city streets and an aggressive truck driver he tried to avoid…

But that was only Round One…

After the divorce, days before he shipped out for the Navy, I was in Boston at my writing residency when I received a call.  He got into an accident with my car even though I never gave him permission to drive it…It was supposed to be parked at his mother’s house to avoid parking garage fees while I was gone.  He decided that running his errands with his ex-wife’s car was a good idea.

“Was the baby in the car?”

“No”

“Are you ok?”

“uhh, might have bumped my head a little, but I am fine.”

“Is the person in the other car ok?”

“yeah he is fine.”

“and my car?”

“umm….well…its drivable…just a little dented”

He said the missing mirror gave him a blind spot while switching lanes.  Round two.

The next night ( since I have no wheels) he picks me up from the train station in his parent’s car.

I have yet to set eyes on my car. Aware that it is a plastic frame, I expected a pretty nasty dent. What I saw could not be defined as a dent.

More like a beating. My little car got punched in the face. The left headlight;  shattered.  Glass still clutching on like stubborn wiggly teeth.

The front bumper hanging off the frame like detached dentures, hood caved in like an elephant used it as a park bench.

It was pretty sad.

He asked to come up to my apartment to use my computer.  Says he needs to access the accident report online.

I say alright, what more could happen at this point?

I am quickly learning never to ask that question.

Usually I don’t let him drift too far into my apartment.  It took me a lot of furniture rearranging, crying, and sage burning to  clear out the energy and have it feel like my home again.  But, since its been about a year since the divorce and we have managed to be civil, even friendly at this point, I felt pretty comfortable having him use my computer.

After all, it would only be a minute.

He proceeded to make himself at home by immediately strolling through my house, eyes wide investigating the new setup, new photos up- all without him.  He headed to the fridge, which was thankfully empty seeing as though I had been away.  The familiarity of his simple movements stung as memories of special dinners and a house full of friends flooded back.

I hoped he would be quick.

Despite the lack of edible items, he still managed to find an old bottle of wine I forgot about.  It must have been there since the fall when my friend was staying with me after her marriage to an abusive man quickly dissolved.  She felt it was her right to take the never opened bottle of wedding wine.  Boy what a metaphor….

I started out thankfully distracted by my son’s bath and bed routine…till one glance at his father’s back at my computer desk sent another set of nausea inducing images of domestic neglect to my consciousness. All those silent evenings.  After a day away from his family, wouldn’t he at least want to give his son a bath?

‘stop being so predictable’ I tell myself… ‘of course you would think of that right now…come on, your bigger than this…how about all the hours of writing you did in that very spot…don’t give him that much credit…’

A half hour later,  the wedding wine is gone?

Yup. The entire bottle.

Do I even have to tell the rest of the story?  Is my life really this predicable? This hillarious?

So he goes on confessing his love, his lust, his regret, his apologizes.  Wishes we could hold hands on my couch.

My hands are suddenly clamy.

In the midst of his tirade, I begin to lead him out of my living room and towards my back door in the kitchen, kindly hinting that he should probably go home.

“…and you are such a good woman and….wow, that’s such a nice spice rack.”

“Huh?”

“I always loved that spice rack..”

Round three.

He reaches up to finger its shelves, bumps up against the peppercorn grinder.  I feel the small hairs on the back of my neck raise a little.  Was this the same pepper grinder that almost got thrown at me the day of that fight?

No, no, that’s right, he only threw the egg.  The oily yoke splattered on the wall inches from my body. It left a stain on the wall where it dripped down towards the floor.

“You really need to leave now.”

…It’s a lot easier being civil when he isn’t staring at my spice rack like a hungry termite.

Yup.  I think my moral is already improving.

Now Approaching…Providence

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“…and having a sense of God’s merciful providence unto me in my distress called the place Providence, a shelter for persons distressed of conscience.” Roger Williams   1661

Recently I was on the commuter rail back to Providence, going home after another long but fulfilling day of my creative writing residency at Lesley.  I was somewhere between day 3-8 ( its all a blur after a while), and I was doing a lot of thinking about the hows and whys involved with place.  How do people end up where they are? And why do they stay?  Sometimes the answer is simple, some people end up in a place for school, work, or family.  While others cite external reasons such as conflict in their homelands or lack of resources.

