It’s a rainy, quiet Sunday morning and I’m all cozied up in the camper with the kidsters at the shore. Stealing a quick few minutes to write before B wakes up (enjoying this time but really, really hoping that he’s not dead — he never sleeps this late).
What a difference a year makes. That is quite an understatement. Last year around this time we came here for a weekend on what was to be our last family trip together, although we didn’t know it at the time. Traveling was always sort of a flashpoint, but we ended up having a pleasant pre-fall weekend here. It was nice.
My mom bought this place before Memorial Day last year. I spent much of last summer schlepping the two kids back and forth here by myself. B was only about 7 months old at the beginning of the summer and Munchkin-girl was 6. If you’ve ever traveled with a baby, you know that packing for an overnight trip feels like a monumental task. But as we got settled in, I left more and more baby gear here and it became easier. My mom and my sisters and their kids were here sometimes, too, but a lot of the time it was just me and the munchkins.
Last summer was an instructive, introspective time for me. I’d felt like a single mother for a long, long time already. But making the trip to the shore so many times, getting us all situated and doing all the things I needed to do to get the camper operational each time showed me that I really could do it totally alone if I had to. The three of us got into our little routine here and sometimes I thought about just staying — getting Megan started in school here and we’d just never come home. Not a serious thought, but I kicked it around quite a bit.
We tell ourselves stories about who we are. Then our brains take that info and decide how to respond in a situation. I took a lot of strength from last summer — which was a hard, sad summer (although it was a pleasure cruise compared to how this summer kicked off). I learned that I can do it. I can pull it off. I can take care of myself and my kids and whatever else comes up and I don’t need to have the safety net of some silent, paternal figure on the periphery.
This summer is very different. We’ve hardly been here — to the shore — at all, between my increased workload, packing, moving, unpacking. There was a lonely feeling last year — like the kids and I were the only people on the planet (and it seemed like it rained a lot so we were stuck inside quite a bit). I’d had the nagging, alone feeling for years. It became a dull ache after a while and I just learned to carry it around and function anyway — like someone who lives with chronic pain (and what is loneliness, really, but pain?). There’s loneliness this year, too. But it has a different feel now that I can’t quite verbalize yet.
But I have a story I tell myself that makes all of this bearable. Not just bearable, but rather makes me realize that all of this is completely surmountable.
When I was 24, I moved to New Orleans. I’d always had a fire under my ass (as my one old friend used to tell me — still love that line) and I was ready to strike out, throw myself out there into the world and see what happened to me. I ended up in New Orleans because I met a guy there during a cross-country trip. When we met it was like POW! Crazy fireworks, chemistry, you name it. But I was leaving. My trip ended, I came home and started an absolutely soul-sucking job, complete with a long commute and lunches at my desk — and I found myself looking around going, “Wha? Is this it? I guess this is supposed to be it … ” So NOLA guy and I got back in touch and things got hot and heavy over the phone. I was looking to move someplace anyway so I went there.
About two weeks after I moved, NOLA guy and I were no longer speaking. (At least half of you saw that one coming, didn’t you?) Turns out, long-distance relationships leave a lot of room for deception. (Yes, I’m the first person in the world to ever say that.) NOLA guy was a bit of a man-whore. Somehow, he neglected to mention that on any of those long phone calls. But looking back, there were probably about 80,000 red flags that should’ve tipped me off that this thing was going to blow up in my face.
So there I was, in a strange city, halfway across the country from friends and family (except my two friends who worked in the French Quarter — but they were vampires and I could only see them in the middle of the night, so it was like they weren’t even there). When the shit finally exploded with NOLA guy (in a really creative, spectacular way I must say) I sat in my apartment and I drank a bottle of wine and I sobbed my head off.
And it was one of those moments in life where I was 1000% aware that I was at the crossroads. I had some decisions to make. I could turn tail and go home, lick my wounds among people who loved me, get my job back and keep on keepin’ on. I could stay and allow this shitbag (whom I still, unfortunately, loved at that point) to use me when he felt like it just so I could be in his life. I could stay and sit in that apartment for days on end and drink myself into a stupor. In fact, I could just become a full-blown alcoholic and there wasn’t a soul there to stop me. Or I could stay, get my fucking act together and make the most of it.
So I stayed. I rallied. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever, ever had to do in my life. Yes, even harder than this past year. And it’s one of the reasons that I was able to survive all of this divorce crap. Because then I had to go it alone. I had to get myself up every single day and put on clothes and go to my temp job (where I stuffed envelopes — in a room by myself — for weeks on end in a big, shiny building across the street from the Superdome) and I had to survive long weekends that I had to fill completely by myself and I had to get out and find friends — which is hard when you feel so filled with pain that it’s difficult to even look people in the eye because you just know that they’ll see how much you’re hurting. But I did it.
I joined a writer’s group (the first, but not the last time that writing saved my life). I went to shows. I chatted up everyone even though I felt like I wanted to crawl into a hole. And I found people. And soon I had … friends. And my temp job turned into a real job and I ended up with a department full of built-in, de facto motherhens watching over me. I started feeling confident in my writing and I got a few freelance gigs for an art magazine. And then one of my motherhens had a niece who worked for the circus and next thing you know, I was sneaking out of my day job (with the motherhens covering for me) so I could steal away across the street to the ‘Dome and interview for a promoter job.
And so a year that started off solitary, scary and monumentally depressing ended up with me packing my car and driving out of town so I could “run away with the circus.” Eight weeks later, I was reporting for work backstage at Madison Square Garden.
So life has many highs and lows. I like to leave the door open for the extraordinary to swoop in and carry me away at any minute like a big old wave. But I’m a firm believer that before the “carrying away” part can happen, I need to have my ass firmly positioned on my surfboard in the middle of the water. The tide can’t take you anywhere if you’re sitting on the beach.
The divorce and the re-configuring of my family has been hard. Again, I felt the decision point: I could rally or I could fall apart. The decision was easier this time — I have kids. Falling apart wasn’t going to be an option. I had to survive. Survive well. And while I’m at it, why not be absolutely fucking extraordinary about it? Why not, indeed.
And this recent low point wasn’t as low as the last one because this time I didn’t have to scrape myself off the bottom of the barrel all by myself. I had more people than I can count extending hands, pulling me up with everything they had. (Brings me to tears every time I think about it, including now.) People with beautiful hearts, time and again, showed up and said, “Chin up. You’re going to be OK. Let me help you.” And I let them help me, even though it was really hard at first. (Which is a whole other topic that I need to hit soon — much to say on this.)
I know a lot of my dear blogmuffins are going through a lot of things right now. So many of you have shared your stories with me in person and over email and I’m really honored to hear them. So my dear, sweet readers, I leave you with this thought for this morning:
Get on your surfboards. Paddle out. Enjoy the scenery while you’re waiting for that wave. Then hold on.
Love from me, bitches. Chat soon.