There are times when it’s necessary to chose happiness. Otherwise, seasons in your life will leave you deflated and bitter. But then there are times when happiness smacks you square in the face and you have no choice but to put on a goofy smile and run with it. In the midst of struggle, there’s a sweet story of how this girl met a boy, then unmet him, then met him again. Here’s that story…..
“I’m invested in this,” he said.
“I don’t believe you.”
It had been months since we last spoke. We had met before, liked each other, but the timing wasn’t right. For one I was in the midst of the deterioration of my marriage and two, well, that counts as two again. Lots of back and forth and “Maybe, let’s date…but, wait, no, let’s not. Gosh you live far away and, wow, I’m newly separated and….yeah….no.” But the truth is, I was crazy about Billy from the moment I met him. He’s got that thing the ladies like: charming, funny, quirky, but sensitive kinda thing. Also he dances with shot gun hands. He’s mature in all the right ways and immature in all the right ways. He’s getting his PhD, but is not above fart jokes. It’s the ideal balance for Jen. He fit like a glove. He was my kind of someone. Also he gave me mad butterflies. But, the timing was not right and you don’t go forcing circles into squares. After ending a 15 year relationship, I needed to be alone. I didn’t want to be alone. But I needed to be alone. So I did. We went our separate ways.
Fast forward 9 months and I’m frantically researching schools and houses in Asheville. After months of job searching in Boone, I had an interview on Wednesday in Asheville for a position. Things came together so quickly that I found myself with a week’s notice of finding a place and planting myself somewhere ideal for the kids and myself. With the overwhelming amount of change my family has experienced, I wanted to know the best options. I wanted to land with my feet on the ground. I wanted a real life in Asheville that I could count on. The only person I knew in the whole world that lived there and knew a lot about Asheville was Billy. It had been months since I’d talked to Billy and though I thought about him every now and then, I never reached out because I figured I should just let things be. I deleted his number from my phone, unfriended him on Facebook (super mature and official) and just accepted that I’d likely never see him again. Also, I’m stubborn and tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But here I was, looking him up on Facebook and typing a hurried message, then deleting it. Then typed it again. I sat with my finger over the “enter” button for a good 60 seconds, revising my message to him.
“Does this sound dumb?”
“Will he take this the wrong way?”
“I’m not asking him for help, I can do this alone. “
“His profile picture is cute…he has a beard now!”
I was <this close> to deleting it. But, as I often say under my breath: “Fuck it.”
No sooner did I hit send, then I get a text from him. “I’d love to talk Asheville. Will you be in Johnson City anytime soon?” Johnson City is an hour away from Boone. It was Friday. I was interviewing for my job on Wednesday, where I planned to go look at houses and hopefully put a down payment on a place while I was in town.
I texted back: “Tonight?”
“Tonight is good,” he replied.
I remember I was wearing my favorite black sundress with red sandals. I was a week post beach vacation and tan. The kind of tan where you don’t have to wear make up and you feel like that princess from Aladdin and start singing “A Whole New World.” (This is why I feared I’d be single for the remainder of my days.) I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. Though it had been months and I had moved on from idea of he and I actually dating, I was still a bit nervous. I sat outside where we were supposed to meet, talking to a friend on the phone while I waited. I saw him round the corner and I smiled. I finished up my phone call and we went inside. He gave me a big hug and we sat down. It was good to see him. My nerves were calm and we picked up easily. The first half of the night we spent catching up and looking at houses via smart phones over beers. I was relaxed, focused on my goal of Asheville and not really looking to him for anything other than input for my move. I remember thinking: “Wow, this is great. We can be friends!”
Over the course of the evening we transferred to a nearby patio and had some more beers. We moved to talk of life, school, jobs, dating and our kids. Talking to him feels easy and fun. We make each other laugh. There is never a lull in conversation with Billy and Jen. We both bring it and bring it well. We laughed a lot. We smiled a lot. And beneath the dialogue I felt a stirring. Things had shifted. We’d catch eyes and stay there. God it even feels cheesy to type that out. But sparks are cheesy, by nature, so I’ll go with it. We were sitting closer together. I remember feeling all this and putting my guard up. It’s probably the beer. I’ve had a few. I should go. I didn’t come here to do this. I don’t know if I want this.
