Sea Salt

Sea Salt. It’s something that I never thought would bring me to tears or cause my throat to feel choked. It’s been a long process emptying the house that was our home. We watched it be built, chose the hardware, designed the kitchen, and where we grew from a family of five to a family of six. It was also where we decided to separate, told our children we were getting divorced, and where many tears were shed. 

I have moved out of the house that I dedicated multiple Pinterest boards to and into an apartment. The apartment presented itself with a bit of magic. It’s in the perfect location; close to my kids’ school, an easy spot for their dad to drop them off in the mornings before school or pick them up after work. The apartment gives me conflicting feelings that I am continuing to work through. I have been reminded of why I dislike apartment living with its shared walls, breezeways, and neighbors who live above us. At the same time, I am so grateful to have somewhere safe for my children to live. They are enjoying have pool access, but still ask when we are going home. 

Home. They miss their friends. They miss having their own rooms that were painted in colors they chose. They miss their bikes, their trampoline, and the backyard that they explored for countless hours. We all miss our bullmastiff that had to go live with their Dad because she was over the weight limit for the apartment complex. It’s been an adjustment going from 2100 square feet to 1100 square feet. I’ve given away, sold, and left many things that I simply do not have room for. My dining room table, although terribly scratched on the seats by the cats, doesn’t fit in the apartment’s small dining nook. It was one of the first new pieces of furniture that my ex and I ever purchased. I remember it being delivered and set-up. We hosted Thanksgiving for the first time that year; our table being the star of the show.  

Trying to follow the Marie Kondo “thank it and let it go” mentality has been hard because, deep down, I don’t want to let it go. I want my table. I want my house with the walls that I agonized color choice over. The walls that were painted as we sang Hamilton loudly and off-key. I miss my deep kitchen sink and my abundant counter-top and cabinets. I miss my laundry room that wasn’t an odd shape and that allowed me to easily load and unload clothing. I miss my walk-in closet and the gorgeous Sea Salt walls that I painted the master bedroom. I found myself longing for the ability to go sit on the back patio, swinging as the night looms and the frogs sing.  I miss the possibilities. Walking through the store a few days ago, my son announced that he thinks we should plant a garden for vegetables. The hurt he felt was apparent as he told me to never mind; we can’t plant one because we aren’t living in a house anymore. Maybe, he added, he can plant one at Daddy’s house.

As I’ve unpacked, I’ve tried to make this feel like home. I’m trying to hang pictures and art back on the walls, but it feels empty. They don’t look right against the boring beige walls compared to the way they complimented the blue-grey walls in the living room in the house. Some of the feelings are deeper, darker, and hurt to work through. A large part of me is embarrassed to now admit that I live in low-income housing. Trying to dismantle the shame that creeps up feels impossible some days. It causes my throat to tighten and my chest to ache because this was something I never wanted for  my children. Despite all our issues, my ex and I wanted to make sure our children had a good childhood; one that was happy and filled with the opportunities that we never had. I hate that I can’t sign my five-year-old up for dance this year; I simply can’t afford it. The after-school clubs that my oldest daughter and son enjoyed last year won’t be happening again this year. 

Last year as I school-shopped for my kids, it was fun and exciting. This year has been stressful and full of tough decisions. What school supplies do they absolutely need to start out the school year? Can I swallow my pride again to email the school and request help with some of the Waldorf supplies that I just can’t manage to find the money for? My older two still need shoes for this school year and my kindergartener needs a rain-coat and nap mat. Last year, an $18 nap mat would have already been purchased and washed, possibly even embroidered with her name. It now sits in my Amazon cart taunting me because I can’t afford to click check-out. The child support that I received last Friday is already gone. Keeping the electricity and water on took a huge chunk of it; what’s left is going straight to rent. This leaves me with roughly $50 to survive until next Friday. That money was borrowed from my sister.

