Happier Trails

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Today was the first day I woke up and didn’t want to be carried out of my situation. Didn’t want to be distracted, stultified, or seduced away from what is – and what isn’t – in my life right now.

Didn’t want inappropriate boys, or social media, season finales on my DVR or house listings on Zillow to send me swirling away from the unquiet, restive core of me.

I’ve been making anything and everything my higher power; any chance delight, siren song, or sultry promise – and why not? When all is lost, all crumbles and stumble-stutters to silence, any faint-heard tune sounds like direction, whether it’s new, or all-too painfully familiar.

Today I didn’t want to dance to any old red-shoe ballet. I wanted to look dead-on at the truths I know right now. To wit: my sangfroid has been smashed, and what was light and firmly armored in me during the years of my marriage is all unraveled now. And at the core, the things I liked, loved, made daily bread of – all mean so much nothing.

But that doesn’t mean I spin out of all reckoning, all recognition of my self and self-love, and the smarts I worked so hard to secure over a decade of dedicated recovery. I don’t lose my wits, nor what is deserving in me of care and comfort.

I don’t toss myself into the wind.

I step into it, instead.

Dale Ball Trail2

Today I took myself out into the sunshine so abundant here in Santa Fe. I let my fair skin freckle and weather brown until my watchband demarcated both time and seared skin against paler, protected flesh. I let the bees buzz in my ears and told Facebook to fuck off, it didn’t need to tell my tale. I drove with windows down and hair whipping stinging strands across my eyes and nineties-era mystery tunes shouting out my car stereo from mix lists made in days I no longer recall even faintly.

I trod trails that, two years prior when I carted up them forty pounds of swallowed sorrow and two hundred twenty of equally unhappy husband, seemed arduous and sere. Today they were full of holiday hikers with grey-muzzled dogs, muscular mountain bikes, modern, moisture-wicking miracle fiber windbreakers and sun hats and Merrell boots and every kind of right to be there. The earth was rich-saturated red with the early monsoon rain that rescued us two days running, the clouds still swollen and piggish with the promise of possibly more.

I felt myself just partly present; my legs strong and lungs up to the task that once winded me. My nose sniffed the strong juniper and piñon scents with gratitude, my eyes touched tenderly upon the agave blooming with rude and robust once-a-year sex spears as my feet sank spongy into that still-giving earth. My mind registered what great good fortune it was to occupy this particular place on earth, yet all the while remained full as well of things I wished it wouldn’t – of people and possibilities and emotions I don’t control.

Still. It was better than I’d hoped for, and a blessing I’ll not forswear for being small.

And when the little electronic iPhone chimes pinged to tell me my diversions still waited, still teased, still threatened to steal what little I do yet know of myself, I wasn’t quite so eager as before to leap upon their call. I wanted to hold on to my center, small and scared as it is.

It may yet be some time before this little life, this solo life, seems good and right and proper; ‘til it has savor and I crave nothing more. I may not want to write lighthearted fiction for a while to come. I may find myself easily bruised, or distracted, or yearn for the false comfort of low-hanging but forbidden fruit.

I will certainly make mistakes.

But today for the first time since the divorce I didn’t feel a panic at being in my life. I felt that empty was okay; not shameful, and perhaps even, eventually, a gift.

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A Day of Blessed Little Nothings

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I woke up this morning thinking, “I want to be able to say I turned a corner today.”

I wasn’t sure I was actually feeling corner-turny, but I got a notion like this was something that maybe, in the woo-woo way of Santa Fe, I could “manifest” if I wanted it badly enough.

Maybe it wasn’t a 90-degree corner. Maybe I just kinda-sorta oodged around a very slight bend. Maybe tomorrow I’ll sigh, and say, “I haven’t gotten anywhere at all.” But today was one of those warm, quiet, singularly Santa Fe days, where nothing much happens but just being here still feels like balm for the soul.

I paid some bills. I worked on my day job. I got a perfectly lovely haircut, and looked at a perfectly cozy little house I don’t think I want to buy after all. I ate some uninspiring leftovers, and drank way the fuck too much Diet Coke out of a tall, tall glass with lots of lovely ice.

And my heart didn’t feel breakish at all, the whole day.

Of Gertrude and the Llamas

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Since the divorce I’ve felt so much more alive. I’m not sure “alive” is any good thing, however, since so much of what I feel is sheer pain, and uncertainty, and groundlessness and fear. But it feels like art, somehow. My fingers channel ferocity when they beat the keys.