He breaks a moment of silence with : “I’m invested in this. In you.”
Yeah, it’s definitely there.
“I don’t believe you,” I said looking at him matter of factly.
But what I was really saying was that I didn’t believe things were going to open up yet for me. I didn’t know if I was ready for that. Despite being born one of the most impatient human beings that ever existed, I do subscribe to the natural process of things. After a divorce, it’s easy to want to use a person or a relationship to distract you from feeling lonely. I experienced that initially and learned that it was unhealthy and not good for me. I had resolved myself to being solo for a while and was content on just being Jen. Jen alone, but not lonely. The good kind of alone. No more pushing, grasping or arranging. No one to distract me from learning whatever it is I needed to learn. Do things the right way, which I figured inevitably took time. And usually more than I was comfortable with. It didn’t work out with him before, for a number of reasons, why would it work out now? If there was an exam on getting divorced and spending the appropriate amount of time alone and doing things the right way, I wanted to ace that test.
”I know I’ve said this before, but something’s different. It feels different. You’re different.”
Am I different? Yeah, I guess I was different. I had been through what feels like 5 years worth of personal growth, crammed into one year. There had been a lot of wising up in Jen’s neighborhood. But I wasn’t about to let all that go over a boy. I needed convincing. Or more information. Or maybe I just needed to leave. Or a large order of supreme nachos. For the first time in a long time, I was scared of the idea of being in a relationship. Not because I’m so crazy confident and utterly fulfilled on my own (though that’s not entirely untrue), but because I was scared of getting hurt. I’d rather be alone than get hurt. I had had enough hurt over the last year to last me a lifetime, I did not want to put myself in harms way if I didn’t have to.
While all this is going on in my head, I realized quickly that what I didn’t need to be doing was driving back to Boone. Time had flown and it was already midnight. I wasn’t drunk, but not drivable.
“I can’t drive home right now.”
“You can stay with me,” he said.
I looked at him with rolling eyes as if to say: “You think I’m falling for that?” He looked back at me as if to say: “You think I’m going to let you drive back to Boone?”
We stepped out into the street and walked to his car. While we were walking, he reached over and took my hand. His hand was soft and warm and fell perfectly into mine. He didn’t lace his fingers into mine, he just cupped my hand. I remember noting that I’ve never held someone’s hand like that before, other than my children. I liked it. I felt safe and protected with him. We got to his car, he opened up my door first and I got buckled in. He arrives on his side, gets in his seat and turns to me and stares.
“What?” I say.
“Can I kiss you?” he asks.
“I don’t know. Can you?” (Never miss a chance to kill the mood with grammar humor.)
“I want to kiss you.” he says
“Hold on,” I said, “Let me do my hair.” I shook my hands through my short hair to make it stand up on end and into my eyes, in Beiber-like fashion. Or maybe more like a cutting edge Laura Bush style.
“Okay,” I said with a shake, “now I’m ready.”
He smiled at me with a tilted head and sweet, tired eyes. He put his hand on the side of my face, cupping my jawline. I closed my eyes and felt him come near. Yes, I’m ready.
“To lose balance sometimes for love is part of living a balanced life.” -Elizabeth Gilbert
Moving here to Asheville has been a great blessing to me. It’s allowed me to get back on my feet with a secure job and be in a neighborhood with neighbors and kids and dogs and community life. But the hardest part of this process, and probably why I’m not writing as much publicly, is that the move involved a temporary arrangement for the kids to be in Boone for the week and in Asheville only on the weekends. It was a decision their father and I made based on keeping things consistent for them, while enabling me to find a secure job. My hours are long and go into the evening. I’d require after care for the after school care. It would be a hard adjustment on them. So we decided to keep them settled in their routine that they’re used to until Ed’s lease is up and he can move to Asheville to help with after school care while I’m working. I’ve gone back and forth between what’s best for them: keeping their routine at the cost of their mother during the week or uprooting them so they can be near me more time. I go back and forth on it daily, but I feel we made the best decision we could with what we have to work with.
