Hard Truths

Through quick glances in my rearview mirror, I watched my sweet 6-year-old sob on the way home from the grocery store yesterday. I wish it was because I wouldn’t buy her something in the checkout line. Or because she’d gotten in trouble AGAIN for her reckless driving of the shopping cart. But it was much more complicated–and painful–than that.

Through quick glances in my rearview mirror, I watched my sweet 6-year-old sob on the way home from the grocery store yesterday. I wish it was because I wouldn’t buy her something in the checkout line. Or because she’d gotten in trouble AGAIN for her reckless driving of the shopping cart. But it was much more complicated–and painful–than that.

She was crying because she’d just come to the difficult (and necessary) understanding that some folks are not going to like her because she’s white. My outgoing, loves-everybody child found this particular truth heartbreaking.

Here’s what happened:

Jane and one of her closest school friends were in the back seat of the car. Sometimes I pick this friend up from school, if her mom needs a quick childcare fill-in. Neither girl had known they’d be hanging out together that afternoon, so they were super excitable. Chattering, squealing, giggling, saying bootie and chicken nugget constantly–the usual. Once her friend realized that she probably wasn’t going to get a full-length playdate at our house, she asked if I could drop her off at another friend’s house instead of taking her home. (Uh… NO. But good try) Jane protested that she wanted to hang out, too. Her friend responded, “You could come too! Oh… no. No. You couldn’t. She (this other friend) wouldn’t like that. She doesn’t like white people.”

To her credit, in the moment Jane kind of just skipped right over what her friend had said. They carried on. More BOOTIE! More CHICKEN NUGGET! And so much running around the store. They drove me crazy–and had a blast. They hugged each other goodbye  one MILLION seven hundred and forty-seven times.

Then her friend was gone, and I got to have the tough conversation in the car. The one that made her cry.

I get it. I like to be liked. And, even though I have a much broader perspective of systemic racism and white supremacy than my six-year-old, it still stings when a person doesn’t give me the benefit of the doubt because I am white. But then I pull myself together, recognize my own privilege and acknowledge that, by and large, white folks have done very little to facilitate positive, interpersonal relationships with black folks. In fact, we’ve spent a lot of time doing precisely the opposite.

And that’s where I started my conversation with Jane.

This past weekend, Jane interrupted me in the second to last chapter of The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963. She started talking to me as if nothing were going on, while I was mired in the child narrator’s perspective on the Birmingham church bombing–the one where four black little girls were slaughtered at the hands of white men. Once I finished the book, I had to explain why I was so upset when she interrupted my reading. I reminded her what she’d learned about the civil rights movement. How separate was not, in fact, equal. And how people fought so hard for the very basic civil rights that she and I enjoy every day. Then, I told her about the kind of hate that would drive grown white men to bomb a church and kill little girls. Just because they were black.

Fast forward a few days…as Jane sat crying in the backseat yesterday, I reminded her about the church bombing in 1963. That MLK got shot for leading black folks toward liberation (or civil rights, at least). That her black friends will not always get the same benefit of the doubt that she does, simply because of the color of her skin. And I reminded her that we still have to say that Black Lives Matter, because to so many, they don’t.

These are hard truths. These are truths her black friends are never spared.

Jane is a warrior for what’s right. It’s just in her nature. She believes passionately in fairness and equality. To her, someone not liking her because she’s white is the epitome of unfairness.

But when I reminded her of the unfairnesses–in education, employment, housing, incarceration, etc, etc, etc–that black and brown folks endure every single day as white folks keep institutional and systemic racism firmly in place, well… she found a little bit of perspective on the unfairness of some kid not liking her because she’s white.

And, just for good measure, I begged her to never say “not all white people…” because FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. NO.

Instead of worrying about what one little girl she doesn’t even know thinks about her, we agreed that maybe she could focus on all the lovely friends she does have. And that she could do her part to try to make the world more fair for everyone. And that, regardless of what comes her way, she would always, always be a warrior for what is right.

Back Together Again

Breaking up and getting back together—all within a 48-hour span—well, it’s not for the faint of heart.

When Simon & I woke up the next morning, it was like being on an incredibly awkward first date. In my pajamas. With someone I’d known for over a decade.

I had no idea what to do or say.

I made coffee, like usual. That seemed right. We probably still needed caffeine to function.

We sat down in the living room—which miraculously was still OUR living room—and I chattered on in a way that managed to be simultaneously overly-chipper and politely reserved. Which translated into rather happy, equally meaningless, small talk. (I despise small talk.)

Beneath my frantic efforts appear normal(ish), I felt completely unmoored. I was thrilled to have Simon back. But I was terrified if I did or said the wrong thing, he’d decide all over again that we were done. But for real this time.