$50 doesn’t seem that bad until I remember that my gas light is on in the van. We live in Florida—it’s August—and the air conditioning in my van isn’t working. I need an oil change; I’m already 1,000 miles over. The internet is going to be shut-off soon. It’s not that I’m horrible with money; there just simply isn’t enough. Now that three of the kids will be back in school full-time, I’ve begun looking for a job. I received a conditional employment offer and will go to fill out paperwork on Monday. If everything works out, then it will make the difference between being able to live and just scraping by. I chant this in my head as I try not to cry. This is an overnight shift; the kids, including the baby, will have to spend three nights a week with their Dad. As of today, the almost-two-year-old has only spent one night away from me. Pour more guilt and shame into my growing paradoxical emotions. 

I want to grab this opportunity with both hands and hold onto it tightly. I sternly remind myself that this will let me pay off the amount I owe on last semester and it will let me go again in the Spring. It will let me pay bills. It will allow me to buy Christmas presents and birthday presents. I will be enough. I can do hard things. Sometimes, it feels like I’m lying to myself. Right now, I don’t feel like I can do hard things. I don’t feel like enough for anyone. It feels like I’m failing at everything and that my descent is gaining speed rapidly. The momentum grows and I begin to doubt if I will ever be able to stop this. 

I am going to unload my van. I will bring in the boxes from the house and stash them somewhere. I will find my journal, pen, and sunglasses. I think I will go sit on the beach, hoping the waves calm my soul enough so I can pour all my emotions and thoughts onto paper.  Maybe I’ll find some peace in the consistence of the tides. Maybe there will be a bit of hope that I can grab and hold tightly in my hand. Maybe I’ll begin to feel like I can do hard things again. I can’t have my Sea Salt walls back, but maybe I’ll find some comfort in the salty sea air that I will pull into my lungs as I step foot in the salt water that caresses the shore. Here’s hoping.

Arriving Comfortably Awkward

The thing that stands out the most to me is the terrifying fear and panic I feel in each pen stroke. No wonder I latched onto Celexa like it was a life-saving device when I was drowning. I thought it had saved me; why would I ever consider that it was also harming me? Had anyone suggested such a thing, I would have laughed in their face. “Nonsense!” I would have cried. “This medication is life-saving. It’s completely altered my life. It’s allowed me to live and breathe!” It did for a time. I don’t know when, and I don’t know why, but at some point, Celexa quit lifting me up and began to drag me down.

For the past couple of months, I have searched through my mind in an attempt to find the moment that my miracle drug turned from savior to executioner. I play over conversations in my mind, scanning photos trying to find the day that I vanished from them. If I’m honest, I can narrow it close to roughly a year ago; sometime at the end of May and the beginning of June. 

Until that point, I had honestly felt very little change in my day-to-day life. A heavy weight seemed to have been lifted from the relationship I had with my husband. We were getting along better than we had in awhile. I was very much sleep deprived; my youngest took a hard hit during the four-month sleep regression stage and decided that sleep, in her opinion, was not a necessity.  I was trying to come to terms, in my own Type-A personality way, with the idea of divorcing the person who I had once had a crush on at thirteen. It felt overwhelming; where did I start? What steps are involved in a divorce with children? It was a blessing to be able to hold tight to my researching urges and dive in. I looked at lawyers, filing for ourselves, child custody, child support, the best visitation schedules. At one point, I printed out the eighteen page child-custody agreement that Florida follows and began to fill it out. 

I reached out to friends who had gone through divorces. I asked what were things they recommended; what were things they wished someone had told them; how did they manage to keep their relationship working even though they were no longer a couple? I got many responses. A few warned me that things were going swimmingly now, but to be aware that things may not always go that way. I did not give it the attention it deserved. We were doing better than we had in such a long time; we had decided to try to co-habitat for the kids and both agreed that dating wasn’t something to be pursued until years down the line. 

The cracks started to form in the perfect veneer. As I sit here, I can’t remember what started the first weakened spot. Maybe it was the fact that I was exhausted caring for four children, the house, and picking up so many pieces while it felt like my husband?—my soon-to-be-ex-husband? my separated husband? my ex?— was suddenly free to live a carefree and fun-filled life. He was gone most of the time; between a heavy work schedule and whatever plans he made, it felt like it was rare to see him for more than a handful of minutes per week. It made me angry; why did he get to go out to bars and make new friends? Where was he when it was time to change the fourth poopy diaper of the day, make dinner, start baths, and being the nightly bedtime square-off? I didn’t want to hear about how great this band sounded live. I didn’t give a damn about an awesome place that served bottomless mimosas. It hurt to be stuck in a house that was no longer wanted with a family that was broken apart. Anger turned to resentment, resentment morphed into jealousy. Jealousy, well, she’s a bitch. I started to become slightly obsessed with where he was, what he was doing, and why he got to go find himself well I sank deeper into a pit lined with crumbs, toys, and dirty clothes. 