The last year has had it’s share of financial woes. I’ve been a stay at home mom to my kids for 8 years. To go from that to “weekend mom,” though temporary, is physically painful. The first week I called their dad every night in tears, worried about it all. Will they forget me? WIll they think I’ve abandoned them? Can they do this? Can I do this? This feels wrong. And every night he assured me that this is temporary and they are ok. It’s hard coming home from work to an empty house. The chaos of family life, while draining, is the salt of my life. While many of us mothers dream of silence, when it hits you square on, you crave that noise. You need it. I need it.
I’ve been quiet about this on my blog for one reason. I don’t want to be judged. I’m embarrassed that I’d rather hide a major struggle in my life on here than be authentic. All out of fear. It goes against who I am. It goes against the theme of this blog over the last 6 years. I’ve been so fragile and felt so challenged on all fronts lately, that I believed if I experienced any backlash, I’d surely crumble. I should know better though. Time and time again, the powers that be seem to show us that we’re more than the sum of our circumstances. We’re so much stronger than we feel. That said, I’ve experienced enough judgment from well meaning (and not so well meaning) people this past year, that I just assume bypass what I can. I don’t want to fight battles I don’t have to. I know why I’ve had to make the hard decisions I’ve made, I don’t need someone who is grossly misinformed or just misguided tell me what they think I should do. Walk a mile, friend. Then get back to me.
Writing is a form of therapy for me. It helps me make sense of things. It’s helps me dig through feelings and find my sensibility and intuition and somehow piece them together. Writing about this struggle is opening a can of worms for me. It will evokes tears and ugly cries and general distress. I worry every single day if they’re ok. I call them, text them, Face Time them….but it will never replace what I had: waking them up for school in the morning, making breakfast, carpool, cooking dinner while doing homework, bedtime stories, being there when they’re sick, juggling day to day obstacles with Shepherd on my hip. I know what I’m missing which makes it sting that much more. This year has really taught me to cherish what I’ve always taken for granted. It’s brought me back to the simple things and how sweet they are. I get those things on the weekends and I cherish them. I take hundreds of pictures over the weekends because I don’t want to miss a thing. I want to capture it all. When I have them in my house, I feel whole. I’ve written pages upon pages of how hard this has been. Some nights, all I could do was come home, pour myself a glass of wine and write it out.
This will not last forever. The time is crawling, but at least it’s moving. My eyes are fixed on June. June brings my kids to Asheville and back into my house. June brings warmth and wholeness. June will collect everyone that I love and keep them near to me.
Anthony Hecht wrote that “children know from a remarkably early age that things are being kept from them, that grown-ups participate in a world of mysteries.” May that mystery be kept under lock and key for as long as possible.
The other night I had a dream my feet were cut off at the ankles and I spent the entire dream trying to put my feet back on, walking awkwardly and trying to stay upright. All the while, sickened at the thought of it all. So I kept walking with the feeling and sound of squishiness and slopping. I know. It’s gross isn’t it? I think I gagged the entire dream.
It doesn’t take a dream interpreter to tell me that I’m walking on unsteady ground. And it’s an unsettling feeling. Its unfair when seasons in your life give you both the outpour of piercing struggle and the kind of happiness that melts all your worries away. Sometimes I wake up and wonder where it is that I am exactly. And then I wonder if this might just be what it’s like to stand on your own two feet. With your reserve gone, you’re walking with all the strength you have, right there squarely on your shoulders.
There’s a place in me that loves fixating on the sweetness of life….baby head smell, puppy fat, the possibility of unicorns and chocolate mixed with coffee. But there’s an equal part of me that can get lost in the details of stress. Never in my life have I ever stretched a dollar so far to get me to the next dollar. It’s been a humbling and character building experience. I’m grateful to it. But it wears on me. It’s hard when you’re co parenting and it becomes clear which household has more cash-flow than the other. No, we can’t go out to eat. No, we can’t buy that. One time Amelia said to me, in an innocent train of thought, “I think I love Daddy more because he buys me things.”