They do not, however, channel humor. These last ten years, I’d become a woman who can chuckle at herself, look askance at agonizing, give a great big “meh” to melodrama. Four decades on the planet seems enough to know we’re all just fucked, and who fucking cares anyway, as long as we lap up the good times while we can, and eat dim sum every chance we get. So why am I now thrown backward into angst, deadly seriousness, e-fucking-mergency all the time?

It wasn’t a place to which I wished to return. And yet… so seductive, that urgency, that tight-clawed fist that says, Goddamn you, life, why you gotta bring me to tears with your savor?

I’ve gotten caught up in all this retrogressive slaver, when forsooth it becomes me not, not anymore. I’m reminded of Hamlet’s words to his mother:

“You cannot call it love, for at your age

The heyday in the blood is tame, it’s humble,

And waits upon the judgment.”

At my age, indeed. What does it mean to be forty? What does it mean to be newly single when you thought you’d be a wife forever? Is life full of promise and sweet-tangy tastes still? Anew? Or is it best not to lose what staid sensibility I’d gained from matronhood? Is there a third thing, half wisdom/half recklessness, that waits beyond the corner of this wobbly period of adjustment?

I really wish I knew. I may no longer be placid, but I’ve not gained back my taste for unbridled adventure either. And the clock is ticking on those llamas.

Willy-Nilly

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I have been writing, I swear. It’s just that what comes out won’t please, won’t make you laugh and lollop with llamas and fit into the mold of lighthearted fiction. What I’m writing wakes me in the morning and makes my fingers fly, roars forth, rips tears from my makeup-from-the-night-before eyes.

I’m expelling, I’m sure. Vomiting forth grief, and shock, and bemusement and fear for the future. I thought this grief would be quick. I thought the horridness of my father would make for a smooth transition to fatherlessness. I thought the equanimity of my divorce, the already-deadness of the marriage would mean I wouldn’t feel the loss.

But I guess not.

Mother’s Day approaches, and I remember how Mom liked flowers as much as any woman, and probably more. How she’d point out every bulb bursting forth from every tree planter on our block from Third to Lexington, every first forsythia cascading yellow over the grey-brown walls of the Central Park transverses, and ooh over the roses in the Conservatory Gardens.

I thought I dispelled my grief for her over months and years and therapy and trips to Kripalu to cry and commiserate and breathe deep yoga-scented breaths. But by damn, a little dose of Mom would go down smooth right now.

What to do, Mom? Buy a house and settle here, alone? Make no sudden moves, stay in my less-than-special rental, or move back to the city you loved and a love of which you instilled in your kids ‘til neither of us could imagine an identity other than New Yorker?

I still get Dad’s subscription, forwarded on to Santa Fe with the rest of his estate-of mail. And I still let it pile up, too precious to dump, and only read it for the cartoons or not at all, shameful I know. I suspect the New Yorker is the most shame-inducing, least-read periodical of all time. Even you were backlogged three issues on the nightstand, Mom.

Anyhow, I thought I’d be better by now. Ready to date, ready to commit, ready to write lovely llamas and hot tub hippies and heroes with a twinkle in their eyes. And I’m trying, I’m doing it by drips and drabs, though damn the work is slow. Only forgive me, gentle folks, if I need a moment still to let the “what the FUCK?!” flow. I’m still in it, whether I wish or no. And I guess that’s how it’s gonna be a little while yet.

My friend Pam asked me to describe my writing process. At this moment I’m in my living process, and what I write won’t be bent to my will. It just needs release, so that’s what I’m doing, whether or not the rage and pain and sadness ever see the light of day. Bear with me, friends. The llamas will come.

On the Cusp

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A few years back, someone asked me what my goals were. I said, “By the time I’m forty, I want to publish a book and get back to the weight I was on my wedding day.”

Well, I accomplished both of those goals with six months to spare. But then a lot of things happened in those spare six months that I didn’t expect – the death of my father, my divorce from my husband – which shook me up and perhaps didn’t allow me to revel in my success the way I’d have liked. Now, on the cusp of turning forty, I’m looking around asking myself, “What next? What matters to me? To what am I looking forward?”

The truth is, I’m not sure. Right now I’m heart-wounded and tumbled upside down, and the everyday routines that formed my life are all unnecessary. I don’t need to cook anything for anyone, or pick up dry cleaning, or remove my dirty socks from the poor unoffending floor. My father’s long crisis is over, and there’s nothing to be done for him.