The problem was that I both knew—and did not know—exactly what had gone wrong. When I could focus long enough to sort my thoughts, I knew that Simon had left only because he believed I didn’t want to be with him anymore. He thought he was doing me a favor. He thought he was fixing things. But the why was buried under my fear, which just kept shouting: He left you! He doesn’t love you! He left you!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Fear is a bastard.

In yet another bizarre twist, on this awkward, small talk filled Saturday morning, we also needed to go rent a U-Haul to fetch the remainder of the furniture we’d stored at our best friends’ house. Moving furniture together is an admittedly odd reconciliation activity. (Note: I do not recommend). But we dropped the kid off with said friends and headed out for a day of furniture relocation.

Odd task aside, sitting in a U-Haul truck next to Simon (without the kid anywhere in earshot) allowed us to talk openly and honestly for the first time in probably over a year. The stark reality that Simon could leave (and would, if he didn’t feel like the relationship was serving both of us well) knocked the anger and resentment right out of me. And not in the way that fear robs people of their fight. I wasn’t angry or resentful anymore because I’d been presented with a real, viable exit strategy. For the first time since Simon told me he wanted to/needed to transition, I felt like I had a choice. And I made my choice. I chose to stay. Because that’s what I wanted.

It was amazing to look at Simon (probably for the first time ever) and feel completely awash in love. I mean I was smitten. I was all hand-holdy and lovey. And I was driving him batshit. Because these ways, they are not his ways. But he understood. And he held my hand. And told me he loved me, too (for the 400th time).

We talked about difficult things. We talked about how to start over. We acknowledged that we needed to bring our best selves to this reconciliation—whatever that looked like for each of us. I asked questions I was scared to ask. He trusted me enough to answer me honestly. It felt real. Like communication. Things felt possible again.

It was in the middle of this hard but good conversation that we pulled up to a red light at Memorial Drive. I didn’t see them at first, because I was looking at Simon. But his eyes got wide. He looked excited. Like, kid picking out a puppy excited. And he said, “Are those LLAMAS?!?” And sure as shit, I looked across Memorial, and there were 15 or so llamas being led around a small enclosure. Outside a bar. In intown Atlanta.

Some people find signs in rainbows or floating feathers. Ours came in llamas. Because the pure joy that those llamas brought Simon wouldn’t have even been possible a day or two before—not with all that baggage we’d been carrying around. But now, he could be as exuberant about those llamas as he needed to be. Unfettered. Because now we’d both made a choice we could live (happily) with.

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Viator.com (image has been altered)

Revelations

After the yelling, the tears, the panicked confusion, I was left with only the stark reality: Simon & I were unraveling. This family I’d poured my heart and soul into was disintegrating—and I couldn’t do or say anything to stop it.

I was in a whirlwind of rage and pain by the time my best friend swooped in to rescue me for a few hours. I needed desperately to get out of the house. Simon & I had tried being quasi-normal for Jane. But being around Simon felt like the most exquisite agony. I loved AND hated him. I wanted to be near him AND to cast him to the outer realms of space. I wanted to reconcile AND move on with my life—alone.

Bets pulled up in front of my house, and I jumped in. I really didn’t care where she took me. All I wanted was to get away from the nagging, gnawing pain. But, really, what was I going to do to escape it? I’ve been sober for years. And that means I don’t drink. Even when my marriage falls apart. Even if the world explodes. I. Do. Not. Drink. But a best friend, one that’s known you for over twenty years, offers her own kind of comfort. And it’s a damn good kind. So, I felt safe and loved while I sipped a latte and my world fell apart.

She let me rage on and on. I said ugly things. I cussed. I developed new uses for cuss words. And then, I’d spin on a dime and talk about how much I loved him. How I’d always known we were right for each other. And I cried when I told her that the thing I’d been most sure of in my life was Simon’s unending love for me. But, really, what I’d been sure of all those years was that Amy loved me. Simon and I had been on pretty rocky terms. And, truly, what had I given Simon to love about me? Sure, I’d stuck around. But I’d been resentful; I’d constantly harped on my attraction to women; I was supportive enough—I supposed. But, who wants to build a life on something that’s just barely “enough”? I heard myself telling Betsy how much I wanted a life with Simon, how much I loved him… and, yes, how desirable I found him… and I wondered if he knew any of that. Things were, I realized, completely fucked to hell.

As Betsy dropped me off at my house, she left me with only one set of instructions: Do not beg him to take you back. In 2001, Bets had born witness to my alarming downward spiral after a particularly bad break-up. She was doing her level best to ensure I didn’t head right back down that path. I assured her that I would not beg. That I was done begging, pleading, and negotiating.