I cried. In front of her. It was not a good moment.
I want to give my kids everything they want. It’s natural to feel that way as a parent. I’ve gone from a life where I essentially never had to worry about grocery shopping or excessive Target visits or drive thru coffee or buying shoes or kid’s birthday/christmas presents or going out to lunch or the price of gas. I was spoiled. Then shit got real and it was on my own two shoulders to make ends meet. I didn’t handle it well at first. For one, Boone offers little in the lucrative job department (I sent out 35 resumes). Two, blogs don’t pay well. Three, I felt paralyzed and went days without chocolate.. It was a dark place to be. Thankfully I found a job in Asheville and was able to get down here and get back on my feet again. But the ripples of living unemployed for 3 months with 3 kids left me with no savings, more debt and an obstacle course of a budget to hammer out. Every dollar has a home. It’s out of my hands before I get it.
My financial reality has been hard to except. I think most post divorce, single moms would account for the same story. I was a rich white lady before that lived in a world of white people problems. “Oh God, my child’s Montissori preschool went up from $650 to $700 a month!!! How will I manage?!” It’s embarrassing to think about. But this experience has been invaluable. Hard as shit, but invaluable. Because my happiness is no longer tied up in things. I’ve learned that I can live without a lot. It’s funny what happens when you start seeing how blessed you really are. You’re happier, your kids are happier and it all becomes ok. You feel rich outside of monetary definitions.
But even further, when you do have a monetary need, the universe also has a way of blessing you. I had four bald tires on my car. Being in the Western North Carolina Mountains, you can’t really go into winter with bald tires. It’s just not ok. Problem is, new tires on my car run roughly $500. I don’t have an extra $50, much less $500. I’ve spent the greater part of a month staring at my budget and trying to find a way to get $500 so that my car would be safe to drive come winter. It was impossible. This past weekend it became clear that I had to do something. I was at a dear friend’s house, whose father was a mechanic. He, as a father should, lectured me on my tires. I needed to get new ones. Or, at the very least, some used ones. “Anything is better than what you have,” he said. Before I can think, I say out loud: “I simply can’t afford it.” I’m not really the type that will put myself out there when it comes to financial struggles. I think we all try and generally hide that part of our lives. But it had become such a constant for me that I just threw it out there. Then I felt embarrassed. “I should have saved faced. Why did I say I couldn’t afford that? TMI Jen.”
Later that evening, I dropped the kids off at Ed’s and drove home crying. I find that driving in a car a night, alone, is a great way to release the day’s or week’s anxieties. So I had my Bald Tire Cry. The evening went on and Monday rolled around and I was on lunch break. I grabbed my purse and headed into the break room to eat my lunch. I was looking for some change to get a soda and found a wad of cash in the bottom of my purse. I froze and just stared at it. I work with a lot of money during the day. There is a lot of protocol we have to follow while we work with money. My first thought was how that money got into my purse. I got nervous. Eventually I stopped staring and picked it up. I counted it. $400. After a few false accusings, I realized that my friend’s mom had snuck the money into my purse while I was there. She keeps a stash of “God’s money” and gives it to someone when a need comes up. I was blown away. I teared up there with my Lean Cuisine. The next day my car got new tires with God’s money. Thanks God.
It’s encounters like these that happen when you’re in need. You get to witness human generosity first hand when it’s easy to get hard and bitter about things. Life has always had a way of coming together in these impossible ways to take care of me and mine. I know enough to know that none us us really know. But there’s a weird formula at work behind the scenes that keeps going despite our dumb decisions or unfortunate circumstances or faithless grumblings. How easy it is to think fondly of hard times after they are spoken for and the riddle is solved? I’d like to think that with more years under my belt, I’m learning to be in the hard muck and know that things will be ok.
