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Patio

February 3, 2013

And so I found myself on their patio, drinking their favorite red blend (which was called ménage a trois, if you must know), listening to her talk. It was Mom’s Night, a tradition in our neighborhood. No kids or husbands were invited, and outsiders could only come once in awhile under special invitation and dispensation. Tonight, it was just the five of us. I had been hoping for a couple of extra people, human shields between me and her; distraction so she wouldn’t notice in case there was something different about me, now that I had begun to fall for her husband. Because that would be noticeable, right? I would notice if some other woman was making puppy eyes at Daniel, wouldn’t I? I would notice if one of my friends suddenly lost 10 pounds or started wearing lipstick all the time or ironed her sheets.

I could see a difference in myself since I told Josh about my baby who died. My eyes were lighter, less haunted. I could stand straighter, the pain having lessened, slightly, by sharing it. Surely one of the people who saw me most often would also see me most clearly. And of course I didn’t want to get caught, but not for the reason you think.

I truly didn’t care what happened to my own marriage. My marriage to Daniel had been a sham since Ava’s tiny coffin had been lowered into the ground. We had not had sex nor had a conversation about anything other than bills and kids since that day. If he found out I was on a speedy train headed towards sleeping with Josh and decided it was finally time to divorce me, that would be a punishment I could gladly bear. No, what I was afraid of was that if we got caught, if Cindy figured it out, it would be over. And I could not bear the thought of losing him when I had just found him. I couldn’t imagine not letting this thing run its course now that we had started it.

I picked up my glass to have another sip and found that it was empty. Was that two glasses I had drunk, or three? I couldn’t remember. I decided to switch to water and went inside to fix it for myself, and was both thrilled and dismayed to see Josh in the kitchen.

“What are you doing here?” I asked rather abruptly.

His eyes danced. “I live here, remember? What are you doing here…” And then he leaned close to me and whispered “with your clothes on, clucking with the hens out there?”

I smiled. The clucking hens thing stuck in the back of my head, but I smiled because he was thinking about me as much as I was thinking about him, and he wanted me to be naked with him and he wanted me.

“Moms’ night. I need a glass of water to dilute the wine a little.”

He grinned and got me a glass out of the cabinet. “Just don’t decide that you like her again, or that you owe her anything,” he warned, and disappeared into the family room.

That seemed an odd thing for him to say.

I fixed my water and headed back out into the twilight with Cindy and the other members of our group of friends. I put my glass down on the table and Cindy shrieked, interrupting Jenn mid-sentence.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Cindy asked me.

“I just needed some water because I was feeling a little too tipsy for this early in the evening.”

“Well why are you drinking it out of my good water goblet out here on the patio?” She was so mad she almost spit the words at me. She was clearly crazy. It was a glass, breakable but replaceable. And I was a grown adult, not prone to breaking things, stealing glasses, or causing mayhem at sedate neighborhood gatherings. Her glass was very likely safe in my hands, even if her husband wasn’t.

Jenn looked terrified. This glass thing was obviously a big deal. Like, a Big Deal.

“I ran into Josh in the kitchen and he gave it to me. I’m sorry, I had no…” She cut me off mid-apology by snatching the glass from in front of me and marching into the house, screaming for Josh. We could see in through the window, so we watched his sheepish arrival, the gradual hunching of his shoulders, the lost look on his face, the downcast eyes, the ineffectual and pointless apology. I felt so badly for him. She was awful. I mean, I liked having nice things too, and I loved the idea of gracious living, but if it meant I had to treat my family this way, if rather just drink out of red solo cups for the rest of my life and have peace in my home.

I may not be the best wife on the block, but this was inexcusable. I looked at Jenn and she looked at me.

“Think we should make a run for it?” she asked. I looked beside me for my purse. It wasn’t there.

“Dammit my purse is inside. I can’t leave it here, it’s got my keys in it.”

“Shit. Ok let’s try to wrap this up.” She chugged her wine and signaled to the other women there to do the same. I had nothing to drink, having had my water snatched away before I could drink it.