I realized very quickly that he wasn’t just going out “with the boys” and having fun. It sickened me to discover that he was already dating. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, An Open Letter to My Husband’s Girlfriend, I was able to shift through the hints that he slowly dropped.

I knew he wasn’t going to wait to begin dating. I knew this when he told me he was thinking of waiting a few months, maybe a year before he would begin dating. It was then that I knew he had already chosen someone to date. 

Today, he claims that he told me he was going to start dating. I disagree vehemently with that statement. Had those exact words left his lips, or his fingertips, I would have ironed out no-nonsense rules regarding our kids. Instead, I found the proof through our cell phone bill and bank account. 

The whirlwind of emotions that threatened to flatten me were fierce. I raged. I ranted. I wanted to cry, throw dishes, and raise holy hell. I did none of those things, however. I found that I couldn’t shed a tear; I yearned to sob and release some of the tension, the pain, but it was as if all my anger had removed all tears from my body. I did not throw dishes; I couldn’t justify the waste of breaking a perfectly good item and chancing a sliver of glass would make its way into a child’s foot. The holy hell that begged to be released was eventually quieted, hushed into submission, and that’s when the numbness began to take over. 

A dear friend told me that I shouldn’t pay attention to what he is doing; we had decided to separate. His choices were his alone and I needed to focus on myself and my children. I listened to her. I stopped checking the phone records. When odd purchases or cash withdrawals showed up in the checking statement, I ignored them. I believed the lies that I was told because it was easier, tidier, and calmer. The fire that had once roared brightly was nearly snuffed out; I felt cold, numb, and very detached. 

During this time, I began reading. I read about co-dependancy. I discovered the laundry list of adult children of alcoholics and dove in. I researched childhood trauma and its effects on adult relationships. I began therapy. Within the past few weeks, I discovered podcasts that have covered these topics and more. The words I’ve listened to have shaken me to my very soul. I’ve laid in bed at night with tears streaming down my face as strangers described my life and how I was feeling. The pain was immense. It throbbed and ached like a bad tooth. Sometimes I would feel my breath catch, the sharp jab near my ribs reminding me that the pain wasn’t merely emotional, but physical as well. Then, in late fall, I met my husband’s girlfriend. 

Our initial meeting was brief. I was dropping the kids off at their new apartment. I had heard how she couldn’t wait to meet me all day from Lee. As I climbed the steps, I had no idea what to expect. This was such a new territory; one I hadn’t planned on entering until I had years to work through the demise of my marriage. Now, I was about to knock on the door of the apartment that the man I was still married to shared with another woman. Awkward doesn’t quite cover it. 

Uncentered; a poem

There are times I run My thumb over The smooth indent. Touch Adjust Flex Automatically, without thought, without realizing, to fix the ring that is no longer there. It lay uncentered On my finger Stone weighing to the left Touch … Continue reading

Waterlogged Journal; 6/26/15

June 26, 2015

Sometimes, life sets out to humble you. A tidal wave knocks you down, sending you tumbling without knowing which way is up. Your lungs burn from the strain of holding your breath. You ache for air. You surface, inhale, and see another wave. This one smashes you harder than the first. You tumble, weightless and unable to do anything to stop the terrifying ride. Eventually, life spits you out and you land, clinging, on the shore. 

Each breath hurts. You throb and feel the pounding heartbeat in places you didn’t know existed. You’re filled with a mix of anger, disbelief, gratitude, and humility. Now, you are woefully aware of how fragile you are. That single strand of knowledge causes intense pain. It stings. It throbs. Your nerves send lighting bolts of pain to travel down your spine. 

You are insignificant and the center of the universe all at once. It freezes. Racing down the gauntlet of human emotion, you ran as hard and as fast as your broken body can manage. At the finish line, you emerge badly wounded and exhilarated by cheating death. It is a paradox, a profound oxymoron, and a staggering puzzle that manages to make complete sense when the blood and sweat is wiped from your eyes. 