The kids and I spent a slow Saturday in PJs until noon. We ate bagels and tackled projects, little by little. When the coffee ran out, and the kids got restless, we suited up to catch a matinee (Hotel Transylvania- go see it, it’s funny). Then home for cooking dinner and side walk chalk.
Camping at Rock Creek Campground. Fun was had by all.
Have you ever had a dream that’s colored with a building anxiety that you’re only having a dream so you had better enjoy it while you’re in it because reality just don’t taste this sweet?
I’ve been in a brutal season. A friend coined it The Year of Suck. The Year of Suck has been all about endings. And not the happy kind. Grand finales to friendships, relationships, family, and a life I thought was mine. These things that were so dense and tangible for so long are now evaporated and haunt me like ghosts every now and then. It’s been a tough pill to swallow alone. Loneliness, as it seemed, was something I had better embrace. A deserved blow. Tense up and take it.
But lately good things have sort of stacked up around me one by one. And it’s become dreamlike. The kind of dream where the futures glows and you float on in anticipation of it. And with every dream, comes the part where you wake up. Old habits kick in and it’s tempting to sit in anticipation of the The End, The Catch, The Carpet being swiftly pulled out from underneath me. God, wouldn’t it be nice to be free from our past? Like annoying mosquitos, the past can bite you and create an uncomfortable itch that you can’t stop scratching, even when you’re trying to enjoy a beautiful day.
I have a blind spot. That place in my vision where things can go unseen. Things can sneak up on me and suddenly they are in front of me and I never saw it coming. With all the change and good swirling around me, I didn’t want to catch a glance of anything. I wanted to enjoy what I had in front of me and take one thing at a time. A new job, a new city, more opportunity on all fronts. I wanted to focus dead straight ahead and dismiss anything in my peripheral vision. Dismiss it to The Year of Suck. Dismiss it to things that don’t work. Dismiss it to being too soon or too late or too much.
But, for some reason, I caught a glance of something and I looked. All the while telling myself ”It’s time to go. We need to keep pushing ahead. Let’s not get distracted. This could mess up your plans.” I stopped, despite all my better judgement. I stopped.
None of us have guarantees in life. None of us can ensure that we will never be heartbroken or lose someone we love. Love and loss is the major break down in life, is it not? All we can do is go with our gut and trust it against all odds. Sometimes good things happen. And if we’re lucky, we let it.
So, are you ready for some cheese? Not actual cheese, although I could really go for some smoked gouda right about now… maybe with some apple slices…. and a McFlurry. With extra Oreos.
Okay, okay… I met someone. Or I’ve known someone and re-met them. Someone that gives me a goofy smile and makes my stomach feel like I’m on a roller coaster. Someone that makes me snort laugh. Someone that holds my hand and stares at me in what would be a creepy way if it weren’t for me liking it so damn much. Someone who knows and appreciates the chaos and fullness of a house inhabited by kids. Someone who brings balance and life and joy to the everyday grind. Someone who anticipates a need I might have and actually tries to meet that need. Someone that does a shitty british accent but really believes he’ll get better and won’t stop until I’m all like: “Okay, seriously, can we move on?” Someone that feels like my kind of someone. Someone that I look twice at and think: “Really? Where’ve you been?” It’s been quite the surprise. Because, as you hear all the time, I wasn’t looking for it. I wasn’t anticipating it. I wasn’t needing it.
I debated sharing this part of my life on this ol’ blog. I don’t like jumping the gun or being vulnerable or feeling silly for feeling good or excited about something. After all, what if it all falls apart? What if I’m back in a Suck Season. What if my heart gets broken into a million pieces? Well, I guess that’s why it’s a risk. I’m way more comfy writing in the “This Life Thing Is Hard” zone. It’s easier to resonate in a hard feeling, because it feels like you’re facing something and growing when there’s pain. Pain has become a familiar feeling for me. An odd comfort. A tremendous source of inspiration. But what do you do when good things happen? When you’re overwhelmed with happiness? When you turn around and it’s suddenly your turn? I kinda froze. Like deer in the headlight, I’m all like: “Wait, this is happening? Well, fuck, this is going to be shitty writing material.”