I walked slowly through the house—the house that was ours, that would no longer be ours, because there was no more us–got in my bed and laid down. I turned on Melissa Etheridge’s Skin (which, incidentally, is a pretty solid break-up album) and tried to sleep. I dozed off, and when I woke I felt incredibly calm. For about five seconds. But even during the calm, I knew something was wrong. Something I should be upset about. And then I remembered. And it was like breaking up all over again. I couldn’t take it. I absolutely could not sit with the pain for one second longer.

So, I did exactly what Betsy told me not to do: I went out to the living room and sat down on the edge of the couch. Simon sat up immediately to ask what was wrong. Like he’d been waiting for me.

“I don’t understand,” I sobbed. “How can it just be over? I love you so much. Why don’t you love me?”

“I do. I do love you,” he said. He pulled me close to him and held me while I cried. “I don’t want it to be over either.” I cried on him a little while longer, afraid to move. Afraid to breathe. Afraid to break the spell.

Finally, I wiped tears off my face and looked at him. “Then why did you leave?”

He sighed. And for the very first time since things had started to fall apart, I could see that maybe this wasn’t as easy for him as I’d thought. He was hurt. “I thought you and Jane would be better off without me. That you’d be able to move on and be happy. That I was just weighing you down. I don’t want to just be just some concession you are making. That isn’t good enough for either one of us.”

Oh my God. No. Was that what he thought? Of course, that’s what he thought. Really, he would have been a fool to think anything else. But I’d been wrong—wrong that I could take or leave our relationship, wrong that I wanted to date other people (read: women), wrong, wrong, wrong. And now I knew it. I laid my head on his chest and cried. “No. No. I’m not better off without you. I love you. I want you. I want to be with you.”

“I want that, too.”

All my life, I’ve craved that one moment where life plays out perfectly, just like in the movies. Where love prevails despite the odds. Where what seems impossibly broken magically mends. Where love wins.

Truthfully, I’d given up on those moments. Believing in them had caused me lots of heartache, had held me back so many times when I should have cut my losses and moved on.

But this time, oh this time…

I finally got my moment. The moment where I got everything I dreamed of. Just like that, he loved me, and we were us again.

 

(But nothing’s ever really that easy, is it?)

 

But It’s Not Over Over. Right?

Callie & Arizona broke up. And this set into motion the epic meltdown of 2016.

SARA RAMIREZ, JESSICA CAPSHAW
Photo Cred: Ron Tom_ABC

But, I guess you’ll need a little more background than that: Simon & I watched Grey’s Anatomy voraciously last Fall. We’d dissect the characters’ (often baffling) life choices and analyze their relationship dilemmas. This gave us a safe way to talk about hypothetical relationship issues without really delving into our own.

This seemed like a good plan—until it almost ended us.

I guess I should pause to note that nothing really “seemed like a good plan.” We didn’t consciously decide to avoid our issues. If you’d asked me at the time, I probably would have said there wasn’t anything to talk about. And, as for Grey’s, who doesn’t love good catharsis? Which is what I was getting every night. But catharsis can’t alleviate the underlying problems. It’s just a temporary, feel-better fix. Hindsight, though. In that moment, Simon & I were just hanging out, loving Grey’s, as folks do.

But we’d reached a point in the ever-winding plot that proved problematic for us:

  • the focus was on Callie and Arizona’s relationship. And seeing two women together brought up all my feelings of loss and displacement… and anger.
  • Callie & Arizona were having some relationship struggles. And so, I’d pick a side and argue it passionately, with way more investment than necessary. Because what I wanted to do was argue with Simon. But I was too emotionally exhausted. So I argued with characters in a TV show.
  • Then they took a break. From each other. And this plot development turned out to be disastrous for us.

Simon & I had been negotiating a rather uneasy peace since we moved to Atlanta. I looked around every day and celebrated just being in the city, living a life that for so long felt like it would never be a reality. I immediately immersed myself in racial justice activism, in Jane’s elementary school, in work with new, fun clients. Simon—well, he liked Atlanta just fine. But he certainly wasn’t as intoxicated by just being here as I was. (It is fair to note that I am given to bouts of extreme enthusiasm.) The distance between he & I grew daily. I didn’t want to know what was wrong with him. I just wanted him to fucking fix it.

I was exhausted.

We’d been through a lot in our 13 years together: being batshit crazy drunks, getting married, getting sober, infertility, miscarriage, pregnancy, parenthood, getting married again, Simon’s transition. Any one of these events can end a relationship. We’d been through all of them. And, I guess, after Simon’s transition, I expected everything to be smooth sailing. But Simon will be the first to tell you that transitioning doesn’t fix everything. Simon still had some work to do. And I was completely ignoring everything I felt, saving just enough energy to make passive-aggressive jabs at Simon about what I thought he needed to fix.