We all started straightening our chairs and cleaning up our messes, getting wine glasses and coasters together, making sure no crumbs were left on the table or the patio, and collectively preparing our exit speeches. I mean, she was going to know that we were all taking off because of this whole dreadful thing with the glass, but we knew that, as gracious guests, it was our job to suddenly find out about last minute homework that required supervision, feverish children, dogs that couldn’t possibly be left inside any longer, or husbands who were such morons that they couldn’t heat up ravioli in the microwave without assistance. So that’s what we were doing.

Until she came back outside. She saw us getting ready to leave and she was pissed.

“Oh hell no! Sit back down! Moms’ night isn’t over yet and we will not let HIM ruin it for us!” I looked around uneasily, not sure what to do.

I was a guest in her home, with inappropriate feelings for her beleaguered husband. I had shared things with him I had never shared with anyone, I had let him touch me in ways and places that no one had touched me in years. And I felt things for him that I no longer felt for my own husband. And now, having witnessed an intimate, uncomfortable moment between my almost-lover and his wife, my friend…well, Emily Post didn’t really cover how to handle this. I decided to follow Jenn’s lead.

She sat back down and calmly poured herself a glass of wine. Out other friends did the same, and so did I, if for no other reason than this:

I have never been more curious to see how a situation played out in my life.

Later

January 30, 2013

I woke up later that night, having gone to bed in my own bed at my own house and put my own children in their beds and with my own husband sleeping next to me. I heard nothing in the night, I was alone with my skin, burnished by his touch and his tongue and his lips, and the sound and swell of my own deep, sleepy breathing. I luxuriated in the memory of being with him that afternoon. I could smell his skin on the tender insides of my wrists and I could feel the faint tingle of his lips on mine. I stretched and then curled back up, imagining he was there with me, and that I could curl up next to him, entangle myself with him.

I turned over and noticed that my sheets didn’t have quite the snap that his did. His sheets were crisp and cool and, I realized, ironed. Ironed!

Who irons their sheets?

It had to be her, right? His wife must have ironed the sheets we made out on, that we almost made love on. That’s twisted and wrong and even if it wasthe guest room, we were still partially unclothed, saying things we shouldn’t have been saying, touching each other in ways we shouldn’t have been, on sheets that she ironed. I had to stop this, I couldn’t. I couldn’t ask him to betray his vows, no matter how willing he was; no matter how willing I was to break my own. This couldn’t go any further.

He had made a promise to her. He had also made a promise to me, but even in my bed, drunk with desire for a man I was not married to, a man in his bed with his wife, sleeping together on crisp, cool, ironed sheets that she had ironed with her own hands, I knew that her promise trumped mine. I had no place there.

No matter how badly I wanted him to make one for me, I had no place there. I said it over and over, a mantra to woo myself back to sleep and away from him. Away from his sweet kisses and his need to know me and his unwillingness to climb my walls.

I slept badly, awoke early, awoke irritable and unfulfilled, unrested, having dreamt of him all night; having been unsuccessful in outrunning my desire for him.

I pulled the sheets off my bed. I washed them, I dried them, I ironed them. I needed to know I could be as good as she was, that I could deserve him too.

Snippets

January 28, 2013

He wanted to see my scars. Fair is fair, he said. I balked, shook my head.

“Why so coy, my dear? You saw my scar. You heard my story. Now it’s my turn. I want to…I want to know you.”

I felt a faint panic rising in my chest. I was prepared to sleep with him, I was prepared to share my body with him, to be naked and wet and moaning with him. I was prepared to feel him slide into me, slick and hard meeting soft and warm. All of that, I was fine with.

I was not prepared for him to know me, to understand me. I was not prepared to let him in. But how do you tell a person, a man that you like very much and are attracted to, “We’ll, I like you and I am more than willing to fuck you senseless, time after time after time, today and for months to come, but no one said anything about like, intimacy.“?

Impossible.

“My only scar is my c-section scar, and you know, you don’t want to see it. Its not pretty or romantic or the consequence of something brave or amazing that I did. And you definitely don’t want to hear the boring ass story that goes with it.”

I leaned in to kiss him, to distract him, to remind him why we were actually here. He pulled away from me. “I want to see. I want to hear.”