So that, my friends, is what I’ve been up to. Enjoying my turn. Smelling roses and all that poppy cock (remember my commitment to use the word poppy cock more often, I’ve not forgotten). Learning to pull up a chair at the Happy Table without worrying when the feast will be over. Remembering that none of us are meant to do life alone. There’s a reason things feel hard sometimes, there’s a reason people need people. So cheers to the obnoxious happy people. *clink* Because (and I hate to say it), sometimes reality can taste just as sweet as a dream.
Today we spent a lazy morning in the house drinking coffee, eating bagels and collecting acorns on the back porch. Amelia was determined to ride her bike without training wheels, so we headed to a nearby park to do just that. And she did it, which was no surprise at all.
I write to you from my new living room in Asheville. I’ve been here 4 whole days and have settled in quite nicely. We had a few hiccups along the way, what with sawing my box spring mattress in half to make it upstairs, but it’s been fun and exciting to set up camp here. The neighborhood itself reminds me of my grandma’s neighborhood growing up. It’s been a nice familiarity in all this change to cling to. I did not see myself in Asheville, but here I am. I am glad.
Nearly a year ago, I took a blind leap that left me alone and more broken than I had anticipated. My decision was not a popular one and it took everything in me to stand by it and find my way. I fell down a lot and second guessed myself over and over. I mourned friendships that seemed to evaporate in the very moments I needed them most. I wondered if things would ever feel okay again. I wondered if I had what it took to support myself and be the woman and mother I knew was somewhere inside there. I worried often that I wouldn’t know how to nurture myself, and thereby, my kids. But when your life seems to unravel and you pull tightly on the strands, the tension complicates things. The tension I felt for years leading up to my bling leap was something I could no longer live with. And when I let those strands go, I began to free fall. All I could do was hope to land on my feet again somewhere, some time. This move, this neighborhood, this season feels like I’m landing right side up. It feels natural and organic. It feels like I’m home again. It feels good and soulful. Patient and forgiving. I’m a mother not only to my kids, but to myself. I allow myself 2nd, 3rd and 4th chances. And the sewing of that not only reaps a deep sense of contentment within, but it also pours out in the form of friendships and relationships that I’m honored to have and derive great joy from. These are the things I worried I’d never find again. The simple joys of life that we take for granted. The sound of the neighbor mowing his lawn, kids playing in the distance, holding someone’s hand, stroking your dog’s back, resting your eye lids on the porch, witnessing that people love you and care about you in the most mundane, silly ways. A general heightened sense of awareness.
When my grandmother was leaving us, we spent a lot of time at her side just talking and telling stories. I remember being alone in the room with her in her half gone state. All I could do was hold her hand and watch as her weak fingers would attempt to squeeze mine to let me know she knew I was there. My grandmother’s hands were a source of love and patience and hard work and life. She was a beautiful woman and funny as hell until the day she died. But it was her hands that reminded me of her beauty and energy. Their image was the only thing I needed to recall her unwavering ability to nurture. The past year I’ve called on her so much. Wishing I could go to her house, drink a Diet Rite and vodka and sit on her back porch. I would have given anything to have her call me up and ask me to come curl her hair and do her makeup. My grandmother had a way of nurturing me with simplicity. In humor, touch, thoughtfulness, kindness and without judgment. It was so simple that you almost missed. But it’s striking when it’s gone. It’s in that simplicity that I find myself nurtured again. So simple, it blends in and is unseen at first glance. My new house reminds me of my grandma’s house. The creaky back porch, the outdated counter tops in my kitchen, the smell of the basement, the yellow tile in the guest bath. There are pieces of hope that lay hidden in plain sight. As much as I resist cheese ball-y stuff like this, I know that sometimes things unfold in such a way that you have to take note of the beauty. You have to accept that you, my friend, were just given a sign. You have to believe that good things happen and everyone gets a turn.