I’m free. But is free a good thing?

In the wind

In the wind

I’ve been told more than once that I’m an object of envy. This is a deeply uncomfortable thing to hear. I’m definitely conscious of how lucky I’ve been in my life. I’m healthy, stable, and have been given many opportunities, while others I’ve managed to carve out for myself. I’ve accomplished a lot in 39.99 years. Yet I can’t say that now is a very good time for me. I can’t call myself happy, or secure, or serene. Three months after my last parent’s death, one month after my husband and I split, I don’t feel safe, or optimistic, or raring to go. I still feel that sense of shock, that inner earthquake, and all I want to do is dig all ten claws into the dirt and hold on for dear life.

I’m grateful for many things – my dear friends, the new leaves on the aspens slapping softly together outside my window, the whistling hummingbirds’ return. I take delight in the little pink-padded feet of my rascal orange tabby as he shovels them into my face at five a.m. I’m fortunate to spend springtime in stunning Santa Fe, and for excellent books to read in my wildly unkempt backyard under endless cloud-strewn skies.

And yet, the sense of not belonging to anyone, or owing myself to anything urgent… it’s unnerving. I’d like to come to appreciate it, and I hope that I soon will. Until then, I’m untethered and in search of I know not what.

The Things I Didn’t Expect

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A shadow of my former self...

A shadow of my former self…

I didn’t expect to ever check “divorced” on a form, or wake up realizing I’m on my side of the bed only out of habit.

I didn’t expect to change the high light bulbs myself, or roll the trash down to the end of the dirt road each week.

I didn’t expect to shop for one, or constantly catch sight of the dent on my fourth finger where my wedding band withered the flesh over the course of nearly seven years.

I didn’t expect to find myself on the cusp of my fortieth birthday, single, in a town two thousand miles away from the place of my birth.

I also didn’t expect to be happy.

And I am. I am fucking HAPPY.

Like, listen-to-80s-dance-music-and-writhe-around-the-living-room-in-my-skivvies happy.

Wha? How?

I don’t know, but I think it started with the last blog post I wrote. I cracked wide the fuck open as I wrote that; heaving sobs and spitting tears as the words just flowed out of me without need for craft or correction. I wrote, and I broke open all the way to my core.

I’ve started feeling so awake I’ve had to check my caffeine intake – but no, I’m still drinking decaf.

I’ve started singing along to the radio in the car – hell, I started digging up all my old CDs (yes, I still have all my music on CD – I’m nearly forty, damn it, now get off my lawn!) and blasting the music of my youth on the rather nice Bose system I inherited from my dad.

I’ve started to lollop along on my treadmill each morning to Concrete Blonde and the Clash, slinging sweat and singing harmony when breath allows.

It might seem lame, this half-crazed, greying girl listening to Nick Cave and the Psychedelic Furs at all hours of the day, barbequing alone in my PJs after dark. It might be lame. I may be every cliche in the book, but I have to say, I haven’t felt this amazing, this vital in more years than I care to count.

I’m not missing the man who was my partner for the last nine years. At all.

I feel ashamed of this.  Don’t I owe him more than to simply blank him out of my consciousness? Yet, while I wish him well, I don’t, right now, really want to know what he’s up to, or tell him little things about my day. I just want to have my own damn day and keep it for myself, a pleasure I savor to myself. I don’t feel his absence the way I expected to, or feel lonely. I just feel like me.

I suppose that says a lot about the rightness of the divorce. I’d no idea our relationship had died; I thought it was sick, yes, but that perhaps that was normal for a marriage after several years. That boredom and malaise were part of the package.

Now I see so many possibilities. I’m not stymied trying to accommodate someone who simply couldn’t want the same things I wanted. He’s not trying to please me, and making himself miserable in the process. Now it’s okay to want the things I want. It’s okay to enjoy Santa Fe, and listening to the Smiths, and to think about maybe making a permanent home here if I want.

I don’t know exactly what my next adventure may be. Maybe I’ll adopt an alpaca, or visit the Amalfi Coast. Maybe I’ll even learn to like green chile. I don’t need to know just yet. But the unexpected is beginning to feel more like a delight than a dread, and that’s progress.

Fastest Divorce in the West

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It was windy. Springtime in Provence, mistral windy.

I’d worn a new, almost mini-length skirt, an insufficient black leather jacket, and my knee-high black leather boots. Belatedly I realized they were the selfsame boots I’d worn on our first date, eight years, three hundred and sixty-one days earlier.