He looked away for a minute, and was quiet. “I’m not climbing your walls, Lissa. You either let me in or you don’t. You know what I want from you, and you know what I want to give you. But I can’t do this with just your body.” He twirled his hand in my hair, and brushed his lips against my cheek. I closed my eyes and breathed him in. “I want to do more than just fuck you. I can’t promise you forever any more than you can promise it to me. But I need to know…I need to connect with you. I don’t just want the surface. I don’t just want sparkly Lissa. I want all of you. But you have to want to give it to me.”

My eyes were closed and I was trying desperately not to let him see me cry. I breathed in deeply, breathed out slowly, trying to calm myself and compose myself and rein in these feelings I had forgotten how to feel.

I pulled myself out of his arms. I pulled my shirt up, and I unbuttoned my jeans and I pulled them down low enough for him to see the scar from my c-section. It’s pink and crooked, the result of hasty cutting and hasty stitching. There’s a little pooch there, a loss of muscle tone, a severing of nerves that no amount of gym time has been able to fix. It was a constant reminder of things gone wrong, of other things that cannot be fixed.

“I didn’t plan to have a c-section, but after many hours in labor the baby was in distress, so we just had to do it. It was an emergency situation, and my doctor had to do it very quickly. My blood pressure was dropping and it was not going well. So we did the c-section and it was all pretty much a blur after that.”

“Which baby was it?”

I wiped my eyes.

“We named her Ava.”

I said it, and I waited.

He looked in my eyes and he understood. “Oh, Lissa. Oh, Lissa, I had no idea.”

He crushed me against him, and he let me cry until I stopped. “I didn’t mean to…”

I told him it was ok, and it was.

He leaned down and kissed my scar, just as I had kissed his. He kissed his way across my imperfect belly and he wasn’t repulsed or afraid or pissed off. He was sweet and understanding and, I realized, in. I had let him in, I had spoken her name to him, I had shared something of her with him. She was something, someone, I never mentioned. Thought about always, but never aloud.

This was, indeed, something more. I urged his face up to mine and I took his face in my hands and I pressed my lips against his and I breathed his breath and I felt his hands on my back and I knew. This was something different, something alive and new and worthy of attention and nurturing.

He wiped the last of my tears away and kissed me again.

“Oh yes…” he said, and I felt him relax against me, into me. And I felt myself do the same thing, and I felt a glimmer of something, the stirring of a seed I thought had been buried with my tiny daughter.

And I realized, in a rushing, streaming thought, that it is only in burying seeds that we get to later see them sprout…but only if they are nurtured and watered and warmed by the sunny spring.

I Like Big Books

January 14, 2013

Perhaps you recall that I set the goal of reading 26 books in 2012, and I had read 32 by mid-July. Well, by the end of the year I had read 64 books.

That’s a lot of books. I found some new favorites and some that didn’t live up to the hype and some that intimidated the hell of me as a writer and some that made me wonder why I bother at all if crap like THAT can get published. And honestly, I didn’t do a lot of writing in 2012. But that is another post altogether.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

33. I Am Not Myself These Days – this is a memoir. By a drag queen. I don’t remember much about it and this seems like the kind of book a person ought to remember.

34. This is How – Oh how I love Augusten Burroughs. Yep, you should read this. Funny and true and honest and real.

35. The Night Circus – Yes yes yes yes I loved this book. I know that not everyone did and that’s ok. But I loved it. Lush and big and intimate all at the same time.

36. The Unwanteds – Dystopian Light. I previewed it for my dystopian-loving daughter. It was a little young for her. Definitely not YA, but not bad.

37. Let’s Pretend this Never Happened – funny. Oh so funny. Not just a rehash of the blog (www.thebloggess.com) which I appreciated.

38. Bird By Bird – Writing advice from Anne Lamott. Excellent. Write your shitty first draft. You just…have to.

39. Under an Orange Sky Some Days are Blue – strange trip into a grieving parent’s mind. I’m not sure this is a book you “like” – it is one that will stir up some feelings for you if you have kids, have or known someone who has lost a child, fear the loss of a child, or…you know… have a heart. Tread carefully.