Others might fall into a third category;  actually having the privilege to actively choose where they are in any given moment.  Despite the obvious,(I ended up in RI after my mother and I’s escape from Kuwait in the midst of Iraqi bombings in 1990.  Seeking safety and familiar faces, my mother followed her brothers’ who were recent RI area college grads.)   I’d still like to think I fall into the later category: That where I am is exactly where I chose to be.

Often when  people find out I immigrated to the United States, the first question is “why Rhode Island?”
Now, because I grew up in Rhode Island I absorbed my fair share of RI-isms. Including, but not limited to: dropped “r’s… or ‘aahs’, interesting driving habits, and an affinity for coffee milk.  I also picked up on the ‘RI inferiority complex’ and took the question as a direct affront to my adopted home state.    Whether or not the speaker intended, I couldn’t help but hear a snarky tone that may as well been asking, “of all places, why in the world would you want to come here?’

While I cant speak for all Rhode Islanders, it has been my experience that many of us harbor this inferiority complex that rears it’s ugly head while conversing with those not from RI.  We tend to think: ‘our roads are broken, are political system is broken, our school system is broken’…True… but isn’t it like that everywhere?

Although I realize there are some things that make RI truly exceptional  (entire district teacher firings that made international news,  one of the worst unemployment rates in the country, site of the second highest concentration of Italian Americans (watch out Jersey Shore).  There are other things that make RI special too, the capital city is home to a rapidly growing arts and music scene, farmer’s markets make fresh and local food easily accessible to city residents, and overall it is a great place to raise a family.

More than anything, living in Rhode Island has made me a believer in the power of perspective. But, there was a time where even my die hard optimism faltered.

Last year,  following my divorce, I went into fight or flight mode, immediately aching for flight.   I yearned to move to Boston, after all, I was attending graduate school there, (albeit a  low residency program),  I already had a few friends there and it was close enough that my son could maintain regular contact with his father’s family.  More than anything I craved new scenery. I wanted nothing more but a complete physical break from everything familiar.  It didnt help that my ex and I were deeply embedded within the very fabric of Providence.  We were Rhode Island College sweethearts.  He was a Providence native and a community organizer on the south side and I was a teacher at a school nearby.  We often interacted with the same families.  The same students that gave him a hard time, softened once they realized that the guy who made them cleanup the playground was married to one of their favorite teachers.  It often went both ways.  We were drunk off of feel-good community involvement.

We were going to change the world.

Till he got laid off and our already fragile young marriage started ripping at the seams. He wanted to follow his dreams of travel and joined the navy.  I was scheduled to start my long put-off creative writing program…now while raising a one year old on my own. I fervently believed that getting away from Providence would be the perfect jump start necessary for a new life. But it was one dead-end job interview after the other.  Soon I had to face the fact that I wasn’t going anywhere.   I spent the better part of the summer skulking around feeling stuck in a suddenly too large apartment.

Friends and family stepped up, offering whatever they could to help ease the transition; babysitting, shared meals, hours of their time consoling me on the phone. Despite my sullenness,  a new life began to take shape.  I began singing backup in my friends R&B band, reading more, catching up with old friends, things I never would have had the time for when I was married; when I was busy taking care of everyone except myself.  Suddenly, I was enjoying uninterrupted ‘me’ time since my ex and I shared custody–something I would’ve felt much too guilty to take before.     I hated to admit it, but I was starting to appreciate being ‘stuck’ in Providence and all the new associations I was making with the city.  It turns out that I always had the choice to leave, but I didn’t have to go anywhere in order to start over, to find a safe haven.

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I think about how much life has changed for me this past year as the train leaves South Station. Vibrant new memories take the place of painful ones, new people and experiences enriched my life in ways I never imagined.  I watch the cityscape give way to dense tree cover as we approach Route 128 and Canton Junction.  I allow my mind to drift over the blurry tree tops as I redefine my dreams, clarify my intentions.  The forest melts into rusty industrial parks and mill cities at Mansfield and the Attleboro’s,  reminding me of the power of perception and of my seemingly endless choices. The train skirts alongside route 95 when the conductor announces, “now approaching Providence”, but I already know I have.