Then, I’d been a size four, in a silkier skirt, a slinkier attitude. Now, bigger, greyer, older, I marched grimly down what passes for sidewalks in Santa Fe, headed toward the courthouse, the wind molesting my bare legs, slapping up dust into my carefully made-up face, and making my hair so much less good than I’d intended.

The man who didn’t want to be my husband anymore walked behind me, in silence.

I’d wanted him to eat his heart out. But the heart had gone out of our relationship a long time before.

The courthouse was so new it squeaked. There were five crisply dressed security agents grouped around the metal detectors, and not another soul in sight. I put my purse through the belt, put myself through the bracket of the machine. I beeped. The guard told me I was okay.

I wanted to believe him.

The man who didn’t want to be my husband anymore pointed the way to the first of the rooms that would process us, like so much hamburger, into discrete entities. He’d researched it all and knew exactly what to do – this, a man who couldn’t so much as research where we might go on vacation together without three weeks of my prompting.

For the first time in our marriage, I followed.

We entered the most beige room in the universe. So beige I wanted to scream, splash the walls with red, or purple, or any kind of sunshine, just to deny the fluorescent banality, the clean, clean countertops and new-from-the-packaging ergonomic chairs.

I didn’t scream. And I didn’t look at the man who no longer wanted to be my husband.

The clerk gave us a form, and before the ink could dry, we were ushered through to the next, even more unbearably beige room. A second clerk took our papers; un-stapled them, shuffled them around, re-stapled them, licked her finger and checked through the pages once again. And off to the next room.

This one was the color of coffee with too much half-and-half, and even cleaner, if possible. There had never been a fingerprint on the glass.

Take a number, said the sign.

The man who did not want to be my husband anymore took a number. “Nine-oh-eight,” he mumbled, not looking at me.

“Six-eighty,” called the clerk behind the glass.

There was no one else in the room.

“C’mon up.”

She un-stapled our papers. Shuffled them. Shuffled some more. Extracted a few and threw them away. Rubbed ink over the notary seals, licked her finger and ran it and her eyes across the sheepish remains of our shared existence. She stapled them again in a different order. “One-thirty-eight,” she told us. The cost of our mistake.

“I’ll pay,” I said.  “Take a check?”

“Cash only.”

We didn’t have cash. The man who no longer wanted to be my husband remembered there was an ATM down the block. I told him to take it from the joint account we’d be closing before his lunch break ended. It was all my money anyway. I waited in the untouched, coffee-with-too-much-creamer room, playing with my phone as if Siri could tell me something that made sense. I considered updating my Facebook status with a check-in at the courthouse and a caption, “Getting divorced!” Decided the moment deserved more solemnity, or at least less tackiness.

He returned, clutching money. He gave me the receipt. The machine had charged us $3 for the privilege. I’d always hated that — how he paid the fees instead of finding our own branch. But what did it matter now.

We’d waited too long. Now we’d have to see a different clerk. The only one not on lunch was helping a mother explain to her daughter that she’d have to file the papers hiding her from her abusive father in another jurisdiction. The mother was translating the news into Spanish for her daughter, and they were making the best of it. Turned away, unsaved.

We were called.

Clerk number four took our papers. She un-stapled them. She arranged the copies into stacks. She rearranged the stacks, and rearranged them again, and again, in a swift shell-game whose sense only she could see. Stack, staple, un-staple. Riffle, re-sort. I dared a glance at the man who no longer wanted to be my husband, and humor was in it before I could recall that we didn’t share humor anymore. We didn’t bond over ridiculous pencil pushers.

His smile died too. We looked away.

“You’re missing pages on two of the copies,” she told us. “If they’re not all the same, the judge might not accept them.”

“Those are the pages the other clerk threw away,” said the man who no longer wanted to be my husband.

“Well, they’re not here, and they all have to be the same. I can copy them for you, but it will cost you thirty-five cents a copy.”

We gritted our teeth. This was not the moment.

“Whatever, just charge us.”

She stapled. Un-stapled. Stacked and sorted. Then she got out her stamp.

This was progress.

Thump. Thump. Thump. Three copies marked submitted.

There was some more writing of numbers and sorting of papers. If I were those papers, I thought, I would be queasy, dizzy, bewildered.

“Okay,” she said, and handed me my change. “We’ll call you when the judge has made her decision.”

“And that’s it? That’ll be the divorce?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Do you have any idea how long it might take? Like, a week or a month or a couple of days?”