40. We Are Absolutely Not OK – a collection of short stories by troubled youth. Holy shit, y’all. Adolescence is just as hard as it always was, only with more drugs/sex/bullying/cyber-everything. I am very afraid of middle school now.

41. Ketchup is a Vegetable – mommy-memoir. Meh. Everyone’s kid poops/says funny stuff/does something embarrassing/dresses wildly inappropriately.

42. The Light Between Oceans – I loved this book. So…sad and poignant and hopeful and…oh yes. Loved.

43. City of Women -I also loved this book. WWII, affair between Nazi Officer’s wife and Jewish guy. What could go wrong?

44. Shadow of Night – Um. I loved A Discovery of Witches and so I hope this book just has  “middle of the trilogy drag”  like almost every 2/3 book has.

45. Hypocrite in a Poufy White Dress – I may be getting over my obsession with memoirs. Grew up in the south, rebel tomboy, blah blah blah.

46. The Glass Castle – OK THIS was a memoir. Beautiful, aching, stunning. Read it, if you haven’t already. I think this book had the best line of the year – “One thing about whoring – it put a chicken on the table.”

47. I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl – Addiction memoir. I don’t remember much from it.

48. Sharp Objects – by the same woman who wrote Gone Girl. Excellent. I loved this book too. Maybe in 2013 I will work up the courage to read Dark Places.

49.  Water for Elephants – After starting and abandoning this book countless times I finally finished it. It was good…but it did not steal my heart the way Night Circus did. Still worth a read.

50.  The Winter Sea – not bad. I like the sea in winter so it resonated. Some plot devices a LEEEEETLE too convenient but if they WEREN’T there wouldn’t be a story. So.

51. The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty – “if you liked 50 shades you’ll LOVE this.” I did not LOVE this, so maybe I also didn’t like 50 Shades. A little too much for me.

52. Alison Wonderland – another one I started several time then finally finished. Pretty good. I liked it.

53. Beauty’s Punishment – “No really, just keep reading.” – Eh. Two was enough for me.

54.  Blackberry Winter – I liked this book. Very sweet ending. Set in Seattle, so what’s not to love?

55.  A Grown Up Kind of Pretty – LOVED. I love everything by Joshilyn Jackson, and this was no exception. Deep southern gothic modern.

56. Loose Girl – another memoir, this one about a girl who has sex with a lot of guys. Very interesting. Good read.

57. Wonder – Middle grades book, my kid’s teacher read it to the class. My kid fell in love. I bought it. She read it. The other kid read it and loved it. I read it and saw why they loved it. My kid is now required to read a NEW book between readings of Wonder. If you have a late elementary school aged kid, definitely get this for them.

58. Out of My Mind – another middle grade – hoping the kid who LOVES Wonder will give this one a shot. Very nicely done.

59. The Aqua Net Diaries – maybe a memoir isn’t as interesting if you have lived the same time/fashion/circumstances as are in the memoir?

60. Growing Up Amish – I think this is an example of “writing is cheaper than therapy.” Interesting but not COMPELLING.

61. The Immortal Life of Henriette Lacks – Oh my. If you take advantage of ANY modern medicine AT ALL, you need to read this book. It was wonderful.

62. The Fault in Our Stars – I cannot stress enough how quickly you need to download this book. SERIOUSLY. It’s YA but it is just…perfect. Amazing. Sad. Honest. relatable. Beautifully written. Star-crossed.

63. Poser – This was aight. Nothing would have been awesome after TFIOS. In fact I started and put down many books between these two, because nothing really grabbed me – I was still dwelling in TFIOS. But this book was interesting and made me think about the PERFECT MOTHERHOOD we are all supposed to be having. (Hint: NO ONE IS HAVING THIS.)

64. Happier at Home – this was pretty good. Not as good as The Happiness Project, but good.

So – my best books of 2012? (In no particular order)

The Help

The Happiness Project

The Hour I First Believed

Gone Girl

Divergent/Insurgent (WHEN IS #3 coming outttttt?)