The fragile body that you laid claim to bleeds. Tears pour down your face from overfilled eyes. Scorn radiates from your posture while you shout joyful gratitudes to the universe. A moment. A pause. Fists lifted, angrily shaking at the unseen deity that allowed you to be beaten by the waves, the gauntlet, existence. Hands, folded reverently in prayer, knuckles turning white as lips move in a frantic chant of thanks. 

After unfolding stiff hands, you beg. You please. You make offers of compromise, you beg to trade this current existence for something, anything, else. The adrenaline and shock set in; the body begins to tremble violently. Another loss. Another stumbling block. Square your shoulders, push yourself up. Extend the muscles of your legs into propelling your body upward, pretending the burn, the ache, strain are figments of your imagination. Standing, chest heaving, eyes straight ahead, you will one foot to move. Now the opposite foot. Three small steps. Four. Demanding more, the number continues to increase until you find yourself sanding on your sandy salvation once more. 

The salt breeze whips hair across your face, entwining in your eyelashes and making it impossible to see without rubbing the heels of your hands into your eyes to attempt to clear the strands. The water continues to tumble forward, draw backward. Memories of salt water invading your nostrils demand respect. The inability to tell up from down causes fear to rise in your gut. Courage fuels the taunt muscles that quiver as the white crests crash into your feet. 

It’s another day. Another goddamn beautiful day.

Owl Journal; Entry One

Undated

It is a startling realization to make. You aren’t the crazy one. You are the normal one. What happened wasn’t okay. It wasn’t right. It seems impossible at first. The thought feels like an ill-fitting shirt.

When I think of my childhood, the home that sticks out the most is an old white farmhouse that sat nestled between acres of pine trees. We moved there when I was (eleven?) twelve; a girl balancing on the cusp of adulthood and childhood. It was a terrifying and exciting journey.

We moved right before fourth grade finished for the year. We spent a few short weeks in an Alabama school before a teacher hit my brother. Aghast, my mother pulled us out. We would spend the next school year being driven for over an hour to our old elementary school. In 6th grade, my mom decided to homeschool us. I’ve worked hard to repress memories. They hurt to remember them. Logically, I know I need to sift through and work through the memories. Mentally, I know this is the next step in my growing recovery. Emotionally, I’m terrified.

I used to lie in bed at night and imagine an iron safe. I would give my memories shape and toss them in the box. Memories of harsh words would transform into bubbles. All the things I didn’t want to think about were crammed into my imaginary safe. As I stared at the ceiling, I could picture myself wrapping yards of thick, shiny chains around the safe. I would wrap thick sailor’s ropes and add locks. To make the safe vanish, I would shove it into the depths of the ocean or a never-ending black hole. It would sink into inky darkness, never to be seen again. I always assumed these memories would be gone for food and that I would never have to relive them again. Lately, I’ve come to the conclusion that I will eventually be forced to go on an expedition to find these safes. I will have to construct a deep ocean sub, outfitted with bright lights, and begin my descent into the never-ending black. This is my expedition, my journey to find my buried safes. Take a breath and jump.

One of my clearest memories from childhood is filled with a keen sense of frustration and disappointment. I was five and a huge Little Mermaid fan. I had the Barbie and was playing with her outside. I remember digging a whole and burying her bright purple seashell top in the soft dirt. I can’t remember why, just that it was an important part of the play unfolding in my head. I remember coming back later and being unable to find it. It was maddening. I was certain I had buried it near my swing. I just wanted to find my buried treasure!

The next two memories are filled with hurt, fear, and anger. I remember the worst fight I ever witnessed between my parents. The exact beginning isn’t crystal clear and neither is the end. I recall my father yelling at my brother and me to sit in two chairs, unmoving, eyes glued to the argument. I remember squirming and wanting to leave. At one point, I had to pee. I close my eyes and imagine my small five-year-old body’s bladder sending frantic urges to my brain. I can feel the hard seat underneath me, my feet dangling as the urge to go grew stronger. I vaguely remember a Coke can being thrown at me. The rest is blurry and I don’t know if I am mixing two separate occasions together or if my five-year-old mind simply shut out parts. I remember my mother ushering us to the car. I remember the house being a mess. Things were thrown around. We went to a hotel. It hosted a pool and a hot tub. When we came home, I remember seeing clothes thrown across the lawn and dresser drawers across the porch.