“No, ma’am. I couldn’t say.”

Three hours later I was driving down I-25, going ninety while the wind pushed my silver, official-car-of-Santa-Fe Subaru Forester around. My phone rang. And, despite knowing better, I answered.

“You can come pick up your papers now, Ms. Fields.”

It was April Fool’s Day, but this lady was a courthouse bureaucrat. She wasn’t paid for pulling pranks.

“I’m divorced?” I asked, and tried not to let the wind carry me off the highway into the blue, blue, blue.

“You’re divorced.”

I drove faster. Back to what, I did not know. Back to whom; just me.

Home, I threw the mail on the dining table I’d wanted and he hadn’t. It was all bank statements and ugly-shirt catalogs for the father I no longer had. Cable bills for the mother who had predeceased him. And a Crate and Barrel coupon for me, should I wish to feather my nest.

I turned on the stereo I’d listened to so infrequently these past years. Somewhere along the line I’d stopped being the woman who poured music into her ears and out her throat. I turned it up, and up, and up until the cats left the room in mincing, furry huffs. And I danced. So badly. I danced like Elaine from Seinfeld, in jerky, rhythmless twitches, trying to find the groove that had been so natural for me in the days of my sexiness, the days when I knew I was desirable and a glance from my knowing blue eyes was enough to rouse a man.

I danced.

And I didn’t let the tears smear the liner I’d so carefully applied to remind him that those blue eyes had once roused him too.

Death, Divorce, and Moving… On?

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Today would have been my mother’s seventy-fourth birthday, had she not died of pancreatic cancer three and a half years ago. Eight weeks ago, my father died of lung cancer at the age of seventy-six. And just under a month ago, my husband asked me for a divorce.

Last weekend, he moved the rest of his stuff out, leaving dents in the carpets where his bookshelves used to be, and deep grooves in my heart where the little, kindly routines of our lives were supposed to intersect.

I wake up wanting to tell him about that weird dream I had, or an idea for how to get the cat to stop drinking out of my bedside water glass… and I stop short, remembering.

Gone.

What do I do now with all the little in-jokes, the puns, the cutesy phrases I made up just to make him smile? How could I ever again look at the dedication page of BLISS, where I thanked him so effusively for being my partner, without feeling like a schmuck?

The reasons for the split are all valid, even if the timing was awful. But that doesn’t make my feelings now any less bewildered, my panic each morning when I wake up and realize I’m on my own diminish.  No mom, no dad, no emergency contact.

Just me.

Well, me and three cats who don’t care if their person is grieving.

You better get up NOW, two-legs, and put kibble in that-there bowl. Never mind that it’s 6am and you just got to sleep at 2.

So I’m sitting in what was supposed to be my dream life, kind of shell-shocked, trying to figure out how I’m ever going to feel joy again. Trying to understand where everything went so wrong, and knowing it wasn’t the fault of some mustachioed villain, unless you want to call life itself a villain. Trying to write a next chapter, literally as well as metaphorically, and failing utterly to imagine a happy ending.

I can’t control cancer. I can’t control other people’s behavior. And honestly, right now, I can only control mine about a third of the time. I sit down to write, and I just weep. I try to be graceful or gracious about the split, and I end up acting like a twit and saying passive-aggressive crap that purely appalls me even as I fail to rise above it. I put one foot in front of the other but half the time I’m drowning in quicksand no matter how furiously I slog on.

I see the daffodils in town begin to blossom and their yellow crowns make my heart clutch. My mom was a flower fanatic, and each year around her birthday when the forsythia and the tulips and the daffs and crocuses would reemerge, she’d gloat like she was personally responsible. I wonder what she would say to me now? I think she’d be mad that I’ve managed to alienate my handsome goyishe husband. Tsk her tongue at me for hiring an accountant to do the estate taxes instead of handling them on my own.

Would she be proud of me at all in this moment? I honestly can’t ever recall her saying such words to me. (It was always, “Oh, you got an article published in the Huffington Post? That’s great… but too bad they don’t pay!)

At least I know I’ve done as much as she could have, given the same circumstances, and that’ll have to suffice.

As for my dad… right now if illness hadn’t intervened, he’d be gearing up for April in Paris with his new girlfriend, planning to enjoy some good cheese and wine and art and hobble down the left bank best he could on gimpy legs.  Instead, the new, monogrammed Tumi suitcases he never got to use sit in my closet, waiting for my next venture.

Whatever that may be.