The Night Circus

City of Women

The Light Between Oceans

A Grown Up Kind of Pretty

The Glass Castle

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Fault In Our Stars

Wonder (because the kids loved it so much)

***

I have already read 2 books for 2013 – my goal is 70, with half being non-fiction (though not necessarily memoirs!)

Scar

November 13, 2012

I knew that we would have an affair when he showed me the scar on his stomach. Seeing, touching the stretch of silvery skin, knitted back together, and hearing the story that went with it were far more intimate to me than anything we would do in a hotel room. Or a car. Or a park.

My stepfather stabbed me when I was 19. He was trying to stab my mother but I came between them.

I gasped.

I didn’t know, had never known, people who behaved this way. He certainly didn’t behave this way now. He had a normal life, a normal wife, a job, a house, some kids. He brought nothing of that life with him, except this scar, at least as far as I could tell.

I almost died, but somehow I got to the hospital, got stitched up, got some blood, and left.

I left the house, left the city, left my mother. I never called to find out what happened next. I never offered to take her with me. I was running on pure instinct, pure survival.

I just left.

I found out years later that she left too. So we were two lost and wounded souls, wandering, not even knowing if we could or should try to find one another.

I asked him if he missed her, if he knew where she was now.

I…

He leaned down and kissed me. I don’t know if my questions inspired him, made him think I was worth kissing, or if he just wanted me to stop talking. But yes, that moment was the moment I knew that I, and he, would do this.

 

 

Migration

October 17, 2012

Black birds

perched on black phone lines and

black power lines and

black roofs of my neighbors and

my neighbors’ neighbors

but not on my roof.

Starlings maybe,

or swallows,

watching, waiting

until a mummuration

a sussuration of wings

and with eyes only for the wind

and instincts sending them

further,

further

not far enough yet.

They swoop away, showing off their skill and their numbers and their

incredible lightness

and nothing remains except

abandoned wires and roofs and

a faint panic rising in my chest.

Thinking

September 17, 2012

What’s there, at the edge? Darkness, fear? Submission. Surrender. Lust. Need. Desire. If you push past the edge, what do you find? Scars, wounds. Old hurts. New wants. Things outside of the box, outside of the norm, outside of your comfort zone…and mine.

What happens when you decide the edge is just the beginning? What will you find at the edge past the edge? Doubt, religion, blindness, new colors you’ve never imagined, old songs you knew once but lately forgot?

What’s out there? What’s waiting? What will capture you, what will release you! What will claim you, who will deny you?

Who will you be past the edge, past what’s ok with everyone else? What will fall away, what will you hold close? What season will you dwell in? What color is the sky? Is it on fire or does it smolder, filling your lungs with fog and smoke?

Can you see the stars, smell the heat? Do your eyes flash or are they cast down, afraid, unworthy? Does your heart sing or shrink in fear?

Does the music fuel you or overcome you? Do you hear the lyrics or the beat?

What’s there, past the edge?

Slipping, Slipping, Slipping

August 29, 2012

I can feel time slipping through my fingers almost always, but especially on my kids’ first day of school. It’s the great equalizer of Kids Growing Up and We Are Getting Older, isn’t it? Everyone’s kids start school at basically the same time, every kid’s grade increases by 1 in late August/early September (well, the kids you hear about, anyway). I saw no fewer than 35 pictures of people’s kids in their First Day of School outfits on Facebook this week, and while I love seeing the new hairstyles, the sassy outfits, the too-big uniforms and the specially chosen backpacks and lunchboxes, it reminds me how quickly it will all be over. I have friends putting kids in every grade from Kindergarten to grad school and it feels like that wave of aging, happening all at once, threatens to drown me.

This is my older daughter’s last year of elementary school – and she and I and her friends are already talking and plotting and planning where they want to go to middle school – and feeling the pressure of 5th grade getting you into the right middle school, which gets you into the right high school, which gets you into the right college which gets you into Harvard Law. Or…RISD, because she either wants to be a judge or a fashion designer. You know. As one does.