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An Open Letter To My Husband’s Girlfriend

Hey girl. Welcome to the club. I, first and foremost, want to thank you. Thank you for caring for my children. Thank you for going above and beyond. I know that they are not your responsibility. I know that you are not required to care for them, but you do. I see you and all the little things that you are doing. You’ve taken my oldest figure skating; you buy crickets for my son’s bearded dragon. You take the time to do my four-year old’s hair, cover her in glitter, and ooh and aah over all things unicorn. I see you picking up the grumpy baby and holding her close. I appreciate these things. I know it probably sounds odd coming from me, but I do appreciate them.

I also feel bad for you. I’m sorry that you have entered this strange relationship at such an odd time. We are still technically married, but we have been separated for a year. I do not want him back. I feel that I have to stress this point. I am much happier on my own. I don’t want to disparage him or complain about him to you, but I want to warn you.

You are so young. I know there are only four years between us, but I promise you that four years is a lifetime. In those four years, you likely will grow into a self-assured, confident woman. You learn your boundaries; what you are willing to accept and what you’re not willing to endure. I know I changed from 30 to 34. It’s a good change. It’s one I’m proud of. I fear for you because when I grew and changed, the man that I technically call husband did not change or grow with me.

Maybe these next four years will be different. Maybe he will learn. Maybe he will grow. Please do not hold your breath. Be prepared for him to remain stagnant. I worry that you’ll fall in love, not with him, but with the kids. You’ll be in the same situation I was. You’ll want to stay for them. That saddens me on such a deep level that I can’t fully explain my sorrow. While I appreciate any and all love that you have for my kids, I don’t want it to trap you. I don’t want you to wake up and realize that you’re alone. I do realize that maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he will change. Maybe he will be a full-fledged partner that you can count on. My doubts are so great in that area; I can’t offer false confidences.

I see you already taking care of things that he should. You are the one that messaged me and asked for the oldest’s favorite lunch foods. You are the one who messaged me wanting to plan birthday parties. I was the one you called when the four-year-old was having a fit and you needed to know how to calm her down. It’s odd how we both have been thrust into this relationship. We have been forced to quickly get on the same page.

That angers me. It makes me so mad at him. I didn’t expect to have to deal with you this soon. Deal with you makes it seem like you are a burden. That is not my intention. I don’t know if you’re the first and last or just the first of many. The idea of co-parenting with one of his girlfriends sets a precedent that I refuse to allow. It’s not you; it’s the role you’ve acquired. I do not want to have to rely on Amy, Karen, or Judy to send child support payments. I do not want Melissa to have them while he works just because that’s “what we did before.” I will not share all the wonderful joyous moments of my children’s life with whatever woman happens to share their dad’s bed.

When we separated, I told him he needed to take time to work on himself. That I was going to take time to work on myself. I was going to take time to better myself. I said we needed to be the best version that we could be. When he mentioned dating, I flatly told him that it was something that shouldn’t be on the table for years. We were exiting an eight-year marriage. We both had jumped into this marriage shortly after exiting long term relationships. We needed to learn from our mistakes. We need to take time and grapple with codependency issues, being an adult child of an alcoholic, and co-parenting before we introduce more people into the dynamic.

I knew he wasn’t going to wait to begin dating. I knew this when he told me he was thinking of waiting a few months, maybe a year before he would begin dating. It was then that I knew he had already chosen someone to date. He was setting the stage for his newest relationship. I’m sure he thought he was being very mature and very smart. He wasn’t. I saw through it. My suspicions were confirmed when you were introduced as a “roommate” in a one-bedroom apartment with a couch that a child could barely sleep on. I didn’t press the issue because, honestly, what was the point? I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, he is going to run with his plans regardless of the multiple red flags, warning sirens, and people waving their arms to get his attention. When he stumbles, and he will, I hope he doesn’t trip you on the way down.