At various points, I’d thought about leaving. Or asking for an open relationship. I just wanted to not feel so responsible for us. I wanted to think about me for a minute. There hadn’t been a lot of time for that in the past two years.

Then it happened. One night, after Grey’s Anatomy, Simon said, “I think we should do what Callie & Arizona did. Take a break.” I looked at him like he had sprouted a third eye. Because WHAT? I was the aggrieved party. I was the one who’d married someone who changed the terms of our relationship when he transitioned. How DARE he suggest a break? What the ever-loving hell was wrong with him? Which I asked him, in colorful language. He said he thought I’d be happier. I asked if this was a break or a break up. Everything about what he was saying sounded so final. He said he thought it should be permanent. And, just like that, we’d started the process of conscious uncoupling.

I called my best friend the next morning to fill her in my newly bizarre and topsy-turvy world. Actually, what I told her was that I thought Simon had broken up with me. Because I couldn’t fathom this whole turn of events. I mean, did relationships really end just out of the blue? I didn’t want my relationship to end. I wanted it fixed. It could be fixed, right?

Bless her, she had to deal with my anger (if he wanted to split up, why the hell didn’t he just stay in Tampa?), my fear (holy shit, I can’t pay for the house by myself… what am I going to do?), and my tears (but he didn’t even try to work it out. Doesn’t he love me? I always thought he loved me). And she was also managing her own shock. Because, if you weren’t living in our house and couldn’t feel the ever-present tension and complete disconnect between the two of us, this uncoupling seemed to come from nowhere at all.

But it did come from somewhere. It came from almost a year of drifting apart emotionally, of divesting from each other’s lives, of believing deep down we’d be better off apart. We were so emotionally estranged by this point that, in the preceding months, when I’d found a lump in my breast and been terrified it was breast cancer, I didn’t lean on him for support. And he didn’t offer much of it. We were totally broken. But, even if we were currently shattered, I didn’t want to give up yet. We had Jane to consider. And I knew that I loved Simon. Even if I couldn’t see how to get back to a healthy version of us.

I corralled him into a discussion about the unraveling of our relationship that afternoon before I picked Jane up from school. Could we work things out? No. Could we go to couple’s counseling? No. Could we just try one more time? No. No. No. He’d made up his mind, it seemed. He’d decided that Jane & I were better off without him. That he was only an albatross, weighing us down. It didn’t really matter what I wanted or what I said. He was convinced that our split was the best thing for me.

My head exploded. I yelled. I cussed. Then I yelled some more. I went over the edge completely. Who was he to make this decision for me? I’d stood by him through his transition, held his hand, worked so hard at being okay (at least I thought so at the time). How DARE he leave me now? But he was gone. We were, in fact, over.

(To be continued…)

Might, Maybe, Might

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Here’s what I remember:

I am 4 years old. I am in a brightly colored room (primary colors, primarily). Cubbies occupy one of the walls, looking cozy and inviting. Like a space I could learn to identify as my own. So I readily ignore them. I am not interested in belonging. I am interested in getting the hell out of there.

I am currently exercising my will to scream. And cry. Snot is everywhere. I am breathing the jagged breaths that feel out of control and scary. They only make me cry harder. The woman holding me, rocking me back and forth, tries to reason with me about the fun I’ll have, the friends I’ll make, if only I will get out of her lap and try

I am starting to want to try. From my heightened vantage point in my teacher’s arms, I can see kids outside riding Big Wheels. I don’t have a Big Wheel at home. I want to ride, to gather speed and feel my ponytails fly behind me. I bet I can be pretty fast on a Big Wheel. Still, I cry.

I open my mouth to tell my teacher that I might, maybe, might be ready to try. I think maybe I can do this. I want to break my commitment to misery and play instead.

Then another teacher approaches us: “We’ve called her mom. She’s on her way.”

I look at the teacher holding me and cry harder. Because I was just ready to try. And now it’s over, before I even got a chance to start.

I’ve remembered this feeling for the past 36 years–the defeat of having committed myself so much to fear and sadness that I’ve crossed the point of no return, that I’ve lost control. That feeling of helplessness, of watching events unfold, grasping and not being able to change them–it haunts me.

I felt that way in the deepest depths of my love affair with alcohol. I wanted to escape the pain I was in; drinking caused more pain and shame and self-loathing. I knew it. I saw it. But I’d committed to this affair, to blackout drinking, to reckless sex, to oblivion. When I thought I might, maybe, might be ready to try to deal with the wreckage of my life, I’d see how far things had gone. And I’d feel that helpless, grasping feeling–like I’d lost control, like I’d never be able to put things back together. And so I’d sit at the bar and order a stiff drink, so I could forget what I’d just struggled so hard to remember: that I might not be beyond salvation, if I’d just try.

 

Photo Credit: Flicker/John Morgan