But I feel keenly the process of her pulling away already. And it should be that way. She’s mature, independent, confident. I raised her to be that way. I actively pushed her to be completely and wholly herself. But now that she is, I miss the little girl that she was. And I know soon she will be a young woman, and then a woman, and I will miss even this pulling away process. I will miss even this pain, having traded it for something more cutting, something more ripping, something more.

I think because the beginning of school is such a common denominator, it feels more substantial, this slipping away of time. And there is nothing to be done but watch it go, surrender to its power and hold onto those moments, those sweet and beautiful photos of two girls on my front porch, one with a pink and purple plaid backpack and a pink lunchbox, the other with a black and gray checked backpack and a Darth Vader lunchbox, both standing in the midst of possibility and newness and the future, swirling silently and compellingly around them, propelling them forward, propelling them to step into time and just see what there is out there.

Turn of Phrase

August 14, 2012

Your words wrapped around me

like wisps of

honeyed smoke,

lush and languid, soft and reassuring and gentle,

and I allowed myself to get lost,

I lost myself in the depth of their scent and the

complexity of their flavor and the

weight they held, floating improbably in the small space

we once had.

And then…and then.

Silence,

until your words held weight

your voice could not carry

and your promises lingered,

weightless and taunting, 

long after the air had cleared.

Halfway Point

July 7, 2012

We’re a little more than halfway through 2012, My Creative Year, and let me tell you what I have learned.

It’s very difficult to soak in the inspiration around me when I’m at a museum or on a hike or whatever with little chattering children with me. I really need to be alone or be with other people who are content to stand in front of a painting and get lost in it, or who are willing to stop and stare at a waterfall and marvel over its beauty and power and wonder where the water came from and what it has been through up to this point, this point when it crashes down over rocks, and splashes, then settles, into a cool and relaxing pool.  I need time to take that in, work it out, wallow it around in my mind and grow something from it.  I love my kids but they have not yet learned the fine art of being rather than doing. (And I guess, technically, it’s my job to teach them!)

I am not as good at painting as I would like to be.

Art supply stores are wonderful, fabulous places. And they totally intimidate me, because I’m not sure where to start or what all I need to buy.

Thus far, not a lot of the things I have done have fueled my writing. However, I know that I am a processor and a thinker. And something I saw or did or thought during one of these creative endeavors may just spark something at some point later. I do know from experience that the way I usually come up with ideas is to do something mundane – wash the dishes, change the beds, walk. During these times my mind wanders and often mines gems that may have been there all along, or may have spontaneously combusted in the empty space one’s mind allows when doing something like the dishes. So in this as well I am letting go of the outcome. This year long exercise is not just about fueling writing and creating wonderful ideas. It’s about living the experiences themselves…getting out of my head and out of my house and doing something fun and interesting and new, just for the sake of doing it.

It’s about balance, I think. Some sheet-changing, some art museums, some early morning walks, some painting and sewing.

Living life is what fuels creativity.

I have been reminded how much I love to hike. My husband and I went to college in a town where hiking was just what you did. And we did it a lot. Then came kids and jobs and yard work and hiking was just forgotten. But this exercise has renewed my interest in doing it, and I want to spark the same interest in our children (now that they are old enough to walk and carry their own water and, hopefully, not whine.)

So what’s next?

Finishing the list – or as much of it as I can. Definitely.

I’m about to learn to cook all sorts of new things, as I have been diagnosed with several new food allergies (chicken? really? Yes. Really.) And I have a dinner party planned. Several items on  my list necessitate a trip to a huge fabric store in our area…Molly will love it. Meghan will feel like she is being tortured.  I have purchased a new sketchbook and colored pencils, and I’ll be doing some drawing. And I am in the midst of taking a photo every day for a month, which has been fun (I’m using a photo-a-day challenge for the prompts, otherwise it would be a month’s worth of photos of my kids rolling their eyes at me.)

As a person who has a really hard time being spontaneous, this exercise of planning fun things to do has kept me from languishing on the couch all year. I’ve gone places I always meant to go, and I have seen things I’d never have seen otherwise. I have learned things about my kids (my 10 year old loves pop art, like Warhol and Lichtenstein, and my 8 year old likes to take pictures and needs to have her own camera) and about myself.

Definitely a worthwhile exercise.